It was kind of eerie, and at first I couldn't put my finger on why it felt that way. In 2010, I was part of a small group on a learning tour to South Sudan. We had visited the capital city, Juba, as well as a number of small villages.
Then, finally, I could articulate the oddness. All the local people seemed to be the same age, that 25-40 age range. Not old, not young. And absolutely no one was overweight-or even a bit heavy.
We didn't see any old people at all. We didn't see many children.
This is what civil war and its aftermath look like. Empty streets. The old and sick do not survive. Many children do not survive. Malnourished children do not run and play in the streets. Toys are not a priority at all when survival is at stake. When people are afraid, they hide.
The streets were empty and quiet, but it wasn't peaceful. It was desperation. It was hunger, It was fear.
When I read Zechariah, the picture of old people sitting in the streets surrounded by running children is a picture of happiness. There is food, there is safety, there is positive energy. It certainly isn't quiet. There are probably balls thrown through windows, parents exasperated with exuberant children, old folks complaining about "children these days..." There are shouts of "grandma, watch this" and "suppertime" and "wait for me...."
In one village, our group saw a couple of children running with a toy on a string behind them. Our guide smiled and commented that it was so good to see that, that a few years earlier, it would not have happened.
Zechariah dreams of Jerusalem returning to a state of health. When God is in the city, when the people obey, then the city rebuilds on the foundation of hope.
Where do you see hope in Edmonton? Do you feel our streets are full of healthy noise, or eerie silence? What do you do to be part of the healthy noise?
Note: (added June 25) Here at First Mennonite, the South Sudanese Mennonite Church is preparing to hold a memorial service for people killed in South Sudan in April of this year. The violence goes on and on. Many of these people here today lost relatives in the massacre. Uncles, aunts, siblings, parents, even many children were killed. In the face of this ongoing tragedy, I am humbled by my Edmonton Sudanese brothers and sisters and their determination to be a peace church. I am also immensely grateful to live in a peaceful city like Edmonton.