St Bartholomew’s Orphanage in Kajo-Keji, 22 Feb 08. Bishop Anthony holds a child staying at the Orphanage. He proudly wears his New Hope cap.
Easter Day brought a surprise when I opened an email from Mama Susan Tabia of St Batholomew’s in Kajo-Keji. She remarks that we in Bethlehem have done so much for Kajo-Keji that our hearts have been cleansed of self-interest and are “filled with the servant heart of Jesus Himself.” She concludes with a kind of blessing upon our work and upon us: “Smile with the Risen Christ this Easter.”
The impression that New Hope has made in Kajo-Keji runs deeper than I imagine. Mama Susan’s email reminds me of the deepness of our impression on them. What I know is the depth of their impression on us, and that is enough to keep me praying and thinking about our sisters and brothers in Kajo-Keji. They have given us so very much to consider and to ponder deeply that I am continually surprised when I face their experience of us, that our impression on them runs at least as deep. I am grateful for that if timid of grasping it and owning it.
I’ve been to St Bartholomew’s a couple of times. Both visits were unscheduled. We happened to be near it, and the Bishop directed us there as he did the day this photograph was made. St Bartholomew’s is not part of New Hope, but New Hope has put us into relationship with St Bartholomew’s and Mama Susan. We are “partners,” as the Sudanese like to say, not specifically as if we were collaborators in a project like the construction of schools. But we are related because we share the name Christian, and we recognize in one another the attempt and the desire to serve the Risen Christ. The children in the orphanage come from all manner of upheaval including famine, displacement, and disease. They are there by the grace of God. And looking after them, as Mama Susan and others do, is an act of corporal mercy that is very impressive.
Mama Susan recognizes in us work that they deem to be service of the Risen Christ when I didn’t really expect it to be seen as such. I expected it to be seen as worthy and admirable, with enough self-interest pared away to raise the money needed for the tasks at hand, but I hadn’t taken the step to see it as belonging to the same footing as their work with the orphans.
But she sees it that way. And so her greeting on Easter Day was surprising, because it brought me back to acknowledge reluctantly that their gifts to us balance on the scales our gifts to them. We give thanks for each other even as we consider the Risen Christ smiling at all of us.