Monday, January 25, 2010

cultural differences

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I am writing early Tuesday morning before heading off to class for the day. One of the issues I am having to adjust to is that of "titles". In the United States I am used to the informality of simply being called Debbie, even in a church setting -- at least most of the time.

Here in Sudan it is really necessary to be known as Reverend Debbie because there is a certain respect that comes with a person being ordained. It is a bit odd of a twist as the churches in Sudan do not at this time ordain women to the ministry. Outside of my physical appearance clearly not being African or Arabic this sets me aside even more. However, my hope is that being Reverend Debbie from a country in which the Presbyterian Church (USA) does ordain women will make a difference for the women here in Sudan.

In my concentrated course this past two weeks as we are studying the New Testament Background we are as teacher and students understanding that in Jesus Christ there is no East nor West, no male or female, no Jew or Gentile, at much deeper level. As we study how the Jewish Christian church became the Gentile Christian church the understanding that God's plans for humanity transcends all barriers and the foolish wisdom of humans has become much more clear. I think that the class I am teaching is comprehending more fully that God's plan is not only for the church as a whole, but for the women and men within the church. The call to ordained leadership is not based on gender -- but instead on God's plans and wisdom for the very church in which that leadership serves. God wastes nothing. This means that the gifts of male and female are to be utilized to the fullest in the service of our God and of the church of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

what a week!

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I have been grading papers today, well, actually, reading them and recording them as received -- a friend and killed the mouse for me that was caught in mouse glue on a board....and the power was out for several hours.

I now know that the electric meter will say 0000 if I am simply out of kilowatts and need to feed the meter. The meter is totally blank with no numbers at all if there is a power cut from the company. I was trying to sleep on the coach with my feet sticking out and touching the end table when the power thankfully came back on a few minutes ago!

I have not written this week as I have been consumed by the concentrated course I am teaching at the college. Three days left and then I will need to get grades turned in and prepare for the first week of the rest of the semester -- no more concentrated courses Praise the Lord!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

So Big

Dear Friends,
Greetings. This has been a week of big things. A big disaster in Haiti. Learning more about the bigness of the problems/issues here in Northern Sudan.

Some of my students take up to four buses to get to college for classes. I don't have the heart to mark them late on the attendance sheet. How many students in the US have to wait an hour for a bus to catch another connecting bus to catch yet another bus that goes over a bridge and then get another one to get to their classes?

The students can't afford the copies I need to have them make in order to do reading for the course I am teaching them. One student asked if I could have someone in the US send textbooks for all of them, about 24 of them in all. I had to say that this was not a realistic solution.

I met yesterday with young people from the youth of the Presbyterian Church here in Sudan. They have very intentionally elected their first woman as a Chairperson. She wanted to talk to me away from the group. The youth group in general needs funding to carry out projects. They have no money. They need people to be trained, most in religious education but also the practical skills that churches need to have -- administration, finance, building and grounds. My students are a mix of ages, some are fairly young, some are fairly mature. I have heard that in Southern Sudan men were simply ordained without necessarily having special training. I think this is true of the underground churches in China as well.

The young women need funding in order to develop their leadership skills. Women are not yet ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church here. They will need to have leadership skills which are honed along with good solid theological degrees, necessary at the BA level. NTC is a major partner with the church in training future pastors. The young women do not need only education at the college level, they need encouragement and mentoring.

Later myself and the PC(USA) staff person who I was with met with a women's group from a church. They were lovely and against many odds meet on a regular basis. Without a budget they make hospital visits and carry out other ministries. With sewing machine given as a gift from a Presbyterian congregation in the states they do sewing projects. I think that they are going to be willing to make me African will be a good way for them to earn money and I will at last have found a whole groups of female tailors! They need funds too. They want to take young women, a teen-age group and a young 20's group, on separate picnics. They want to talk to them about being adult women in Sudan, to encourage them and help them celebrate their coming maturity. They have no money with with to do this.

Everywhere I look there are good ideas, important ideas. There are needs for help in developing web based newsletters and email pals. There is need for sending people to conferences. There is a need for developing English language fluency and accounting skills. There is a need for enlarging the worldview of the youth in a global community that will require specific skills and knowledge for Sudan to be fully engaged with it.

