Mama Rose, ECS-Rejaf’s Mother’s Union Coordinator has been my closest South Sudanese companion since I’ve been in South Sudan. She makes it her business to make sure I’m healthy, safe, and taken care of. However, one day, through my actions I found myself seriously on her bad side.
Mama Rose, two other male pastors, the driver, and I traveled to an area called Wonduruba to do a health assessment. When I told an American missionary friend that I was traveling to Wonduruba, his eyebrows raised and mouth dropped open before he warned of the places potential dangers. Apparently, about two to three months before my trip, there was serious violence between the people of Wonduruba and the people of the neighboring town of Lainya. During our trip I was able to see the effects of the violence. A brand new secondary school was abandoned because of nearby clashes. The school’s chalkboard still held an English lesson from the last day class was held – August 17, 2011 (We visited in mid Nov).
On the third day of the assessment, we finished early and went back to the lodge where we slept. The two pastors were born and raised in the area, each having family and in-laws still living in Wonduruba. Because we were finished early, one of the pastors asked me if I could give him a ride to his in-law’s house. I immediately said, “Yes”. Going to his in-law would give me an opportunity to see how people actually lived, candidly. Whenever I meet people they are always waiting for me, and have full knowledge that a foreigner is coming. It’s hard to tell if people are being genuine or putting on a mask for the visitor.
As we were preparing to leave, I told the pastor to inform Mama Rose, who wasn’t feeling well at the time, that we were going. The pastor walked to Mama Rose’s room, then two minutes later he and Mama Rose walked towards the vehicle together. Mama Rose said, “Darriel, the Bishop said ‘No unnecessary moving’. I am the one in charge of you. You have to tell me before you go anywhere.” I said, “Mama Rose, I am telling you, and I’m not traveling by myself, I’m traveling with two other pastors who are from this area.” Mama Rose shrugged her shoulders and walked away in a manner that clearly indicated her annoyance.
I didn’t pay Mama Rose’s attitude much mind. I felt I was being reasonable, and I did not want to sit around just waiting for the next day to come. When I returned, Mama Rose was sitting in the common area outside the rooms. I walked up to her and joking said, “Mama Rose, we’re back and we’re safe”. Mama Rose didn’t smile or respond. I pulled up a chair to sit next to her, and asked, “Mama Rose, are you still mad at me?” She replied, “Yes, I’m very annoyed. I’m going to tell Bishop even. Darriel I left my family for you and your program. You are the only reason I’m here, and you disrespect me. Why?” I said, “Mama Rose, I did not disrespect you. I went with two pastors from this area.” At this point, Mama Rose waived her hand to cut me off. Five minutes later she got up and walked into her room.
I sat there by myself for a few minutes. Then I walked in my room to get a book I was reading. After a few pages, my conscious started bothering me. I walked into Mama Rose’s room and said, “Mama Rose, I’m sorry, please forgive me. I didn’t know I would upset you like this.” Mama Rose was not listening to me. She waived her hand and said, “No No, it’s okay. You’re grown, you’re a big person.” I tried again, “I’m sorry Mama Rose”, but she replied in the same fashion, not even looking at me.
I walked away and after about an hour or so, our dinner arrived and everyone entered the dining hall. During dinner Mama Rose didn’t talk to me. After dinner, we usually remained in the dining hall watching videos and talking, but again Mama Rose ignored me. After about 15 minutes, I got up, walked into the common area, pulled out Watchman Nee’s “The Ordinary Christian Life” (a great book by the way), sat alone and started reading.
When I was reading, it was loneliest I’ve felt during my time in South Sudan. I really felt like going home and returning to the things I missed – friends, family, the familiarity of US cities – out of concern for people I didn’t know very well. A few minutes passed and I saw Mama Rose walking towards me. I wasn’t sure if she was walking to me or to her room that was immediately behind where I sat. After I glanced at her, I put my eyes back into my book.
Then, Mama Rose walked up to me and fell on my neck. I was sitting in a chair. She kneeled, wrapped her arms around my head and said, “Darriel I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to think about America. Don’t think about home now. I’m sorry.” I was really touched by Mama Rose’s apology. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed someone apologizing in a more sincere fashion. She encouraged me to come in and watch videos with the rest of the group, which I did.
When it was time to sleep, Mama Rose asked if she could pray with me. She prayed for our relationship, the work we were doing, and for our individual families. Again, I was touched and I reassured Mama Rose that I didn’t harbor any negative feelings. I also apologized for not respecting her fully. The next morning things were back to normal and we continued our work. When I thought back on the events, I really learned what a sincere apology looked like from mama Rose. It was verbal and bodily, grace seeking, honest, vulnerable, and not defensive. It reminded me of the way Walter (played by Puff Daddy [P Diddy]) apologized to his mother after he lost the insurance money in the latest re-adaption of A Raisin in the Sun, or the way Eudorus broke the news to Achilles (played by Brad Pitt) that his younger cousin Patroclus died in Troy (I like movies). Moreover, it reminded me of way that God wants us to repent when we turn back to the Giver of Life, that is verbally and bodily, grace seeking, honest, vulnerable, and not defensive.