Saturday, December 24, 2011

Catching up with December.....

December 24, 2011

Dear Friends,
Greetings from the Big City of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! Big Lights, Big City!

This past week and a half has been a whirlwind and I find it is high time that I take a few minutes to blog about the adventures and other things that I have been involved with!

I set out for Addis Ababa on December 14th. I arrived on December 15th. We had quite the little adventure at the airport in Juba that Wednesday. In the beginning, in Malakal, our plane arrived late and so of course we took off late on our scheduled departure. When we arrived in Juba late the plane apparently was in need of either refueling or topping up, I was never clear about which. We were disembarked from the plane and sent to get an exit stamp on our travel documents. Many people now have visas, I have a travel permit as the visas were not issued until a few weeks after my arrival in September in South Sudan.

No one told me that the luggage procedure had changed. The luggage now stays on the plane during the stop over in Juba, previously it had all been taken off the plane and had to be reclaimed, then people had to take their luggage to the reloading area. So when my luggage did not appear I was rather panic stricken as to where it had been gone. Eventually I was told about the change in procedure.

I am a bit fuzzy on some of the details but apparently some kind of negotiations were going on around the refueling issue. As the negotiations were ongoing and perhaps the refueling was even occurring 5:00 p.m. came and it was time for the airport to shut down. The airport shut down and the air traffic controllers left the tower and there we were -- a plane that was going nowhere, packed with our luggage and a planeful of anxious passengers.

The long and the short of it is that God had blessed me by sending a group of people with whom I had acquaintance on the same flight and I was able to join their group. By the time we figured out that the authorities were all gone and no one was around to help us the skies were dark. As far as we could tell we had been left at an airport outside of an unfamiliar city with no place to go, no place to eat and no idea what time the flight would resume in the morning.

This was a particularly distressful evening as there were many foreigners who had connecting flights out of Addis Ababa ; those flights were missed and when we did at last arrive in Addis the next day the airline was having to cope with rebooking people to many different global destinations including China.

Someone suggested staying put, which was a fine idea as there was no place to go anyhow. Eventually the airline sent a bus to pick up those of us who had no NGO (non government organization such as the United Nations) to come and whisk us away. The bus took us into Juba proper and began searching for enough hotel rooms for everyone. The joke on board was that the bus was having fuel problems and next we’d be jammed into a taxi and then we’d be put in a donkey cart. Fortunately we taken care of before the situation came to that point.

We were put up in decent hotels and fed, thankfully. The next morning we were taken back to the airport in Juba and eventually our flight left and we were on track again. I was one of the most fortunate people because Addis Ababa was my termination point and I didn’t have to rebook anything. This was especially important as I had left Malakal with a bad cold and it was getting worse. By the time I reached my accomodations for Thursday night I had a fever and was both sizzling hot on my skin and freezing cold inside. The friend with whom I stayed the first night is a nurse; she diagnosed a sinus infection and we were able to find antibiotics the next day and get me on the road to recovery. Unfortunately since then stomach ailments have come my way, as for many other people here. However, last night I was able to sleep without struggling for breath! Alleluia!

When I was in Juba overnight I realized for the first time that Malakal has no traffic lights. Juba is HUGE compared to Malakal. Addis Ababa is HUGE compared to Juba. Juba has a lot of hotels, I know this because the airline bus we were on the evening that we were stranded in Juba stopped at quite a few looking for rooms. I believe that Malakal may have three at the most. Addis Ababa has many more than Juba.
I have had a hair trim and my teeth cleaned. I have stocked up on imported food. I finally realized as I was shopping in the imported food store, Novis, here in Addis, that it is the imported foods that really increase the grocery bill. This was true in China as well. The local food was/is somewhat less expensive. So now I need to find a routine with which I am comfortable of how often I will be indulge in, say, basil pesto for my pasta. Using the local tomato paste that comes in little plastic packages is going to be less expensive, even though in Malakal it is expensive simply because everything in South Sudan is expensive. It is still cheaper though than imported basil pesto. I don’t have a blender so making my own pesto isn’t realistic in Malakal. And....a blender isn’t realistic with so few hours of electricity. The simpler the cooking the better.

Today is the Augustinian calendar Christmas Eve. It is a bit odd to be in a country that follows the Julian calendar for religious celebrations. Odder still, Christmas is still considered a religious celebration here and not another secular holiday. At any rate, we Western Christians are offbeat here with our December 24 and 25 Christmas Eve and Christmas. As with China, I think that some of the stores here may keep their Christmas decorations up all year round. It might be a bit odd for the locals to have a bunch of people showing up who do not celebrate Christmas at the same time as the local culture.
Blessings,
Debbie

Friday, December 2, 2011

First Bat Sighting!

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Well, I've found and seen my first bat here in Malakal! There was a big creature that looked like it had flappers on the veranda. It was black and very, very fast. I think I was afraid to stomp it with my Birks! It looked like a big beetle.

I went to my neighbor's for movie night, we watched Little Women, and found out that the creature is a BAT. I suppose even bats have to start out as babies. Gross!

I've had to crush (hard for the vegetarian here!) two baby snakes in the house as well....I just hope I haven't missed any of the little creatures!
Blessings,
Debbie

International Differences and other observations....