I was told that women who sell tea to the unemployed men are widows. Life is hard for the widows, they earn a few cents a day to survive on.

I was told that while there is development in the country Arab workers from other Arabic countries are brought in to do the work, thus the African workers in Sudan remain unemployed.

There is hope. There is intelligence and commitment. There is a lack of resources.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Dear Friends,
Greetings. It is very early Friday morning here in Sudan. I had better do some writing before more time goes on. I've been teaching since Tuesday and I've been too tired to share anything with you.

One of the striking features, to me, of Khartoum is how much garbage is littered around the city. I asked someone about this recently and he said that while some people pay for garbage service many people do not and there garbage then ends up in the streets and trenches. The service for January was 14 Sudanese pounds. I paid it and I can only hope that my garbage was picked up and put somewhere besides the streets. If a person makes 20 Sudanese pounds a day I can see where 14 pounds would be a lot of income to pay for garbage.

I've taught three days so far. It drains me to the bottom of my toes. I am so tired I go home and take a nap afterwards. These are mature students that I have. They ask deep questions. Sometimes I have to say that the question isn't a part of our course. I am also discovering that how I am choosing to teach the class may be different from what they are used to. So what does a teacher do when reading is necessary, the course is too short to put books on reserve in the library and the only alternative is to make copies of the reading and the students can't afford the copies. They can't read at night, many of them informed me that they have no light at night. Okay, so they are living without electricity. This is a profoundly different world which I am entering into.

I had read that Africa in many ways experiences the Old Testament first hand. I now know this to be true. They have tribal conflicts, there are wars over control of resources, dowries are still paid for the right to marry a woman. In a sense the entire world lives with all of this -- I suppose in the West and in most developed countries these issues are just more hidden now under a sophisticated veneer.

I keep saying to the students that the Old Testament is stories. The stories are about human beings. We find ourselves in the stories because humanity hasn't changed. That is part of the reason for learning in this class -- how will the students help their congregations learn how to make that connection between the stories and themselves. WE are the people in the stories, it isn't us and them it is US.

I was able to attend an ordination service yesterday. There were a group of men who were ordained -- kind of like a mass or group wedding, but for service to the church. It was quite an event! My ordination was wonderful and yet it wasn't like a party as this one was! At the end a woman even walked around praying perfume on people -- the sweet scent of Jesus being poured out among us I was told. The preacher for the service talked about ordination saying that it is not "work" in the church, it is life. I believe this. Ministry is incarnational. We are to pour out of lives to those we serve. My students are doing further study since most of them already are pastors. I pray that I am one more model to them of a pastor who pouring out her life to serve her students.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Dear Friends,
Greetings! Well, I think that the coolest weather of the "winter" here in Northern Sudan may have come and passed now. Today and yesterday that fan in the apartment has not quite been enough to keep me cool. I am going to hold off as long as I can on using the swamp cooler as the cost of electricity will double and I also want to try and acclimate as much as I am able.

I went to the suq with a friend today and afterward we talked for a few minutes in my apartment. I told her that even more than sweating is the fact that the heat makes me tired. Yes, it does make people tired and it is really hard to do much in the afternoons here.

We went into a stationary store and lo and behold I found a man who was more tired than me. I was utterly amazed. I felt for him though. The store has no air conditioner -- nothing here does -- and it had probably been a long day on his feet. It helps my compassion when I remember how easily I get fatigued here.

A mouse just ran into the apartment from the porch area and into my bedroom disappearing behind the chest of doors. I am not happy about this. I was getting used to the lizards. Now mice.

I did get some traditional Sudanese things purchased today to begin decorating the apartment. This includes the little "stove" where one puts coals and on top of the burner goes the little Sudanese coffee container. I'll have to get a picture of it on here because I don't have the words to describe it. I also got another nail polish (woohoo!) and some odds and ends. My balancing act is this: now that I have the resident permit I want to make the apartment more of a home. In China I went a little bit overboard and ended up giving a ton of stuff away when I left. While there is nothing wrong with giving things away here in Sudan I would prefer to be somewhat more prudent with my resources and purchase what I will take home or send home. So I try and keep that in mind at the market.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

stones and uncooked beans

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Hmmm. Well, this week I have discovered that there are differences in quality in the tall pots of cooking "ful" that are available around town. The last two batches I've purchased have been from the same shop and I won't be going back there again. I've bitten on stones and have forced myself to eat less than fully cooked beans -- some of them were cooked but some were not. Uneven quality I say, and even I have higher standards than that.

