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Pajok, South Sudan, 2011
Insight
Pajok, South Sudan | Photo by Erik Tryggestad

After the pandemic, refuse to be unchanged

When this ends — and it will end — we'll be amazed how quickly we forget the events of 2020, just like I forget the promises I make in Africa. Let's pray for painful reminders.

Eventually this pandemic will end. We’ll mourn our losses and adapt to a new normal. 

And at some point, maybe a year from now, we’ll be so busy that we’ll almost forget this ever happened.

I don’t want to emerge from the cocoon of isolation un-transformed, unchanged.

That’s almost a comforting thought. But I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to emerge from the cocoon of isolation un-transformed, unchanged.

In the past two decades I’ve been blessed to encounter souls for whom the words “give us this day our daily bread” aren’t just liturgy. They live in rural Honduras, in bustling Bangkok, on the Indian reservations of Arizona. These brothers and sisters hold on to our God like I hold on to my 401(k). Their faith puts mine to shame.

As I sit in their homes and hear their stories, I promise God I will change. I’ll be more thankful, more generous. I’ll worry less and trust more.

Then I return home. And within hours I’m back in my routine, struggling to get the kids to school on time, crushed under the weight of dealines, budgets, board reports.

I’m right back where I started. 

Unchanged.

Sunday worship in Pajok, South Sudan, 2011.

Sunday worship in Pajok, South Sudan, 2011.

Back in 2011 I went to South Sudan with a small group of church members representing The Sudan Project. It wasn’t yet an independent country, so we had to stop in Ethiopia and get permission to enter. There I met Curt King, the legendary well-driller for Healing Hands International. 

Curt told us a story about drilling a water well in an Ethiopian village. The villagers surrounded his drilling rig after the job was done, dancing, rejoicing. He spied a lone villager in the distance, holding up a small cup of juice. He walked through the crowd to Curt’s truck and offered it to him. 

“I knew I shouldn’t, but I was like, ‘Man, this is from God,’” Curt said. 

He drank it and thanked the man.

“Did you get sick?” I asked.

“Oh, man, I’ve never been that sick in my life!” he said. “I was in the hospital for a week!”

Checking the tires on the journey from Juba to Pajok, South Sudan.

Checking the tires on the journey from Juba to Pajok, South Sudan.

A few days later, I was in the South Sudanese village of Pajok (also called Parajok), where there was no clean water source. We bought cases of bottled water for ourselves before we made the trip to the village over twisting dirt roads. (We had to stop on the way back for a military unit to dispose of a land mine from the country’s long civil war.) 

We worshiped under a roof of thatch and battered United Nations tarps. As the congregation rejoiced in their language, Acholi, I spotted a boy walking toward me, arm extended, offering me a glass of water — most likely from the polluted river from which he and his people drink.

I was terrified. The words of Curt’s story throbbed in my brain. 

Luckily, one of the South Sudanese Christians saw what was happening. He leapt from his seat and intercepted the boy — like a soldier falling on a live grenade. 

Back in Juba we got information on the water tables in Pajok to help Healing Hands know where to dig. 

In 2011, Isaac Adotey, left, talks to Don Humphrey of The Sudan Project about the ministry's needs for soil data for South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state.

In 2011, Isaac Adotey, left, a missionary from Ghana, talks to Don Humphrey of The Sudan Project about the ministry’s need for soil data for South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria state.

As usual, I felt transformed by the experience. And, as usual, I quickly fell back into my routine when I returned home. Unchanged.

I went to Walmart with my family to pick up some of the things we consider to be necessities. On the beverage aisle I stopped in front of the wall of bottled water, stacked floor to ceiling. It all flooded back — the thatch roof, the boy, the glass.

At some point, maybe a year from now, we’ll be so busy that we’ll almost forget this ever happened. But I don’t want to emerge from the cocoon of isolation un-transformed, unchanged.

I lost it. I broke down, right there in the beverage aisle. They’re dying in South Sudan because they don’t have this, and here it’s on rollback for $3.96 per case. I prayed for God to use us to correct this great imbalance. And I prayed for that boy.

I hope that God grants me similar moments of clarity after this pandemic ends, after I’ve fallen back into my old routine or adapted to a new one.

I pray that I won’t forget the long walks with my two girls around the duck pond by our house. Or the games of Apples to Apples played via FaceTime with my family in Middle Tennessee. Or the endless hours of online Disney princess quizzes.

Or the bad stuff — the uncertainty, the anxiety, all of the things that made me more aware of my dependence on God.

I pray that I will not forget the lessons — to be still, to love more, to honor those we’ve lost and to drink deeply from the everyday blessings we receive. 

Sunday worship in Pajok, South Sudan, 2011.

Sunday worship in Pajok, South Sudan, 2011.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. Contact [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @eriktryggestad. 

Filed under: Africa clean water Coronavirus Covid and church COVID-19 Insight Opinion South Sudan South Sudan conflict South Sudan independence Sudan Top Stories water for Africa water well water wells

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