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I attended a Security Meeting at the United Nations this morning here in
Malakal. It never fails to strike me as odd that walking into a building and then a
room that has lights and is a just-right temperature during the day feels so normal. When
it's not.

It isn't normal here in Malakal to have lights during the day or air conditioning. In Malakal
these are artificial conditions created by using a generator. And yet when I encounter these
conditions it just does seem so normal. I hardly question it until I remember. I'm in Malakal.

Walking into the UN Compound and the meeting room was, then, entering another world.
Kind of like the movie Avatar except not quite so exceptional or beautiful as the Avatar
world on the alternative planet.

We were not offered coffee and that lack did not fit in with my expectations of this alternative world, this different planet. Other than that it reminded me of buildings I was in when I lived in Jerusalem. NGO buildings that seemed so clean. So technology oriented. So normal in the midst of the craziness that was Jerusalem.

Malakal is not crazy in the way that Jerusalem was. Malakal also does not have narrow windy streets with vehicles careening along threatening to annihilate pedestrians. The little store across the street from where I live here in Malakal is closed today. Perhaps the shop keeper is Muslim and observing the Muslim day of Friday prayers. That is like Jerusalem. But Khartoum was like that too. Anyhow, Jerusalem is a mix of ancient/modern and is HUGE. Malakal is not huge and is more like a recovering war zone. Because it IS a recovering war zone.

So I learned today what the difference is between American Red Cross shelters in the United States and the gathering points for foreigners in Malakal if we should ever need to gather. The American Red Cross FEEDS people. If the foreigners in Malakal ever need to gather we will be at MEETING points and NOT feeding points.

This does not particularly phase me as I grew up in the Seattle area and consider Seattle home. In Seattle of course we try to dismiss the fact from our everyday existences that we live in an earthquake prone area of the world. AND at the same time we are have emergency (particularly earthquake) preparedness drilled into us from the crib on. We are supposed to have three to four days of food, water and medicine handily available in case of an emergency because public servants will not be able to serve us and aid us for at least that long. Maybe they will trying to serve and aid their own families.

So this is not unfamiliar to me and I realize that I can fill a carry-on (plane) rolling suitcase with non-perishable food that does not require cooking and keep it nearby me at all times in the house. I also realized this morning that it is a good idea to have more than I can eat in this suitcase as there will be people who did not grow up with emergency preparedness drilled into them from the crib and they will not have done this for themselves. I can share.

So, life meanders on. I stopped in at the Ethiopian Airlines office which has a tiny office in the South Sudan Hotel, on the way home, and made sure that my e-ticket was on the manifest for my flight to Addis Ababa this month. I'm very excited -- I was the very first name on the list!

Next week finals to grade and final grades to assess. I need to begin packing for Addis Ababa. I need to continue updating the lists for shopping for food that I can't get here in Malakal that I plan to bring back with me. Need to decide what to take with me for working on the dissertation proposal for the University of South Africa (UNISA) that is due early next year.

I think that the internet connection here in my home is threatening to cut off so I will stop now and publish this blog and share it with you on Facebook.
Blessings,
Debbie

Monday, November 28, 2011

Learning Lessons

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I think that as a teacher I learn as much in every class as my students do. The students seem to be enjoying the conversational way that I teach as well as the dialogues that we have in class. Today things became a little bit heated and I had to act as referee some of the time, but it is a new learning experience for them and over time I believe that they have come to appreciate this style of teaching/learning.

We talked about Biblical culture and Jesus culture today, alongside South Sudanese culture. It was explained to me that not only is there segregation between the sexes here, there is also segregation between age groups. Men and women do not eat together and a mother-in-law would never eat with her son-in-law. This is to show respect to the mother-in-law. I was incredibly saddened by this as I would be very hurt if my own son-in-law was to not eat with me when I visit my daughter and him in the Seattle area. Apparently in another show of respect a son-in-law will cross a street to avoid an encounter with his mother-in-law if he sees her coming towards him. I explained to the class that in the United States this would be considered very rude for a son-in-law to avoid his mother-in-law.

I think that the other thing that was important to me today was the following. The class and I were discussing how the students, as pastors and educators, will begin to see to it that the girls and women of their congregations become educated so that they can become truly equal with the men. Since it is the men who are educated at this point and education, or lack thereof, is a stumbling block to equal access to other cultures in the world, etc., the girls and women must be brought to an equal playing field. Or, to look at it another way, the ground at the foot of the cross must be equalized. Since it was all women apostles who were at the foot of the cross the women need to know this truth and know that Jesus died to set them free and give them the opportunity to live abundantly in that freedom. This freedom includes the right to learn how to read and write, to travel, to know other cultures, and to eat at table with their husbands and children.

The men in this all male class told me that they do not eat with their wives. For the most part their wives become upset if they try to help them with cooking or doing dishes or any other part of the household care. I made a statement which led me to this conclusion: If a 30 year old man is marrying a 14 year girl who has no education, is illiterate, and immediately begins to have babies, what in the world are they going to have to talk about? That is when the light bulb went off. WHAT IN THE WORLD WILL THEY HAVE TO TALK ABOUT?????? No wonder the men don't eat with their wives. At this historical moment in time what kind of conversations can these men and women have with another when there world experiences are so far apart.

