Thursday, May 16, 2019

An Outside Perspective

An outside perspective always helps. Within the last two weeks I have been able to sit and share with a couple of visitors who have come to Juba, this being their first visit here to South Sudan.

Antoine Rutayisire  is an Anglican pastor, Christian leader, and preacher/teacher extraordinaire from Rwanda. Some of you reading this post will know his name quickly, others will not. I lived with Antoine in Rwanda for one year and served alongside him for two and a half years with the organization he led, African Evangelistic Enterprise, Rwanda. Antoine has always been known as an original thinker and a man of deep understanding and abiding faith. I still refer to him as my “spiritual father.” I could sit and listen to Antoine for hours; his life and his story and the story of his people are the primary reasons I was drawn to this great continent. A couple of weeks ago Antoine and three colleagues came to South Sudan on an exploratory trip, listening and learning to church leaders, discerning how they can come alongside them and promote a way of “being church” that will better serve the peoples of South Sudan. During our evening meal and fellowship during his visit, I asked Antoine, “What are your impressions now at the end of your trip?” Antoine’s ready response came with one word, “Potential.” In the midst of so much trauma and dysfunction which seem to define this young country, the word that Antoine reached for was ‘potential’. He described how South Sudan feels like it is just waiting for the right environment so that it can take off. Antoine also shared his observations regarding the “weariness and tiredness of the people.” He says that he does not feel a sense of urgency amongst the people. “People have been living in an environment that is so troubling and difficult for so long, they have no idea what normalcy might even look like,” he said. Yes, there is potential, but there is the tragic history and the dysfunctional present which keep people down. 


With Antoine and his wife Penina and their sons, Christmas 2014 (in Kigali)  
     
Rev. Karen Krige returned to South Africa from Juba this last Sunday. She was sent to us by the Network for African Congregational Theology (NetACT), a network of theological institutions in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rev. Karen had come to assist me with the Spiritual Formation class I am teaching. I gave her the last two weeks classes of the course for the degree and the diploma students. She taught my students about the value of Spiritual Direction and also the need for discernment. She took time to do Spiritual Direction individually with students, quietly and humbly and lovingly listening to their stories of pain and trauma. In listening to these stories, she was struck by the utter cruelty exacted against so many in this land. Yet, in spite of all the pain and hardship, she saw glimmers of hope, and commented on the power of the human spirit, with divine aid, to overcome. 

Rev. Karen Krige sits and listens to the story of one of our students 

It is always helpful to see the place where you live and breathe and work 24/7 with new eyes and fresh faith. I am grateful for both Antoine and Karen and their recent visits. I feel strengthened and encouraged to continue the good work God has called us to here. May God bring more visitors here to encourage His people in the work He has called us to do. Amen.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Coalition of Hope

For the last year, several of us who were trained last year in Rwanda to conduct healing and reconciliation workshops have been meeting together, trying to find ways to work together. We come from different churches and organizations, and our vision has been to promote this work within our churches, but also to cooperate and promote an ecumenical effort. But it has proved to be harder than we anticipated. We are an informal group of people with a common passion; we want to be faithful to work within the priorities and interests of our own churches, but we also want this message to reach a wider audience and promote cooperation. But when we approach the council of churches or other organizations to support our ecumenical efforts, we struggle to describe who we are and we don’t have credibility as a ‘known entity’. The church partner I work with, the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, has been active in promoting this work of reconciliation, and we have organized a few workshops this year. But we know that long term the work will have more impact and reach more people if we collaborate with others than if we try to ‘go it alone’.



Last week our loosely connected group came together for two days, facilitated by Joseph Nyamutera from Rwanda and Allan Waihumbu from Kenya, both having experience in this ministry of reconciliation and experience promoting it at the grass-roots level. We reviewed with them the current situation in South Sudan and the factors that have contributed to division and conflict in specific regions. Together we discussed a vision for the future, and what our role could be in promoting healing and peace. We explored what exactly we are as a group, and what structure we could work with. Are we a network? Are we an organization? We finally settled on ‘coalition’, and hope that describes our desire to be distinct parts/groups who come together to work as one united group.




We worked together on a vision statement, although that task will take some more time to nail down. And we dreamed together about what we want to see happen in South Sudan – that children could grow up in a safe environment, that people would be healed from their trauma, that displaced people could return home, and that churches would faithfully disciple people to follow Jesus’ example of breaking down barriers. We are excited, but it also feels a little intimidating to me. Please pray for us! It is never easy forming something new, while also trying to work with existing structures and processes. We know that God wants to bring healing and renewal to South Sudan, and trust that He will guide us in this process.



