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'He is far richer than many of us'

'Gabriel lives and works in poverty... but what lives he is obviously touching on earth.' Baptist chaplain Cole Maynard is inspired by the example of a Roman Catholic priest in his latest blog from South Sudan



Father Gabriel: 21 April 2017


Serving as an Army chaplain brings with it a certain degree of sacrifice. While the draw of serving in far off climes, with the risk of a certain amount of danger might appeal to some: with its physical challenges and the excitement of exploration and new experience; this comes at a cost. You are away from your family and friends for many months at a time, separated from those you love and hold dear. You miss key events like birthdays and anniversaries, of seeing your children at certain stages in their development.

Then there is the workload. Weekends, and evenings off, become something you look forward to at the end of the tour as you work long hours to achieve the goals of the mission.
There's also the loss of comforts: perhaps of sleeping in the field, or living off rations and not fresh food, and of course becoming accustomed to some very basic form of toilet. I remember when in Iraq at the end of the Second Gulf War that we were all thrilled to have a toilet that consisted of a massive hole in the earth covered with a single plank out of which six round holes have been cut. This served as our open privy for many months and you would arrive early morning to find five others concentrating on their ‘business’, perhaps reading a paper or having a quiet smoke (this was 2003!). The colonel could be on the next hole to yours, ‘morning Colonel’, I would offer, ‘morning Padre’ would come the reply. Conversation was conventionally limited to a personal greeting as these moments are normally private and require a certain degree of concentration! The obvious open and public nature of the privy was ignored in a very British fashion as we imagined ourselves surrounded by white ceramic tiles with a flushing cistern behind us rather than the petrol can that would flush by fire our collective offence.
However, our privations and sacrifices melt away when one considers the privations and sacrifices of a noble man of God called Father Gabriel*. Gabriel is a Roman Catholic priest and has been working in our refugee camp since 2013. Gabriel goes home once every three years as his mission cannot afford to pay for more flights than this, and he lives in a very simple shared tent with seven other people.
To meet him you might not be duly impressed. His black shoes are coated with the red dust of Africa and have seen better days, his shirt is faded, as are his trousers, which bear the marks of a long and functional life. His long grey hair, is swept back across his head, and adorned with an old and dusty wide brimmed hat, but all this is hidden by the beam he wears on his leathery face beneath those bright brown eyes.

For a man in his late 60s he walks with a very upright and definite manner, and greets everyone with his endearing smile. This is a man who loves humanity and it is this love, with his embracing love of Jesus, that brings him to Malakal and keeps him here, living in physical poverty. Not that it appears to bother my brother Gabriel. His focus seems less upon his threadbare clothing or lean form and more on the person before him. He seems almost oblivious to his own privations as he asks about the welfare of others and greets them with a smile that seems to radiate out from his face with a greater intensity than the sun above his head.
He has certainly challenged my sense of sacrifice. As I walk him around the UK camp, he meets lots of the locals who are employed to work in our kitchens or stores areas. Each lights up when they see this old priest. ‘It’s Father Gabriel’ they cry. Long black arms are raised pointing, bright Sudanese smiles flicker across faces, hands are shaken, warm greeting exchanged. It seems none of the South Sudanese people we pass don’t know this noble old missionary who has laboured for so long in the camp, sharing the privations of his flock and faithfully bringing divine service and hope day by day and Sunday by Sunday. This coming Sunday he has 102 baptisms to perform! This, he tells me, is less than Christmas when he was presented with 242 babies to anoint with water. ‘That was a long service’ he remarks.
What a faithful example Gabriel presents to us all. When Jesus called him to follow he left everything, including the desire for a wife and family, for a house and career, for a comfortable lifestyle. He has followed his Saviour to many countries from his native New York and for these past four years has sojourned with the people of South Sudan in this camp.

Gabriel lives and works in poverty, but in truth I believe he is far richer than many of us, as his calling has led to a dedicated life of serving others. What riches he must have accumulated in heaven and what lives he is obviously touching on earth.
Father Gabriel, I salute you!

*Gabriel is not his real name.

ColeMaynard223Cole 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. He is blogging for The Baptist Times   

Read his other blogs:
A day in the life of an army chaplain... in South Sudan 
A Sunday in Juba
‘Let us not grow weary of doing good’ Dogs are reviled in many cultures, but that did not stop British engineers rescuing one
'Thank God for tarmac and concrete' A heavy downpour was another reminder of how much basic infrastructure South Sudan lacks

Pictures | Ministry of Defence 



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