How Does a Country Go Off the Rails?
Bake Auction Sunday
February 26, 2017
Bonnie A. Perry
Welcome to what I consider one of our most sacred holy days of the year: Africa Bake Auction Sunday. About 16 years ago, one of our young people, Hilary Warldron, (Hilary is now in her 30s and running our youth group) came up with the idea of having an auction, not a bake sale, but an auction to raise money. Over the years the recipients of the auction’s proceeds have changed, but what has remained the same, is that the money goes to people in need in Africa and our young people, specifically the children ages 9 to 12 run the bake auction and decide where the money will be allocated. For the last ten years, the young people have donated the vast majority of our not insubstantial proceeds, (some $20,000 a year) to our sisters and brothers in South Sudan.
We have a long relationship with Joseph Garang Atem, who is now the Bishop of the Diocese of Renk. Bishop Joseph has visited our congregation regularly for over a decade. On two different occasions we have sent parishioners to visit with him and his people. We know him. He knows us. When parishioner Connie Wilson was having surgery for breast cancer, I was there when he called her from South Sudan to pray with her right before she left for the operating room. He prays for us. We pray for him.
Life in South Sudan is dire. It’s been dire as long as we have been in relationship with them. I was thinking about it as I was preparing to write this sermon. When we started giving money to Renk, they were in the midst of a Civil war with the Government in Khartouem. Since then the people of South Sudan, won their independence and set up one of the world’s newest countries. I remember the year that bishop joseph travelled here on his brand new passport in October 2013 he was so happy.
Then just a few months later a disagreement between the President and the Vice President, led to the factions, who supported each man, to take up arms. It has continued, morphing into a full-scale conflict with devastating consequence, 3 million people are displaced, 5 million people are food insecure, thousands and thousands of people killed. South Sudan has replaced Afghanistan as the most dangerous place for aid workers. Violence against women and gang rape is now common place.
All of these developments make me wonder, make me mad, really you all had a civil war against the government in the North and now you are doing the exact same thing to the people with whom you fought Khartoem. How does that happen? What must that be like?
How does a government go off the rails? How does ill-conceived rhetoric suddenly lead to violence? Lately, I’ve gotten a better sense of how things can spiral. I have a better understanding of what it must be like to be an average citizen and watch people with governmental authority say and do things that are simply reprehensible. Let’s just say, I find myself understanding a tiny bit more what it must be like to be one of our sisters and brothers living in Renk, aghast at the violence taking place.
Interestingly enough, one of the things that all of the AID organizations say is that the Church in South Sudan is one of the few institutions still respected in all quarters, that and places of education are seen as centers in society where negotiations and peace deals and change and transformation can still be brokered.
I was texting with Bishop Joseph as I was writing this sermon and I asked him, for what, right now, for what do you most need money?
He said, “Our biggest priority is supporting education and women’s projects, which in turn support the care and education of their children.”
When I asked specifically, for what women’s projects he would like funding, he said, “Our women have set up a tea shop and cafeteria.” They sell food, and tea, hand made clothing and fresh vegetables.”
So. In addition to paying for the midwives, and Dr. Paul and more money for seeds and teachers, our friends need money to support the economic independence of the women in their community.
Susan and I were going to be in for our usual gift of $500. But after speaking with Joseph and thinking about just how much they need us. Just how horrible it can be to feel as if your government is off the rails, well she and I are now in for $1000. We can skip some dinners out. There is stuff I want, but its just stuff. I can certainly do without. Our friends in South Sudan need us, they need me, they need you.
All of the money from our bake sale, and every bit of cash or checks put into our collection today, (that do not say annual pledge) will go to our sisters and brothers in need in Africa. In South Sudan the church is transformational because it is a place that supports women, children and education. Let us use our gifts of this church, to help that church, to help a country whose government has gone off the rails.
Joseph’s final words to me were, “You may please ask your children to please pray for us.” And—“God bless you and thank you and keep going.”
So we shall.
The bake auction that followed raised more than $26,000 in an hour. It’s simple, 150 people write a check for $100 and suddenly you have $15,000 to change people’s lives and so we will keep going as Bishop Joseph asked.