All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Rwanda N’ziza*


Rwanda N’ziza, you have come so far
Towers, your peaks in Kigali
Shines modernity in the face
Nations, coming to you.

You are a thrill to see, a wonder
Young people, dotting and doting
Smiling leisure, you have arrived
The pain of yesteryear, behind.

Or is it...actually...behind -
Hiding beneath, surface, smiles
Rwanda, my beloved, Rwanda N’ziza
What stories, not told, which stories.

Yes, there is the story, the one we all know
"The Genocide Against the Tutsi"
Danger in a single story there is -
As Sister Nigerian likes to tell.

Rwanda N’ziza, our dear sister people
Whose voice, now given voice?
Whose voice, not given voice?
Rests now, deep silence now.

Oh, Rwanda N’ziza, could it be true -
"Revenge with diplomacy"
As my friends says...
The order of the day.

Oh, Rwanda N’ziza, have you
Conquered the monster within,
You, truly renewed, new
All that glimmer, something true?

Rwanda N’ziza, Good Rwanda
Remain I, forever your friend
Do justice, to all, your people,
Do not…close…in.


"Rwanda N'ziza" means "Rwanda is good."As some of you know, Kristi and I lived in Rwanda in the early 2000's. Kristi and I actually met in Rwanda in 2003, on the placid and majestic shores of Lake Kivu while attending a missionary conference. Rwanda continues to carry a special place in our hearts and it always will. I wrote this poem shortly after a recent visit. May the Lord's hand of grace and healing rest upon this beautiful land and all her peoples. 


Monday, April 1, 2019

Daily Challenges in Juba

There are not many ‘big’ events going on right now, so we are plugging away at the every-day tasks. Bob is teaching and staying busy at NTC, and I am meeting with people and trying to make progress related to Community Health Evangelism and some future healing and reconciliation workshops. So we thought we would share a few of the things that make life in Juba interesting, and remind us we are ‘not in Kansas’ anymore.

1. Sleeping under a mosquito net – after tucking in the mosquito net around our bed at night, it can be a challenge to get out for a mid-night bathroom run, or the net gets twisted and you feel like you can’t get away from it. We discovered that in the dry season there are fewer mosquitos, so we can sleep without the net. One night while brushing his teeth, Bob commented that sleeping without the net was “better than he had ever imagined.” The little joys in life!

Putting up our mosquito net

2. Immigration – We have to have a visa to be in South Sudan, and a work permit, and also have to register with the police every 6 months. Every time we have to visit immigration I find myself frustrated – by the unexpected fees, by the complicated process, by what feels like unreasonable requests. Recently they came out with a new registration requirement for foreigners, so I went down to the police station to register us. All the way there I prayed and tried to mentally prepare myself not to get frustrated but to accept the way things are done here. But then an officer asked for a $7 ‘tip’ for filling out a form, and in another office the worker was rude to some applicants. A Kenyan man I was standing in line with said “it is experiences like this that make me hate all of Africa!” I tried to encourage him, and found myself encouraged by remembering that this is just a small piece frustration in the larger scope of a country with many vibrant and beautiful people.

3. Shopping – I enjoy my regular walks down to the produce market, and there is a good variety of fruits and vegetables available. But availability is somewhat unpredictable, and sometimes I find myself looking for a specific thing (lemons, or bell peppers, for example) that has just gone out of season or is not available that day. At the shops, something simple like a can of kidney beans that seems to be ubiquitous will suddenly become hard to find. So for any given meal, usually food from the produce market and at least 3 different shops are the source. This week I am wondering how I am going to get to the five different stores where the things on my list can be found. So we get to practice being flexible, planning ahead, and trying to stock up when possible on things we might not find later.

One of the neighborhood stores we frequent

4. Calling people on the phone – the telephone networks here are terrible. Last night I tried calling someone, and a message said they were ‘out of the coverage area’. I tried again – ‘network busy’. I tried again – he answered, but I could not hear him. Try the fourth time – and we finally were able to talk. Most of the phone call ends up being “can you hear me? Say that again…” and shouting to try to be heard. It is really frustrating when most people don’t have ready access to e-mail that phone is also so hard. Text messages do work sometimes, but we find that with most people face-to-face interactions are the best way to make sure that we’ve connected with someone.

