Presbyterian mission co-worker Sharon Curry’s heart sank when in January a South Sudanese official told her: “We can’t guarantee that we can keep you safe. You should go now, while you can get out.”
“I sat trying to hold back tears and comprehend that this was really happening,” Curry says. She had been in Akobo, South Sudan, less than a month when she learned she had to evacuate. Fighting between two ethnic groups was moving closer to Akobo. Curry was sent there to work alongside South Sudanese partners in Community Health Evangelism, an initiative that integrates community-based development, evangelism, and discipleship.
Her days in Akobo were “the time of my life,” says Curry, a member of St. Philip Presbyterian Church in Hurst, Texas. “I was busy meeting with church leaders, learning the language and getting to know people. I was intent on proving this American girl really can cook with a wood fire, find my way to the latrine in the dark and bale water for showers with a flashlight sticking out of my mouth.”
Curry had played football with the children and enjoyed Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. She saw 158 people baptized at the Presbyterian church’s annual baptismal service. “Much to my surprise, I was called on to offer the closing prayer,” she says.
The evacuation was not unforeseen. The staffs of Presbyterian World Mission and the Presbyterian Church of Sudan (PCOS) had talked with her as they monitored events. Curry had a packed bag hanging near her door that contained extra IDs, important papers, and a change of clothes.
World Mission staff members collaborated with her and others to develop evacuation plans. They ranged from crossing the Pibor River into Ethiopia to the best case scenario—leaving on a U.N. flight.
Fortunately, Curry was able to board a U.N. flight and arrived safely in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. While in Juba, she sat in a church sanctuary at sundown one evening and picked by a songbook and found the song, “Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary.” She remembered the church sanctuaries that had been meaningful to her as well as the people who through their love, support, and prayers had become sanctuaries for her. She gave thanks for the World Mission staff, the PCOS staff and everybody who prayed for her. “They and all Presbyterians represent sanctuary for me.”
After serving briefly in a temporary assignment in Malakal, South Sudan, Curry is now studying Nuer, the primary language spoken in Akobo, in Gambela, Ethiopia, not far from the South Sudanese border. She looks forward to returning to Akobo. “I continue to pray that the Lord will prepare me for my return so that I can be a sanctuary for the people of Akobo,” she says. “I want to be a sanctuary to them that others have been for me.”