Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Busy Week

Dear Friends,
Greetings! This has been a busy week and it is only Wednesday night!

I do not have a car in Sudan so I either hoof it (walk) or take rickshaws (small motorized quick rides) or buses. I have discovered that when there is a lot of traffic the best way for me to cross streets is to walk by the side of the buses that are turning the same direction as I am going. I am protected from the oncoming traffic and can move forward much more quickly than if I waited for traffic to stop for me.

Several things happened today that I am going to share with you, my reader, in various ways. The first was at a doctor's clinic. With the upcoming Referendum on January 9, 2011 which will determine whether Sudan remains Africa's largest country or divides into two countries, there have been rumors abounding. One of the rumors is that medical facilities in north will no longer (be allowed to) treat Sudanese from the south as soon as possibly December.

The doctor today was very clear that Christians and Muslims worship the same God through different religions and that we are to obey Allah (The Arabic word for God) and Allah tells us to love one another. He said that he is always available to all of his patients and it doesn't matter to him if a patient is from the north or the south. What a blessing this man was! I have no idea if doctors all over the world take the Hippocratic oath, I do know that God has touched his heart and spoken truth to him.

The second thing that happened took place on the bus coming back from the city to the suburb where the Nile Theological College (where I teach) is and where I live. There was a Sudanese Arab woman wearing a tobe. I have mentioned these tobes many months ago. It is essentially a large piece of cloth that married Sudanese women wrap around their clothing in a particular way. It is considered the National Dress of Sudan. The tobes can made of very beautiful cloth, I myself have had a two piece outfit made of a beautiful tobe.

This woman was sitting in the bus crying and was clearly pregnant. It was distressful to me to see her crying and I kept making eye contact with her to try to let her know that she isn't alone in the world. When it came to my stop I got almost off the bus and then was able to put my hand out and touch her hand. She touched my hand back and when I looked up at her she was smiling! I pray that she understand that she is not alone.

The third thing today was also an encounter with a Sudanese Arab. I don't know if people come to me for help because I am a foreigner and they assume I have the ability to help, or because of something more personal. Today was one of the few times I have wished that I could be transported back to a somewhat comfortable middle class existence in the United States for a day or two.

I had to explain to this person that I am a widow, that I have no brothers and sisters and that I am supporting myself. I do not have the ability to pay back rent for anyone nor to support a family. Unemployment is so rampant here that I can understand that desperation that underlies the desperate hope that a foreigner will hold the solution to the lack of money for food and shelter. There is not a social welfare system as far as I can tell, that appears to be The Family. If someone is a converted Muslim then The Family is no longer available. And if The Family is just as impoverished as the one seeking help then all of them are together in the need and not able to be a part of a solution for one another.

When I speak of converted Muslims losing family support I should add that I don't know what happens when Christians leave the faith and perhaps turn to Islam. I don't know if the remaining Christian family members will support that person or not.

I think the deeper point of this sharing with you is that instead of treating people as people, instead of realizing that whatever the religion we are all God's children and we all must eat and have shelter, sometimes this gets forgotten as people create criteria for something that is not meant to have criteria.

There are no social welfare offices, no social workers that I am aware of, no community agencies. The churches appear to be financially unable to step in and help their struggling brothers and sisters.

I watched a special on AlJazeera English TV this week. It was about the marshlands of Iraq. The particular tribe who has inhabited the marshlands for thousands of years angered Sudan Hussein when he was living. In retaliation he dried up the marshlands and an ancient civilization, culture and way of life was destroyed. The people in the marshes used to be able to meet their daily needs, their daily bread, in the marshes through fishing and hunting, etc. Now they go at 2:00 a.m. every day to try and find reeds to bundle up and sell. If they have no customers to purchase their bundles they have no money. They are unemployed and have no future. This is what it fees like here in Sudan much of the time.

I do not think that the God that we Christians know in the testimony of the Gospels in the person of Jesus Christ intends for people to live without hope. There comes a time when a forward movement must happen, something must change. The status quo becomes intolerable, unsustainable and has no life left in it. This is what has happened to many people here in Sudan, and perhaps in much of Africa.

When someone has no prospects of employment, no food to feed the children, no money to pay the back rent, what does a Christian say to that person? What is the plan for moving forward? What is the plan for changing what doesn't work any longer? Yes, Jesus provides. And some of that provision comes from the good sense that he has given to us. Some of it comes from a sense of desperation being turned to joy in the morning.

I pray constantly for the people of Sudan that their pain may turn to joy. Please join me in these prayers.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Dear Friends,
Greetings! This has been a lovely day. On my birthday in August I was treated to pizza at a local restaurant by American friends and their daughter. As I near departure for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I took them for pizza today at the same restaurant. Man that pizza is good!

I realized after sitting and talking with them for a while that my bottle of water was still cold. At home in Khartoum after about five minutes of sitting my water begins to get warm. The restaurant was nice and cool so I realized that a good gauge for how cool a building is has to do with how long cold drinks stay cold...

The other thing that was realized today is that in Khartoum was have to ask for our check, our bill, how much we owe for the food. As one of my friends pointed out, in America there is a mentality of getting people in and out, rapid turnover in order to earn the most money possible on food service. Here, as with many facets of life here, people linger and talk. There is not a hurry and we had to ask for the bill. I could see once I was aware of the low turnover in customers that the same people were still at the tables and while a few people came in, there was not a mad rush in or out.

On our way out we passed a table with many, many children at it. I think that it was a birthday party! I admit that I don't eat out very often here and at the same time I have never spotted a child's birthday party before! That was a nice thing to see.

We headed to a Western type mall after lunch to shop for things that we cannot find in the dukans (little shops) on our side of the Nile. It is nice occasionally to visit a large, well lit store with roomy aisles and merchandise that really looks like what would be in a typical American Target or Sears.

The temperature is beginning to very, very slowly come down. At one point in the shade outside today and with a breeze it was quite tolerable. Unfortunately shade does not walk with me when I move, so that didn't last long!

