A Sunday in Juba
"The Archbishop stops mid-flow in his sermon. To my utter amazement he speaks to me from the pulpit...."
Baptist chaplain Cole Maynard is currently on deployment in South Sudan with the United Nations. He is writing a regular blog for The Baptist Times, here describing one of his first Sundays in the country
Read his first blog here:
Sunday, 12 March 2017
Sunday is always a good day for a minister as it is our main day of the week, our focus, when we help others to lift their attention above the worries and concerns of this life and to focus on greater matters above. To realise that there is a super being, whom we call God, who has a plan and purpose for humankind that we can all be a part of. To remind people that they are special and loved by God who allows us to address Him as Father.
The plan is to first hold a service for the Theatre Enabling Group (TEG) at 0730am in the UN compound. The venue is to be the new rest area, still in the process of being built. It currently has no walls or roof. However, it does have a rusty metal frame anchored into good concrete foundations that raise it above the fine red African dust that pervades the very air in this country.
There I arrange some old weathered plastic chairs around an equally fragile-looking, formerly white table. I take out my combat communion set and screw together the little metal cross to its base and the two-part chalice. I then arrange the sealed plastic bottles of communion wine and water.
My computer is set up to play a list in iTunes, using Mpeg files linked to a small but powerful bluetooth speaker. I quickly check my Bible reading and that the page markers are in the correct place.
I'm ready. So off around the hut I go and find some space to prepare myself spiritually before my small congregation arrives.
At 0730 hours my congregation gathers, all carrying their own metal chairs. Their faith clearly does not extend to the load bearing capacity of the weathered plastic seats!
We begin with a prayer and our first hymn, ‘Be Thou My Vision’ an apt song given the need for vision to see this country into better times. We sing and pray, and I eventually talk a while about Jesus walking on the water and the need to ensure that we don’t leave the shore without Jesus in our boat.
The blessing is given and we all move to the Tukel for breakfast. There we are treated to coffee that could easily be used as aviation fuel and a fried egg roll. Members of the Embassy team arrive and share the remnants of the breakfast before I join with them and return to their accommodation.
I then head to the second service of the day. This time no bare metal frame on a meagre concrete base, but a large church built in 1959 with two massive towers, that loom large over the city it represents. ‘All Saints’ Cathedral.
Seated in the front passenger seat of the embassy vehicle wearing my black clerical shirt, our vehicle is ushered ahead of others in the queue and taken to the top of car park. Here the Defence Attaché and I are ushered to the very front of the cathedral just before the service begins. We shake a few hands and then take our seats, as the Archbishop, his grace the Reverend Daniel Deng Bul, walks with the other clergy to the altar rail, stop and bow before taking their seats.
We sit just in front of the altar rail. To our left are three clergy, and to our right are another four, including the archbishop. To our immediate right is the choir, resplendent in their purple and cream robes with ASC woven into their crème tabs – ‘All Saint’s Choir’.
The welcome over the first hymn is announced and we stand to sing ‘Rock of Ages Cleft for me.’ The nave fills with the wonderful sound of voices raised in praise of our God. The choir gives a lead, but these old familiar words lift our hearts and our praise heavenwards with little need of supporting help.
Prayers and other old familiar hymns provide a vibrant beginning to this service before the Cathedral canon gets to his feet, and walking across to the pulpit gestures to me and says: ‘Perhaps our brothers would like to come up and tell us who they are and where they are from?’ So Jonty, the Defence attaché and myself walk to the podium and address the mass of eager faces, perhaps 600 – 1000 crammed into this hot nave and aisles.
I tell them my name, that I'm from the United Kingdom and am an army chaplain working for the United Nations (UNMISS). I then tell them that at this very time in Britain, Europe, America, other parts of Africa and the world, the people of God are lifting their voices in praise of their God, and declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord. I say that as they raise their voices here in the Cathedral of South Sudan, the very angels in heaven join them in worshipping our God. The nave breaks into spontaneous applause and I return to my seat.
Later the Archbishop, his Grace the Reverend Daniel Deng Bul, rises to preach on faith, taking John chapter 3 as his text. He then stops mid-flow in his sermon. To my utter amazement he speaks to me from the pulpit. He says:
‘Our brother here is a British army chaplain and I had been told that he was coming and was expecting you.
Did you know that the Episcopal Church in South Sudan was founded by a British army chaplain?
We need help here in training our chaplains who work with the army as they have very poor training. I believe that God may have sent you here to help us to train our chaplains. We welcome you here today brother.’
As I reflect on the primate's words, I'm suddenly struck by the contrast between our humble little service this morning in a metal, partially-constructed hut with a congregation of 12, and this beautiful brick building in which we now sit, surrounded by a congregation counted in the many hundreds, led by the leading cleric of the nation of South Sudan. All declaring the praise of the living God and seeking to walk by His ways.
The archbishop encourages the congregation to allow their lives to be lived by faith, to be ‘born again’ with lives changed by the message of Jesus, giving up the ways of the past and embracing a new way to live, God’s way, as part of God’s tribe.
The church here has a powerful voice and can be heard, not just when it sings God’s praises in All Saints Cathedral. Perhaps this voice needs to be listened to more in this country with its vibrant people, who want nothing more than to live in peace with each other, all one tribe under Christ.
‘Lord in you mercy: hear our prayer’
Pictures | Ministry of Defence
Cole Maynard has been a Baptist army chaplain for 20 years, and is currently on deployment in South Sudan as part of UNMISS, the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan.