Sharing the Graces of Reading
"They Come Back Singing"

The Third Week of Lent






























The noise in the Night was a devastating story to read. The LRA made Father Zachary go to the orphanage where they kidnapped screaming children ages 7-18, nine of whom were girls and they are given to the men in the LRA as sex slaves. It Is hard to imagine that that kind of thing goes on. I did not like reading that part because It really made me angry. Yet I am also aware of the trafficking of girls that goes on right here in the USA!

The contrast between Noise in the Night and Vayo was like night and day.

The beauty of this simple woman and the women like her was awesome. The desire to go to confession and the simple joy and prayer of thanksgIving after confession was evident. Gary is awed by the beauty and simplicity of these women who are long-suffering. Their beauty is captured in the stories that Gary shares.

The story of Jacelin stays In my heart. Here Is a ten year old gir1 who has lost both her parents and is taken in by an aunt and an uncle. She has a cleft lip and Gary is able after months of waiting to get her to the surgeons who can take care of her. Gary is deeply touched by this little girl and her total trust In him.
This week I have been touched by the poverty--the losses~- the teahings--especially around the actIng out of the Scriptures by the women.

As I continue this journey I am moved by grace to look again at the trafficking of girls right here in our countrv and what can I do? I don't know but I remain.

Margaret.RSM from Fort Lauderdale

All of the refugee women in these last few chapters - Yayo, Sr. Atimango, Kali, Mary Kenyi - have remained in my heart all week. These women are real women of faith. Nothing keeps them from loving God. As I read about Yayo I remembered a photo I had seen of Mother Teresa with Pope John Paul. She was grasping his hands in hers and looking up to him with the deepest smile of love. That is how I envisioned Yayo. A real mystic, one totally absorbed in God. Can I hope I could ever be like them?

Yet, what moved me most was Fr. Gary’s words, “Surrounded by the barefoot poor, the insane, the weapons of war…Is the Holy Spirit really here?” His answer, “Obscurity is your specialty…and nothing obstructs your grace, O God.” reverberated in my being and answered so many of my own questions. It has restored my belief that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in our Church and will continually renew her. These last few weeks of Lent I pray for the grace to be able to live like these wonderful women of faith and look for God in all the obscurity that surrounds me.

Rita, Allentown, PA US

The testimony and experience of Fr. Gary amply depicts, in Africa, many children go through baptism of blood than baptism of water. Romero's experience of Baptism of blood for a cause is an inspiration. But the one which happens in Africa is unbearable. Children are transformed into killers. Some escape. Some are rescued. Some are killed. Obviously despite this nauseating reality the Africans continue to cherish love. They are willing to go to any extent to express 'kogown narju'. Have they received baptism of love? Knowing fully well that this short span of life is a gift of God the people in Adjumani are extraordinarily generous to one another showing it in deeds. A good lesson for me to imitate.

Joe Xavier, Bangalore, India

These pages kept “putting a face” on those whom Jesus encountered in the Gospels – the men, women and children who revealed what the reign of God is like. The simplicity, vulnerability, transparency and capacity to love uncovered in the sightlessYayo, the disfigured Jacelin, the clapping nineteen year with cerebral palsy, heart broken Flabius, among many, move me in a way no words can describe. The loving of these persons awakens in me many questions and truly challenges the depths of my faith.

I, with Gary wonder, “How does God stand with all the disabilities of this world?” but even more I ask myself, ‘How do I stand?” How free am I to allow such persons to unleash in me the hidden reserves of love in my heart? I do not need to journey to Uganda. The invitation is to free my heart to recognize them today and tomorrow and each day of the coming week as I love and serve the God who has captured my heart. For this grace I pray for myself and all of us.

Superimposed on these village stories and faces of the refugees are Gary’s words: “I become who I am through my relationships with other human beings. And in those relationships, I uncover the tracks of God’s relationship with me. . . . Together, we discovered the love of God.” For me, this is the blessing of the baptism of people who are an integral part of my life. I thank you for the discovery we are making together about You and Your love for us!

Jacquelyn, SND, Ohio, USA

As Fr. Gary shares his experiences of finding God among the refugees, he calls me to be more conscious of God’s presence in my relationships with others.

After work on Wednesday this week, I stayed for some time listening to a colleague who is suffering greatly from the effects of chemotherapy. She says she could not continue without the love and support from her family and from her friends in our office. She says our expressions of faith help her to continue to trust in God. My heart ached as I embraced her before she left to face another treatment the next day.