Friday, November 19, 2010


Dear Friends,
Greetings! This week one of the things that I learned about here in Sudan is leadership. I think that what I have learned could be applied to any number of countries and situations, I just happened to learn about it in the context of Sudan.

There are the leaders who are imposed on people from the top. The ones who are interested in their own well-being and not concerned with the needs of the people whom they are to govern.

Then there are the leaders who are elected from within the community. These are the leaders who are seen to have the best interests of the people at heart.

A student whose wife had a difficult labor and delivery and was not recovering well after child birth lives in a remote village in the south. She lives a five hour round trip by foot (hoofing)from the nearest medical facility. Her father-in-law lives near the medical facility and had asked a local government official if he could borrow his car to go and pick his daughter-in-law up and take her for medical care. Round trip by car the journey is about half an hour. The government official refused.

I was astounded and I will say deeply offended when I learned this. Government officials are to be servants of the people -- SERVING the people. Not so in this case of an official who was assigned to this village and not elected from within. It also showcases the lack of value put on women and maternal health. I found out later that Southern Sudan has the highest rate of maternal deaths related to child birth in the world.

There is a much bigger picture to life than one's own narrow focus. I think that in many places in the world people must just survive and that concern for that bigger picture is not on the personal radar. Those of us who have the ability to look at the bigger picture must do what we can to create opportunities and change, even transformation, for those whose worlds are by necessity so small.

My students who have lived in other countries definitely have different perspectives and are more open to new ideas than those who have lived in one small village all of their lives. May the God of Abraham and Sarah, Issac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, show us how to open doors, minds and hearts for those who cannot see. May the Holy Spirit blow through Sudan, and other countries, pouring out upon all who need new vision and hope.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Polygamy & Other Cultural Differences

Dear Friends,
This past week I learned that a woman is considered a polygamist even if it her husband who has chosen to take another wife, with or without her consent. This culture is a difficult one for me to comprehend as it is clearly advantageous to the men, with the women having little or no impact on the very things that completely affect their lives.

Women do not take two husbands. But it is believed that if a man consults the first wife about the taking of a second wife that this creates equality and gives the first wife a part in the decision making. I do not believe that this is the case.

I also observed this past week or so that I have never seen a fire hydrant here in Khartoum. I have never seen a fire station nor a fire truck. I do upon occasion see and hear ambulances. They are not accorded the courtesies of those in the west, traffic does not make way for them. I always pray as they go by that the patient will make it to the hospital in a timely manner.

The season is now winter here in Northern Sudan. This means that the temperature of 100F is delayed until late afternoon. The advantage to this is that the sun does not scorch us in the same relentless manner as during the rest of the year. As with this time last year I can tell that the season has changed by the changes in the shadows. In that sense only does the season here remind me of home in Seattle.

I was invited to the home of a colleague/friend for lunch, around 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon, this past Sunday. It was a lovely time of visiting and seeing her home and spending time with she and her husband. I am realizing that the architecture here in Sudan is quite varied. Her home is actually a free standing house with a staircase leading to the rooftop where the family has beds for use during the summer months. In the first floor of the house there are two bedrooms, an inside bathroom (shower and toilet), a living room (known as a parlor here), a kitchen, dining room and visiting area with armchairs and a tv. This contrasts with other homes I have been in that are designed quite differently and also with compounds that have several rooms that are built individually on the property, very unlike what we consider a home in the west. With the design of having several rooms on a property it is more practical to have extended family live together than it would be in different rooms in a single house. Different culture, different needs, different designs.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Autumn in Khartoum.

Dear Friends,
Greetings! It has been five months since I have blogged and I think it is high time to pick this practice up again.

I had a lovely learning vacation in Ghana and Ethiopia this summer. I have since my return to Khartoum in July been working on class preparation, and now the last few months, teaching.

It can be hard to give an accurate picture of the heat here in Northern Sudan month after month. It is intense and scorching. We seem to be headed now towards "autumn" in Khartoum. At the moment this means that the shadows in the outdoor area of my little home are changing. It also means that I have been quite ill for the past few days as my body is adjusting to the change in seasons.

At some point in time the daytime temperature will begin to drop a little bit, not enough to allow a white Christmas, but enough to give some relief to the sizzle. It is getting darker earlier at night as well. Tonight it was pitch black out by 6:45, in the height of summer the light seems to linger until perhaps 7:25 or so.

I reached my own conclusion today that Northern Africa is in a permanent state of colonialization. Technically both Sudan and Egypt are on African soil. Now, not having been yet to Egypt I cannot comment in a meaningful way on the culture there. I do know that Northern Sudan, at least particularly Khartoum, is Arabic. This is not an African city culturally although it is geographically. Centuries of occupation by outside peoples and forces have changed the character of what once was indeed African. I can only wonder what it might be like here if the Muslims had not swept down into Northern Africa from the Arabian Peninsula in the single digit centuries of the last two thousand years. Whereas Islam is moderated in, for instance, West African countries through African culture and indigenous leadership; here in the North the leadership is Arab and therefore not indigenous. Here is the Sahara the harshness of the sun is somewhat matched by the harshness of Islam. It is a different kind of Islam that I have always known in the West.

Perhaps in Western Europe and North America Islam is moderated through indigenous leadership and culture as it is in Western Africa. Christianity here in Saharan Africa is certainly different than Christianity in the states. It is indigenous Christianity. Missionary Christianity named the Gospel for the Africans, named Jesus for the Africans, however Jesus was here on this continent long before the missionaries. The original missionaries didn't understand how to see Jesus' presence already in the African culture and so they thought that the culture had to be destroyed in order to make room for Christ. Nowadays the fastest growing Christian groups here in North Africa are the indigenous Christian churches.

Just as there are differences between Western and Eastern Islam, there are differences between Western and Southern Christianity. Because of our distinctive cultures we will never be exactly the same and we are not supposed to be. In Christianity the Body of Christ is full of diversity and ever present challenges to listen, learn, grow from our context and love our brothers and sisters in Christ who are different than we are.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Church & Other Things

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I have been kept very busy the past two weeks or so since the end of classes at NTC. I have also had a cold as so many other people at the college did towards the end of the semester.