As long as men marry women who are so much younger than they are, who have no education and are not literate, they are marrying women with whom having a RELATIONSHIP is not the primary goal. These marriages truly are for producing children. When women begin to be educated and are able to read and write and have meaningful discussions, then perhaps men will marry women closer to their own ages. When women are educated perhaps they will feel that they have the right to insist on birth control and not only waiting until older than age 14 to marry, but also older than this to begin having children. They may insist on waiting to marry and have children until their bodies are physically ready to handle sexual relationships and childbirth.

And perhaps when women are educated and conversant on the subjects which come to interest both men and women, maybe, just maybe, husbands, wives and children will sit down at table together and talk to one another. And maybe it will become acceptable for the entire family to contribute to the household chores and the cooking.

I am praying.
Blessings,
Debbie

Sunday, November 27, 2011

By request the sermon Waiting.....

“Waiting”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Rev. Debbie Blane
Malakal, 11/2011

In Malakal we know all about waiting, don’t we? Waiting for the roads to be improved. Waiting for the prices of food to go down. Waiting for the rainy season to finish.

This sermon is about the most important wait of all. The wait for Jesus’ return.

After Jesus death and resurrection the first Christians knew about waiting too. When Jesus ascended into heaven the early Christians thought that his return was going to happen very quickly. They thought that he would be coming back to them in their lifetimes. After all, Jesus had preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand! They thought this meant that he was coming right back to them.

They waited with impatience and anticipation. They waited and waited. And then some of them died as they waited.

The Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle of 1st Thessalonians to the grieving community in Thessalonica. They were concerned that some of the Saints, some of their Christian sisters and brothers, had died before the Lord returned. Perhaps they did not have a full understanding of the resurrection and the fact that the living AND the dead would see Jesus again. And that they, the living, would see the Christians who had already died, again.

This is why Paul wrote this letter. He wrote it to comfort the community at Thessalonica and to explain the resurrection to them in more detail.

The belief that Jesus would come again soon was so strong that the Gospels were not written until many years after Jesus death and resurrection. They were finally written because the last witnesses to his earthly life were getting quite old. It was decided it was better to write down what they remembered than to have the first hand witness of those who had lived and walked with Jesus when he was alive on earth lost with their deaths.


Paul wrote his epistles long before the Gospels were written. They were written to the churches as a way to communicate with them, they were probably not originally intended to become a part of Scripture. That would have happened when people began to think about a New Testament. When the church was no longer considered a part of the Jewish community and it was considered important to put together the Gospels with the letters of Paul and the other epistle writers.

Let’s move on to yet another understanding of waiting. The Presbyterian Church (USA), my denomination in the United States, observes a church year calendar in our preaching and in ordering our year from January through December. TODAY, four Sundays before Christmas Day, a season in the church called Advent begins. Advent means “WAITING”. What are we waiting for? The celebration of Christ’s birth!

We Christians are used to waiting and waiting and waiting! It is nothing new to us! We will wait for the celebration of Christ’s birth during Advent.

The first Christians waited for Jesus to return after his death and resurrection. They waited to be reunited with him.

We still wait, two thousand plus years later, for Jesus to return. We wait with great anticipation and joy in the knowledge that Scripture tells us that indeed Jesus will return “with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God!”

We are comforted by the First letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, just as the original community would have been comforted.

WE have the 20/20 vision of hindsight to know that Jesus will indeed return. We don’t know when. We aren’t supposed to know when. We are supposed to live our lives while we wait. With great anticipation and joy, looking and longing for the time when we will see God face to face. Looking and longing for the time when we will be reunited with the Saints who have already died.

Whether we are already dead or we are still living when Jesus’ returns, we will see him. And seeing Jesus will be worth the wait! Seeing Jesus will be even better than the end of the rainy season!
Alleluia?
Alleluia!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Languages

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Yesterday I learned that South Sudan and the United States have a similar struggle. English is becoming the linga franca in South Sudan as it is in the United States. English became the linga franca for the United States when the first Europeans colonized the Indians who were living in the land.

In South Sudan there are many tribal/people group languages that are dying out from disuse as people move towards the common language of English. In the United States in our history indigenous people were punished for using their tribal/people group languages and were forced to use the language of the colonizers, English. This has been true in other countries as well, such as the Philippines.

From the reading I have done I have come to understand that in the United States the original indigenous groups are trying to bring their languages back into use before they become extinct. And I understand from talking with people here in South Sudan that the same is true here. There is a renewed desire to "save" the original languages from extinction.

This is a difficult issue. While it is important to have a way for people of different countries, cultures and tribes to communicate with each other, thus a common language, it is also important for the original languages to be preserved and recognized as an important part of culture.

As a joy to report, the electricity came on here an hour earlier than usual tonight in my house. The governor of The Upper Nile State in which I reside was at the Nuer (one of the South Sudan's Nilotic tribes/people groups) worship service that I attended this morning. He shared with the congregation about the improvements that they can expect in the coming months. More hours of electricity was one of these for those of us who already have it. Having it was something that those who have not had it for at least three months can look forward to in the near future. The roads are to be improving soon as well.....I am praying for that!
Blessings,
Debbie

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Bank


Dear Friends,
Greetings!

