Freckled sunlight danced at our feet in the clearing under the konyuk tree. Crude wooden benches stretched out from the clearing, all facing the tree. Arrayed on the benches the occupants of the Lachook leper colony sat and sang at the top of their lungs and clapped in time to a worship song to welcome us, their visitors.
Sabet presented Tom and Dave and I to them. They liked Dave and Tom’s names, informing us that “Tom” in Dinka means to give someone an injection, so his name was very appropriate. My name however was foreign and difficult to pronounce and it would have to be rectified. Sabet asked the colony to give me a name in Dinka. An old and gentle man, missing most of his toes and fingers, as well as part of his nose, called out “Deng Mallou”.
Sabet nodded and smiled, looked at me and said as if to present me afresh, “Deng Mallou!” to an eruption of clapping and cheering.
“Please tell me it doesn’t mean cow manure or something.”
“Its a very good name, it means a strong rain, it’s a good thing.” Sabet said, smiling between me and the people who bestowed this new moniker on me.
“Deng Mallou!” I said, giving my thumbs up in approval, which was met with a unified shout “Deng Mallou!” from the group.
Then in one of those unexpected moves that make me wish I were a good pastor and always had something brilliant ready to say, Sabet leaned in and asked me to share something with them.
There I stood, looking out at expectant, dirty faces; at human beings dressed in rags and missing digits and dignity. What could I say to them? I took a deep breath and asked God to fill my words.
“Thank you for such a warm welcome for my friends and me. I came a long way to meet you, and I’m so very glad I did. I’ve taken pictures of you with my camera, but I’ve also hidden you in my heart. You’ll be in my heart when I go back to my home, and to my church, and we’ll be praying for God’s grace for you.
It’s good for us to meet like this, to catch a glimpse of each other while we’re here. If we all belong to Christ, then we’re all family, and we’ll be spending forever with each other. This is a hard world and we’re very fragile, but one day Jesus will bring us all home and our struggles will be through. I’ll look for you then, and you look for me, now that we’ve met we won’t be strangers.
Again, thank you for having us, and God’s love be with you.”
After that we distributed bags of sugar and tea to each door of the colony, and having plenty, we went back and gave each room two bags.
Watching through the back window of the Rover as we drove away, i watched a child who wore only a shirt run after us, waving. I waved back. “I will carry you in my heart, I will take you home with me there.”