This is the season where people all over the States are turning tassels, receiving their degrees, and moving on to the next era in life. Unfortunately, I missed my cousin’s graduation, but I was able to sort of see my Dukies graduate through a live stream that was a bit too broad for my broadband. Thankfully, I made out a couple friends speaking from the podium, and many others being hooded with full smiles.
In South Sudan, I witnessed a graduation of another kind. The school year in South Sudan ends just before Christmas, so even if Juba University wasn’t still shut down from the student riots a month back, now would not be the season to eye people walk across stage. The graduation I witnessed was that of the church’s next set of leaders. It was the licensing of Mother’s Union and lay speakers.
Their graduation was a four-day event. During the first three days, they received training of various sorts – goals of Mother’s Union, management and planning, Community Health, and a few others. Unfortunately, the training for one day was canceled because the rain made a bridge impassable. Consequently, the facilitators couldn’t make it. The training recipients, and graduates, were very eager to receive the training and the licensing. Some of them walked from as far as 10 miles away. Almost all slept outside in a camp-like fashion. The people dressed in their best clothes, which they thoroughly washed, ironed, and folded meticulously before beginning the journey (for some who live in particular villages, this only happens about once a year on special occasions).
The training and graduation was in the future headquarters area of Rejaf – Diocese. Bishop Enock is planning for the construction of a nice cathedral, guesthouse, offices and staff housing. Currently, all that is a there is a small church made of locally made bricks, trees, and mud. The church has an image of a cross carved out of far wall of the church. The decorative opening provides much needed light to enter the sanctuary. Outside the church are always a few families of goats. Sometimes a couple of dogs, which occasionally walk into the structure during worship services, are also outside. The church is located next to a small mountain called Jebel Rejaf (Jebel or Gebel is the Arabic word for mountain), which the locals call a hill.
The Fourth day was a Sunday. They held a special worship service that concluded in what I’ve termed the graduation. A few people from the UN came, along with other high government officials. All the diocesan leaders were present, dressed in their best clothes. The Bishop wore his bishop garb with a new mitre (or hat) he recently received from a Catholic Bishop. For the first time the lay speakers put on their stoles and the Mother’s Union members held their membership cards. Some of the women were becoming Mother’s Union members and becoming lay leaders at the same time. Like graduations in the West, they shook the hand of the institutional leader (the Bishop) and received a certificate. They all smiled and were extremely proud in the moment.
It was good for all involved. Afterwards, we ate the bull that was slaughtered that morning and I took group photos of those involved. The occasion was shared with the retirement of an archdeacon. Each area represented danced and presented gifts (money, goats, and decorations) to the Archdeacon. The children beat the drum, blew an instrument made from a bullhorn, and played a harp-like/lyre-like instrument called dungu. In the end, everyone had danced and eaten, the retired archdeacon was appreciated, and the graduates were proud and ready to move on to their next assignment.