Mark Peske, local pastor, recently traveled to the world’s newest nation in July to teach a course at the Concordia Lutheran Institute for the Holy Ministry (CLIHM) in Yambio, South Sudan. There, he taught a two-week course to students and learned some lessons along the way for himself.
Peske has been the pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cohasset since January 2016. This past July 1-19, Peske was able to fly to Yambio, South Sudan to teach a course to 22 students on “Personal Shepherding.” South Sudan is the world’s newest nation after breaking apart from Sudan in 2011.
“The course taught things like the importance of showing love by listening; helping people solve personal problems by uncovering roots of resentment, guilt, or fear; and leading through humble service,” Peske said.
While the focus of the trip was to teach, Peske soon realized that he was going to gain much more than a teaching experience.
Each day, his class would start out inside and then move outdoors underneath a grove of mango trees. The shade of the trees would keep the class cool in the hot afternoon sun. Peske recently participated in a program in Grand Rapids right before his mission trip to South Sudan called “Revive MN.” There, participants were encouraged to engage with people in the community in faith conversations and would offer to pray for others. Peske began to envision doing something similar in Yambio, South Sudan.
“I started picturing other people from the community joining us,” Peske said. “Not only were the seminary brothers excited about it, but the community responded really well.”
During the rest of his time in Yambio, South Sudan, Peske and the rest of the seminary students engaged with many people of the community. Peske noted the openness of the community was already in place before he arrived. Many of the community members spend time together outside to stay cool, making it easier to approach people. One of Peske’s most profound interactions was with a woman who had a foot infection and was looking at potentially amputating the foot.
“When the doctor described the woman’s situation to me, he said her head was so filled with fear it was making it hard for her body to heal. So I thought I could visit her and offer a little love and healing prayer,” Peske explained.
Peske spent the next eight days visiting the woman. Together, they sang, prayed, shared scripture, shared the Lord’s supper and exchanged many life stories.
“By the end of the time, I had really grown fond of this woman and kind of adopted her as my mother. And when she had healed enough, without any amputation, to be released, we shared a long and tearful hug,” Peske said.
Before he traveled to South Sudan, Peske was concerned that he wouldn’t have enough energy for the experience.
“It was the exact opposite. Everything was so, how can I say, it was like I was led along. It was like I had a sail up and the wind just blew me along,” Peske remarked. “I took stock on the second to the last day and I thought to myself, ‘I have felt younger and stronger with each passing day.’”
By the end of the trip, Peske realized that he had gained much more than just another teaching experience.
“The way everything developed, and the way we worked together as a team, and the way opportunities presented themselves, it was literally relaxing and renewing. So not only was it hard to leave because I had come to love these brothers, but it was just, gosh this was some of the best and most satisfying work I have ever done. In many ways , I felt that it was a culmination of a lifetime of learning,” Peske expressed. “I can’t even tell you how much insight I gained.”