The Church of Ireland has a long and proud record of missionary outreach. We have commissioned clergy, teachers, doctors and experts in many fields for service in the Church overseas, we have given financial support to our various missionary societies but to visit those who have gone out from Ireland and to see at first hand the actual conditions under which they are working is an unforgettable experience.
From 18 to 25 January I had the great privilege of conveying the prayers, support and interest of the Church of Ireland to the Church of Uganda and in particular to the refugees from the Sudan. I have returned with a new appreciation of the life and work of the Anglican Church in east Africa and a new awareness of the value of the witness being carried out by CMSI.
The memories of this visit will remain with me for years. From the welcome to Arua, the children dying of AIDS, the victims of leprosy, the conditions on the refugee camps, the dedicated work of western doctors and health workers, the loyalty of members of the Mother's Union, to the atmosphere at a service of Consecration of a bishop for the Sudanese Church in exile and the dedication of a new Bible College and training centre for clergy - the excitement of Africa was infectious. But beside the enthusiasm and joy which was so evident in the liturgy there was the tragedy of the refugees - a pilgrim people who had no certainty of a future in the land of their birth, the silent suffering of the victims of AIDS and the poverty of the refugee camps. It was this strange mixture of emotions which I will remember most. Human need makes special demands on faith. The joy of the certainty contained in the Gospel demands practical, down to earth expression. When the music and singing faded away there remained the questions. When the welcome faded into memory there remained the challenge of where do they go from here? When the dancing ended there remained the biggest question of all - how can the world respond to human deprivation and needs of a people whose country was being ravaged by a ruthless civil war?
When we returned home there remained the recognition that we are members of a world family in which those who suffer and those who face a future of little real hope are crying out for help. The message we sought to bring from the Church of Ireland was simple : "You are not alone."
The work of CMS Ireland is but one channel of practical help, the grants from the Bishops' Appeal are greatly valued and the witness of those who have gone out from the Church of Ireland to support the work of the Ugandan and Sudanese Churches if greatly appreciated. Many of the questions defy easy answers. But answers there must be for those whose simple joy in the love of Christ is a challenge to all of us who have so much we take for granted.
Interest in missionary outreach cannot be left to the enthusiasts or to those who faithfully support missionary causes. What I saw in Uganda and the Sudan is a challenge to all o us. "Bear ye one another's burdens..." I told them they were not alone. We dare not let them believe otherwise.
Article by: Archbishop Eames