Sharing the Graces of Reading
"They Come Back Singing"

The First Four Days of Lent

Photo by Don Doll, S.J.

"I am consoled to be surrounded by the refugees, who are clearly happy that I am here. My God, I am here. I am in Uganda. I am among the refugees."

Gary Smith, S.J.







Photo by Don Doll, S.J.

Gulu, Uganda, near Pabbo. Many people use the road to travel back and forth to Gulu. Near evening many move to the city for safety.

Photo by Don Doll, S.J.







Photo by Don Doll, S.J.

In Pabbo, a refugee camp for some 67,000 IDP's [Internally Displaced Persons].

Photo by Don Doll, S.J.







Photo by Don Doll, S.J.

Agnes Ayet, age 25, with her daughter, Fatuma Akamyo [commander's name]. Agnes was 12 when abducted, and spent 13 years in captivity. She also has another 2 year old.

Photo by Don Doll, S.J.

“The deepest lash to my soul is the suffering of the children.” How true and I empathize with this so closely. Fr. Gary’s impressions of Kampala resonate as I am now in a Philippine neighborhood where a slum area is gated/walled off from the adjacent million peso homes.

Three blocks away, there is a 2 year old, 3 level church with marble appointments. As I leave Mass today, I see two young, gaunt boys who look like they should be in school but are rather scavenging through garbage dumped 48 steps from the side of the church. I reach into my purse to give them U.S. chocolates/candies I carry wherever I go precisely for times like these. I am ashamed though because when they open their hands to get the candy from me, I am taken aback and almost pull my hand back because of how dirty, how black the small hands were. I think of my grandson who would have hands like theirs only if he played with charcoal.

Lord, they are not refugees like the children of Fr. Gary but their story could well be the same. Perhaps the two boys were smiling when I left, perhaps they went home singing…I don’t know. Please forgive my reaction to their dirty hands. I do not know how to help except to pray always for children like them and occasionally give them something to eat or some money when You make them cross my path.

But, Lord, please give me the grace to be more compassionate to those who are with me and I can do something more for. Though my daughter already has a son, You have made me realize that she is still a child, perhaps suffering from my inconsiderate heart. Let me not pull back from her just because what she does disappoint me. Let me give to her like I still gave to the children with the dirty hands. She is still my child and she is suffering from my hardened heart. “Lead me, O God. In all this, craft a steady heart.”

Menchie, California

Things looked so very different this morning at Mass. The room was stark and bare. The liturgy was different for the season. The words recalled the mood of the season: "Rend your hearts and repent." I look at how I am living these days. I see a world that makes no sense yet I know of a world that even now beckons me to return to it: the Kingdom of heaven.

As I stood behind the altar this morning, my mind still wondering what to think of the first four chapters of our book, I was struck again by a feeling. The first time I had felt it was 33 years ago by the banks of the Harpeth River in central Tennessee. I had been in this country only three weeks. I had no return ticket. I was there to stay, but that afternoon the ground under my feet seemed to ask me: "Who are you? I do not know you." I sense beneath Gary Smith¹s stories and letters echoes of that same question posed to him.

Maybe Lent is to be that way for us: a trip to a place that asks us: "Who are you? Tell me, for I do not know you." Perhaps our answer can be: "My commonwealth is in Heaven but my home for now is here and while I am here I gather with my compatriots around this altar."

Fr. Peter, STS, New Carlisle, Ohio

I was really moved by the story of the man killed by lightening. In my village here in British Columbia we just had a tragic death - a Catholic death. It has really shaken the parish and the wider village community. Like the family of the man who was struck by lightening the family is recieving much support. My wife, as she always does, brought some food over for the family and as she invariably says there was tons of food already there. The lady in Gary's narrative needed to save the chicken that was scorched by the lightening to feed her family. Something for me to thing about!

I think that God is telling me through the people that we have met so far and in particularly this story to do something; (politically, advocacy) to help these people. Something more than just writing a cheque. Two years ago my wife went to Kenya for a month (she's a physiotherapist) to help out at a mission hospital. She wants to go back for a longer period and she wants me to come with her. Being a man who likes his creature comforts I have been putting this off. The grace that I am going to ask for is the grace of motivation. This Lenten exercise is beginning to provide that!

