A JOURNEY TO MISSION LAND
“Admiration leads to imitation” – this phrase is relevant in my missionary life in Africa. The source of my admiration rather inspiration to be a missionary in the large continent was Rev. Fr. Tony D’Souza SDB, who led the Province of Mumbai and also of the Province of East Africa as Superior In-Charge and then Provincial. He was able to see in me a missionary in the vast continent where he once served. His persuasion and my admiration for him made me to imitate him as an African Missionary. The missionary expedition was set and my journey to Africa came true. My mission was assigned to the place in South Sudan, Juba, as it is called now.
To give a brief narration of the situation, once the largest country in Africa, what we knew as Sudan are now two independent republics, Sudan and South Sudan. They remain a microcosm of the larger African experience offering a diversity of geography, histories, cultures, livelihoods, religions, and languages. Sites of both horrific hostilities and extraordinary peace making, the two Sudans continue to compel their citizens, neighbors and the international community to consider fundamental questions of nation-building, governance, justice and peace. Sudan has experienced through two rounds of devastating civil war since 1955, which have undermined the institutions of governance and various infrastructures. An estimated 2 million people are believed to have died in the fighting or as a result of conflict-induced famine. Around 4 million people were displaced from their homes. Both Sudanese Government forces and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) stand accused of serious human rights violations. However, Sudan brought to an end the second civil war in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A (Sudan’s People Liberation Movement/Army). Since then Sudan and South Sudan have been engaged in the effort to reconstruct the economy and governance institutions.
Knowing the story, we travelled from Juba, to Wau either by UNICEF or military planes. The only possible means was military aircraft because of the threat from the rebels. Yet, travelling in a military craft itself could not give guarantee for the safe landing and so we were asked to acknowledge that we take the risk willingly by signing a document.
Dei gratia, our journey was safe in reaching the military aerodrome. Now, to reach our destiny, we had to join the local people in a small truck. The indigenous people were happy to see a new ‘Abuna’ (means priest in their language). From Wau to Tonj where we had our mission station was about 100 km or it seemed so as there were no roads and one had to find the beaten path through the forest.
Journey in the middle of the thick African forest was not a smooth-sail but was a joyful experience with the simple people. Unfortunately it did not last long. The truck stopped all of a sudden on account of machine gun fire all around us, when we looked out we were surrounded by rebels or a mob of robbers. Along with the fear my heart felt sorry for the young who supposed to have pen, had gun in hand. They certainly seemed trigger-happy youngsters, ready to pull the trigger any time. My prayer was, ‘Dear Lord, I have come to be a missionary and I will die even before becoming one.’ Fr. James SDB, who had been guiding us, was able to converse with the gang leader in Dinka the local dialect and they left us. But the trauma within me was unforgettable. I even questioned whether my missionary life was going to an end before I could begin. The rough delinquents were respectful to the priests and they neither did harm nor rob our belongings. I was happy that my collection for the missionary works was spared.
The tough journey was over as we reached our mission centre. The place was in middle of a forest and our mission was to serve the people affected with leprosy and the wages of war battered and bruised by gun fire or mines that had blown up much of their limbs. The rectory was a small room of tin sheets. As we were tried of the journey we went to sleep. Heavy bombarding of shells broke the midnight silence. I could see through my window the fire flares of bullets crisscrossing out in the open sky.
I went to sleep for the night but woke up on account of the continuous sound of gunfire and bombing. I slid on my knees to pray asking God to protect me and keep me safe. My companion on the other bed, was amused that I was on my knees and said, are you afraid, Godfrey, to which I said, it is ok for you, tomorrow you leave me and go back. I have to stay for the coming years. I need God’s help in this situation.
Amidst the humpty number of difficulties the consolation is the love and affection of the people. For the people we, the priests and religious, are God’s gift. To be the signs and bearers of God’s love through the mission for these people make us be assured of the right way of fulfilling God’s will for us.