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.