I have attended a church community meeting comprised of primarily lay people with a sprinkling of pastors. I was the only female pastor in attendance and there were perhaps two other women, lay women who were sent by their congregations. I met a deaconess (female who holds the office of deacon) which I was glad for; as of yet the Sudanese Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) does not ordain women as elders or pastors.

I have been told that the women in Africa buy gold jewelry when they can afford it. This is their banking system. They have the gold when times are tough and they need money. Once I understood that I began to notice that many women, even those of modest means, do indeed wear gold earrings or necklaces or bracelets. They may not trust the banks or other financial institutions and jewelry is under their own control.

Several weeks ago I visited a church in an area where many satellite dishes were visible. I assumed that this meant the area had electricity. I found out that this is not so and the TV's were powered by generators. Yesterday, Sunday, I was taken to another church which was more than an hour's drive from Khartoum. The area in which this church was located does not have government services for electricity or water. There were however electric lines and poles. The area produces its own electricity which costs about $16.00 a month. While the church did have several light bulbs which were turned on as darkness overtook the dusk, there were no fans or swamp coolers. They probably cost too much to operate.

This church consisted of a large compound and within that compound was a wall with three rooms in it. There were two worship areas and a small office area between them. The rooms are all made of mud. In the far room worship is held during the cold season (since I didn't think winter here was cold I was a bit puzzled about that). The pulpit was made out of mud as well and painted white. The floor is dirt and the walls had crosses painted on them.

The second worship room was the larger one and this where we worshipped yesterday. It is the room for hot weather. The pulpit in this room is wood but the floor is still dirt. Women were on the left in chairs, men on the right sitting on metal benches. The children were anywhere they could find a parent. In the front row was the music director and two amazing African drums. One of them had a very deep booming sound and the other a lighter one.

The church has a Presbyterian pastor and an Episcopalean pastor (I don't think they are called priests in Africa). The property belongs to the Presbyterians but is shared with the Episcopals which I thought made great sense from a stewardship point of view.

As we drove through the narrow alleys with the mud buildings of the refugee camp we encountered a donkey drawn water cart. I had not seen one of these before. Since the government does not supply water it is delivered to the residents in a large metal tube, poured out into containers that are left besides the entrance to the mud buildings.

During our service the children were free to play outside in the compound. I found myself thinking what a perfect solution it was. They were close by their parents and there was plenty of room for running and playing.

I also found myself realizing what a privilege I have in visiting places in this country that most people from the United States will never see. Khartoum itself is a cultural revelation for me, and when I am driven to points outside of Khartoum it is like traveling to another planet. Mud floors, mud walls with beautiful crosses painted on them, holes in the walls for ventilation and then the doorways that have no doors because there is no need for them.

I could tell as I preached that some of the people know English which indicates that some of them have at least some level of education. I knew this because when I said something funny two or three of the men would laugh before what I said was translated into Arabic. The congregation was made up of Nuer and Dinka tribes people but here in Christ they are one and I believe that the common language of Arabic was being used in the worship service.

The Presbyterian pastor had six beautiful well-behaved children, two boys and four girls. And his wife had a beautiful voice. She did a solo which I cannot describe -- it was African in nature and she beat the small drum and the choir leader punctuated on the larger drum here and there. Because of the language she used I couldn't understand her, but it was profound.

I have learned now that there are approximately 560 languages spoken in Sudan. Sudan is made up of many tribes. Arabs are a tribe, then there are the African tribes and tribes that come from the Nuba Mountains in the West. I have finally reached an understanding of why people have been asking me about the tribes in the United States. Now I explain about the Native Americans and the tribes that inhabited North America before the Europeans colonized the land. I also have a greater appreciation for the linguistic richness of Africa in general and Sudan in particular. Most of my students at NTC know at least three languages; their tribal language, Arabic and English.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Two weeks of learning and participating in life in Khartoum.

Dear Friends,
Greetings! It has been two weeks since I wrote in this blog. Two weeks which have been full of activity, ministry and learning.

I have hosted an end-of- the- year party/movie viewing in my apartment for my English class. I have preached twice in local churches and I have baptized three young women! I've spoken at a conference for Women and Men in Ministry Together and with a small group of spouses of students at Nile Theological College where I teach. The small group talk was about spouses (all of the spouses in attendance were women) supporting their husband's ministry. I have also had small group discussions with students in my apartment. It has been a busy two weeks!

I attended a Christian church wedding here in Khartoum. I was amazed by the sermon, some of which was translated for me by one of my students. The minister said that marriage is between one man and one woman and called for the groom as well as the bridge to be a virgin.

The wedding was beautiful and there was a huge reception afterwards outside of the church on the grounds. The bride and groom were wearing very Western bridal clothing, this didn't surprise me too much as that was also the custom in China. At least here in Sudan the men and women wear their customary Arab or African garb on the streets -- imaginative and full of color (except for the men who wear white). In China nearly everyone wore Western apparel.

In speaking more at depth with my students I have learned that even now there are villages in Sudan, particularly perhaps in the South, which have no internet and no cell phone coverage. When a student comes from a village like that it is very difficult to communicate with his wife. Our female students at NTC all seem to have families here in Khartoum and do not have those communication problems.

An American friend commented to me recently that in Khartoum there is really no middle class as there is in America. There are the rich, and there are the poor. I remembered this a few days ago when in front of the college I saw a woman with plastic sandals (we used to call them zorries when I was a kid) on her hands. Then I realized she was using her hands to drag herself along the sidewalk. Then I realized that she had no legs and she was using her arms as legs and her hands as feet. I admired the tenacity of that woman. I can only imagine the challenges that she faces every day of her life as she feeds herself and tends to her most basic of needs.

