Miracle in Kiryandongo by Deborah Goldfeder
The Moru tribe was at war with the Dinka Bor tribe when I arrived in the Diocese of Lui, now South Sudan, on December 7, 2005. I witnessed the murder of a Dinka man by Moru tribesmen at the airport when I landed. He bled to death in front of our eyes in the middle of complete chaos. I was ordered into a truck and we fled the scene as quickly as possible.
The Morus would hear rumors of attacks expected to happen. They heard that an attack would take place during the 2005 Christmas midnight mass. They didn’t tell me anything until after the fact so I just thought they celebrated Christmas in the dark and very quickly. What did I know? That attack didn't happen.
Young Moru men would attack the Dinka cattle that were eating the Moru gardens by cutting the tendons on the back legs of the cows. If they were caught, those Moru men were murdered. Three brothers of one of the Lui priests were murdered in one night in 2005.
An attack would happen and the other tribe would retaliate. This continued until the United Nations’ troops drove the Dinka Bor back across the Nile.
The hatred between these tribes continues. The president of South Sudan is Dinka. I had no hope for peace between these two groups, or for any of the other tribes! None at all. With the present day conflict, many of our friends have hidden in the bush or have fled for refugee camps in Uganda.
Kiryandongo Refugee Camp in Uganda
The events that happened in 2005 in Lui, South Sudan stand in sharp contrast to the story taking place today in Kiryandongo Refugee Camp in Uganda. Many of us heard about this camp when Bishop and Mrs. Smith visited there in 2016. They returned with news of the horrible infestation of jigger fleas in the refugee camp and of starvation in Lui Diocese. The Companion Diocese Committee mounted a campaign to get seeds to the Moru in Lui and some remedy for protection against the fleas in the camp (shoes, Vaseline, antibiotic ointment).
When the shoes finally got to Uganda, we were surprised to learn that the Moru shared everything with camp neighbors from eleven different tribes in South Sudan. Even from the Dinka tribe. Hard to believe, but this is what the Moru did.
The Miracle of the Benches
How did benches become a symbol of peace and reconciliation between two tribes that have been enemies as far as anyone can remember?
On March 13, I traveled with our Swedish partners in mission from the Diocese of Lund the Kiryandongo. It is a practice to give a sum of money from the Diocese of Missouri to the communities when we visit them, so I gave the money to the Rev. Sosthen with the instruction that it was a gift from Missouri and it could be used in whatever way he thought was best for the community.
The next day, Sosthen said he hadn’t been able to sleep all night trying to decide what to do with this (small) windfall of money. He told me what he felt that God had put on his heart to do, and he wondered how we would feel about his decision. He told me he had recently been invited to the Dinka church to preach and he noticed they had no place to sit. They sat on the floor. What would I think if he spent about a third of the money to purchase benches for the Dinka church?
I was stunned and I told him that I thought it was a wonderful thing to do! He also decided to give half the money to the School Teachers’ Incentive and the remainder he would spend to purchase a water tank for the community so they could collect the rainwater and have plenty of free water. He said in a recent text, “Now we are having water during the day time because the tank is helping us.”
I am because we are
The philosophy of ubuntu is an African school of thought that says, “I am because we are.” The purchasing of the benches for another tribe’s church is an example of ubuntu.
The Moru people recognized the need of the Dinka for benches for their worship space—they noticed the needs of the other even if they were once their worst enemies.
Former Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, Desmond Tutu said, “None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings.
We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are. A person is entitled to a stable community life, and the first of these communities is the family.” (Tutu, 2015)
The Morus need the Dinkas and that is astounding.
Ubuntu theology calls everyone to recognize and affirm the humanness of all people and to bring people to restorative justice whenever harm has happened between them.
Restorative justice, such as carried out by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, brought people who had been deeply hurt in the time of apartheid together with those who caused their harm. Wounded people shared that pain with the ones who caused it. The guilty listened to the harm they caused and, in so doing, healing began.
We, too, are wounded people who have caused others harm
During the long years of conflict between the Moru and the Dinka both sides caused pain and both sides bore guilt as well. This act of generosity and grace between these two enemy tribes in a refugee camp in Uganda give us hope for peace not only within this camp of refugees but in South Sudan should they be able to go home eventually.
That is our prayer but we, too, are wounded people. We, too, have caused others harm. We, too, need to be reconciled with the wounded other so that all can begin the process of healing. Our common lives are in need of healing through restorative justice, too.
To view the wounds of the other requires becoming vulnerable to them. It means that all must take a risk, but we need to acknowledge wounds—theirs and ours—in order to bring about a community of ubuntu. The church gathered is the Body of Christ. More specifically, we are the wounded Body of Christ. We bring all the wounds we have suffered and, together we begin to heal.
The ubuntu church finds its true healing at the great Feast of Healing, the Eucharist. Together, we are healed. Just as the disciple Thomas needed to see the wounds of Christ before he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” so might we need to acknowledge those wounds, too. We are because He is!
A meal, a confession, a prayer
The real miracle happened on a Sunday after the benches were delivered. Some twenty adults from the Dinka church came to the Moru church to thank them for the gift of the benches. Sosthen sent pictures and a recording of the Dinka singing a song of alleluias. In his accompanying letter he wrote that they ate lunch together, they confessed to each other what had happened in 2005 in Moru land between the Dinka Bor and the Moru community, and then they prayed together.
God is good!
All the time!
Deacon Deborah Goldfeder, DMin, chairs the Companion Diocese Committee, and is a faith community nurse at Advent Church.
Photos: Veronica (Sosthen's wife)greeting a member of the Mother's Union from the Dinka congregation; Morus and Dinkas who worshiped together; interior of the Dinka church after the gift of the benches