Nakusp, British Columbia

These first chapters highlight all the ordinary expectations of life that are denied to the refugees. Yet it is astonishing that people denied so much give with such generosity a duck and seven eggs. Such comfort and hope they give. I am overwhelmed by the faith that allows them to give away what is so often denied to them.

Where has fear allowed me to hoard what God has given me, thus denying others the comfort and hope for which they long?

Denise Phillips, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

As I meditated over the journal entry "Killer Lightening" my thoughts turned to a recent news report concerning the death of over 50 persons due to severe storms in the Midwest and South in the United States. The report focused on a family who lived in a house specifically built to protect it from such devastating storms. Unfortunately, the mother of seven children was killed in the storm. Family members sought answers to their loss: some blamed the death on bad luck, others on Satan, and still others on God.

My thoughts returned to the wife, the children, and the members of the community left behind to mourn the deceased's death. What were their thoughts? Did they experience such an horrific death as chance? Did they shake their emaciated fists towards the heavens with anger in their already suffering hearts?

No! I would like to imagine they experienced the death in silent trust, believing that the God they have come to worship, the God they have come to believe in would not forget their manifold suffering as God their Father, did not forget the manifold suffering of His Son, as they drove unblamingly, silently, yet acceptingly through the muddied road leading them home, to their blessed community.

When one experiences a crucible, a trial, one might question ones resourcefulness to see it through the test. For many who live in the developing nations, the trials typically can be resolved through any number of external resources: educational institutions; hospitals; religious institutions; social services; support systems; entrepreneurism;even governments. But what happens to those who live without such resources? What solutions are afforded those whose daily existence is tied directly towards those whose reasons for being lie somewhere between I don't care and I absolutely do not care?

Fr. Gary writes that in the midst of such crushing obstacles, he had never witnessed the 23rd Psalm prayed with "such devotion" and "faith," as those persons who find themselves in the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement. As I write this, I experience such shame when I hear the words, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want," for it seems that I am always wanting some-things. I will not further embarrass myself by listing the litany of things I have often prayed. But as I continue this journey, it is my continued prayer that I seek for those graces that will enable me to recognize the needless pain and suffering of hundreds of thousands of God's children, and the power to exercise my faith in Christ Jesus to the end that such suffering might end.

"...And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear, for Thou art with me..."

Emmanuel, USA

“Lead me, O God. In all this, craft a steady heart.”

These prayerful words of the author are becoming my prayer too. His prayer rises from the struggle with emotions as he travels farther and farther into the depths of Africa to a world that is “invisible to developed nations”. My prayer is born as I try to balance a career in the high-pressured world of computer software development, with family responsibilities, volunteer commitments, and my recognized need to nurture intimacy with God.

I can easily become unsteady and get discouraged working in an environment that seems godless with little concern for humans. Yet, I see Fr. Gary and the refugees facing far worse conditions and remaining steady in their belief that God is always among them. This Lent I ask the Spirit to help me “continually revisit my intentions” to look for and to share the light of Christ regardless of circumstances.

Celia, Milton, MA, US

As I begin to read this book, I naturally identify most with Gary Smith. He is coming into the refugee camp as an outsider, and certainly I am even farther "outside." I can imagine his feeling of being overwhelmed with the strangeness, of being always off balance.

But then that is the fundamental situation of refugees -- this is not home for them, and they have lost the home they had. Many (if not
most) of them have been suddenly uprooted, and have not had the luxury of "time to adjust," either. This commonality can be the basis of understanding.

The image that stays with me from these chapters is from the Christmas Mass in Agulupi -- the dance that included an imitation of the infant Jesus weeping. "...a cry heard down the centuries from God-become-human." I have never seen Jesus, the baby, crying as part of the Christmas scene. I wonder what more profound cultural contrast that points to. In any case it's touching and beautiful and deeply human.