I continue to try and piece together what the differences and similarities are between Arab and African culture. Khartoum is an absolutely fascinating mix of the two. I will be leaving in just under three weeks for my vacation time to Ghana and Ethiopia. I am looking forward to being immersed in cultures which are bound to be much more African. I have already spent time in the Middle East, in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and a brief visit to the Golan Heights in Syria; so I have some exposure beyond Khartoum to Arab culture. The only other African experience I have had is my ten days in Nairobi last September. I expect to learn more about African culture and to experience more of the differences and similarities first hand.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Day in the Life....

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Yesterday was an amazing day full of many different activities and much learning. I will share some of it with you....

In the morning I spent time with some of my students. We traveled by bus to a park in Khartoum. There are a few parks where there is an entry fee, in this case it was 1SDG which is about .40 USD. The park was a pleasant change from either the NTC campus or from my apartment.

I was told that there are over 500 tribal languages in Sudan. I have had many people ask me about the tribal languages in the United States and I always reply that English is our language though we also have Spanish in certain areas. I am aware that some Native American tribes in the US are working to bring their languages back from the edge of extinction. Sudan must be, in this sense, like America was when the Native Americans filled the country. It has been challenging for me to begin seeing things from this perspective, but I think it is also a good thing because it gives me at least a slightly better understanding of some of the language challenges facing the Sudanese.

It appears to me that most of my students speak their native tongue which is the language of their particular tribe. Then they speak Arabic which is the official language of Northern Sudan, probably because it is the language of Islam. Then they speak English. In my eyes this is an amazing feat! Our learning in class appears to be multi-layered!

Yesterday evening I went to a worship service at a beautiful old Episcopalean church. This is also where the Couple's in Ministry Conference took place this past Friday. In this place are the church pews of my heart. The ceiling is raised and the building reminds me a little bit of the majesty of the cathedrals in Europe. It also reminds me a little bit of St. Mark's Episcopalean Cathedral in Seattle on Capital Hill.

I saw with my own eyes the church of Sudan at this service. The service was filled, FILLED, with young people! The minister who invited me to participate with him in the service said that while North American churches are ageing, the church in Sudan is filled with young people. Being from Seattle, Washington it was really kind of hard for me to fully comprehend what I saw in the pews.

The young men were on the right from where I was in the front of the church, the women filled the other two rows. There was a choir -- a choir! Different groups had on different colored robes symbolizing different things. The five young women who were baptized were sitting in the front dressed in white.

The service was conducted in one of the tribal languages. I could tell this because the writing in the New Testament that my host had was definitely not Arabic. When I asked him about the language he told me that it is their tribal language.

The congregation is made up largely of young women who are in North Sudan because they have had to flee situations in other parts of the country. While they are literate they are mostly uneducated.

I have now learned that when I am asked to "encourage" a church it means I am going to be preaching and not just be present with them. Having once again not realized this I quickly figured out what to say. I had been asked to talk about the value of education and since this figures in very well with baptism a message fell into place.

The Apostle's Creed was recited, by memory. At this point I was thinking about the Compline service in St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle Sunday nights at 9:30. That service is filled with young people from the city. The first time I went to that service I was overwhelmed because it was clear to me that the Compline filled a spiritual void for the youth that were there. At Compline the Apostle's Creed is recited as well. Everyone stands up as if on cue and recites it, turning at the appropriate time. It is a beautiful moment to participate in. This worship service last night was a beautiful moment to participate in as well.

There were five young women to be baptized. Rev. Johnson baptized two and I baptized the first three. I stroked their heads with the water and he told me later that they had liked that. Precious children.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Busy, busy, busy.

Dear Friends,
Greetings! This past week has been busy. Last Sunday I was invited to a Sudanese church for morning worship. I managed to miss the cultural clues and did not realize that I was supposed to preach, a lost opportunity! I was able to say a very long prayer for the congregation however!

In this church the men and the women sat separately. There was a good range of ages, from two little girls to young women and men to the more mature. I think this is a good sign of Christianity being embraced by families and by people of all ages in Sudan.

This coming Sunday I will be going to a worship service in the evening where 80% of the worshippers are illiterate young immigrant women. I am looking forward to "seeing" how God will use me in this new context.

Thursday of this week we had a seminar on The Church & Technology. I had been somewhat apprehensive thinking this would focus on technical issues regarding, perhaps, computers. Instead the Roman Catholic speaker shared with us theologically and used Biblical references in discussing how science and technology are not in opposition to Christianity. It was a good presentation! Someone pointed out the wisdom of making it theological at a Theological College. It reminded me of my science class when I was at Trinity Lutheran College (back then it was the Lutheran Bible Institute). The Professor knew that Bible College students weren't going to be so interested in math and science so he related the subjects to the Scriptures. It is a good technique for keeping the interest of the less technically minded!

From the seminar I went to a Women's Conference, day one, for the spouse's of the clergy here in Khartoum. The churches in Sudan do not yet ordain women to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament thus the reason that it was a Women's Conference. I was asked to speak a word of encouragement for the women and I talked about balance in life, being sure to take time for one's self and for God amid everyday tasks.

Today I went the the second half of the Conference which was now for the clergy and the spouses. I was asked to give encouragement today on partnership and ministry, on women's development and on sharing household chores along with congregations encouraging of clergy wives. This is the first conference at which I have been invited to speak. I appreciated the invitation. I am thankful to be getting more plugged in to the local church here in Khartoum. The biggest obstacle really is my lack of Arabic because it precludes my having conversations with many of the local people. I need to begin finding the time to memorize vocabulary words.

On the way to NTC to meet one of the women in order to travel with her to the conference I saw a man urinating at the side of a building. I saw him look both ways and then zip his pants. Well, in China I saw children answering nature's call in the middle of streets and sidewalks, they would just pull their pants down where they were. It was a bit stunning when they were older children. With the very little ones their parents would hold their hands as they did their thing because the little ones don't wear diapers and their clothes have holes for this purpose.