Today I was able to open a bank account in Malakal! This is very exciting as it means that the Republic of South Sudan now has a banking system! It also means that it should be much easier for myself and other foreigners (aka ex-pats) to get funds for living expenses in South Sudan.

After a long while of frustrated waiting I realized that in South Sudan one customer at a time is not helped. Instead the banking personnel help several customers at a time. I was told to wait several times and after a long, long time someone would come with the next piece of information that I needed to in order to open the account.

The bank is the Kenya Commercial Bank. There is also a Western Union inside the bank building. This is very exciting as well because when I first came to Malakal in February and then again in September there were no Western Unions. This was the first country I had ever been in that had not had one. This is definitely a sign of progress and one for which I am most grateful. I should be able to wire money to myself from my USA bank account and this will make my life much simpler! Now if only we can get the potholes in the roads to disappear!

The picture that I put on the blog today was taken yesterday. A student accompanied me to the place for having passport pictures taken as the bank needed two of those. On the way from the business district (stretching that term very thin indeed) to my home we were met by this herd of cattle. I have a friend in the US who has a farm and I was close to a couple of her animals, I don't think I've ever been this close to cows. It was a wee bit unnerving, but once I got presence of mind returned to me I grabbed my camera and started shooting! I liken this picture to one I took in January of 2010 of the camels at the pyramids in Sudan. Enjoy!
Blessings,
Debbie

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Day of Observations

Dear Friends,
Greetings from Malakal! The picture in this blog post is that of one of the choirs from the College Day at the end of August at the Nile Theological College. We had two choirs participate, one was a youth choir and both choirs had beautiful music and voices.

Yesterday I saw a dentist here in Malakal. Today I had a tooth x-ray taken and got my first prescription filled. Prescription medication is relatively inexpensive here. Everything else is dreadfully expensive.

When I was in China female students accompanied me shopping and to doctor and dentist appointments. Here in Malakal it is male students who accompany me. I so appreciate and value their willingness to take leave from classes and walk long distances in order to be with me in unfamiliar settings.

I observed today the poor donkeys in the town. The donkeys are forced to stand with no food or water and no place to lie down in the heat. One of them today looked so tired, its eyes were closed and some of them were shaking. I feel so so badly for them.

The water in the town is dirty. I think this is true in many places in the world, I just happened to observe it today as my students and I were passengers in a taxi taking us to and fro. One of the students took me shopping in the souq, the vegetable market. I was grateful for his help. I got tomatoes, potatoes and onions. The little bit that I got came to 22 South Sudan Pounds. On the black market the exchange rate today was $1. to 4 SSP. The bank rate is $1 to 3 SSP. Either way those were very expensive vegetables.

I used my solar stove for the first time today. I tried cooking lentils for lentil soup. I apparently did not keep them in the sun for long enough as they were still a little chewy, however I rectified this on the electric burner and added dried onion, garlic and olive oil. I had made white rice and added that to the soup along with almond butter and it was a fairly tasty dish.

I had help tonight getting my printer up and running. Making copies here in Malakal is very expensive. Most things are very expensive. I am hoping that it will be more economical to use my own printer in making copies for students. I have not figured out how to teach without using books. I have found that some of the students have difficulty when the lesson is solely my reading to them from a book. I think I would have difficulty with that as well as I am not an oral learner.

I continue to be a fascination to the people of Malakal as there are so few white people here. I had well meaning person lecture me in English today that I should be using an umbrella to protect my fair skin. This is probably true.

The roads here continue to scandalize me. The potholes are sometimes very deep and extremely difficult for the cars to navigate. They also make walking hazardous.

Many of the children of the town can be seen in school uniforms in the afternoon because school is out for the day. There continue however to be children that are not in school. There were two children who were collecting empty plastic bottles for use in selling oil to people outside of the town. It is likely that their parents cannot afford the school fees. I find it heartbreaking and again realize how much I value the American school system of free public education primary through secondary. We should not take this for granted in the United States. There are so many countries where education is simply not available to those without a means to pay a fee and buy uniforms and school supplies. There are not enough charities to fill the need.

I have now seen dentists in China, Sudan and South Sudan. I have had x-rays taken in China and South Sudan. Because in the United States lead aprons are used on patients to protect us from the radiation of the x-rays I am very aware of the fact that this is not done in other countries. Once again today I was exposed to radiation without protection. However I will say that the x-ray of the tooth in question was of a very good quality. The x-ray equipment was from Dubai and has been in service for seven years. The technician said it is very good equipment.

The office in which the x-ray department was located of course has a generator. I became very homesick for Khartoum when I realized that part of the reason the office was cool was due to a ceiling fan very much like the one in my home in Khartoum. I think many of us at the college are missing the luxuries of power during the day (and night) and plentiful and fairly cheap food and choices of food in Khartoum.

The small can of milk powder in a little store today was 35 SSP. I understood why a woman on the plane from Addis Ababa Ethiopia to Malakal had two large cans of milk powder as carry-ons. I will probably do the same myself on my return to Malakal when I go to Addis Ababa for Christmas. I want to use the milk powder with water to make a milk base for pasta. A simple and delicious meal.