Betsy, Philadelphia, PA

The "flashing smiles and tired eyes" of the villagers as they gave Fr Gary his Christmas gift of a live duck; this is an image which remains with me. Generosity in the face of such poverty is so moving. I am shocked by the scale of mortality experienced by these refugees. Although I already "knew" this, hearing it first-hand, so to speak, makes the tragedy one to which I relate personally.

Any troubles I have in my life seem as pinpricks when compared to the daily grinding difficulties these fellow human beings contend with. Why them? Why was I born in such a privileged country?

The grace I ask for is to be able to hold their suffering in my heart and be open to how God would have me respond.

Jean, Lancaster, UK
There are two images that remain with me. The first one is when the killer lightening struck and killed the man while riding his bike and carrying the chicken that would be their food. His wife and three of his children were ahead of him and were not hurt physically but the impact of what happened I could almost see on his wife's face as the stark reality set in. The second image was the Christmas celebration in Agulupi when the dancers and singers featured an imitation of the wailing of baby Jesus. I believe God is reminding me throught the two Christmas celebrations of Eucharist that God is indeed "born again, his tender presence hidden in the bread, nourishing Gary and his little congregation".

As I move into this Lenten time with this story I ask for the grace to be open to all that God will gift me with especially when Gary breaks bread for his people. I pray too, "that just as Gary was born anew, through the One who created and sustained him" that I will be open to all that this Lenten experience holds for me.

Sr. Margaret from Pittsburgh

Images that remain with me are: the constant, oppressive heat, the
beige dryness and barrenness of the land, the ever present taste and
feel of dust/grit, the fear and awareness of disease and death that
the emaciated,crippled bodies, the insects, and snakes constantly
evoke. Yet, at the same time, the joyful, wholehearted participation,
by the people, in the liturgy and their dogged acceptance of life and
complete trust in God causes me to wonder about my values and life!

I admire Paco for the time he has served in Chiapas, Mexico City, and
Africa, establishing programs in adult literacy and training the
laity. Also, and actually more than he, I admire and am in awe of, the
refugees! Amidst all their suffering and deprivation, the enormity of
their faith, and trust in God is overwhelming to me - where is my
faith, and trust in the Lord in comparison?

I ask for the grace of an open heart, so that I may learn how to trust
in the Lord completely, listen to the "inner voice", and joyfully
serve Him.

Green Cove Springs, FL, US

The image of the man killed by lightning and his family has remained with me since I read of their tragedy. The parents walking their bicycles with the chicken attached and the little children walking along. It made me think ,"What am I complaining about the snow and cold. I have a warm home with plenty of food and good transportation." Did the wife have time to mourn her husband's death or was the need to provide for herself and her children prevent that?

I admire Father Smith. His statement that his book is not about what he gave the refugees but what they gave him brings out a truth I have ignored, many times. People and situations we come in contact with have much to give us if only we look at what they have to offer. Sometimes the most difficult situations provide the best lessons.

Father Smith's journey from being an irreligious person to being a Jesuit in Uganda is one example of the wondrous way God works with us is we just "pay attention" to His calls. It brought to mind the many ways my journey has changed directions because of a call which came from God, though I did not appreciate the fact at the time.

This Lent, I am asking for the grace to cooperate with God's guidance and to really see about all His children, not just the people in my circle of family and friends.

Mary from Joliet, Illinois, US

Fr. Gary's experience traveling into a foreign land is remarkable. A world so different from the one we know in the states. He was 'concerned about the future and living in the glory of the past', but what he did was pray to God, who granted him peace and courage to handle the present moment, such a grand lesson. Often times I dwell on the past and worry about the future, I am still learning this, but being fully present at each moment in time is a true gift, which requires one to put all faith and trust in God. (easier said then done at times).
Joe M. - Cleveland, Ohio, US

At this time last year, I was in India. As I read Gary’s initial experiences, I kept saying to myself “ditto, ditto, ditto.” His image of an “outlaw gene” being unleashed inside himself and sending a message of self-doubt to his heart made me stop dead in my tracks. His feelings, revealed in words like anxious, nervous, unsafe, unprotected, antsy, struggling, walking in a sea of suffering and disease, had a profound effect on me.

