Thursday, April 12, 2018

Getting around town

How do we get around in Juba? Many different ways! We live right on the corner of a busy intersection, very convenient for getting public transport going in various directions. We do not own/drive a car, which means we do not have to worry about parking, or the car being broken into, or getting stopped by police, or repairs, or the endless fuel shortage, or even the perpetual washing of the car because of the dust. This means that we get to move around Juba like most of the population – by bus, rickshaw, boda-boda, or foot.

Whenever possible, we go by bus or rickshaw. There are several ‘routes’ in the city, so we can usually get close to where we are going using one of these means. To get to work, both Bob and I have about a 10 minute bus or rickshaw ride (in opposite directions), and then a 10 minute walk. God made that very convenient for us!

Intersection - rickshaws

The intersection we live on – a little chaotic at first glance
with no stoplights, but somehow it works.

A ‘rickshaw’ is something like a three-wheeler with a body and more seating. It carries 3 passengers in the back, and a fourth sqeezed next to the driver. It is convenient also because you can ‘hire’ one to go to a specific location just for you, and it is cheaper than a car-taxi. We take rickshaws often, because with less passengers they do not stop as often as the buses. Today when we neared the road to the church office where I get off, the rickshaw driver looked back at me and grinned, as if to say “I know you’re getting off here!”.

Bus stop - rickshaw and bus

The bus stop just in front of our apartment

Boda-boda’s, or motorcycle taxis are another option. We avoid taking these, because there are too many accidents that happen on them. They park on most corners and are ubiquitous around town. So if there is no other alternative or we are going a short distance, sometimes we give in to the convenience of taking a boda.

boda boda

Motorcycles sometimes carry SEVERAL people here…
there’s always room for one more, as they say!

Finally, we go by foot! We live on busy roads and can easily walk to the store or to the big outdoor market down the street. We walk our neighborhood in the evening, and enjoy getting to know our neighbors. Walking helps us to get to know our neighbors and the ‘pulse’ in the community a little better. And, of course, it is good for our health – as long as it is not too hot out!

And finally, sometimes we go by taxi. If we go out for dinner and are coming home after dark, or are traveling with our laptops or other valuables, or on a big shopping trip and have an armful of stuff, then we take a taxi. We connected with a nice young man from Rwanda named Michael whom we call whenever we need a taxi. And fortunately, in Juba, we can go almost anywhere for less than $10 in a taxi, so we do splurge when safety dictates it.

Taking pictures in public is frowned upon, so we apologize that we do not have pictures of us getting around town. These pictures are taken from our apartment window, looking down at the street. Not the prettiest view, but we get front-row seats when something goes by, like a parade, UN convoy, the presidential motorcade, or the annual marathon.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Profile: Mama Sarah

Mama Sarah stood and spoke before the large group of mostly men, those being trained at Nile Theological College to serve as pastors and community leaders.  While women are unheralded and not valued in this culture, Mama Sarah quickly and easily gained the rapt attention of everyone in the room, sharing her own story in the context of our teaching on forgiveness… 

Mama Sarah, teaching on forgiveness...

One of the great joys in life is the people we meet.  Last month Kristi traveled to Rwanda for a training in healing and reconciliation with three South Sudanese colleagues.  One of these colleagues is the inimitable, irrepressible, and unforgettable Mama Sarah.

Mama Sarah is a widow in her late forties; her husband died almost twenty five years ago.  Mama Sarah has raised four children on her own.  She has also taken in children not her own from other clans and tribes, an unheard-of reality here in South Sudan.  Mama Sarah is a grandmother and she relishes her role as “matriarch,” calling others sons and daughters and cherishing her well-deserved title and status as “Mama Sarah” (Mother Sarah).

Kristi and Mama Sarah at the National Genocide Memorial,
Kigali, Rwanda

Like so many here in South Sudan, Mama Sarah’s life story is one of hardship and pain.  When she was less than one year old, her mother was taken from her and her father by relatives who found a better husband who could pay a larger dowry.  Later, Mama Sarah's father was killed by members of a rival tribe, the Nuer.  Such loss and pain could easily derail one’s life, leaving in its wake crushing bitterness and pain.  Thankfully, that is not the script of the life of Mama Sarah.  Mama Sarah exudes joy, love, humor, grace and humility.  To be around her one feels the weight of greatness.

