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.