a bishop of the fourth century who transformed
the idea of "bishop" by his simple life of poverty and service
a song of lament, repentance and a plea for divine help
I want to share a little story that reflects daily life here, and how we continue to learn and adjust to the way of life in a new place. A few months ago, (February, maybe?) I was feeling the urge to get a few new things to wear. I had come to Juba with a suitcase of clothes a year ago, but only some of those were suited to the climate and the culture, so it was starting to feel like I was always wearing the same things. I thought, “I just need a few more shirts to wear with the skirts I have, and that will give me variety.” But, how to get some shirts? I tried to be content and patient and wait for the right opportunity to come up.
Sometime in March, after thinking about this for awhile, I set out for Konyokonyo market (that is, an African-style outdoor market with little stalls that sell housewares, clothes, shoes, spices, and basically anything that you might want to buy here). I browsed through the clothing stalls, where shirts or other clothes are hung up on the walls of the small stall. Most of these clothes are the surplus (that wouldn’t sell) from department stores or clothing companies--some used, some not. I finally found a shirt that fit what I was looking for, but was told it was 2500 SSP (about $10 then). That seemed too high for a shirt that was not new, and defnintely high for Juba. I wondered “Where do most people in Juba shop?? How can they afford this?”
I came home and talked to Mary and Susan, who clean in our apartment building. I described my experience of going to the market (good Arabic practice!), and my suprise at the prices. They affirmed that those were indeed the normal prices at Konyo-konyo market (especially for the ‘nice’ clothes that are hung up on the walls of the stall). They advised that if I wanted cheaper clothes, I needed to go to Custom market, and look for the place where there were piles of clothese on the ground. If you pick through the piles, you can find something that fits (trying it on over your other clothes). Those clothes are cheap – only about 500 SSP, they said!
Finding time to make this special trip to Custom market was not easy, and it was a little intimidating since I did not know where the clothes section was. I waited, hoping for an opportunity to come up when someone could go with me. But that never came. I’m an American adult – surely I can figure out how to buy a shirt, right? So one day in mid-April I set out on the bus to Custom Market, and wandered around through the stalls I saw near the bus park– but all the stalls seemed to have ‘high-end’ things (like fancy jeans and sports shoes), and I realized maybe I was not in the main market. Finally, I asked a woman for help, and she pointed the direction to the entrance to the big Custom market, which was across the street and hidden behind a wall. I walked in that direction, but saw that there was a very narrow opening congested with people trying to get in and out. I got nervous, knowing theft is a high risk in Juba, and not wanting to get stuck in a crowd when I did not know my way around. “Maybe it is crowded because it is a school holiday?”, I thought. I came home empty-handed again, and went back to Mary and Susan.
“What is the good time to go the market?” I asked them. “And is there another entrance that is better than that small one?” Mary told me how to get to the back entrance that is less crowded, and assured me that Custom market is always crowded. I waited a few more weeks, looking for time to return for another try. Finally, last week (mid-May now!), the opportunity came. I had to drop something off for Nyakuma, one of the women who I have worked with to facilitate the heaing and reconciliation workshops. Of course, with extravegant African hospitality, “dropping something off” turned into having tea with Nyakuma and her husband, and even trying a new food called “wal-wal”, which is a little like polenta, but with more of a consistency like small pasta, somehow. When I left her house, she insisted on getting me a motorcycle taxi, and explained to the driver exactly where to take me at Custom Market. Exactly what I needed, and didn’t realize it!
