left my heart under a mango tree

TURALEI :: June 25

We arrive Awiel on Saturday morning prepared to set out immediately for the border with Abyei.  A small dusty blink of a town home to the tens of thousands fleeing the destruction of their worlds our destination.  In the middle of trying to arrange transport and purchase fuel, word comes that marauding militias from the northern areas had pillaged the area two nights in a row.  We could not proceed.    We decide the next morning we would rise before the sun, take off at first light and return by sun down.  It is a 5 hour journey over barely there roads one way.

We shake sleep the next morning from our eyes before light peeks over the horizon.   We purchase two huge grain sacks filled with warm fresh bread and off we set.  Villages of Wonyjok, Malual Bai, Akon, Gogrial, and then Wunrok pass by as we drive through landscape dotted with palm trees where cattle share the road.

We stop for a security report at the WFP base in Wunrok.  All is calm in the day the report comes.  On we go.  Nearing the border with the north, we approach Turalei.  Temporary shelters line the road and fill the open spaces.  We pull into the dusty center of the market and I flag down a UN vehicle with two very bewildered westerners and an Asian driver.

Concern crosses their faces.  “You aren’t planning to stay the night?” they worriedly ask.  “What organization are you with? It is very unstable here.”  I am passed a card to call in emergency.  They obviously were not planning on staying long.

We find thousands of refugees fled just that morning deeper into the bush to escape the attacks that haunted them.  We wind our way through some grass mat huts in a field until we happen on a family under a mango tree.  Joy fills my heart at it all.  The closer I get to where the bullets are flying the happier I am it seems.  I really don’t do tame well.

Mama Lina (in the green with her arm around me) runs up and envelops me in a huge hug.  Her eyes glisten.  Her children laugh and giggle.  Sitting on a grass mat, the only thing left from their former home in Abyei, they open their hearts and stories to us.  You would think they were simply having a picnic.  I was undone by their simple joy.

They narrate the last weeks.  Bombs started to fall and militias with guns blazing came in setting fire to all in their path.  The story was being repeated again.  The tragedy again.  The ethnic cleansing of a region violently engulfing the people as their world exploded all around them and they ran.  For hours they ran.  Not knowing if children were safe or loved ones alive.  Running for their very lives with nothing.

These were somehow the lucky ones.  They did not become separated in the chaos.  This mama gazes deep into my heart, moist eyes shining and she who ran from bombs living with her children under a mango tree with no protection in the natural from marauding militias, SHE grabs me close me and holds on to me for long.    I can feel the love of God in her embrace.

She leans low and whispers about His faithfulness.  He will care for you.  Don’t worry about your leg.  He will never leave you.  He will always be there.  We are never alone.

I choke back tears.  I seriously want to pull up a grass mat under the next mango tree and become their neighbor.  I will never forget how Jesus looked at me through Mama Lina’s eyes.  I am stunned again at the generosity, the compassion and the riches of those we call poor. I leave a bit of my heart under their tree. I long for the day I can go back and find it.  It is an honor to walk with them.  Because they having nothing, have everything that matters.  And I have much to learn from that.

Giving thanks today for habuba’s coffee, warming greetings on a cool morning, soft hearts willing to learn, omjuma’s prayers, that elaina’s brother smiled, for roasted maize, the green and growth, structure that is stretching beyond my comfort zone, for grace.