It has been very hot here the past few days and between the heat and all of the activity I am finding I need to drink a lot of cold water. As long as I am at home cold water is not a problem. When I carry it with me it becomes literally hot very quickly. Hot tea or even coffee simply does not quench my thirst when I am internally hot. I need something COLD.

I am most fortunate to work at a college which is at a crossroads of busy streets here in the little town of Bahri. It seems that most people in the Sudanese churches are aware of the college and know where it is located. Thus it is a good meeting place for finding other destinations. And if being a white minister wasn't enough of an identifier, working at the college that is connected with the churches finishes the job. I think it will be hard to remain anonymous.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Things I am learning.

Dear Friends,
Greetings! This past week or so as the volcanic ash cloud wreaked havoc with air travel in European air space, I learned how other things were being affected by the crisis as well.

In Nairobi the Rose Market was directly impacted. Roses in Nairobi are grown, harvested, packaged and flown to Tescoe Supermarkets in the United Kingdom. With no planes able to pass through European air space for up to a week the rose market in Nairobi lost millions of dollars in sales. Not only was money lost in sales, the companies who employ people to ready the roses for market had to compensate the UK markets for the losses that they sustained. It is possible that many businesses around the world will have their ability to remain in business impacted by this crisis. The roses in Nairobi were being taken out of their cardboard packaging containers that were ready for flight, taken out of their bundles and were re-processed to go into a composting machine.

Such is our global economy that every continent is tied to the others and what affects one country or continent has an impact on the others.

I learned today on AlJazeera News that President Bashira has won re-election in the Sudanese elections, the first in 24 years. The opposition parties had all withdrawn from the elections, effectively leaving him as the only candidate. There is concern that there will be attempts from this government to delay the Referendum Vote of 2011. This RV is to decide if Northern and Southern Sudan will remain one country or if the South will split off into its own autonomous country. Either way the vote goes will have deep implications for Sudan.

The semester at the Nile Theological College is drawing to a close. There are three weeks of classes left and then a week for tests. I have decided that I prefer semesters to quarters, I like having more time with each group of students. Having more time allows me a better chance to memorize all of their names, and a better chance to get to know them as individuals and possibly to discern the best ways to help them learn. My philosophy of education is that the relationship between the students and the teachers is the vehicle for learning. It is important to have the time for that relationship to develop. Where do they need more information? Where do they need prodding to do more exploration? What are they strong in that needs encouragement but perhaps not quite as much focus? So much to learn, and yet --- learning!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some Questions with Answers

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I received some questions about the last blog and I tried to find some answers today. The answers are provocative.

Polygamy is legal here in Sudan. Polygamy allows a man to be married to more than one wife at a time. As far as I can tell there is no limit although I believe that Islam allows only four. The issue of paying a dowry for a wife does not create a hardship multiple marriages as it is only for the first wife that a substantial amount of cows are paid to the father/family. I would assume that as daughters are married off and cows brought in to increase wealth that more wives can be purchased in this way as well. Second wives, etc., may either be purchased for considerably less or perhaps even for nothing. I was not able to get the criteria for a first wife versus a second wife. Hopefully this will come.

Polyandry is not legal here in Sudan. Polyandry would allow a woman to have more than one husband. So whereas a man can simply continue to marry more women, a woman must be divorced from the first husband before she can marry a second husband.

Christians also practice polygamy here in Sudan. I think that polygamy and dowry go hand in hand in maintaining a woman's value to be attached to the fruit of her womb. If a couple is engaged for a lengthy time waiting for the man to afford the cows to pay her father if she comes to an age where she may not be able to bear children, he is free to separate himself from her and move on to another, younger woman.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Last Few Days

Dear Friends,
Greetings! The elections in Sudan are in progress. These are the first multi-party elections in 24 years. Thus they are the first elections ever for a generation of Sudanese. From my apartment I have the TV and internet to keep me informed, I have heard nothing extraordinary from beyond the gates of the compound where I live.

Originally the elections were to take 3 days for 16 million registered voters. In part due to the fact that many people have never experienced voting there have been challenges, including late arrivals of ballots. The voting has now been extended to 5 days.

This past week a friend drove me to a Western style shop called Home Care. In my excitement over going to a Western store I lost my keys at some point after locking my gate. They have not been found so I had to purchase a padlock to use on the gate. Inside of the compound there are bolts which slide across the gate so there are no security issues while inside. It is when I leave that the apartment becomes vulnerable, if someone found the keys they could easily get inside. I may need to ultimately replace the lock that is embedded in the gate. The interesting thing to me is that the new padlock is made in the USA, all of the older ones in the apartment (to the main unit including the living room, and to the kitchen) are made in China.

Two of the issues I am wrestling with here in Sudan are: polygamy and dowry. In many ways these two issues are directly related to the status and the rights of women. A man can marry another woman without being divorced, I do not think that a woman can marry another man without a divorce. This is something I want to check into further. I have found that there are women here in the North whose husbands have simply left them and gone to the South to marry a new wife and have another family.

In China and India families pay a dowry to the husband and/or his family. Here in Sudan the future husband must pay a dowry to the bride's family. This is how families become wealthy. If a father has several daughters he will have many cows as his daughter's marry. Whose best interests are considered in marriage? The father who covets wealth or the daughter?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Week Retreat with NTC

Dear Friends,
Christian Holy Week Greetings! I just spent four days with my students and other faculty members and staff from the Nile Theological College on retreat. It was really more of a conference but the truth was that underneath it all that didn't matter to me so much as spending a deeper time of fellowship with my students.

The accommodations were similar to the most rustic hostels that I have stayed in -- thankfully the hosteling experiences that I had all over Europe prepared me well and I kept in mind that I would be back in my own Western style apartment -- SOON.

We were on a school campus about a half hour by bus away from the college. While the accommodations themselves left a lot to be desired, the campus was pleasant. It is a large piece of land that is owned by the church in Sudan. There are very many trees and while the weather was still hot, under the shade of the trees it was comfortable enough to bring chairs and have discussions.

