Kenya: the journey begins
Our visit to Africa took us first to Kenya where we stayed in the provincial house of the St. Patrick’s Missionary Society (Kiltegan) in Nairobi. Early Friday morning we flew from Nairobi to Lokichoggio, a small town near the border with Sudan. The two-hour flight took us up over Africa’s Rift Valley. At Lokichoggio airport we were met by Fr. John Marren and set off on our road journey in a jeep that looked as if it had seen better days!
Crossing the border into South Sudan
The border crossing was unlike any journey either of us had experienced. Our cases were searched in the open air by soldiers as other soldiers scrutinized from the shade of a tree. Nearby, many poor people lined up for travel documents or waited for a lift from jeeps or trucks travelling in either direction. We then set off for Riwoto, stopping en route in Narus where the mission is also run by the Kiltegans. The road conditions are very poor so it was a bumpy journey,
After a meal at Narus, we changed to another jeep and began the last stage of the journey to Riwoto. The total journey from Loki to Riwoto took nearly six hours, including not only our stop in Narus but a delay due to a flat tyre some distance outside of Narus.
Over the course of Saturday, we got a very good sense of what Riwoto is like. We stopped at the headquarters of the local commissioner who had requested that the church establish a school. He had evidently been expecting us for a long time and stressed the need for education in Riwoto. It is clear that any group providing education in Riwoto would find support from him.
We passed young children playing and many groups of women carrying water and heavy loads of sticks on their heads. We saw teenage boys herding goats and cattle with staffs in one hand and AK47s slung over their shoulders.
On Sunday morning, there was Mass in the compound in Riwoto. Mass was in Taposa with the gospel also being read in English, not for our benefit, but for those of other ethnic groups who attend, including other Sudanese who work with various agencies around the place. We left Riwoto around noon and began our journey back to Narus where we were to spend Sunday night.
On the journey back we visited Kapoeta and there we saw the famous church that had been bombed by the Arabs from northern Sudan. We were delighted to meet the catchist Pius Lokuro Kodee that afternoon, a man who survived imprisonment and torture during the civil war in Sudan. We couldn’t help but think that the commitment of this very poor man had done more to keep the Gospel alive than some of those charged with official leadership in the church today.
From Lokichoggio, we took an eight-seater plane back to Nairobi. We had some time on Tuesday to de-brief and reflect together in Nairobi before flying back that night to London both enriched and challenged by our journey to South Sudan.
A Reasoning Heart
We tried to approach our reflection on or experience
with the spirit of ‘a reasoning heart’, that is, with a rational awareness of the real challenges in South Sudan and with the draw of the heart that we experienced in response to the needs there, needs that evoke not just a humanitarian response but one that is deeply rooted John Steiner’s reminder that ‘with the Sisters of Faith, the poor, and the poorest of the poor have first claim on their sympathy.’