Mama Sarah is from the Dinka tribe, but one does not quickly guess that reality due to her larger than life persona.  Moreover, beyond her mother tongue, she also speaks the languages of other tribes such as Nuer and Shilluk.  Moreover, Mama Sarah has spent some time in the Nuba Mountains and she identifies with the people of that terribly repressed region.  Mama Sarah is fluent in Arabic, and her English is an interesting jumble of words and expressions tenderly spoken and expressed which somehow, by God’s grace, can be understood.  Not too long after her father was killed, Mama Sarah took in a child of the Nuer tribe, the very people who killed her father.  When a sister came calling, this sister refused to receive tea or anything else in Mama Sarah’s home because of Mama Sarah’s willingness to take in this Nuer child.  Most of us do not forgive easily or quickly – not so for Mama Sarah.  She took this child in because the child lost its parents and needed someone to care for her. 

With Mama Sarah and team at end of Healing the Wounds
of Ethnic Conflict (HWEC) workshop we conducted in Juba

Our lives are shaped by those we encounter; in a very short amount of time I already consider my life unalterably changed, challenged and blessed by Mama Sarah.  Her ready smile, her encouraging words, and her wonderful wit bless Kristi and I to no end.  Her life and witness to the Risen Lord and our need to forgive one another will chart the course for a new South Sudan.  Mama Sarah, lead us on… 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Standing in the Gap

I just returned from an incredible three weeks of training about “Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict”. During the first week, we went through the workshop ourselves, and then the second week we were trained in how to facilitate the workshop for others, and finally in the third week we did a practicum where we actually went out and DID it – facilitated workshops in the community, along with a coach to evaluate and help us. As we went through the workshop ourselves the first week, I felt like every day I was crying or on the brink of tears as we reflected on pain that we have experienced, and heard testimonies of incredible forgiveness. It is hard to encapsulate the essence of this signficant experience in a few sentences, but essentially the workshop looks at the roots of ethnic conflict within ourselves, and helps people find healing and forgiveness through Christ that hopefully enables that person to forgive others and pursue the unity and healing that God desires of people.

One of the final and particularly emotional sessions is called Standing in the Gap – where individuals are invited to acknowledge and repent on behalf of a group of people that they identify with, for wrongs done by themselves or their group to another group of people. One of the facilitators from the U.K. started the session by acknowledging and repenting of the harmful and derogatory actions of the U.K. towards Africa in the last few hundred years – including dividing countries according to their own terms, colonizing people, facilitating the slave trade, exploiting natural resources, fostering dependency rather than empowering people….the list could go on. Other people who identify with those who have been wounded are then invited to offer forgiveness. As you can imagine, it is deeply moving to speak out these wounds that are hard to talk about – it is much easier to justify them, or say “but it wasn’t ME who did that…” Several participants in our group followed, acknowledging wrongs done by their country or tribe to another group, or by the church, or by men towards women, or by parents to their children. When a person or group of people has been wounded, the consequences often are felt through generations, and the bitter roots of resentment, prejudice, and anger are hard to get free of (see Hebrews 12:15). Standing in the gap is one part of helping people to find freedom from those bitter roots as we understand more deeply the depth of our sin and the forgivenss that Jesus gives us through the cross.

After the workshop, we visited the genocide memorial museum in Kigali. After immersing ourselves in the horrific history, pictures, and stories of the Rwanda genocide for a few hours, we gathered outside to hear the testimony of two men, Elia and Gaston. Elia is a Hutu who learned as a child from his grandmother’s stories to resent the Tutsi for demeaning the Hutu. When a faction within the government promoted anti-Tutsi propoganda and incited fear, Elia believed he needed to protect his own. When the genocide started, Elia did what he was told, hunting out the Tutsi and brutally killing many people in his community. After the genocide was over, Elia was put in prison for these murders. After serving about 10 years in prison, he confessed his participation in the genocide and was granted early release. He was ashamed of what he had done, knew it was wrong, and lacked peace. He attended one of these Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict workshops in 2003, and recognized the ugly prejudice that had led to his destructive crime. During the standing in the gap session, he publicly confessed his wrong and asked forgiveness. Gaston was also in that workshop, and knew that Elia himself had killed nine members of his wife’s family. But Gaston was the first to offer forgiveness to Elia as a result of himself finding forgiveness and healing through Christ. Gaston and Elia both found peace and freedom through that act of forgiveness, and they worked hard to help others forgive and find peace.