On Thursday, I read Gary’s chapter “Holding Job in My Arms”. In it he tells about his revelation while participating with a faith community in support of a catechist who suffered the death of the last of his 8 children. Gary suddenly realized he had embraced Job. His words caused me to reflect anew on my experience of the previous day.

Gary explains further “at times, Christ is available to us only in the unyielding love and honesty found in the hands and hearts of the people of our community.” I pray that we may all be more aware and faithful to this ministry as members of the Body of Christ.

Celia, Milton, MA US

Confirmation and Kalashnikovs

I am touched by the prayer that Fr. Gary offers when asking “Is the Holy Spirit really here?” My answer is, “Oh, yes.” The Holy Spirit is evident in the lives and the faith of the refugees. In the catechists, in the beautiful smile of Jacelin Ojok (and all the other children), in the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, in Bishop Drandua, in the singing and dancing, and in all of the people we meet through Fr. Gary (and Fr. Gary himself). These are people of faith, they are the presence of Christ, they are the living Church.

Another thought to this chapter - so, the soldiers armed with machine guns – did they have to fire even a single shot? Thanks goodness, no. And did they realize they were “soldiers for Christ”?

Susan, South Holland, IL US

I have to say that I was struck by Gary's quote "there is baptism of water and there is baptism of blood and then there is baptism of people." It is an incredible experience to be the one with the white face staring out at a sea of dark faces. To be completely surrounded and submersed in the swaying and singing of people in full celebration.

Your heart does leap and cry out with the praising masses. Prayer is now richer, joy fuller, beauty more brilliant and celebration more complete.

Nancy Bourassa

This week the story of Jacelin Ojok has caught my attention. It just so happens that this evening my wife and I were involved in a Pre-cana session on spirituality. We have been involved with this ministry for some time and as often is the case, the session crept up on us in the midst of a very busy day/night. Very little time to prep or discuss, a time to totally rely on the Spirit, which always yields the best results. The context of the conversation had everything to do with the impact and effect that Jacelin's story had on Fr. Gary. He concluded that "...I become who I am through the relationships with other human beings. And in those relationships, I uncover the tracks of God's relationship with me." This is certainly the case - our only reason for being is to interact and allow ourselves to be formed by each opportunity. We are rooted in the truth of our origins and called constantly to respond to this overwhelming and unconditional love. We experience it as a tangible in our daily life with and through others. It is our God reaching out - how blessed and lucky are we to be so loved. This Lent's discovery continues to unfold in relative simplicity, but with the profound overtone of the awesomeness of this existence. Needless to say, we are offered this amidst the trappings and delusions of a reality that can bind us. Again we are led by those whose only possession is the faith that has been gifted them. I am grateful for their example and praise the God that shines through all of them.

Drew - Wayne


It is difficult to pin-point a "one thing" that has moved me in the reading this week. I found myself reading the stories and having to wipe my eyes. The faith and beauty of Yayo and her total simplicity and acceptance of Gary as a visit with Christ touched me.
Gary's description of the lives of the refugee women grabbed me as a wife, mother, and former religious. I fell in love with the people of Brownsville, Brooklyn when I served there for a brief time and understand how Gary is so captivated by the refugee women.
The story of Jacelin and her surgery brought me into the clinic and I saw the disfigurement of the children waiting. I thought, too, of the difference in the physical surroundings between the refugees and children in the US. When I accompanied my grandson with his mother and other grandmother to the hospital for his surgery everything was clean and antiseptic. I compared that visit with that of Jacelin's Aunt who had to provide food and a mosquito net. I shivered at the thought of all those mosquitos finding food from the bodies of these recovering children.
My heart is full and I will never look at stories of Africa in the same way again. Gary's heart has been captured and my heart is well on the way to also being captured. Granted, it is not the same. I can only help from a great distance but perhaps my prayers will be more heartfelt and my donations be more focused in the area of the suffering people of Sudan and Uganda and other countries on the continent. In my mind Africa was one big country that had been exploited for centuries by the Europeans. It is very much more for me now! It is the Africa of the refugees and those who are living with them and sharing their is the Body of Christ.
"So all of us, in union with Christ, form one body, and as parts of it we belong to each other."
I ask for the grace to continually be open to this reality because that is where I will find God.

Mo, Mills River, North Carolina, US

No asking - just "to be" and in that silence the whisper will Come!

