Saturday, November 18, 2017

Visit to the Lologo church in Juba

Since Juba residents come from all of the 64 tribes of South Sudan, there are worship services held in many of the major languages. We have enjoyed the various styles of singing and liturgy that each tribe and language embraces. A few weeks ago we visited an Anyuwaa congregation for the second time with our colleague, Rev. Philip Obang – this time I (Kristi) gave the message and Bob participated in serving communion and the baptism of several children and adults. We made a short (less than 2 minutes) video of some of the pictures from both visits, with one of their songs in the background. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

God’s providence and sovereignty in the midst of turbulent times

A few weeks ago Rev. Chris Ferguson, the General Secretary of the World Council of Reformed Churches (WCRC), with Rev. Debbie Braaksma, the Africa Officer Director for Presbyterian Church (USA) World Mission, along with Lynn and Sharon Kandel and myself, Presbyterian (USA) Mission Co-workers serving in South Sudan and the Horn of Africa Region, spent time at Nile Theological College (NTC) where I teach, located here in the capital city of Juba.  We met with the leadership of the college which includes:  Rev. Santino Odong (Principal), Rev. John Tong Pak (Academic Dean), Rev. Michael Obang (Lecturer and Registrar), along with the librarian and accountant.  We also had an informal lunch with students which allowed us to learn more about the life of the institution and the lives of the students.  The conversation with both leadership and students was animated - it was difficult to stop sharing ideas back and forth before heading off to the next meeting!

Rev. Santino, principal of NTC , shares some of
the history  and vision for the future

Rev. Debbie Braaksma shares words of
wisdom and encouragement

Sitting with students at lunch and hearing their stories -
this student lives in an IDP camp on the outskirts of Juba

After South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, in addition to the campus in Khartoum in Sudan, a second NTC campus was established in Malakal, South Sudan.  It was a labor of love to establish this new campus, but the new leadership was determined to inaugurate the work of NTC in the world’s youngest nation.  To the surprise and consternation of all, civil war broke out in December of 2013, affecting the entire nation of South Sudan, leaving no one unaffected.  Malakal, being strategically located on the Nile River, was a contested city, much of it being destroyed including the young college.  Miraculously, 80% of the books of the institution were spared and housed by a local politician until Rev. Santino, the Principal, was able to arrange transport of the books to the college’s new location in Juba, the capital.  

Rev. John Tong Pak describes some of the realities
faced by faculty and students alike 

Since moving from Malakal to Juba in 2014, NTC has grown from five students to more than seventy.  Roughly ten of these students live in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps and a majority of the students have been displaced from all over the country.  Due to the compromised security situation and challenges with education in South Sudan, wives and children of the leadership of the NTC live in surrounding countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Uganda.  As we discussed the issue of displacement, Rev. Ferguson drew our attention to reformers such as John Calvin and John Knox who were themselves displaced from their homes of origin (France, Scotland) due to the political and religious upheaval of their times.  Thus, much of our reformed thought and thinking germinated during a period of great national and international political and religious turmoil.  John Calvin even insisted to the City Council of Geneva that they set a precedent for being a place which would welcome refugees.  The theme stressed by Rev. Ferguson in this discussion, God’s providence and sovereignty in the midst of turbulent times, felt like not only an important theological insight, but served a means of pastoral care  for these South Sudanese leaders who persevere in their service in the face of the multitudinous challenges in this war torn nation. 

Rev. Ferguson makes the connection between the reformers of the 16th century
and the realities of displacement faced today in South Sudan

Rev. Michael Obang of NTC and Rev. Ferguson
enjoy a light moment of fellowship 

As we finished our time together, Rev. Ferguson also made known to the leadership of NTC a few important opportunities for connecting more deeply to the worldwide communion of faith and ways to empower South Sudanese leaders.  PC(USA) Mission Co-worker Sharon Kandel describes NTC as “a place of joy and hope.”  Indeed, in the midst of the turbulence which has been endemic to this region for generations, NTC shines as a brilliant light to the goodness, faithfulness and glory of God.  For the leadership of NTC and for those of us connected to this institution, it is always a welcome reminder to know that we belong to a worldwide community of faith who upholds us in prayer and encourages us as we press forward in faith.  To God be the glory!       

Sharon Kandel, her husband Lynn, and Rev. Ferguson
bless brother Santino!