2021-01-11 SUDAN

Br. Christian Mbam, 8 years in South Sudan

Brother Christian Mban, from Nigeria, has been in South Sudan since January 2013. He finished his mission in the Inter-Congregational Project “Solidarity with South Sudan” on January 11. He spent the first year in the community of Malakak and 7 years in Riimenze. Here he shares with the Marist family his experience.


What motivated you to join the project Solidarity with South Sudan?

The need for presence in a country long locked in crises, where poverty and want were the hallmark the country motivated me to accept the mission when the Superior General, Emili Turú suggested that option to my Provincial. I was further encouraged by the fact that most people were unwilling to go to South Sudan because of general insecurity fallouts due to the crisis.

Briefly describe some significant moments in your inter-congregational community life

When I was moved from the teacher training community, in Malakal, in the northern part of this youngest country to an agriculture community of Riimenze in the South, I wondered what motivated the transfer. Was it that I was not needed or lagging in the requirements of the place or that the need in the other place was more? However, I accepted the transfer, trusting in the judgement and good will of the Solidarity administration. I only discovered the need once I settled in the new community.

Working within a system where insecurity was rife – many gun-carrying persons, and groups who were hostile to one another – roamed the villages and forests. These gun carriers looted the properties of the already deprived populations, raped women, abducted many school boys and girls, eventually forced whole villages to camp. Even it was threatening to drive to the nearby town, Yambio to buy food for the displaced people, as the gun people could stop and rob anyone known to be carrying money or other valuables at their own whims and caprices. The government was particularly unable to control the situation. In fact, at a certain point, the bishop ordered us briefly out, of the zone.

What did it mean to you sharing your life and mission with community members from different cultures and congregations?

I thank God, I had some preparation for intercultural living before joining these communities. I had worked in Ghana with Latin Americans, Europeans and other Africans from other cultures. I also worked in Liberia with Liberian brothers and European. In one of the courses I had followed, participants lived in very close contacts with one another, men and women, from different congregations (even lay persons) from the five continents of the world. So I was already prepared, for any initial shock. However, the living now presented its own challenges. While my previous experiences were in formation community settings, here we are called to develop and shape new mission. As every human person is unique, you can never have same situations anywhere. In my seven years of life in Riimenze community, I have had to welcome a number of new members or say good bye to a number also. Each time we had to make adjustments, spatial or existential to accommodate everyone and give everyone the best living and working conditions. We had to be open enough to talk and listen to one another. We had to be faithful to our monthly community meetings and weekly sharing of faith. We also benefitted from the visits of Solidarity Community Coordinators and those of the Executive Director of Solidarity.

What key words best capture your experience?

I describe my experience as, fulfilling, exiting, challenging, pleasant, missionary and people-appreciative.

What is the most significant scenario in your time in South Sudan?

The most touching scenario came on the day when the parish organised a farewell for me. Youth had organised themselves in groups and performed to their arts. Even they had included fundraising as part of the activities of the function. Unexpectedly was being led to come and show her appreciation was a woman whose age I would put at ninety years plus, bent twice, living far away in the forests. This woman had been home-bound for over five years. I could not believe what I saw. I had to be “manly” to resist breaking down out share emotion. That was the extent of the gratitude of the people for what we represented for them in the village of Riimenze, and elsewhere.

What has been your most important learning?

The “cross-fertilisation” that is a feature of Solidarity with South Sudan is a great enrichment of members and enhancement of the undertakings of the organisation. Each member brings what is unique to him or her of personal qualities, congregational charism, cultural heritage and spiritual values to life in community and to the apostolate. This is a factor in the success stories of Solidarity with South Sudan. Moreover, they give stability and credibility to the organisation. SSS enjoys much trust and respect with the local church. The inter-cultural, inter-congregational and internationality of SSS is a paradigm which Pope Francis recommends as a new face of the church in our time.

How did the experience help you growing in your Marist vocation?

As I return to my home Province, Nigeria, I am very convinced that I am no longer the same person that I was eight years ago when I joined SSS.  I have come to appreciate more the simple, Marist fraternal relationship, which is a result of our Family Spirit. I think also my way of community life as informed by my contact with other religious must wear a new approach while remaining Marist. Solidarity did not have Community Superiors but Coordinators. While serving the purpose of bring unity and harmony in the community and works, Coordinators do not have the governing authority of a Superior. This brings a new face of leadership among religious.

What were the biggest challenges you experienced during this time?

The foremost challenge I faced in my mission in South Sudan was the language barrier. The country has transited from Arabic pattern to English. The old speak Arabic, which is no longer in use in Western Equatoria State, while the young because of the lack of committed teachers and consequent school dropout syndrome, do not speak either English or Arabic. So, communications must often be through translators.

Riimenze is made up of a rural, agrarian population still clung to traditions and cultures. Some of the cultures remain unacceptable to me. The widowhood practices remain to me oppressive. I was unable to marry this practice to what I was familiar with before coming to South Sudan.

The second was how to revitalised the people’s faith practice. Re-evangelisation must continue with the time-tested gospel urgency. This speaks so much about the need for more missionaries in South Sudan.

What would you like to say to those who would like to join Solidarity with South Sudan?

Solidarity with South Sudan is a gathering of people who should be selfless in their self-gift. A new entrant should accept to work within an organisation that was there before one’s arrival. Life setting of the members of SSS requires religious who have passed the crisis of identity and prepared to assume a new name, namely, solidarity with South Sudan, while remaining a member of one’s own religious family. A person must be mature enough to live and work with very much reduced supervision, being in practice, accountable to self for one’s spiritual life. Solidarity encourages innovation in one’s ministry provided it be subject to authentication by the leadership.

In conclusion a should congratulate the Province of Nigeria for and the General Administration in Rome for their sustained interest in the mission. The two administrative entities have committed personnel and supportive financial contributions to the life and work of the initiative. I can assure that their efforts have not been in vain and God will certainly not be outdone in generosity. To my confreres, especially in Africa, I urge to consider giving part of your life to this mission which so much fits into our description of “Mission to the Montagne’s”.

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