They deluged my inner landscape and waves of similar memories surged in my heart as I recalled what it was like to be a foreigner. Here I was half way around the world away from everyone I loved and from all known realities. I felt once again God’s invitation to stay with my experiences in India. Through this retreat, God reveals to me again that God never fails me; God is the Sustainer of my life and giver of all gifts. And yet hard messages are still hard to hear: being vulnerable, not in control, at the disposal of others, embracing the ways of another culture and more. Who wants to experience such things? And yet for me all of these became messengers of deepest love!

Love exploded once again for me in the miracle of people I met in these chapters: grieving parents, dancing children, a sorrowing wife, orphaned and guileless students, breast-feeding mothers, and a short-fused Jesuit companion. I wanted to weep especially for the refugees who suffered the loss of child after child. How does a person ever absorb such pain? As I met these persons, God, once again was given a face. From the Rhino camp, I pray that I may see. . . and in that new sight, may I live and love each day.

Jacquelyn, SND - Ohio, US

As Gary arrives at the refugee camp, his description of the "army of potential catastrophes marching through my head" left an impression on me. Don't most of us experience something like that when we venture into something new that is way beyond our comfort zone? Not even Gary's inital strong conviction about his calling to Africa will alone assure him that he is where he is meant to be.

As I read the chapter "Killer Lightning" I was saddenned to realize that many, many people in our world live in places where death is as prevalent as life. What is one's outlook on life and God and salvation in a land where half of one's children often die before reaching a ripe age? It is depressing to read, but very real - I need to read this and know that is a reality for many in our world. I take the comforts and security of my own life for granted.

Finally, in reading the "Letter from Rhino Camp", I am most struck by Gary's phrase "I am free when I am most out of control, when I get out of the way and let those walls come down." Being called to something does not mean that the experience will be easy or without adversity. Perhaps God knows we are at our best -- and God is at God's best -- when we relinquish all control and let God's spirit flow through ourselves as empty vessels.

Ed - Cincinnati, Ohio, US

At one level I was so looking forward to Ash Wednesday and the real start to Lent, that as the day unfolded for me, and the many events and encounters which I had during the day, that the phrase which best described me at the end of the day was...'A Displaced Refugee'.......I had hoped that the day would be reflective, calm, peaceful.

....Nothing went as noon I was getting very frustrated...I wanted to hide...I wanted to run. In the late afternoon..I attended mass , which was celebrated in the local language...I could only understand some of it..

So as I laid me down to sleep I said 'Anita whose shoes did you wear today?...It was then the phrase 'A Displaced Refugee' came to me....and I wondered at that moment of those who had that day been moved from their homes. And moved to a place which 'displaced' them ...removed them from what was familiar and safe....And yet the events, the plans for me not working out, cannot be compared to the fear , the pain, which a person must experience from being moved from their homeland.

Lord, be my guide as I attempt to walk in the shoes of a displaced refugee.
Anita, South Africa

In the reading, I'm finding more of a message coming directly from comparing my thoughts and emotions with Fr. Gary's. I don't hear God's message coming from the people yet. Maybe it's because I haven't really been introduced to them yet. Like Fr. Gary, I'm too new to the situation, and still and "outsider" looking in through a window at their lives.

I sense more, the struggle Gary is having determining why he is there and what he is supposed to be doing. He clearly has a specific job to learn and do, but is simply doing that job going to bring him fulfilment?
He is there because he felt a calling from God to be there. Why else did he leave Portland, or even the US. It wasn't because we lack poverty, or people who need guidance. It doesn't seem that he is their to save souls either. There seems to be a very strong belief in Christianity, and I think in dealing with these people Father Gary is having his faith strengthened by them.

That brings me around to asking what is it that these people need spiritually? Do they need someone to be there and enhance and increase their faith, or do they need someone to be there for them when they are about to give up? I think Fr. Gary is a touchstone for the people. He is a physical representation of what they believe in, and that their belief is justified and the love is returned. They believe in God, and God has sent them "Abba Gary". It seems his purpose for being there, is simply to be there. He works with the children and gives them information that the World is much different than what they see every day; and I think to show us that it is different from what we the readers see every day. He gives them hope and inspiration for what they want their World, the world they are going to build, to be like in the future. He is a witness to their thoughts, trials and triumphs, and through his writting a voice for the people.