DSC_0200Elia (left), and Gaston (right), with Rhiannon, one of the facilitators of our workshop

Gaston and Elia, who still live in the same community, continue to work together to help others in Rwanda to find healing through Christ from the internal wounds of the genocide. They helped to organize the workshop in their community where I and others did the ‘practicum’ portion of our training. Gaston invited his wife’s sister, Jeanette to the workshop, who still could not bring herself to forgive Elia for taking the lives of so many of her relatives. In the workshop she reviewed again God’s desire for unity and love amongst humanity, the many ways that sin divides us and wounds us, God’s love for us even in the midst of our suffering, and that Jesus came to bear our sin and also our pain and to give us forgiveness and freedom. During this final session of Standing in the Gap, Elia again confessed his participation in the genocide, particularly these people in Jeanette’s family he had killed. This time, Jeanette was able to forgive, even requesting that Elia come to her house so that she could forgive in the presence of her family. Can you imagine losing several members of your familyin a brutal war, and then, even 20 years later, forgiving the murderer? We celebrate that with God this kind of radical forgiveness can and does happen, and that these little acts of forgiveness are what can bring healing to the many places ravaged by war and confict.

Bugesera Standing in the gap Elia

Jeanette hugs Elia as a sign of her forgiveness

Next week we are facilitating this workshop on Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict here in Juba, with the students at Nile Theological College. The conflict in South Sudan has been going for decades, and most people have experienced loss, death, displacement, and worse at some stage. Please pray that God would bring healing, and that we would experience afresh the power of the cross and the forgiveness that Christ gives. Pray that God would raise up people to stand in the gap, acknowledge the pain of others, and confess on behalf of those who did wrong.

Elia and Gaston walkingElia and Gaston, after they shared their testimony with us.
They have forged an unlikely partnership and true friendship.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Come…to South Sudan

In the Church History class I am teaching we recently studied “The Symbol of the Faith,” an early creed and precursor to the Apostles Creed.  The second question is very significant, which reads –

Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost and of Mary the Virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again at the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended unto heaven and sat at the right of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead? 

There are many important theological truths embedded into this question, a question which required a positive response from the catechumenates applying for baptism during the first few centuries.  One of the most significant truths is the affirmation that Jesus was indeed born of Mary, crucified under a historic figure, Pontius Pilate, and that he died.  During those first centuries the heretical teachers of Gnosticism and Marcionism were falsely claiming that Jesus somehow came as an apparition, a phantom who just showed up.  They could not affirm, like those applying for baptism, that Jesus was born, suffered and died as a full-fledged living and breathing human being.  They could not affirm the goodness of God’s creation, and that Jesus joined us in person, in the flesh, in that good creation. 

While Resurrection serves as a foundational belief for Christian life and witness, the Incarnation of Christ is equally important.  Moreover, as followers of Christ, we are also called to incarnate the goodness and mercy of God, living fully in this world as Christ’s ambassadors.  When nine others and I first visited the country of Rwanda in July 2000, one comment we heard several times from our hosts was, “Thank you for coming!  Your presence means everything to us.  Your presence reminds us that God has not forgotten us.”  The 1994 Genocide was only six years fresh, and Rwandans still felt the pangs of being abandoned by the watching world during those one hundred days of horror which can never be forgotten.  Our presence, our arrival, our willingness to go and sit with them and be with them mattered.

Recently I learned through a South Sudanese friend about a group that was planning to travel here to Juba from the United States this year.  To our chagrin, they decided to cancel.  From the reports they were receiving, they just felt that South Sudan was not safe.  Of course, it is unfair for me to judge anyone for making a decision such as this one.  We live in a troublesome world and it is wise and prudent to gauge the safety of any given place when one decides what to do.  However, I will also be honest, I lament with my friend the decision that was taken by this group of sisters and brothers living in the comforts of the United States of America.  Their arrival and visit here in Juba would have given a boon of confidence and hope to the South Sudanese with whom they would have worshipped, fellowshipped and served.   Their arrival and visit would have reminded the South Sudanese that they are not alone.  Their arrival and visit would have strengthened the partnership that exists between them and their Christian sisters and brothers here.  These friends would now know the faces of those whom they pray for.  With their arrival and visit, they would have been incarnating the love and goodness of Jesus Christ, the author of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame (Hebrews 12: 2).  It is one thing to write an email or send a check.  It is another thing altogether to show up in person. 