Tomorrow I will probably cut up the potatoes and onions that I purchased today and put them in the enamelware pot in the solar cooker and see if I can then feast on solar food. I will let you know how it works out!
Blessings,
Debbie

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bumps in De Road

Dear Friends,
Greetings! One of the things that has become crystal clear in the short amount of time that I have been here in Malakal is that roads are an urgent infrastructure issue. My prayer is that the roads in this new country of South Sudan are a very high priority for the new government.

The worst of the mud is gone and yet mud remains. However now the biggest hazard are the incredible potholes. They are like giant pockmarks on someone with chicken pox. They are dreadful. I had to go to a dentist today and on the way there my student's and I took a taxi. He had to navigate very carefully around the holes. The church car has been in the shop for a week because parts to fix it have had to come from Juba and Khartoum. The church driver is much more aggressive with the potholes, he may be a more experienced driver. On the other hand, the taxi driver may rely on his car for his total income and if it has to go to the shop for repairs then he loses money as well as having to pay money out.

I believe that in the entire country of South Sudan there are only about 100 miles of paved road. It is not possible to drive from Juba to Malkal because of this. One must fly. I experienced some culture shock when I was in Rwanda recently because of all the paved roads. We took a road trip to a beautiful resort some three and a half hours out of Kigali and all of the roads were paved.

In order to move ahead with development in this new country the issue of the roads must be addressed. NGO's and the United Nations may be willing to come in to underdeveloped areas as their purpose is to give humanitarian aid. I don't think that companies who are needed to provide employment and other necessary services will be so willing.

Please pray for the priorities of the new government to include making life more livable for the people of South Sudan.
Blessings,
Debbie

Thursday, October 13, 2011

culture


Dear Friends,
Greetings! I have some stories and other things I've been holding for the blog until I felt better, maybe now is the time.

I found out today that there are eight generators in Malakal. One of them is working. Presumably the technicians for the seven that are not were Northerners who returned to the North. The generator in my part of town just happens to be working and this is why we have power most nights. The cost of fuel may have to do with shorter hours of power.

I had previously blogged about a man who had shared that many men from the south of Sudan were able to make the trek to refugee camps elsewhere and earn an education by the sweat of their brows and their muscle power, doing work that most women are not able to do. I asked him if he had ever thought about taking his sister with her and supporting her so that we too could receive an education. He told me that the trek out of the south was trecherous and dangerous and girls were not allowed to go. I could read between the lines of what he was saying. Conditions were completely uncertain and girls/women would have been vulnerable to rape and kidnap and murder. I now understand, and told him so, why there were the Lost Boys of Sudan and NOT the Lost Girls and Boys of Sudan.

Another student shared with me that the relative with whom he is staying in order to attend the Nile Theological College is a man with two wives and many children. He said at one point the man had 40 children staying with him. I have heard of and read of situations like this before. This man has the advantage of living on a large plot of land in a town. There are schools available. Many many places in our world are so rural that there simply are not teachers to serve. Either there aren't enough students to make it feasible to pay a teacher, or, as with doctors and other professionals, the living conditions are simply too challenging and no teacher will go there. At any rate, this man invited his relatives to send their children to live with him so that they could attend school.

I had a picture in my mind of my two children and how every morning before school I put breakfast on the table for them and when they got home from school they had a snack and talked about how their days had gone. Clearly 40 children are not going to get that particular kind of love and attention. They ARE going to get something that chances are none of their parents got. A chance to learn to read and write, and something about the world beyond their little village. And maybe someday they can pay forward and do the same thing for other relatives.

It is heartbreaking sometimes how slow the progress and yet how deeply meaningful the progress.

The last story is one told me by the student who is living with so many other young people in order to make his way through college. He said, "maybe when you get home you will write a book." I told him I already am.

He said that there was a man who got a good theological education, perhaps at the Nile Theological College. The church wanted to appoint him to a post in a small and remote area who was in need of a good pastor. This man decided that he had a good education and he deserved more than to be in a little nothing place. So he joined the army and after a number of years had been promoted and had made a name for himself. No he was a big man around town. So he decided it was time to get married. I of course in the midst of my student telling the story am thinking, oh, so he found a woman to marry.....NO he married 40 women.

Why I thought he would have been happy with one I don't know......The end of the story (I won't go into my various emotional and other kind of reactions/responses to this) is that when he died "they" of course had a fancy schmancy funeral for him based on his hugeness in reputation, etc., And there were at least twenty little children there sobbing for their father.

The moral of the story, and the reason my student told it to me, was that this man was all about HIM. I pray that he thought about his wives and children and their fates after death but with his eyes on himself I am not believing that. My prayer is that God stepped in and provided for all of those widows and all of those children. I think that is not easy for a widow with a child/children to find another spouse. In this culture being without a spouse is no easy thing at all. It is a sentence to perpetual poverty.
Blessings,
Debbie

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Kin_dom of God Drawn Near.

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I am entering my third week of not feeling well in the mud capital of the world, Malakal, South Sudan.

This morning a little piece of the Kin-dom of God marched into my yard here at the SIM Compound and sang and prayed with me and then left.....leaving me feel renewed in my sense of call to each one of my students.