I see on the JRS website, that there is a job opening as the Project Director in Adjumani, (in fact the position of Country Director for Uganda is open). The position that Fr Gary left. It looks like it was posted in April of 2007, so my guess is there was no one to carry on for him when it was his time to leave. I don't think God would allow the job to go unfinished, so something that was meant to be done was accomplished. It seems that Father Gary was called to be there and experience the lives of these people, and bring them to us through this book.

Somethinig is going on in me, and it is beyond simple coincidence, calling to me, starting me toward action or at least making me aware that it the time is coming. I'm certainly in no position to pick up and move to Africa, but I don't think that is what I am being called to do. Maybe I'm supposed to sit for the moment, and live my life where I am, look at others around me in a new light and help them just by being who I am.

Larry -- San Jose, California, US

In the midst of deprivation and suffering, new life may be found. However, this new life is not to be found necessarily in the miraculous, but in its opposite the commonplace. As Fr. Gary celebrated the Eucharist in the sweltering heat, he recovered the presence of Christ Jesus among the community. Not a community of well-attended parishioners but a community comprised of the least of these God's children. It was while the living bread was broken and shared with the children, children who desired to be close to Jesus, children who were abandoned by the machinations of 21st century Herod, who would foolishly attempt to thwart the Will of God by the "slaughtering of the innocents." Yet, the darkness could not suppress the light; the light which continues to shine in the lives of Kingara and Otumbara and the other children who simply profess the name of Christ. Yes, the Christmas story is experienced day after day in villages and hamlets, in the most obscure places around the world, including the most obscure, the human heart. Merry Christ-mass everyone.

Emmanuel, USA

It is Ash Wednesday evening and I have had the opportunity to be inconvenienced by a long line at the viewing of a friend's father. Upon returning home, I figured this to be a perfect time to delve back into the book. Interestingly enough there is a connection - I did not know the man who passed but was introduced to him by many pictures and a few choice stories while waiting to greet the family. As is often the case for me in these instances, I think of the decedent and the life that is no more. I wonder of its impact on the world that was left behind. These circumstances also cause me to consider those still here - all of us at one time or another will be alone. Finally the connection, Fr. Gary is thrust into a particular isolation given the "foreign conditions", yet he is offered a saving connection by a hospitality that must be rooted in God. So alone may never really mean alone, yet it can be treacherous if we are devoid of belief. The act of trust and leap of faith that is evident in Gary's journey is both admirable but also somewhat pragmatic. Better to have lived with belief than to never have believed at all. I wait in anticipation of my alone moment(s) even though I am now placed within a loving family that seems so full of a protective togetherness that may never end. This presents a bit of a contradiction - considered solitude amidst the fully active life of family. My mantra is centered on the idea that my inevitable aloneness can bring about a greater faith and more confident hope. Frequently, I try to place myself where the decisions and outcomes are not so clear cut, it is my measured way of remaining committed to a response that I can only strive to attain.

I know that as my day began I desired to connect more completely this season with God. I also know that I am quite limited in my ability to reach out and touch Him. Often my prayer seems a total monologue. However, I will keep attuned to those around me - God has placed them close enough to touch if only I can open my heart and accept His word through their presence. Obviously, Gary allowed this to happen and God slowly empowered him to face all of the obstacles that are mentioned. Mine do not seem all that monumental, but here again, we are where we are and our obstacles have their own specific relevance. For now I will dwell on this and pray for those in places of struggle.

Drew, Wayne, Pennsylvania, US

I cannot allow myself to be seduced by the army of potential catastrophes marching through my head, including death.
This Lenten journey that we share as we walk along many different paths to Easter can seem like a well-worn path. That unnerving feeling that Fr. Gary has as he ventures into an uncharted course is all too familiar. I want to walk the path that is easy, even though I grouse on occasion about the rut in which I find myself. His feelings of uncertainty are palpable. That is why often I fail to grasp the opportunity that comes with the new and unfamiliar, fearful of the potential catastrophes that await.

