The fairy lights had stayed up, and the Hall’s rest had been short before the Fair was being set up. We had, in the meantime, over 140 people at the Christingle Service. There was the usual bustle at 2.00pm, as the door opened; and who should be there, but Santa, present in hand! The smell of mulled wine from the kitchen and then of a bacon butty being eaten (by Steve) in the Hall drew attention to the great food. Old favourite stalls were there; the books stall did well; and so did the new stall trading jewelry. £500 later we went home – and all unsold was given to Fara and the Shooting Star.
The gig in the Hall was well supported and raised close to £500. With other
donations this will more than pay our share of the cost St John’s taking part in The Shelter Project Hounslow from February.
Thanks to all who worked so hard: Jayne and the fantastic Roosevelt Bandwagon; Gill, Dave and Richard behind the bar; Dave B behind the door
(and a great raffle prize), Emma likewise; Steve for sound engineering skills. Brian for looking after the money. My fellow Jam Junkies ask me to pass on their thanks to all. If you are interested in volunteering, contact me.
First stop, the font. ‘How many of you go to church?’ Up went a few enthusiastic hands from Year 4 of Worple School at their visit to St John’s. ‘And who has seen a baptism?’ About the same number of hands. A lesson then about why the font has 8 sides. One of the boy’s names gave a clue. And a girl whispered that it was her birthday.
‘Who recognises names of books from the Bible’, as the CD played. Exodus! Joshua! Samuel! Isaiah! My father’s name is John! My brother’s is Mark! Attempts to say Genesis and Revelation, eg, were only partially successful.
We looked up at the West window. ‘Can we sing our song about Herod?’ They impressively went for it; reminding everyone how horrid he was.
Testing out the pulpit was a huge hit, so Katherine the teacher reports. ‘I can’t hear you!’ could be heard from the back, so voices were raised. When the PA went on, there was even more scope. ‘What’s written on the floor by the font?’ one boy asked. Down on our knees, we deciphered the plaque of the congregation’s gratitude to their first vicar. Others got on drawing some of the features of the church.
‘You can now ask Father Tom your questions,’ Katherine advised. ‘How old are you?’ How much money do you earn?’ (Katherine was not sure about that one.) Where do you get the candles from? ‘What’s the best bit of your job?’ ‘How did you choose to come to Isleworth?’ ‘Have you got a prayer to pray with us? When you pray, how do you feel the Spirit?’ Yes, especially when I pray in public, I feel the Spirit inspiring my words, feeling something of God’s heart,
Katherine writes: Thank you so much for making Year 4s visit so enjoyable and informative. The children had a great time and when we went back to school we wrote about our visit. I do like older buildings like St John’s. It has a lovely atmosphere.
It was a beautiful morning as Bishop Bismark drove us to Kotobe. The recent storms had left the road in places partially blocked. During the war Mundri Town evacuated here and in 2000 a previous SOMA visit had included one of our team, David.
On entering the village the Bishop got out to join a group walking to church. Kay drove the rest of us the final 500 metres, a palm arch showing the way. The walkers sang their way there, for us all to gather under a tree. One of those to be confirmed was sick. We went to her home. David (a doctor) agreed with me she had the look of someone close to death. She lay on a mat while children played and chickens scratched away nearby. The Bishop confirmed her.
Returning to the church, a goat skin drum was being warmed by a fire. The service started 45 minutes late and continued, as the heat rose, for at least 3½ hrs. Not all of that was my sermon; all our team introduced themselves and other people had their say too. The worship took on new energy as the choir danced up the aisle and sang beautifully. Finally the confirmations: over 30 people, who had received 2 weeks of intensive preparation.
A saucepan full of honey with ground nuts, a local speciality, crowned our late lunch. We were given all uneaten to take home – at least half. The Bishop’s gift was a cockerel, whose first bid for freedom came as we got in the vehicle to leave. ‘His legs have not been properly tied’, someone said. Shrill protests could be heard, as he was returned. At our next stop, we assumed he was still tied securely under the rear seat. But full of indignation and protest, out he jumped. Freedom would have been his had he turned right; he guessed wrong. We would see him again, at supper with the Bishop the following day.
The official at Juba airport marked with a chalk cross each case he checked. Ours had yellow sticky labels on which Alex, from Mission Aviation Fellowship, had written ‘Mundri’. He pointed to the scales and the 7 of us, in turn, got on. Holding our hand luggage ensured secrecy, if desired. We went into the ‘departure lounge’, positioning ourselves near the air conditioning unit. It was a humid 32 degrees.
It was not long before Brad, the Kiwi pilot, was praying for our flight before take off. A matter of routine, he reassured. We had a great view of the Nile and the S Sudan terrain. Brad was avoiding huge banks of clouds. At one point we wondered if he might have to return. Then we saw the little airstrip.
As we stepped out, there was a welcome party. It must be for us, as there were no other planes there. They struck up a song, a tinsel necklace was put around each of our necks, and we were given a sprig of wild flowers and some sweets: a wonderful feeling of welcome. Bishop Bismark introduced himself.
Carefully avoiding potholes filled with water after recent rain, we arrived at our Guesthouse. There was more singing. Not tukels (mud huts) this time, but en suite rooms – even if there were little white frogs in the toilet. It was only 18 hours since leaving Heathrow, but a totally different world.
Sothern Sudan is the world’s youngest nation. The civil war finally ended in 2005. It did not take us long to see the scale of the task ahead. Much of what infrastructure there was got destroyed in the war. But: now there is peace, and a new mood. The Church has a great opportunity to help shape this new nation. What a privilege for us to spend time in this place and be with their youth at this moment.