This is the diary of the our latest mission—South Sudan. Through the text, pictures, and videos we hope to share the experience with you. The newest additions are added at the beginning of the page.
Return to Old Fangak!
Finally, the sisters are in their house in Old Fangak! The building was finished in April but they had to stay in Juba longer than anticipated due to difficulties in getting passports and visas. What was originally planned to be a two-week stay in Juba extended to more than two months! However, the longer stay did provide time for rest and renewal.
On Wednesday, June 9, the sisters went to the airport early in the morning. The first flight was to Rumbek, a trip of about 40 minutes. Next was a two-hour trip by helicopter to Old Fangak. As they approached the airstrip, they could see that the entire airstrip was under water. After circling over the place, the helicopter left without landing. At first, the sisters hoped there would be a better place to land nearby. But they realized they were on their way to New Fangak, about 30 minutes away. They were advised to return to Rumbeck but had no idea what they would do there. How would they get from New Fangak to Old Fangak if not by flight? Impossible.
One man left the helicopter and hoped for a boat maybe the next day. All other passengers with Old Fangak as a destination also decided to leave. The sisters were going into the unknown, as they had no idea how to proceed. They asked several women to carry their luggage on their heads. A man brought them to a place with internet connection so they could try to contact someone in Old Fangak. One the way, they walked, tried to stay balanced and not slip through the wet loam and huge puddles. Quickly, their sandals were covered with mud. It was impossible even to lift their shoes up as they were glued to the earth. The children laughed at this scene as the sisters tried in vain to lift their heavy feet. Finally, they went barefoot and carried their dirty sandals in their hands. After a long 20 minutes, they arrived at the Nile and the NPA (Norwegian Person’s Aid) compound.
Two men from Doctors Without Borders also arrived. Their organization had sent a boat to New Fangak. The sisters and two other persons would use that boat to reach their destination. It took three hours on the river with the motor boat.
Instead of noon, the sisters arrived at 5:00 pm. They were overjoyed to see Samuel, the Comboni’s guard, coming in gumboots through the water. He put one suitcase on his shoulder and sent other men and women to carry the rest of the luggage.
The sisters learned that it had rained so strongly that many huts were flooded. When they had last seen the Comboni compound two months earlier, it was dusty and dry. Now they saw a big lake with houses around it and much green. What a difference! The joy of those who welcomed them was overwhelming, as was the first sight of their kitchen. All the boxes with food items purchased in Juba for the coming year and shipped by boat were piled up in the room. Because they had nothing at hand to eat, they just enjoyed the welcoming cake and an apple for each.
The next day they started to sort through the chaos, placing the contents of many boxes on shelves in the storage room and cleaning cupboards. In between, they greeted visitors who came to welcome them. In the evening, they had their first warm meal cooked on the stove. Slowly, the house is beginning to feel like home.
Now settled they are ready to work in school.
Life Caught between Two Worlds
As for many children in the world, the school year in South Sudan lasted only a few weeks in 2020-2021. The students were not able to turn to home schooling or digital education to help them through the year. In this country, participation in a normal trimester school year is determined by the parents’ ability to pay for each semester. In normal times, a teacher taught between 50 to 60 students in at a time.
In South Sudan, we not only teach students but we are students in Nuer language classes. This helps us to understand the culture and communicate with the people they serve.
During the first summer in South Sudan, we found what was meant by the hot months of the year. Not only did we cope with the heat. We also deal with large numbers of mosquitoes. To protect themselves at night, they wore long sleeves blouses, and slacks under their African dress. They also wore socks. Keep in mind it is 30C or 86F. In addition to the mosquitoes, there are flies and ants.
Life in South Sudan moves at a slower pace than we are used to. It is not governed by the calendar and a digital timepiece. The people live by the sun. And like the sun, nothing moves fast. They eat in the late Nuer Language Lessons
morning and in the evening after the sunset. This allows them to cook the meals over a charcoal fire
without competing with the heat of the sun.
The young girls (13-14 year olds) like to come to the compound where we lived. Some talk of entering religious life but this would be hard. They would have to give up family traditions and the small living environment. Educational expectations are very different. The girls who come to the compound have only a basic education and only a few can speak a little English. In school, they memorize or copy from the blackboard. Rarely do they speak. Many parents believe that English is only the “school language“. Thoughts of a university education or in an administrative position are not something for girls. The young people in the parish who can speak English can serve interpreters. There are 64 languages in South Sudan. Many hope that English will help bind the people together in a way that does not favor one of the traditional languages.
