Rosemary Achien'g Oduol, a Kenyan member of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa, has a nurse/midwife background with a graduate degree in public health. She has diverse experience in ministry, including nursing education and community nursing with HIV/AIDS patients in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. She has also worked as a CEO of a mission hospital in South Sudan and as a member of her area leadership team. Presently, she is ministering at the congregational headquarters in Ireland as assistant superior general.
The adventures of missionary life always intrigue me; every day, they require trust in God, myself, and the people I serve. I also marvel at the uniqueness of each community I ever served as a missionary and the great lessons they have brought to my life journey.
Thinking of my last mission to Wau, South Sudan, I think of a quote from Paulo Coelho: "Take advantage of the chance that tragedy has given you; not everyone is capable of doing so." When I arrived in South Sudan, it looked like tragedy: The visible effects of prolonged years of war, dry, dusty roads, heat of the sun, poverty and human deprivations were paralyzing. I would have gladly taken the next plane back to my country because the situation looked hopeless.
Surprisingly, I sank my roots and embraced the people, who in turn opened their arms and embraced me. I began to understand their situation in a very personal way and find workable solutions with them for some of their concerns. I experienced four episodes of armed conflict with plenty of bloodshed and deaths, regular threats to my life, and many sleepless nights due to lack of funds for our activities or fear due to impending war.
But the fulfillment was great. When my congregation called me back to take on a new responsibility, my departure from Wau became another tragedy. It was heartbreaking. I found it extremely difficult to let go of my ministry in South Sudan.
I bowed out of South Sudan physically worn out and emotionally drained but with an immense wealth of experience, awareness, and humility after working with the people of Wau for 10 years.
Reflecting on that experience, I wonder that I found so much fulfillment amid many challenges. Richard Rohr writes about how encounters with each other in the rawness of life (The Naked Now) are extremely bonding, striking a chord in the very essence of who we are. If you are blessed to experience this, thank God and cherish it because it is rare.
Faith asks me to trust in a God who journeys with me always, but South Sudan helped me understand a faithful God who always reached out in times of need, whether I knew it or not. I enjoyed being a missionary and now realize how privileged I have been to journey with the people of South Sudan in their vulnerable situation. It taught me to hold my own vulnerability.