There were also worship facilities that were large enough and, oh so thankfully, had good fan systems for air circulation. I admit here that I am missing high church worship. I miss liturgy and candles and church pews. It was however good to be with my students in their worship element and watch their joy as they sang (usually in Arabic) and clapped hands in praise to our God.

Elections are coming soon in Sudan. Please pray for the country and all of the people therein.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Abundant Learning Experience, for me.

Dear Friends,
Greetings! So much has been going on in the past week or so that I have needed time to absorb and process much of it. Now I am ready to share with you some of the things I have been learning.

Nile Theological College has a yearly retreat. The retreat always begins on the Wednesday of our Christian Holy Week and ends on Saturday. We share Maundy Thursday and Good Friday together, returning home on Saturday and then disperse to our own churches on Sunday to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter!

I volunteered to help with this retreat. I have finally realized (I know this took me a while) that there is no kind of a Social Committee at the college. I volunteered to head the "secretaries" committee which apparently means I am supposed to be in charge of making sure the whole retreat runs smoothly. This was a big mistake on my part to volunteer for this. But I knew I couldn't do the food, transportation, budget or retreat location...THAT is why I made this naive choice.

We began planning six days before the retreat. In Sudan this works. In the US it would not. The meetings have been very interesting. I of course have very limited Arabic. I have noticed that many of the other Retreat Committee members actually have decent English but apparently they don't think that they do. The meetings are being held in Arabic with different people trying to translate for me. Sometimes it is a comedy of errors. So far I have realized that I have no idea what I am doing and it is a very good thing that I have several hard working students on the Secretary (and Social) Committee helping me. Since I introduced the film Whale Rider and the idea of having time to sit and get to know one another I personally have added the word Social to the Committee title:)

Whale Rider of course was chosen by me because ultimately it is a film about an indigenous group of people in New Zealand who, with great difficulty, let go of traditions which have kept them blind to new possibilities for generations. I also chose this movie because it is a girl who moves into a position of leadership that has always been held by a boy. And it is a film which upon my second of many viewings I realized is about discernment. Discernment to, say, the ordained ministry, can be a slow process that takes place over time. The young woman's call to ride the whales is a call that she discerns slowly over a period of time. You may see the connection between the culture in which I am now living which does not ordain women to the ministry, and the Whale Rider whose tribe came to accept that she was the next called leader.

In Oral English class we have had many very good discussions. Last week the class told me that they appreciated talking about the poverty of Africa and Sudan in particular because it gives them the opportunity to think and plan ahead. I brought the book Dead Aid: why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo with me here to Sudan and introduced it to my students. We talked about the cycles of aid and how it can keep countries in a dependent state. The students told me that the main reason for the poverty and hunger in Sudan has to do with the extremely long civil war here. This war began as soon as Sudan achieved independence from colonialization.

Sudan is rich in natural resources but there is not technical development to extract and use them. There is a lack of modernization as well and I think that this goes hand in hand with the civil war.

In the coming months I will be doing more reading about neo-colonialization and the global economy in order to write a paper that hopefully can be used as a resource by the students in understanding underlying issues of poverty and perpetuation. Neo colonialization is an economic colonization. When a country is no longer physically colonizing and exporting resources from another country, in today's global economy country's are often colonized from afar by paying huge interest rate payments for loans to build infrastructure, etc. Often the money that comes from the International Monetary Fund, etc., comes with strings attached. Or for instance the US will present an aid package that includes a requirement to hire a contracting firm from the United States. In this way the cycle of poverty continues. A bridge may be built in Sudan, but if local people are not hired to do the labor, then it is not reaching deeply into the problems and issues of development and unemployment. The market must be developed inside of a country and not be constantly imported/exported.

In Southern Sudan girl children are valued in the sense that they can make a man wealthy. If a man has two girls, and no sons, then he will receive a handsome payment of cows and he will be wealthy. Illiteracy is encouraged because the propaganda argument is that if a girl is educated she will become a prostitute. Clearly this makes no sense. But one can see where a poor family would be believe that their chances of leaving poverty in the past will be gone if they send their daughters to school. A book I read earlier in my stay here in Sudan is African Women: Three Generations by Mark Mathabane. If you have a chance to read this book it is very informative and talks about lobala which is a bride price paid in South Africa by a man for a woman to the woman's family. This unfortunate practice usually leads to the man feeling that he owns the woman and having no respect for her as a human being.

There are many issues, many traditions, here that hold people in captivity to illiteracy and ignorance. Please pray for the softening of hearts and the knowledge that we are made in the Image of God. It is for freedom that Christ set us free and my prayer is that particulary in the Christian community this freedom will break the bondage of captivity. I also pray that this freedom will be available to all of the people of Sudan, the rest of Africa and to the entire world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More on Education

Dear Friends,
Greetings. I was asked a question about the educational system in Sudan that spurred me to ask further questions which led to a more comprehensive understanding which I will share with you now.

Religious education is required in Sudan as a part of the public school system. Christian students can attend Christian classes on Fridays (the Islamic day of worship) and take their grades back to the school to fulfill the requirement. Many years ago there were very few centers where Christian students could go and so many of them had no choice but to study Islam in the public school. Due to advocacy and a deep concern on the part of Christian students and parents there are now over 90 centers in various parts of Khartoum where the students can receive the Christian education.

However the further issue and problem is that Islam is found in every part of the public school curriculum. It is in the math and the science and geography. It is not possible to avoid exposure to the Muslim faith in the public schools in Sudan.

It is good for us to be aware of these issues that Christian parents and their children face in Sudan. For ex-patriate families it is not just a difficulty in their children having to study in Arabic, it also has to do with the continuous lens of Islam for every subject to be seen through. The lens of course is also true for Christian Sudanese children. This is very different than studying Islam, or Christianity, as religion, as in a Comparative Religion class. This is about the formation of children and how they view life and the world.

