Learn to become a farmer of hearts

Stephania Ling

A great volunteer and supporter in South Sudan.

 Fr Shanti in Tonj once told a simple story in his homily: One man had a dream. In his dream he saw a new shop and an angel standing behind the counter. He asked the angel, “What do you have in your shop?” The angel replied, “We have everything you want.” The man said, “I want peace without war, prosperity without hunger, love and kindness without hatred.” The angel said to him, “I am sorry, we have seeds of everything, but not fruit.”

Thanks to the Salesian Sisters for allowing me to cultivate with the ladies in our garden and in our school compound. It was hard work to cultivate all by hand without the help of an ox plow, but it’s amazing to see seeds sprout and grow into plants in only a few days. South Sudan does not lack rich and fertile soil for seeds to grow and bear fruits, but South Sudanese do. Most South Sudanese are Christians and know the word of God, but many have hardened hearts like rocky ground with thorns that can bear no fruits. (Mt 13:1-23)

In the past 9 months, I have seen fighting without mercy between clans; never ending tribal conflicts and political unrest; international aids items everywhere, yet not for helping the poor but for selling in the market; many meetings and training to fight COVID-19 but little have reached the needy; corruption is the norm; poverty is everywhere; killing is on-going.

Yet thanks be to God that in the past 9 months, I have also witnessed some beautiful conversion of hearts. Sr Ruth always says we shall never lose hope, even the hardest hearts can be softened once they experience love and respect, and she proves it by example. Among the many stubborn souls, the one that touches me most is Marial.

 About seven years ago, the 10-year-old street boy Marial accidentally injured his left leg. Only when his infected wound got worse after ignoring it for more than a week, he went to the sisters in St Bakhita Educational Centre for help. Sr Miriam said Marial’s wound was so badly infected at the time that his entire leg was eaten up by maggots, amputation was the only way to save his life. The sisters immediately arranged for Marial to be transferred to the city in order to undergo an amputation surgery, followed by the fitting with prosthesis. After the operation and the prosthetic procedure, our sisters enrolled Marial into our primary school, hoping to provide him a good education. However, this stubborn and rebellious young boy was not able to adapt to school life, and soon left Tonj without a word. Nobody knew where he had gone, until he suddenly reappeared at the school gate after 7 years.

One day in early May, Marial showed up at the gate looking for sisters. He has grown into a big boy, very tall, very skinny, and limping. The prostheses he put on years ago are obviously too short making it difficult and painful for him to walk. All these years Marial was hanging out in the village without going to school. Until recently when he was desperate without food, he thought of our sisters again and came back for help. Sister Ruth was like the loving father in the story of the prodigal son, she embraced and took him in without scolding him, and immediately contacted the Red Cross medical team hoping to arrange him for another surgery and new prostheses as soon as possible.

 I still remember the stubborn look on Marial’s face when he first arrived in May. He always folded his arms across in chest, hardly said a word, pressed his lips tightly, with a frown on his face, and looked angry all day. Sister Ruth said Marial must have gone through an enormous amount of hardship and suffering, he was not a bad boy, only lacking love and care.

 One morning after Marial moved in for a few weeks, I saw Sister Ruth and Marial burying their heads in a pile of dirty chairs, trying to clean them with water and soap with all their strength. Sister Ruth was very proud with their work and said to me, “Our chairs are a bit old and dirty, but after some deep cleaning, they can look new again!” In order to help Marial, Sr Ruth was trying to show him how to work seriously; to teach him by working together with him; to offer him work opportunity instead of free meals and accommodation; to educate him that nothing is for free, and that one needs to work hard in order to earn his wages and respect, to stand on his own feet, and to live with dignity.

 As days passed by, Marial was slowly changing, he had become more relax, more friendly, less angry, and sometimes, even a smile on his face.

 Although sisters are not able to arrange for his surgery due to covid19, and it is better for him to go back to his village first to help with cultivation, I am sure the seeds that Sister Ruth has planted in Marial’s heart will bear much fruits. May God continue to heal his wound, soften his heart, transform his souls.

Thanks to Sr Ruth for her example as a farmer of hearts. Be patient. One at a time. God is good.

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