Archbishop Justin Welby is becoming an MAF frequent flyer. In mid-2013, he flew with MAF to attend the ordination of the Archbishop of Tanzania and in early 2014 he took another flight with us to South Sudan.
This second trip was however a far more sombre occasion; originally planned months beforehand, the Archbishop was heading to a country that had since been shattered by weeks of ethnic conflict.
Onboard the flight to Bor, the capital of South Sudan’s Jonglei state, were the Archbishop, his wife Caroline and MAF South Sudan Ground Operations Coordinator Stephen Kempsell.
The group were met by a fleet of pick-up trucks and escorted through a town that had been torn apartin the fighting, as Stephen explains:
'As we moved along the dusty and unpaved road,the devastation was immediately apparent. Houses were burnt, former businesses lay in twisted piles of wood and corrugated iron, overturned vehicles lined the road and several dead bodies still lay in the street.
'The town was silent in its grieving and in the grounds of St. Andrew’s Cathedral the situation was no different. One building had partially collapsed from fire damage, and the Archbishop was shown around the residential area where many were killed.
'The Archbishop joined the community in its grief and led prayers at the mass grave prepared for the bodies of five reverends and 20 lay readers.'
The opportunity to visit Bor at such a tragic time clearly impacted Archbishop Welby.
'This is the second time Caroline and I have flown with MAF. This was a town in a condition of devastation and absolute horror and I think it is just a reminder that MAF just keeps on taking the presence of Christ in practical ways into some of the most difficult places on earth,' he explained.
That evening, Archbishop Welby was back in the country’s capital Juba, to attend a reception dinner organised by the Episcopal Church of South Sudan.
MAF South Sudan Development Manager Rob Johnson was also present and he was moved by the challenge the Archbishop gave to the audience after experiencing the devastation that the conflict had caused in Bor.
'The evening began,' shares Rob, 'with an array of impassioned speeches from the British ambassador, the United Nations’ special envoy, the Episcopal Church and the government with a chorus of calls for peace and change, for prosperity and democracy.'
Archbishop Welby responded graciously and with characteristic self-deprecation, saying his knowledge of South Sudan’s challenges was tiny in comparison to that of those present.
He commended the intentions that had been raised, whilst bringing a challenge to action over rhetoric, quoting James 2:15-16:
'Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?'
Rob felt that coming from such a dignified visitor, with an outsider’s fresh perspective and perception, this biblical call spoke loudly to those gathered at the event.
Reflecting on the opportunity to assist the Archbishop and make his visit possible, Stephen echoed the comments of the MAF South Sudan team:
'We are humbled to take part in work such as this. We may not ourselves be great preachers, but we can fly those who are, and we exist to bring the love of Christ to isolated people.'