Praying with Donuts

(Scroll article for April, 2010)

At the Advent Christmas party in 2006, Pam Willis, doubtless tired of hearing about Lui and how much I loved it and the people there, gave me a gift.  It was a zip-lock bag that contained straw, dirt and a bottle of water.  She called it a “Mud Hut Starter Kit” and I still have it!  It reminds me of a time when I had so much to process about my experience but nobody who could understand what I was saying.  I came back profoundly changed and not altogether for the better!  It was a painful time but there were painful times in Lui, too.  The people there, loving and caring though they were, couldn’t understand me as much as they wished they could and I found that pouring out my feelings in my journals didn’t quite process all that needed processing, either. 

I called Ron every Saturday on the satellite phone.  I’d wait until four in the afternoon so as not to awaken him too early.  He is what we call “a good sleeper” so, except for the first scheduled call when he kept waking because he was afraid he wouldn’t hear my call, I almost always awakened him.  Ron has many gifts but deep reflection on mission isn’t one of them.  One Saturday, after a call home, I was walking with Ambrose who noted I was sad and maybe had a tear in my eye.  He asked me what was wrong and I told him,

“Nothing except a [large] bit of homesickness.”  Ambrose, seeing things from a Sudanese perspective, thought I was missing having my family of kinswomen around me.  I learned this when women began to arrive at the compound in greater numbers than previously.  Ambrose also sent Sosthen, the chaplain at the hospital, to have lunch in the diocesan compound.  When he came the second day in a row I asked him, “Did Ambrose send you?”  By that Tuesday, I was busy with my work and largely distracted from homesickness.  Saturday was my Sabbath when I did no work so it was a long day of reflection with only the anticipation of a phone call to keep me going.  I wrote a lot on Saturdays. 

Sundays could be difficult, too, but I always went to two worship services at the cathedral—the English service at 9:00 AM and the “Men” [Main] Service at 10:30 AM until at least 12:30 PM if it wasn’t a Eucharist or if nobody was triple translating the forty-five minute sermon into English and Juba Arabic!  Sometimes, honestly, that service lasts four hours.  I also went to chapel every morning at the hospital where I prayed with coworkers, patients, families and people passing through Lui.  They translated those services, too.  If the preacher spoke in English, the translator could translate it into either Juba Arabic or Moru.  Some preachers (lay or ordained) were phenomenal and the translating dance between the preacher and the translators were liturgical dances.  Other preachers were less exciting but I took time for prayer and reflection every day.  In fact, I have never prayed and reflected MORE than I did in Lui but something was missing.

One Sunday (I think it might have been the day after my homesick Saturday), I waited until I thought people would be gathering for the 8 AM service at Advent and all would be having coffee and cinnamon toast and I called the church.  I wanted to hear the voices there and to feel connected into the worship at Advent.  People gathered around the phone and greeted me.  I think that Dan figured out I was a bit “churchsick”—I longed to be in worship with the people of Advent.  I must not have covered my churchsickness very well because Dan called Ron to tell him I’d called the church and seemed a bit down.  Worship in Lui is amazing: the music, singing, dancing, praying, preaching and even the Anglican/Episcopal rhythms of the worship were familiar and wonderful but something was left wanting in my soul that I couldn’t name.  It wasn’t until I returned to Lui that I knew what it was. 

I remembered when on the two occasions when I had visitors during my first visit.  I had high expectations that we would talk about what was going on and that we would worship together in community but, each time, we hauled off to the distant reaches of the diocese doing hundreds of confirmations or talking about the Companion Diocese Agreement (or both).  When we fell, half dead from exhaustion, from the back of the ambulance that took us over rocks and mountains or through ditches and dry riverbeds, nobody wanted to sit and reflect.  We bathed and fell battered onto our beds.  Any prayers, reflections or compline happened on the privacy of huts.  My soul was starving at a banquet!  So, when I came back all I wanted to do was pray and process everything with “my” community and that wasn’t fun for anyone!  Somewhere along the way the Companion Diocese Committee decided to have a chaplain for the group who had no other task other than to draw us into deeply meaningful reflection on the experiences in Lui and it was amazingly healing. 

Dan was our first chaplain.  He met with us before we went to Lui and asked us five questions:  Where is the life of Christ in this?  For what do we pray?  What do we confess?  What do we offer?  For what do we give thanks?  By working ourselves, in community, through these questions, we prayed ourselves into a community and we healed.  At least I know that many of my broken places were healed.  I came to understand that guilt was a big part of what I needed to process.  On my first visit, I didn’t always see the life of Christ in what I was experiencing.  How could I pray for what I saw?  What did I confess?  Sometimes in my journal, I would make hash marks counting the days I had been there and counting the days until I could leave!  What could I offer?  Myself, and that surely wasn’t enough!  What could I give thanks for?  Some days I couldn’t think of a thing by myself.  Having a praying community with me gave perspective to the experiences.  As we prayed our experiences, I came to see that we were all in need of prayer, all in need comfort, all were chaplains to each other but together we were the Body of Christ.  When our friends from Lui joined us in prayer and worship we were all enriched even more.  We didn’t always have Eucharist but prayer fed us anyway.

People who go to Lui now think that the Moru always had donuts in the market but they weren’t there during my first visit.  These donuts bear no resemblance to Krispy Kremes—they are heavy, leaden even, and look more like cake donut holes on steroids—but, if you are really in the mood for slightly sweet, greasy fried bread, these are for you.  Besides, you can always roll them in sugar for an added kick of glucose!  And they beat the heck out of the sorghum flour kissera that is normal Moru bread.  Not a few of us quoted Homer Simpson, “DOHnuts”! 

On our last evening as a large group on the December 2008 trip, our evening worship began with our usual reflection on the five questions and then Dan prayed the Eucharist from our responses.  We had a small nightstand that served as our altar.  An orange-flavored sweet, flat liquid (kind of like Tang) from the market was the Blood of Christ and the Body was one of those donuts.  It wasn’t Advent, it wasn’t wine, it wasn’t a wafer for certain, but never have I experienced the Eucharist so fully.  I, for one, knew what it meant to be “forgiven, healed, renewed,” praying under the stars with fellow missioners and using Tang to wash down a cold, heavy donut—nourished with spiritual food, I thought.  Thanks be to God!

One Response to “Praying with Donuts”

  1. Dale Iffrig says:

    Deb,

    You do not know, how much we appreciate your Lui stories.

    peace,

    dale

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