The Rev. Dr. Deborah Goldfeder - Deacon at the Episcopal Church of the Advent, Crestwood
This reflection is part of a series celebrating women in ministry, June 2022.
When I told my mother that Bishop Bullen Dolli had invited me to work in the Diocese of Lui in Southern Sudan she said, “What does he want with you? You’re an old woman!” I laughed at her but thought, “Old woman? I’ll show YOU!” That was in the summer of 2005. Her response only strengthened my resolve to go. Bishop Bullen wanted me to work as a nurse in the hospital, teach English, teach Theological Education by Extension, work with the Mothers’ Union, and preach (at the drop of a hat without preparation), and to travel to all seven of the archdeaconries in the diocese in a rickety, ancient Toyota ambulance. It wasn’t easy but I loved it.
I was an old woman by Moru standards: the life expectancy of a Moru woman was 57 years, and I celebrated my 55th birthday there. I had the opportunity to do many more things than I ever dreamed, including attending the composers’ conference and transcribing hymns in the Moru language so they could have a hymnal printed after many years of war. I taught women how to sew on treadle sewing machines and helped the Mothers’ Union to open a store to sell their crafts along the “Good Road.” My little mud hut became my home and I cried when I left there. But, what did Sarah of the bible have to do with that?
As I was discerning this call, I had prayed with the Andrei Rublev icon of The Trinity. Some call it the Old Testament Trinity but I prefer another name, The Hospitality of Abraham (and Sarah.) In Genesis 18:1-15 we read the story of three visitors approaching the home of Abraham and Sarah in the heat of the day. Abraham ran to meet them and to offer them hospitality and to sit in the shade of the oaks of Mamre. When the visitors accepted, Abraham called to Sarah and to servants to prepare a fine meal for them and when it was ready, the visitors sat to eat while Abraham stood aside under a nearby tree. The visitors asked where Sarah was, and Abraham indicated that she was in the tent. “Then one of them said, I will surely return to you about this time next year and you and Sarah your wife will have a son.” (v. 10)
Sarah was eavesdropping on this conversation and knew that they were both very old and she was past the age of childbearing so, “Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is very old, will I now have this pleasure?’” (v. 12) The LORD asked Abraham why she had laughed and said, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (v. 14) Sarah tried to lie about laughing but the LORD said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
I questioned myself if I was up to the mission. What did I have to offer to the Moru people? Was I foolish to even think to go? Those where all the wrong questions. The question I should have asked myself was, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Now when I face daunting situations I know that all things are possible through God. As we say at our baptisms, “I will with God’s help.”