A joyful welcome form the Women's Choir of a large church
in the Protection of Civilians (POC3) camp
on the outskirts of Juba

Kristi and I have been living here now for ten months.  Yes, there are many problems in this land, but people still live here, life still goes on, children go to school and women go to the market.  Most days in Juba are peaceful and anxiety free.  Some people live here because they must; others live here because they choose to, they choose to identify with the pains and the hopes of the South Sudanese people.  That would be the case for my friend, someone who could choose to live with his wife and children in the comforts of a neighboring country, but who has chosen to live here amongst his people, sharing their joys and pains, seeking to make a difference.  That would also be the case for Kristi and I.  We feel called to love and serve the people of South Sudan, come hell or high water, come peace or continued war.  Our lives are not of great concern; we simply trust in the goodness and mercy of God.

Walking with young boy to church...

Friend and reader, on the off chance you have prayed about coming to South Sudan and feel God nudging you, please do not hesitate, come.  This land is not Disneyland; it is a place that bleeds and needs the help of those willing to be here for such a time as this.  Your stay can be short, or it can be long.  Only come…come, to South Sudan.     

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Gratefully Sharing

Last week our church partner, the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC), was busy distributing food through all of their congregations. When Pastor Philip opened the the shipping container and I saw the long rows of 10 kg sacks, I was truly amazed. How would they distribute all of these? Three different congregations came that morning, two with a rented truck, another with a small utility vehicle. I could see joy on their faces in the midst of the sweat as they loaded the heavy sacks. Sacks of corn flour and lentils were carefully counted, with more than a hundred sacks going to each congregation.

SSPEC food dist Pastors Philip and Lado at containerThe shipping container at the church headquarters
that was filled with sacks of flour and lentils.

In Juba, SSPEC bought more than a thousand sacks of corn flour and several hundred sacks of lentils. Funds were also sent to around twelve different locations around South Sudan where there are groups of congregations that will also purchase and distribute food.

SSPEC food dist Trucks loading at office

Loading trucks to take to the congregations

On Sunday, I worshipped at the Lologo congregation, and got to witness their distribution to the congregation. After the service, people waited patiently until their name was called and they were given their distribution. Bags of lentils were divided between families by joyful mothers. Neighbors around the church and those in the community known to be particularly poor were also called to receive a portion. Even young people who attend the church without their parents were given a full portion for their families.

SSPEC food dist Lologo giving out foodThe Lologo congregation distributing sacks of corn flour to members

SSPEC food dist Lologo dividing lentils

Dividing lentils into portions for each family

I talked to two women as the collected their food. Christina Odiel, 40, is a widow with five children. She used to have a job, but said that now she is not working. I asked how she survives, and she said that she depends on help from others to eat. Later, on the way home I asked Pastor Philip how someone could survive like that. “Allah kariim” (God is generous) – he said. “You will find that a lot of people survive like that in South Sudan – they survive by “Allah kariim”. Somehow God provides. The other woman, Rosalyn, has seven children, the youngest of whom is 8 years old. Her husband is alive, but he married a second wife and left her on her own. She said that many times she and her children go the whole day without eating anything. She makes crafts with beads and sells them, but often she does not sell enough to buy food. She said that this flour and lentils will last her family a few weeks because they will make it stretch by not eating it every day. Both women expressed their appreciation for those who sent the support for this food. They pray that God would increase the help and resources to those generous people, so that they would continue to help others.

SSPEC food dist Lologo two women with food

Christina and Rosalyn with their food allotment

We grieve over the man-made famine in this fertile country and the suffering that results from the insecurity in the country. So many people are displaced from their homes because of fighting, and have had to leave their fields or work. Others are in their homes but rebels or raiders have plundered their fields. Millions are living in UN camps within South Sudan or near its borders. They are given food, but usually it is not enough to feed their families for the whole month and people still go hungry. A recent UN report says that more than half the population are currently “extremely food insecure”. The general population is really suffering from the ongoing conflict and insecurity in South Sudan.

But in the midst of the suffering, I have heard so many expressions of thanks from South Sudanese for the people that generously help them and care about them in their suffering. Shenango Presbytery in Pennsylvania is one of SSPEC’s partners who seeks to connect in meaningful ways and share together in the work of God’s Kingdom. The congregations of Shenango gave generously and collectively to the effort of providing food relief in South Sudan, as a way of showing their sympathy with the suffering of their brothers and sisters in a distant land.

SSPEC food dist Lologo boy sitting on sacks

A young boy waits for his mom to return for their food allocatio