5. Planning – As you might know, this is an event-oriented culture, not a time-oriented culture. I still struggle sometimes with that difference, especially in trying to plan or anticipate how my day will go. A few weeks ago I came home from a women’s prayer meeting at around 3pm and said to Bob “How am I still so naive to think that a prayer meeting could just last 2 hours??" If someone says they are coming at 4pm, we know that just means the approximate time of day. “I’m coming now” can mean “I’m intending to come when I finish the current event” (which could be an hour or more from now)…so the phrase “now now” evolved to mean ‘at the present moment’. As in, “are you coming now now?”

We thank God for these little challenges that help us to adjust, to be humble, and to appreciate the differences in our cultures. You can pray for us to continue to learn, appreciate, and connect with our adopted culture in South Sudan.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Monday Morning Commute and Devotions

7:55am.

After bathing, breakfast and our family devotions, I kiss Kristi and am out the door. Going down the two flights of stairs I again offer myself to God. Lord, bless this day. Hitting the bottom stairwell Deng greets me in Dinka Aweil, “Invual?” “Anvual” I reply shaking his hand and smiling at him as I now leave our building into the thin, cool morning air where I greet young Lual from Aweil, shaking his hand. I then shake that of two others, Emmanuel, a guard, and a man I don’t know who adjusts his cigarette butt so he can greet me as I continue my way to Unity Drive. “Ah, mosalat” (public transport), I exclaim silently as each full rickshaw passes by. A bus stops but fills before I can enter. Just then a rickshaw stops…empty! I climb in and, surprisingly, off goes the driver not waiting for another. As we cruise along the driver greets fellow rickshaw drivers with his hand stretched out; they are like a small fraternity, looking out for each other. Getting off at “mushtefa talimi” (the teaching hospital), I give the driver a little extra for his work and because of our almsgiving during Lent. From here I walk. At the “sinia” (roundabout), I notice soldiers stationed at each corner and in the middle. “Hmmm….that is not normal,” I mutter to myself. I wonder if the president or someone else important will pass through. I slow at my prayer mound, not stopping, as usual, due to the presence of soldiers.

8:20am.

I arrive at the college a few minutes late for devotions. Students who are late, like me, sit in a neat line up against the “rackuba” classroom.* Having grabbed two chairs from the main office, I plant one ahead and one down next to Thon Mobil, one of my students who offers to usher me inside, but I gently refuse. Sitting, then standing next to Thon, I join in the chorus of Arabic worship. The worship leader this morning is Adam Mohamed Adam. Adam is a former Imam** in the Islamic faith. In 2003, when it was discovered that he was clandestinely going to church at night, he was thrown into prison. His life was in danger and he was only saved when someone miraculously got him out of prison and put him on a plane for Egypt. He then joined the liberation movement in Southern Sudan. Later, in the field, God spoke to him and told him to put down his gun and go serve in the church. Adam complied. Adam fully embraced Jesus in 2016 and now is one of our students! Our preacher this morning is Philip Thon Nyok, who, in his words, “struggled with all my comrades who were in the bush since 1983 until 2005.” Philip joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) when he was only fourteen, a child soldier. Philip thanks God because since 1988 he was taken to church by his parents and he has not forgotten his faith, today studying and preparing for God’s service at Nile Theological College (NTC). This morning he preaches from 1 John 3: 19, 20. He gives a rather long introduction about John, the author, then shares that though our hearts may condemn us at times, God is greater than our hearts and loves us. He summarizes the message of John in this short epistle, “God is love,” “God is a Spirit.”

As Philip preaches, I enjoy watching the puffy clouds in the sky with the large round tree in the foreground, one of the benefits of sitting outside (and being late!). Five planes pass near overhead during our short time together, a small Red Cross plane, the Missionary Aviation Fellowship twelve seater, then three other small humanitarian vessels, each plane off on some venture of helping those in need.

8:50am.

This is one of my favorite moments of the week. After the offering and final prayer, the preacher and conductor exit the rackuba and we move in procession to greet each of them and then stand to greet everyone else as they pass through, forming a line that grows with each handshake. I love looking into the faces of my students, shaking their hands, and singing as we begin our day and our week together. I enter the rackuba and prepare for class.


*A rackuba is a simple structure made from locally made and found material, mostly wood and some iron sheeting for the roof. We currently have two rackabas, one serving as the large classroom, the other as a study hall.

**Imam is a title for a Muslim religious leader or the officiating priest at a Mosque.


Here are a few images to give you a visual of some of the descriptions above...

Bob getting into rickshaw

Our "rackuba" classroom, students entering

Students greetings each other after Wednesday Chapel