As with Gary, the sadness, losses, and challenges of my life remain; and, yet, it seems like God is a little closer. God is like the loving Grandmother who is willing to welcome "everyone" to her table on Easter Sunday. With a smile and warm hug She (we) learn to "carry our broken battered {family} on our backs", In trying to make one other person whole - I am trying to glimpse just the shadow of God. Yet, She wants to offer me Her entire self - a body of love and hugs that allows the world to stand still, just for a moment, giving me the courage I need to continue with the life I have be given. She looks beyond all the infirmity and deformity and sees "Me". What to me seems so inconsistent is "perfect" in God's eyes. As Gary says "I become who I am through my relationships with other human beings." "I am constantly Baptized in Uganda". I have added a new expression to my life - "Kogwon narju" - because, just because I love..... As I continue my journey, for now I do not ask for anything. I just need to be still and recharge my "being" in God's presence and to remind my self that God is God and I'm not!

Ann Z., Philadelphia, PA, US

As I read this section of Gary'story I was struck by the faith of these refugees and their poverty. They have nothing but throughtout this area Eucharist and celebration is their mainstay. The beauty of these refugees is stunning to me. When I say beauty I don't just mean looks. Their beauty is deep and the one who shows this deep beauty, Gary, has that deep down beauty as well.

The Mass is always a celebration with singing and dancing. This is a real communal experience. It seems that singing and dancing is a part of everything they do. Gary has introduced the drama by having them act out the gospel stories which is powerful. The Mass can go on for hours. It is not a "Jesus and me celebration" It is a communal experience and singing and dancing are part of the ritual of every Eucharist. Gary shared with a friend that the " people here in Africa have taught me, for all its grinding poverty, for all its death, the inner force of the human spirit endures".

The adjustment to Adjunani was easier for him because of his experiences in the last camp. But here there were more challenging responsibilities. After almost dying from a ruptured infected appendicts it took several weeks for healing. During his recovery he did a lot of soul searching. He was awed by the extraordinary way he was delivered from death.

He was welcomed back with great gusto by his catechists and all the refugees singing and dancing and clapping.

What a gift this book has been as I enter into the lives of these refugees who have nothing but in reality they have everything and with Gary I am seeing "the refugees as God sees them, and God is helping Gary love them and surrender his heart to them as Christ did" These refugees have been a real gift these days!

Margaret, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

I have been moved to tears by some of the stories. The atrocities by the LRA are totally ignored by our country's leaders and citizens. If the LRA is overcome, the children under its control will be seriously affected. Those who are serving these people deserve some support from the rest of the world.

There are so many thing we take for granted that are not available to the refugees - food, medical care, safety - and yet they seem to be more satisfied with life and closer to God. I have heard, more than once, that if the Church is to survive and grow it will be because of the church in Africa.

The more I read They Came Back Singing, the more I can feel my life changing. Many things that were important before page 1 are not that important now. I try to look at people through the eyes of Christ. There are so many people that I feel spiritually connected to and they are included in my prayers. The list gets linger with each chapter. Of course, Father Gary gets special mention.

Mary from Joliet, Illinois

“One of the Sacred Heart sisters……..pleaded with the abductors to stop. They forced her back into her room, gathered the now frightened and screaming children………began to run them single file out of the compound.” I finished reading all the chapters assigned for this week but while I highlighted some lines, none of them really spoke to me. Deciding to reread everything, the quote above suddenly made me think. Everyone is God’s creation. So there is goodness in His every creature. The LRA soldiers could have easily killed the Sacred Heart sister but they didn’t. They could have killed Father Zachary too but they didn’t. So, there is hope.

What is God saying to me? Pray for your enemies! And, pray unceasingly. Sure I prayed for Osama Bin Ladin for about a week after 9/11 and then again, every year on its anniversary. I pray that God in all His power and mercy soften Osama’s heart as only He can do that. But now, praying for Al-Qaeda, the LRA and all similar organizations/people must be a daily occurrence. They need to be added to our prayer list.

Fast forward to “Kogwon Narju”, Fr. Gary asks: “….The person will die without a transplant, and in giving your kidney you may die. Would you do it?” I pray that when challenged with a similar situation, I may like one of the Cochi people respond “I would give my kidney. Jesus died for his enemies; am I his follower or not?”

Lord, I don’t think I’ll ever have to give a kidney to an enemy but You have asked us to follow You in Your way of love, compassion and forgiveness. It is difficult to be kind to someone who has offended me but particularly during this season, please grant me the grace not only to pray for people I don’t like but also to extend to them kindness and generosity. Soften my heart, O Lord, as only You can!

