Finding joy in South Sudan - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
Home » South Sudan » Finding joy in South Sudan

Advent 2022 newsletter


Gabe Hurrish, South Sudan

Women dancing during the Women’s Forum (Photo by Okori Emmanuel)

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
—Romans 14:17

South Sudan is a country that is beset with a myriad of problems. From its inception 11 years ago, there seems to be a never-ending stream of bad news. War, corruption, violence, abuse, economic woes, droughts and floods, pestilence, disease and an overall deficient quality of human life. A person living and working here can easily fall under the spell of despair and hopelessness.

Although the Toposa live on the edge of survival, they are a resilient people. Every day is a struggle against the unknown forces that affect them. They lack health care, clean water, and all support services to create a better lifestyle. Most only eat one meal a day. Yet, surprisingly, I find there is a deep joy in the hearts of these lovely people. The Toposa are the most spontaneous and exuberant people I have lived with, and it is contagious. They especially have the joy of music and dance, an elixir they cannot resist.

I recently attended a women’s meeting. The Toposa tend to sit in their own village groups without intermixing. Lack of trust or lack of understanding might be the reason. This meeting was delayed for some time. Finally, out of boredom, one lady got up and started dancing. She was quickly followed by a few of her village mates. Then more jumped up and started moving.

Dancing at the Women’s Forum in Kuron (Photo by Lokii Eliah)

The other villagers just watched but were definitely interested. After several minutes, they could not resist. They stood swaying and smiling. Slowly, one by one, different groups began to join the first until all were completely captivated in the dance. A large circle was formed as the dust floated up all around them and the ground was being pounded by 300 feet.

One side started a chant; the other side responded. Each person simply shouted out some lines. I later learned the song was spontaneously created and each person added their line to the melody. Everyone was moving, even passers-by would stop and join. It was so catching that even this foreigner, who isn’t all that musically inclined was included in the group. Everyone was laughing with huge smiles.

When the dance finally ended, everyone simply sat on the ground under huge shade trees, exhausted. What was noticeable, though, was that now the villages were intermixed. Everyone was talking with everyone else. Music, song and dance had done what no meeting could have accomplished. Later it was said that each village would invite the others for another dance

To find such joy in the midst of all the suffering that the Toposa encounter is such a divine mystery. To observe these wonderful women overcome enmity and come together was a blessing. Despite the backbreaking poverty, corruption and violence, South Sudan is not yet finished. There are pockets of joy and hope that still continue to serve as reminders of what this young nation can become.

We pray for continued peace and joy in South Sudan.

Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

Gabe Hurrish
Gabe Hurrish works in parish ministry at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Riwoto in the South Sudanese state of Eastern Equatoria. He has served as a Maryknoll lay missioner in South Sudan since 2018.