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.