The Senior Class of the Nile Theological College should have received two lessons from me today, a total of three hours. Instead I am still not strong enough to get to them down the road a piece. The class (about 22 students) talked to the Principal of the College this morning and asked if they could take some of the class time that was not being used by me and come to the compound to pray for me. The Principal agreed to this.

I was thankful that I had been able at long last to accomplish getting my hair washed this morning. Yesterday I just didn't have the strength to wash it, this morning I began by washing the hair first and me second. Mission Accomplished!

I had put on one of the outfits that was new in Khartoum so at least I looked presentable. I got a cell phone call about a half hour before they appeared that they were all on the move up the road....and then there they were. They opened the gate between the school/church side of the compound and the side where the two houses are (instead of the front gate by the main road).

They streamed into the yard and I invited them on to the covered porch. I realized in retrospect that just as I had claimed my students by coming to Malakal, my students were claiming me by coming to me when I was ill.

They organized themselves so that different students had different parts in the short worship. We began with Kumbaya.

I was overwhelmed with thanksgiving. They did not stay long as I was still weak and they had work to do at the college. But later in the day I began to improve......
Blessings,
Debbie

Friday, September 30, 2011

Putting Two and Two Together

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Just this morning I have literally put two and two together and understand something I was told by a student a while ago.

He told me that during the civil wars between the north and the south in Sudan some of the boys were able to leave to go to refugee camps in order to receive education. I asked about girls being able to go. He said that girls could not go too far from their parents. Of course I immediately began wondering what in the world he meant by that. And he answered me. He said that boys, young men, men, are capable of doing physical work that is very hard in order to support themselves. And girls are not. His sister was not able to go to Nairobi with him because she could not do the kinds of work he could do. Later I thought, I should have asked why he did not take her with him anyhow and support her so that she also could have received an education.

Now, the reason this has become vividly clear for me today is because someone was using what I suppose to be a machete to keep paths clear here on the compound where I live. There are two homes, I live in one, this man and his wife live in the other and have an extra room for guests. The grass is definitely not the tame sort of stuff that we have in Seattle. I don't think even a seated lawn mower would touch it.

A couple of weeks ago a man had been paid what would be the equivalent of $100. USD to come in and chop the whole batch away. The grass has already re overtaken everything. I have just found out that snakes can hide out in that grass. I now have no desire to go anywhere...except that apparently there are also occasional sightings in houses as well.

Now, the work that this man did to chop the entire jungle down (calling it a lawn would be far too refined) took several days. Maybe a girl or young woman could do that work. I don't know. I did hear of a case in an email from Khartoum of a young mother/widow with a one year old daughter and no way to support her except by selling tea which is not a sufficient income.

Perhaps by now you get the gist of what I am getting at? It is a pity, a travesty of justice and an incorrect way of thinking that values the work of the muscles of a man more than the work of a mother struggling to keep her one year old daughter alive. We know that the muscles are valued more because of how much they are paid.

I see this as yet another stumbling block to women's ability to help change the world. The male and female bodies were created differently by the Creator. And the work that both genders do should be equally valued and equally compensated. How is the cycle ever going to be broken if this does not change? Who is going to pay $100 USD for a cup of tea? I don't think I've ever seen a man selling tea. I am sure that it is considered women's work and beneath the dignity of a man who has muscles that can earn much more money.
Blessings,
Debbie

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Keeping up with the Joneses.....

Dear Friends,
Greetings from Malakal! I have been here now for about three weeks. This week I have not been feeling well. Fortunately I was able to teach on my teaching days of Monday and Tuesday and then Wednesday I had a low fever and rested.

I am beginning to make some progress on my dissertation proposal for the Doctor of Theology in Missiology program at the University of South Africa (UNISA). This is a relief as it has been several months since I have been able to focus on it.

The mud here in Malakal apparently lasts from around May to the end of October, so essentially half a year. Please pray for the government to become more responsive and responsible to the needs of its people and develop a plan for paving the streets here in the town. I have been here for, as I said, about three weeks, and have hardly left the house except for going to the school. It is just too difficult to move about.

I did find out this week that there are people who think that all Americans have access to free skiing lessons. And I have decided in my own head that not only should all American children spend time abroad in another culture, all American children should learn the basics of camping.

As the electricity here has diminished I have found that I do not have the skills to know how to survive without electricity. I wish I had brought a Coleman camping stove for instance....well, at any rate the gas is hard to find as well because it comes from Khartoum and Khartoum is not letting goods through the North-South border. The situation here has deteriorated since Independence in July and what I have come into is different than what I knew and understood to prepare for earlier in the year.

This country does need more than prayer, it needs a great deal of practical help. Most of the people walk in the mud barefoot...I am quite certain they cannot afford shoes or boots. Walking in the mud barefoot means that they may encounter glass or other things that could hurt them.

The dogs continue to howl at night and I am finding I am not sleeping well because of this. Yesterday 7 dogs broke through a loose place in the metal wall surrounding the compound and were in the yard behind my house. That unnerved me. I told my newly returned compound mates that every night I have thanked God that I am a safe place where the dogs cannot get hold of me and tear me to shreds. Now I am not so sure that this is true!
Blessings,
Debbie

Friday, September 23, 2011

An Earlier Entry that is now being put into the blog....