Despite the many differences, a joy for life and community is present and serves to support the people in their daily life.
A P-8 classroom is filled with young boys and some girls. Sister Dominica gave some lessons.
The sisters attended a wedding as part of their introduction to the parish life. The video shows the procession with the Gospel.
1. On Nov 18 Sister Dominica and Teresa traveled with Brother Jorge (l) and Fr Gregor, Comboni Missionaries to Old Fangak.
2. After a safe ride in the helicopter, and a needed stretch, it was time for the next leg of the journey.
3. They needed to take a boat across the Nile to where they would live.
In Juba, the sisters had the opportunity to participate in a Mass at the Protection of Civilians (POC) camp. There they heard the language of the Nuer people for the first time. The sisters were struck by the joy that radiated from the people during the Mass.
After the Mass the sisters were surrounded by the children. Curiosity, the smiles of the sisters, and the opportunity to have their picture taken, encouraged the children to come close. When they touched the white skin of the sisters they broke into bigger smiles and ululation.
On November 6, Sister Karina’s mother living in Peru died. Thanks to technology the family was able to unite in sharing their sorrow, prayer, and a burial service. For each of the nine days after their mother’s death. together the family prayed rosary led by Karina who creatively included the language of her companion sisters.
During October and November, the sisters spent their time shopping for the things they would need for in their new home in Old Fangak. Everything from furniture, to dishes to kitchen utensils, to bedding and towels, had to be purchased and made ready for shipping by boat up the Nile to their new home. Finding their household supplies meant walking through the market places with shopping lists on which they took notes about the items in the different shops. The sisters would meet and compare their information and decide on the purchase.
Once the quarantine time was over, the sisters moved to Juba. The original housing envisioned for them was not longer available. The sisters sought temporary living accommodations in the generalate of Sisters of the Sacred Heart (SHS). They are a native congregation in South Sudan.
Each day begins with Mass. The SSNDs and SHS join the Comboni Missionaries and Comboni Missionary Sisters who are their neighbors from across the road. In the evening the SSNDs join the SHS for evening prayer which consists of vespers, the rosary, a litany, and other prayers. This usually lasts an hour. Supper usually begins at 8:00pm and lasts until 9:00 pm. It is prepared by a young, female employee from South Sudan. Laundry is done by hand, using cold water. Dishes after the meal are washed with cold water and lots of soap.
The temporary nature of their stay with SHS is reflected in the sister ‘s living out of their suitcases. The netting surrounding the beds helps protect the sisters from the mosquitoes. They also spray the room and pull their sheet up so only their head is visible. Keep in mind that the temperature in the room is 30 degrees Celsius (or about 86 degrees F)
October 24 The Auxiliary Bishop Santo was the celebrant for the Mass. He closed his homily by saying “Sisters, today you are inaugurated in the diocese of Juba. This is another foundation day—the mission continues.” After Mass in the Peace Center there a celebratory meal.
12 October 2020
It is a great joy to share with you that our four sisters have arrived in Juba, South Sudan.
This is the beginning of a new missionary partnership of our congregation with the Order of Friars Minor in Holy Trinity Parish in Juba and with the Comboni Missionaries in Old Fangak. You may recall that we were invited by them in December 2018 to consider possible collaboration with them in the service of pastoral, social, and educational needs of the people in these two parishes.
The people themselves expressed the needs, especially of women and children. Their strong desire was to have women religious work with them in the promotion of human dignity, spiritual formation, and education. After a visit to South Sudan, much dialogue and discernment, and with the commitment of all of us, particularly our four sisters, we trust and dare to respond.
Sisters Rose and Karina will join in ministry at Holy Trinity Parish in Juba, and Sisters M. Dominica and M. Teresa will serve in education in Old Fangak. We are excited about and grateful for this new opportunity to join in solidarity with others as we strive to address urgent needs and witness to unity. It is a new moment for us in “this journey towards full communion…to offer common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity” (Fratelli tutti, 280).
Please keep our sisters, the Franciscan Friars, and the Comboni Missionaries in your prayer as they enter into this new initiative for the sake of God’s mission.
United in Mission,
The General Council