I entered the market, and began to wander through the narrow paths. The stalls seemed to be haphazard – those selling shoes, or hardware, or spices, or housewares, were all mixed together rather than having categorized ‘sections’ like at other markets. The narrow paths and rows of stalls seemed to go on and on, and it felt a little like a maze in Alice in Wonderland. Finally, I stumbled upon some piles of children clothes. “I must be getting close,” I thought. I asked someone about shirts for women, and he helpfully guided me to the next aisle and showed me some of the stalls with women’s clothes. Big piles of clothes were laid out on tarps, with some of the best ones hung up on the walls. I browsed, dug through piles, and tried on shirts over my clothes, enjoying the camaradie with the other shoppers and the sellers. These clothes were definitely the ‘leftovers’ or surplus from thrift stores in the U.S., but they were cheap, just as Mary promised! As I was digging through a pile in one stall, I overheard two tailors talking, and recognized the language of Burundi. I greeted them in Kirundi, and they were floored to find a foreigner in Juba who knew their language. A fun connection! After finding four or five rather ‘unique’ shirts that fit my criteria and spending a grand total of about $10, I was grateful for the advice of many people that helped me finally accomplish this small goal! But I had to be willing to ask directions again to get out of the market! A woman heard me asking and graciously offerred to lead me to the bus park, as she was going there anyway. Whew! One more step in feeling at home here, and learning to depend on the people around us and be grateful for their help and hospitality!
One of my new shirts from the market!
Last week we facilitated another of the Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict (HWEC) workshops for participants from several Juba congregations. It has been a busy season for our team who were trained in Rwanda, but we praise God for the open doors to present this workshop and help people to find heaing and forgiveness. In this particular workshop last week, our team was both teaching and organizing all the logistics – a rather daunting task. Add to that that I am still learning my way around in how to do things, so felt somewhat helpless regarding some of the logistics. Perhaps that motivated me to pray harder though, and God sure provided in many ways beyond our control. I want to share just a few of those ways that God provided just what was needed to make this a meaningful and transformative experience for everyone.
First, God provided an experienced, helpful, joyful group of women to cook lunch for us each day. A few days before the workshop, I was despairing of what we would do about food. The church where the workshop was conducted did not even have pots and pans or plates, so those would all have to be rounded up. But then, just the day before we started, I met with Mama Julia, who agreed to bring her friends to help us, had her own cooking equipment that she brought, helped us come up with a menu that would work with our small budget. A member of our teaching team lent us the plates and cups from his church, and brought the whole lot on a motorcycle taxi. Wow! Everyone raved about the food, it was delicious and made on time, cost even less than I anticipated and it was truly a joy working wtih these women. God is good!
Two of our cooks, making “kisra”, a thin dough something like Ethiopian injera.
Then, God provided people to help with the logistics. As we got ready for the workshop, I had lots of questions running through my head, “Who is going to start the generator? And go get fuel when it runs out? And where or how do we get all the water we will need for cooking and washing?” (no electricity or running water here, which makes things much more complicated. And who can lead us in some worship? Finding songs that everyone knows and someone with a gift for leading them was certainly beyond my control. It was as the workshop was starting on the first day that I realized how God had provided in all of these areas. The guard for the church ran the generator and helpfullly resupplied the water and fuel (and the church had graciously left us a full tank of both that we could just resupply at the end). And then the talented youth of the congregation came to help us at the workshop, both participating and happily leading everyone in joyful worship at several points in the day. Such a gift!
Nyakak (left), Mama Sarah, and Charles Peter leading worship
Finally, an important piece is translation. In Juba, many educated people know English, but others spent years in Khartoum and communicate better in Arabic, and the less educated get by in Juba Arabic or their tribal language. Three of the four of us on the teaching team are more comfortable in English than Arabic, so we decided everything would be in both English and Arabic. But finding the right person to translate proved a challenge. I thought of our language teacher, Charles Peter, but couldn’t get a hold of him. We wanted someone who would understand easily the principles we were teaching, and could tranlate into either Arabic or English. Finally, the night before the workshop started, I reached Charles Peter by phone and he agreed to come. He translated tirelessly, and also filled in on the worship team or as photographer, as needed. Thanks be to God for providing exactly what was needed.
Charles Peter (left) translates for Omot (middle), while
Mama Sarah displays a coat representing the “Holy Nation”
And what about the actual content of the workshop? If you have not heard us talk about the HWEC workshop much, you can read more in our current newsletter. God is opening doors to present these teachings, and we pray that many continue to find healing and forgiveness. Please pray for peace in South Sudan, as the tensions and attacks in some regions are ongoing. Organizing a workshop is not always easy, as I hope this post reflects, but we are grateful that God answers prayers, even for details like water, meals, and translation.