Please pray for the faith journeys of the children here in Sudan. Please pray for the wisdom of their parents. We need to remember as a global community that financial limitations may lessen the ability of parents to care for their children as they might want to do. In other words, if parents work on Fridays they may not be able to take their children to Christian education classes. And if parents do not have the funds they may not be able to afford a private education. Even public education costs money, for uniforms, school supplies and possibly for tuition. Pray for options and opportunities for all children in the world. In every country and on every continent.

Friday, March 12, 2010

catching up with things....

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I have notes to myself all over the place here today it seems....that is notes for writing in this blog! So here goes:

In talking with ex-pats and also Sudanese families who are Christian it has finally gotten through to me that in public schools here in Northern Sudan students are required to read/learn the Koran, which of course also means learning Arabic, and to pray as the Muslims do. This is because public school is Islamic. Okay, so this is why ex-pat families put their children in International Schools. There also seems to be quite a strong movement towards home schooling here. I've had some Christian Sudanese families tell me that when they have tried to have their children in the public schools they come home and want to do the Muslim prayers because this is indeed what they are learning in school.

An American and his children took me shopping to some ex-pat stores this week. It was wonderful to be in large, well-lit, air conditioned stores for a little while. However, some of the prices of the imported food took my breath away! China was cheaper. A bottle of basil pesto, probably about 8 ounces, for $10.00. In my dreams! My host had forgotten that his car was almost out of gas and so as we glided into the gas station and stopped in front of the gas pump the care literally took a last gasp and the fuel was gone. I was so thankful that we made it! A little too hot for running-out-of-gas adventures here.

Another discovery I am making as I talk to more people is about the practice of polygamy here. It appears that there are wives in the North whose husbands are now in the South and the husbands have remarried. Because polygamy the husband can do this legally. What I don't know is if a woman can remarry without having a divorce. Clearly this puts the male population at a great advantage and leaves open great opportunities for injustice towards women. There are men in the South who have fathered entirely new families, and ignore their former children and spouse(s) and responsibilities.

The civil war took limbs, took hope and took memories. The cruelty that has been practiced by soldiers towards other soldiers and by prisoners is unfathomable. What is the point of taking pictures from someone other than to pierce their soul and cause them irreversible pain? The depth of depravity that human beings have towards one another, not only here in Sudan but in so many places in the world, does not cease to shock, amaze and sicken me.

Being that I have not strayed far from Khartoum in the time I have been here I have yet to discover if there are significant differences between Sudanese Africans and Sudanese Arabs. I have been told that there are but I desire to encounter these differences for myself. Is it inherent in culture or being that women are property? That people can be objects? That one race is inferior to another? From where do these ideas/system of beliefs originate? Do I have the right to believe that my belief system whereby all people are created equal because we are created in the image of the Triune God is a better and more just system than one that puts a premium on the male being?

I have so much to learn. So much. And I also have much to teach.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two Tales of Creation, Sabbath & One Tale of Re-Creation

Two Tales of Creation, Sabbath & One Tale of Re-Creation

Reverend Debbie Blane

Nile Theological College Chapel

Wednesday March 10, 2010

Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a


I acknowledge the fact that in this sermon I am projecting back into this Scripture as a Christian. How I am going to examine this passage is not as a Jewish person would see it.

As a Christian I immediately “see” The Trinity in this passage. I will explain this more fully in a minute.

When I was in seminary I studied a man named Gregory of Nazianzus who lived in the 4th century – with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa the three men were known as The Cappadocian Fathers. As I studied Gregory of Nazianzus and read about his work my life was changed. I wrote a paper about his theology and my life has been informed by what I learned ever since that time.

The Cappadocian Fathers were known for their work that was done around the Triune God – the Trinity. They envisioned the three in one as a community of equal, self-giving members. There was no hierarchy in their Trinity, there was no one person of the Trinity above or below any other. Gregory envisioned and named what he called the Perichoresis, a very special theological term that essentially means the Dance of the Trinity.

By talking about the Triune God in terms of a dance, of sharing and rejoicing together and then inviting humanity to join in this dance we come to understand that the image of God, as seen in the Trinity, is RELATIONSHIP.

2 Tales of Creation:

The first tale of creation is a tale of human beings – made in the image of God.

“Let us make humankind in our image” – God is Triune.

We human beings were created in God’s image –

Male and female together.

In God’s image –

In relationship.

Now – we go to the

Second Tale of Creation in Genesis 2 & 3:

This is the creation story where God created man first and then woman from the man’s rib. The man was Adam, before the woman’s creation he was earth, made from dust. When the woman was created Adam became man and the woman was Eve, woman. Until they were both created they did not have distinct identities.

The second creation story is also the story where the serpent tempted Adam and Eve and they – both – ate from the fruit of the Forbidden Tree.

This is the story of what happens to we human beings when we try to be God in our own lives – our own God’s. We do this, just as Adam and Eve did, by not obeying God’s laws for our lives. God’s laws are designed to allow us to live in Triune Community.

Let’s go back to Genesis 2:3:

Keeping Sabbath requires letting go of control of our world. Each of us has to let go and watch as God does it all. Just like in the original, the first, creation story.

With Jesus’ incarnation and death and resurrection he healed the separation between human beings and between human beings and God. In our lives today it is possible that keeping Sabbath is one of the best reminders for us of the Triune Community we are invited to dance with. This isn’t OUR dance. It is God’s dance, on God’s terms. And WE are invited to participate, not to run things.

No more separation.

No more self will.

But sometimes that can be hard to remember on a daily basis. Sabbath keeping can help to take us back to that.


a vision of shalom, peace, and complete healing:

lived all the time, every day is Sabbath day!, in Rev. 21:22-27 through Rev. 22:1-5.

We won’t go back to the Triune perfection of creation. Instead we will be in a re-creation—a new creation. All of God’s people will be dancing along in the Dance of Life, in the Dance of the Triune God in a city full of God’s people – we will go from Adam and Eve to a whole city rejoicing, singing, swaying together and holding hands in circle upon circle.



Saturday, March 6, 2010

A long time of not writing....