I struggle emotionally off and on, and I spend too much of my time concerned about the future and living in the glory of the past.
His 'temptation to self-doubt' slams into the stark reality that accompanies the tragedy of killer lightning as well as the joy and gratitude that surrounds the gift of a duck and seven eggs. Preoccupations with past and future prevent me from the experience of the present, here and now.

I feel that God says to me through these people that my experience these 53 years is limited, broadened only on the occasion that I risk the radically different path. I ask God to shake me from my slumber, to be open and to listen to the stories and discover Holy Presence in that Christmas song in Lingala, the English from the students Kingara and Otumbara, and the perseverance of the wife whose husband was taken by that killer lightning. Also, I realize that few of us know much of anything about Africa.

Fr. John, Kenmore, New York, US

The book of Isaiah has always been important to me though I cannot stomach it in long stretches. It often seems that Isaiah is a sea of ill omens and hard prophecy on which float beautiful shining islands of pure hope.

I was struck by Gary Smith's excursion into Sudanese culture. "You are most welcome" an expression of graciousness and hospitality is spoken in many a language in the camps at mealtime. The same languages seem to mix freely in the street and in prayer. And the worship! Dance, song, and unity.

As in Isaiah this idyllic picture floated on a chapter that described Sudan and Uganda's tortured history. My soul is asking: "Which of these is reality and which is illusion?" Right now the Spirit is whispering: "Go with the dance."

Peter STS, New Carlisle, Ohio, US

Having read Gary Smith’s other book, Radical Compassion, about his work with men in a single-room occupancy dwelling in Portland, Oregon, I have an idea of how very demanding that ministry was. It was attractive to me, but seemed beyond my capabilities, when I read Smith’s reflections. Hence his statement that his life in Portland “was becoming too comfortable” was a jolt. So my first reflection is how different he and I are, at least on the surface. “…my entire life had been one of moving into unknown situations…,” he says. Some of my life has been that, but much of it has been staying with known situations and trying to go deeper into them.

In order to be present to They Come Back Singing as I wish to be, I will have to avoid the temptation to compare myself (unfavorably) with Gary Smith. That could be a great distraction from the real Lenten work of listening for God’s call to me.

Betsy from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

Entering in any new place brings with it a mixture of often conflicting thoughts. Thoughts of inabilities, doubts, perhaps even fears. Although one tries to constantly reassure oneself, these clouds of unworthiness loom large, that is until one turns to the One who called him/her there in the first place. Those called by God, can rest assured they will experience their Rhino Camp where they will encounter unknown faces, customs, and even themselves, stripped of the masks we so often wear: masks of confidence, self assurance and of self-righteousness. For the writer, as I enter this Lenten Journey, I find myself in a Rhino Camp, where all my abilities seem to be extinct, and indeed are extinct, as long as I trust only in my talents, skills, and learning, rather than trust in the God, who called Ezekiel, and asked him if these bones could live? So like the great prophet, all of us must trust God to bring us through our valley of dry bones, our Rhino Camp experienced as Lenten Sojourners.

Emmanuel, USA

I find myself anxious to follow the story of Kingar and Orumbara, the courageous young students who hold so much hope for the future-not only for themselves, but for their country and its future. I want to learn how they are getting along, yet at the same time, am fearful that news of them in future chapters will not bring joy. And it leads me to admire the young children, as well as the parents who have lost children, suffering such great loss, the deep faith in a God that at times must seem so unkind and unfair. To be blessed with such a deep faith…

I also find myself identifying with some of the emotions of Gary Smith. I am weak. I am racked with self-doubt. I am fearful and anxious about the future. Plain and simple, I’m a wimp! All this in comparison to the people of the Rhino Camp refugee settlement, as well as those who minister to and care for them, in their faith and trust in God.

As I make a sincere effort to deepen and strengthen my faith, I pray this Lent for the grace to come to trust in God more fully; to believe He knows the best plan for me, and to come to know Christ more fully in the Eucharist. In my heart I know that it is faith that gives me strength to face what will come, trust that guides me, and the meal shared around the table of our Lord that sustains me.