I am still squeamish every time someone uses their bare hands to handle the food that I am going to consume -- date bars, falafel, whatever it is. Maybe I as a Westerner think too much about what the consequences of bare hands and my food could be. Maybe here in Sudan there just isn't time to think about that kind of thing. Or, ignorance in this particular case is perhaps bliss?

School has been pushed back for a few days. The opening seminar, on Spirituality and College, I am quite looking forward to that!, will be next Monday. We begin teaching on Tuesday. I am coming to the conclusion that perhaps Africans are better able to see the big picture and we Americans are more stuck on details. It will get done, we just have to get 24 class periods in. China was also comfortable with ambiguity. When will the tests take place? We don't know yet. In the states the calendars are out in black and white well before the semester appears on the horizon. Many lands, many kinds of time.

On my way home from the college yesterday I did one of my shopping as I walk trips through the main block of town. After I had picked up yogurt, shampoo, Diet Coke and date bars, as I got closer to home I said hello to an elderly man who was sitting in the shade. He seemed shocked to have someone talk to me. He had a little bit of English but I had to begin saying, "schway Arabic" very quickly. "Very little Arabic!"

Monday, January 4, 2010

FDA & the lion's den

Dear Friends,
Greetings! After three days being locked up in the apartment working on my syllabus for the New Testament Background class I'll be teaching, today I left home to go and forage for food for a few minutes. I needed a break!

I found my ful again. It is probably easier if I just try and go to the same person when I can to get the ful as we are learning to communicate. I dredged in my memory and thought I'd heard the word "laban" used for milk so I said that and indicated a crumbly motion with my hand. He got it and produced the cheese that goes with the ful! As soon as I can I've got to continue on my Arabic vocabulary work.

A friend recently asked me if buying the ful is a way to connect with the culture here. Yes, it is. It is also a way to begin building relationships. At least that was what I found in China. I'm not talking like come over for coffee relationships but simply I see you, acknowledge and recognize you, and she seems to like our food and wants to make the effort to buy it from us kind of relationship. I also happen to really like the ful. It does need olive oil, salt and the cheese to enhance it, but it is good and I assume it is healthy.

Now, on the other hand....I inwardly cringe when I see it being ladled into a container that looks like a plastic pitcher and put into a bag -- that is the standard take-out, a plastic bag. And when I realized the man today had falafel, I asked for some of that and he used his bare hands to put it into another plastic bag. Be still my heart. I never got sick on street corner food in China because I didn't like it and therefore didn't eat it. Here I like it. I just pray for protection for my stomach every time, let me tell you! Because I know there is no FDA, there are no standardized rules for cooking and serving here. In Rome, do as the Romans do....

Speaking of Rome, or whatever empire it was that Daniel lived in, at the moment it escapes me having had my head in Rome for the day today....I passed my own version of the Lion's Den on the way home this morning. One night recently something got the neighborhood wild dogs barking and barking and barking. I did not appreciate it one little bit. And I thought to myself that this is why I am reluctant to walk home from the bus stop on Sunday nights in the dark -- these wild dogs really scare me. So today on my way home from the ful and yogurt and date bars run after I had crossed the secondary main street onto my side street I saw a whole lot of dogs sunning and sleeping! Truly one of them looked like a lion and that was the first thought that passed in my mind -- Daniel and the Lion's Den!

I finished the rough of the syllabus today. I need to make a copy of it so that I can see the whole thing at once, fix the errors and then take the book listings and numbers and the books to the college and get started on making copies for reading that goes with each day's topic. There is no place to buy theological books in Sudan. I was shown one Christian book store that had both English and Arabic books. It was definitely not a college or seminary type bookstore. So we do what we have to do to teach the students.

I am reasonably sure that a Kindle from would not work for me because I have discovered that even as big as the screen is on my 15 inch Apple Computer it drives me crazy not being able to see a whole document at once. I think I will probably always be a paper kind of person. Who knows?