Menchie from California

The section for this week seemed to be a sadder, more difficult one, I felt like for the first time the political conflict of the LRA entered into the situation in a physical way, when Fr. Gary had to leave the Adjumani camp. He talked about what a difficult decision it was to go and to ask for permission to stay, going over the question in his head of staying with the refugees in spite of the danger. I was waiting outside of a community center once with some children, next to the brother of a boy who had been beaten up earlier
that day. I realized that family members of another kid involved were driving past and watching the older boy. The family was active in gangs and the neighborhood was prone to violence, particularly after a dispute like this one. I grew nervous. It occurred to me that the kids Iwas waiting with were surrounded by this stress every day. I could take them inside to a safer place this afternoon, but what about the next one? What does it truly mean to stick by a people through thick and thin? Reading Fr. Gary's struggle between trusting in God and keeping ones personal safety in mind recalled this experience, and renewed my prayer for wisdom and balance in all that I say and do this Lent.

Elena, Chicago IL

I find myself upset with Fr. Gary this week. I was getting to know the people at camp Rhino. I was beginning to like them. I wanted to stay there a while and see how things would be going for them. But then Gary leaves.

By the looks of it, he went only to a different place but not a different situation. So why leave?

It took me a while to figure out what God was suggesting to me this week. I am thinking that God might be asking me to reconsider permanence while at the same time asking me to consider the question: what really is change?

The life of the people of Rhino camp says to me that, as much as civilization is keeping it at bay for me, my life is always under assault from without. Fr. Gary¹s bout with appendicitis reminds me that my life, like his, is always under assault even from within. It matters little where I go to hide from it, I am not permanent here and I never will be; and I don¹t like it.
Maybe that is why I found myself angry with Fr. Gary: I wanted him to leave me the illusion of permanence by staying in place. God wants me to let go of that illusion.

Pr. Peter, New Carlisle, Ohio

I, too, like Elena and Celia, was very MOVED and touched by the Easter Vigil LITURGY and the simplicity and joyfulness of the people in this special God experience, and especially in their continuation of the Walking/Dancing Fr. Gary home through the darkness but lightened by their lanterns, dances and childlike joy and singing. We have so much to learn from this faith filled people, and yet we always think that we are the ones doing the giving. As Jesus keeps trying to remind us, that in our weakness is our strength...and they certainly exhibit that as does Fr. Gary in his leap of faith to follow Jesus 'where ever'.... would that I/we could be so trusting and childlike. So much does this beautiful people have to share with us and the global community. Blessings to each of you!

Donna Marie, osm CU/Omaha

I was so touched by Fr. Gary's discussion with his friend Pauli. Pauli, after over 50 years of marriage, misses "everything" about her late husband. I, too, would deeply miss many things in my life if they were suddenly gone. Yet I am reminded by Pauli and Fr. Gary that I do not have that "surrender of heart", that level of gratitude, when I am experiencing these gifts today. I will pray to love all the gifts given to me, even with their imperfections - even, perhaps, my imperfect ability to love with such abandonment.

Denise, Wisconsin

Reflecting upon "A Noise in the Night" two scriptures came to mind: the summoning of Samuel as he slept in the temple near the Ark of God and the appearance of God to Elijah not in the wind, storm or earthquake, but in a still small voice. At the risk of over simplification: I know our Lord hears the cries, and witnesses the sufferings of His children. How it must grieve His broken heart. I must confess my heart is broken as I learn of each atrocity, and still we are not saved. But to Father Zachary, to all the priests and servants of our Risen Savior, to those children and families who must often experience the sense of hopelessness and despair: I know that our Redeemer lives, and He will not abandon or forsake you. I do not know how or when, but your deliverance, your victory is on the way.

Be still and know that He is God Almighty and He is calling His daughters, sons, and family out of darkness and into His marvelous light today, so do not fear the noises in the night, for such noises will turn into rejoicing at His glorious appearance, both today and eternally.

I love all of you for we are all one body, His Body.

Emmanuel, USA

Week 3:

Africa has been in the news. President Bush traveled throughout East Africa and Liberia but was not in Uganda or Sudan this week. I felt joy as the girl had surgery on her cleft palate. I wanted to read this book to see how the Catholic Church works in the new frontier, of sorts. It reminds me of the early Church. Fr. Gary calls the people who act as the unpaid evangelizers, Catechists. They remind me of the stories of the early deacons. Males tend to dominate the public prayers, liturgy, and the Eucharist in the Sudan; it is different in the United States except for the priest on the altar. Fr. Gary compared the Sudanese refugees to the Holy Family when they fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s genocide. He was especially touching when he asked the people if they could donate a kidney to family or friends-no problem. It was a different story and a more difficult “gift” to help out a stranger or an enemy. The thing that really hit me is how the priest who escaped the LRA could rejoin the people. The most terrible part is the children that survive the kidnapping are turned into murderers themselves. This is so evil it leaves one divested. I would have wanted to escape to a safer place.

Steve in Omaha

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