Dear Friends,
Greeings, at long last, from the new Republic of South Sudan in Africa!

Today is Thursday, the first of September, 2011. I arrived after a long journey in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, yesterday, Wednesday, the last day of August in 2011.

It was a long journey indeed. This statement of course has multiple meanings and multiple layers. The particular meaning I am addressing here is that the flight from Washington D.C., once safely on board the aircraft, lasts for 13 hours. That is long time to be stuck in a small space with very little wiggle room and no access to one's regular routine.

I had the extreme luxury of three seat sot myself! I put all of the armrests up and spent most of the 13 hours prone and covered with blankets. It made the passage of time more bearsble.

I had dreamt of shopping at the Ethiopian Airport upon arrival in Ethiopia, our first port of entry into Africa. Shopping and finding a Diet Coke. Instead we were ushered off of the plane and directed into a small space that had no water, let alone Diet Coke and no restroom in sight. The choice to leave for shopping, etc., would have meant going back through security and I declined that. So by the time I got to Juba I was overwhelmed by the heat and the crowding in the tiny airport there. The Danish woman whom I met in the airport in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) said that the hardest part of the return journey for her from Denmark is always the arriving at the Juba airport. I did feel better after knowing I was not alone in my emotions.

Thankfully I was able to get a six month extension for my Travel Permit issued on the spot. I am grateful for the friends who told me to have $100. US available for that purpose and two passport pictures as well. I got the passport photos taken on the way to the airport in Louisville on Sunday! All was in hand.

The pastor and his wife who picked me up at the airport helped with the permit process and then with gathering my eleven bags. This was no small feat. I believe that there were four men and at least three flatbed carts that hauled my moving-to-Malakal load out to their vehicle. I was so thankful to see that it was an SUV type and not a small car.

They managed to get everything in and we directly to the Mission Aviation Fellowship to drop the 11 bags off for transport to Malakal as space allows. While I did prioritze the bags you might well imagine that with each bag containing some books for teaching that in reality all of the books are actually equally important...I am praying for quick success in recieving my bags at my new home in Malakal.

The next stop was the Ethiopian Airlines office for my round trip ticket to return to Addis Ababa and pick up things like my two burner stovetop and my teaching materials for the coming semester which were left in Addis when I returned to the states in March. The office was so crowded that we left and I am hoping someone at the Episcopal Guest House where I am currently staying in Juba will be able to help me with that endeavor today.

The Guest House was the next and last stop. As I expected it is a far cry from the Embassy Suites or the Hilton in Arlington, Virginia. Too much of those hotels in the D.C. area can take the edge off of a person, and that edge is necessary for surviving in Afrtica. It is a fine line however. I discovered on my extra day in D.C. (due to a Hurricane Katrina related glitch as related to you in a previous blog) that I really am going to have to take vacations. I need to have time to not be stressed about anything. The only way to do that is to truly get away from my daily activities. Part of what doing that will mean is that some of the edge will soften and I have to be aware that my return to life in Africa will be more difficult in the beginning as a result.

The Guest House is clean and, as I have a room to myself, has plenty of room for sorting through my two carryons that I kept with me and regrouping myself in order to get organized for the days ahead. I must prepare myself for the preparations to finally leave for Malakal so that I can set up house and be ready to start teaching at the end of September. That is a rather interesting paradox I suppose. I have to get organized in order to get organized. But, there you have it....

Juba is a pleasant little city, at least so far. It reminds me of Nairobi more than it reminds me of Addis Ababa. And it does not remind me of Khartoum at all. Khartoum is definitely an Arab city and it is a major urban metropolis of several million people. Juba is definitely an African city as is Nairobi. I keep reminding myself not to get too accustomed to, for instance, the paved streets in Juba, becasue it will make Malakal all the more difficult if I do. I am so grateful for the fact that because South Sudan is considered a hardship post each of us who works and lives here is given a "time-out" every three months to leave South Sudan for a time of renewal and I think probably shopping for things that cannot be found here as well.

Praise God for power as well! Another multi-layered word, power. I had carried my African cell phone with me across the world and back (anything I needed immediately upon my return to Africa had to stay with me and thus to travel to the states and back) and last night was able to find someone here at the Guest House to help me get the SIM card in. I remembered the code, I made it easy, put it in and got it charged! I was able to call the Principle of the Nile Theological College to let him know that I am here at the Guest House and will be in Malakal next week, God willing. Not surprisingly, he already knew I was here and that my bags had gone to MAF.

I have learned that it is best for me to get my UBS modem for the internet on my computer once I am in Malakal. There is a chance that when I move around South Sudan that the modem will not work, that it will be finely tuned for Malakal. This does made working on line a challenge in this new country.

So, I have arrived. I had also traveled to the states and back with one of my African adaptors, being that my computer is dual voltage it is no plugged into the adaptor and is charging away....again, I am thankful for electricity here in Juba. It will not be as plentiful in Malakal. In caes you are curious, I am typing this blog into a Word Document. When I am able to get on-line with my own computer again, and this may not be until net week in Malakal, then I will cut and paste this document into the blog. This is assuming that the blog is not blocked. If it is then this will hopefully go into an email. Once has to be creative when technology is still developing in different parts of the world!
Blessings,
Debbie

Sunday, September 18, 2011

waiting, waiting, here!