Susan - South Holland, Illinois, US

The first thing that I saw was the beautiful cover of this book. I pray that the brilliant smiles and joyful eyes keep hope afloat for all on this journey together, whether on the ground in seemingly hopeless places, or on the page, in a different kind of communion with those who suffer. When I was younger I pictured Lent as a gray blanket quietly covering Catholics until Easter when we could run outside into the sun. The image of the man struck by lightning carried to his family’s tukul in a blanket was very powerful to me.

I really felt the frustration as Fr. Gary asked himself “Will I be strong enough?” approaching a challenge that cried out to him for help. I am a freshman in college, and a member of a fledging organization that works with Acholi children affected by the conflict in Northern Uganda. Self-doubt and anxiety have crept in many, many times as I feel the power that we all have to affect the lives around us, but Fr Gary’s writing is a constant reminder that the true power lies in a grace much greater than our own.

Elena - Chicago, Illinois. US
Refugee. The first several chapters of the book revolve around the concept of “refugee.” The Sudanese refugees have escaped starvation and death in Sudan and then moved into equally dangerous situations in the Congo and Uganda. By leaving their home, they have put themselves at risk. Fr. Gary Smith is also a refugee of sorts. He has left the relative comfort of the Pacific Northwest and is now in Uganda, dodging taxis, giving up electricity, and meeting all sorts of “creepy crawlies.” By giving up comfort the priest has been able to concentrate on the simple things and also the important things. He sees the Eucharist in a whole new vision. He is freed to converse with God and especially able to listen to God who does not usually come in as a noisy storm but as a light breeze which can be missed if you get caught up in everyday life. The point of Lent is to concentrate on this “slight breeze” through prayer and fasting as well as spiritual reading.

Steve in Omaha

Two separate things stirred within me as I read the first few chapters of the book - Gary’s descriptions of his fears, his anxiety, his struggle to trust and the plight of the woman who lost her husband.

After a few years of rest from involvement in different ministries in my parish, I am beginning a new journey with bereavement ministry. Although what I am doing pales in comparison to Gary’s work with the refugees, I too ask God, “ to assist me in seizing these new moments in my life and to help me to see that … God will give me new gifts; (and) I will learn deeper trust and new ways to use my talents.”
In reading about this poor woman’s story I felt many different emotions – compassion, sadness, a sense of helplessness. Gary tells us that hunger is ever present and that “All live intimately with death.” Though this widow and her children were physically hungry many in our culture are starving for what these refugees possess – simplicity, faith and hope. Where they accept death as a normal part of living, we do everything to avoid talking about death and have a difficult time accepting the loss. I am also reminded that this widow had something that most people in our American culture don’t - a community that will gather and care for her and comfort her and her children in the immediate future. It is something that every human being craves – a caring community. Reading that chapter affirmed my decision to work with the bereaved.

Gary noted that the very first thing that the Sudanese refugees did when they came to the camps was to build a chapel. They have their priorities straight. We have so much to learn from these people of faith.

Rita, Allentown, Pennsylvania, US
I am not a wuss. Quite a reflection. But I have always felt that I get caught up in the wonder of a new place, a new culture, new experiences, until I am just miles from the reality. And then humanity takes over and I wonder about the bathroom, the food, the sleeping arrangements, will I be safe and the wondering goes on.

Was this a weakness of purpose? Was I less driven, if I was overcome by these thoughts? Was the call to mission diminished by my self-concern? Obviously not. I am so grateful for these chapters. What a gift to know that others have succumbed to their own human needs in the midst of the greater needs of those who have only known poverty, hunger, disease and death.

And on the flip side, I know the joy that comes from the simplest celebration of your arrival in a new place. The amazement that you would come so far to live in their desperation. And the community that reminds you of the neighborhoods of your youth. The welcoming gestures that ask you to join in the dance.

Finally, I thank God every day that I am in mission, that he gave me so many years of medical experience that I may look openly at the exposure of all human flesh and not be mortified. I don't think I would have made it through the rounds on the wards without my medical background.

Nancy - Kimberly, Wisconsin, US

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