A reflection by Becky Rhodes
While women were out cultivating the fields, village leaders sat on benches under the large shade tree in the center of Lohila in South Sudan. The 500-year-old village, often isolated during the rainy season, has never had a school for their children or a church building for worship. In November 2014, villagers identified these buildings as their great need—an opportunity for a better future following the prolonged violence.
The community of Lohila is a longstanding partner of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service program. The success of this partnership to construct the school and church depends on mutual investment and commitment.
On a recent visit, which included members of the Mission Advisory Committee, a spokesman of the village shared plans for building the foundations and walls for the church and school. Roger Schrock, a former missionary in Sudan and the co-leader of our group, applauded the inclusion of women on the village’s building committee. Athanasus Ungang, the Church of the Brethren staff member in Torit, provided an update on supplies en route from Kenya and introduced our group.
As the leaders spoke, the number gathered under the tree began to grow. Women and children gradually approached and began listening to the conversation from the periphery. Then an unexpected yet powerful voice rose from the group. A tall, statuesque woman holding a baby stepped out of the crowd. “Others have come here with promises, but they never came back,” she said. “Your coming to us today is God coming to us. As God parted the water for Moses, God has parted the grass [since South Sudan is land locked] to lead you here. Your presence blesses us, and God is blessing you.”
History tells us the biblical story has influenced great leaders. In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln referenced Psalm 90:10 and God as Creator. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech reached its highest point with echoes of the prophet Isaiah: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low… and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Great leaders reframe people’s lives in the biblical context.
I experienced an immediate and deep connection with this woman as she spoke our shared language of the Bible. She talked about the same Moses I know and love: the imperfect servant leader who cared for his people. There were many leaders in Lohila that day, but the most powerful voice belonged to the woman holding the baby. She is a great leader. Her words invoked our shared belief and trust in God. She reframed our lives, our relationship, and our work in the context of the biblical story. God is with us! And God with us is a solid foundation on which to build.