Dear Friends,
Greetings! It has been too long since I have last written. Sometimes life here in Khartoum takes on a frantic pace of its own and before I know it two weeks has passed!

Many light and humorous things have happened in this time span, as well as sad and painful things. In my Oral English class last week I took in copies of pictures I printed using my new printer purchased here in Khartoum. These were pictures that I have taken in a number of countries including Northern Ireland and Southern Korea. There were also pictures from China, Sudan and Kenya. One of the pictures features my daughter and her husband on their visit to me in China in 2008. We went to Beijing and the photo was shot there.

Several of my students commented on how much she looks like me in the picture -- which for a mom is (always) a nice thing to hear. Then one of the students asked how much dowry he paid for her. The question threw me a bit for a moment, but of course in the context of Africa it made a great deal of sense. The students looked a bit taken aback when I said that he didn't pay a dowry, he just had to promise to love and cherish her. I thought maybe they were thinking, America's the place to find a bride -- for free!

This has been the two week's of seeing African dreadlocks on a man and having a friend point out to me that he was wearing extensions in his hair. So now I wonder -- do the African American men with dreadlocks have extensions in their hair -- or does African hair grow out when it is transplanted to North America? The same with the women.

Having made several trips to an African dress making shop in the last few weeks I noticed a group of women sitting outside of a building. I asked my colleagues/friends about these women as I often see groups of men but not women. They were sitting outside of a Doctor's Hospital. It turns out the hospital has no place for them to wait for surgeries or appointments inside so they sit patiently outside and take the time for being social and catching up with friends and other women.

One of the issues that I am being challenged in here in Sudan is: What is the culture and what is the Bible? Since I am here as a Christian minister, teaching at a Christian College, this is a question that I am faced with almost daily. Not only is the question for me, what is North American culture and what is the Bible; it is also, how do we separate culture from the Bible on a daily basis? There is always the difficulty that the Bible comes inbedded in its own culture AND the Bible is only relevant IN culture. So it becomes, what are my interpretive tools for understanding the Bible and what it means for my life today? If I believe that the Bible is a book of revelation that speaks against oppression and inequality then how do I speak the message of freedom into every culture in which I am a visitor or a resident? These are some of the important issues that I am wresting with.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Other Examples of African Hair

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African Culture/This goes wtih the previous pictures

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I just posted four different pictures and in this blog I want to give an explanation for the pictures.

The first three pictures are of typical "neighborhoods" here in the greater Khartoum area. What I have learned about these neighborhoods is that they probably began as refugee camps during the civil wars that have raged in Sudan. An American friend who was here ten years ago told me that he could tell that things have become much more stable because instead of just tents or very temporary structures things are more settled and permanent now. Some of the neighborhoods have electric lines indicating services are being provided. Having heard this observation from someone who has seen the changes first hand I have begun looking more closely, for instance, at television footage from Haiti. There are definitely the tent cities and temporary structures made of what appears to be corrugated tin, etc. Now I know that it will be a process over time for these temporary housing situations to become more permanent as Haiti, and other places in the world, stabilize and as the people gain more strength to move beyond the crisis stage.

This was a very important piece of information for me to hear. Healing from natural disasters or human conflict happens over a number of years and the outward signs of that healing may be manifest in society taking on a more permanent way of living.

Now, I also posted a picture of a beautiful woman whose hair has a red streak in it. I was amazed to learn that Africans have very short hair, it simply does not grow very much. The woman typically go into the souk (marketplace) and buy strands that are woven into their own hair and they are able to create many stylish hairdos with these strands. I will try to post some other hair designs soon. I think that some of them wear wigs in addition to the strands. It has been fascinating to see a woman two days in a row and have her hair be totally different at each meeting! Africans are very creative people and I see it in their clothing as well. I am having some outfits made for me here in Khartoum and have enjoyed looking at the colorful fabric that the tailor hangs in his shop. When the clothes are ready I will post pictures of those outfits as well!

African Culture

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Heat Is On

Dear Friends,
Greetings! The temperatures are beginning to rise here in Khartoum. While this change is still somewhat subtle, I am acutely aware of it because it is already warmer than my own Pacific Northwest comfort zone. I was in Phoenix, Arizona this last summer visiting a friend for a few days and it was close to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That was suffocating for me and is the kind of temperature I can expect in the next few months here.

So as the temperatures begin to soar I will be looking for ways to survive. Finding a small cooler to keep water and pop during the day at the college will be one of those ways. When I am so hot only something cold helps. I will also be turning my swamp cooler on Saturday. I've put it off as I have tried to acclimate and also because I know it will be on for many months and I've tried to save some money, but I am reaching the end of my ability to endure warm air being circulated by the ceiling fans.

I have had both meaningful conversations with my English class this week and also the honor of listening to each person's story of their life during some of the darkest moments of their countries' recent history. As I listened to each student it occurred to me that the Christian faith may be most vibrant in times of need. Each of my student's has a deeply rooted faith. They have prayed to God in Jesus Christ in times of troubles that most of us from North America have no experience with. They trusted fully that God was with them and would provide for them. It occurred to me during class today that when life is easier, when we know where will sleep at night, what we will eat day after day and when our housing is stable and our families safe that maybe we do not perceive such an urgent need to pray for Christ's presence in every moment of our lives. I have always heard that a persecuted church is a strong and growing church. Perhaps security leads to complacency.

My students range in age from what I believe is mid-20's to probably at least 40 in age. It is wonderful having such diversity in age and life experience in the classroom. While they have a core that is common because of the civil war in this country, how each of them survived and found their way to the college is God's gift to them and what makes each of them uniquely who they are. Their English language skills are good and I have found that all of them have a large vocabulary. The biggest challenge that we seem to have, at least in classes, is understanding each others English with our different accents.

On a personal note I am realizing that my morning walks to the college have been strengthening me. This week I am going to reach for the goal of leaving even earlier and adding an extra block to my walk. This may realistically be what I can expect in terms of exercise here. It is something, and for that I am grateful.