Dear Friends,
Greetings from Malakal in the Republic of South Sudan! I have another blog that is in a Word Document on a different computer and someday when I am able to do so I will put it in this blog so that you can read about my adventures as I left the United States late last month.

I have been in Malakal for over a week now, I am not sure of the exact date. I am experiencing things here that I have never experienced before. For one I now live in SubSaharan Africa vs the high dry desert of Saharan Africa in the north. I was struck by how green South Sudan is when I entered through Juba in August. Juba is the capital of the new country, at least for now.

I now know that the south is green because of the "rainy season". The rainy season means torrential rain that downpours, sometimes for hours at a time. Due to a particular kind of soil here in Malakal it turns into a deep, thick and incredibly slippery mud. I have not ventured too far out of the Sudanese Interior Ministry (SIM) Compound where I am living, I am waiting for the rains to subside next month. I have found a nearby, very nearby I might add, small store that sells the Sudanese bread which is something like American pita bread. I have learned from fellow sojourners along the way to carry peanut butter with me and in Khartoum I fell in love with different versions of Nutella. Therefore as long as I stay supplied with all three components I know that I will not go hungry. This is good because the roads do not look safe for pedestrians.

Outside of snow in Seattle I have never seen such driving conditions as I have witnessed here over the past week or so. When I am able at some point to get on to my own computer I will be able to share the photos that I have been able to take, this will I hope give you a better idea. A week ago I ventured to the Nile Theological College campus which, it turns out, is down the road from me and may end up being a good walk when it is dry on the main road. I am very lucky to live on the main road and across from highly identifiable entities such as World Vision International. This is good because SIM doesn't have a sign on its fence or gates and there are no addresses here that I am aware of.

So, I ventured to the college and then as I attempted to cross a mud fiord (correct word?) I had a close encounter of the muddy type. Suffice it to say that my friend and colleague Mistire got me cleaned up, found clean clothes for me to wear and washed my muddied dress. She also proclaimed that the $30. boots that I brought from the United States are too heavy for me in the mud. It is true that one of the boots stayed stuck in the mud as I continued to move forward and that was the beginning of the unfortunate tale. My daughter and I went to at least three or four stores when I was in Seattle in order to find those boots. I guess I should have taken someone with me who was familiar with Malakal mud. Ah well.

Outside of the rain the challenges in list of priorities which I am facing are:
1. I have no coach at the moment. I am praying that the furniture I had in Khartoum, a living room set which included a coach is awaiting drier weather at the college....drier in order to be able to move on the road which is a foot high in mud at the moment.
2. Probably a bigger challenge actually than the coach is the lack of electricity during the day. On a dark and rainy day like this one I am not able to read. This for me is very difficult. When the power came on at 7:00 p.m. I started crying folks. I think it was frustration and joy.

I hope to get in a regular pattern for blogging. I must say that true to my nature the two things I have missed the most (besides the coach and obviously family and friends) is being able to write and to read. I am on a borrowed typewriter and finally decided to heck with it, I will blog anyhow!
Blessings,
Debbie

Monday, August 29, 2011

painting the town SLEEP

Dear Friends,
Well, this is unexpected. I am able to write a last, last blog entry before I leave the United States.

I am ensconced in a less luxurious hotel room than last night as this one is not a suite. The suite was, well, sweet. However this room still has a wonderful bed and a soft, oh so soft, comforter that is indeed very comforting.

The last two days have been quite interesting. Due to Hurricane Irene there were glitches with the computer system at the United Airlines counter in Louisville. I was charged domestic luggage rates for nine excess bags to Juba, plus my two free ones. I will say that the people in Louisville were helpful and kind. And I am very grateful to my friend who stayed with me until almost boarding time and went and got me another suitcase when the $60. for 20 pounds overweight shot up to $400. on the computer and it was clearly cheaper to pay $100. for another bag. (These numbers will have some repeat action later in this account.)

I got to Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. in fairly fine shape and got to the hotel without incident as well, extremely grateful to have been able to leave my 11 checked in bags at the airport and to have only my two carryons in hand with me.

This morning I got up and had sufficient time to get ready and ate a very good complimentary breakfast on the hotel. I was extremely tired and knew that what I really wanted to do was just crawl back in to bed for a few hours....little did I know.....

I got to the airport three hours early and went to the Ethiopian Airline counter. I was told almost immediately that Louisville had checked my bags through only to D.C. and not to Juba, even though Louisville had told them me that the bags were checked through to Juba. Okay, the long and the short of it is that due to the computer glitch in Louisville, which was due to the hurricane (does this sound a little bit like the story The House That Jack Built?) I was charged domestic charges on the luggage which should not have been charged at all and I was NOT charged the international charges that I WAS supposed to pay. International charges are $200. a piece (at least to and from the United States), whereas domestic is $100. So my charges needed to be doubled and I need the baggage receipt to show that the bags were checked clean through to Juba. I couldn't be issued a boarding pass until this was done, a key piece to note in this saga.

Apparently in Louisville on Sunday the 28th things were happening like....my flight from Louisville to D.C. was fine and on time but the next leg of the flight (which I was not supposed to be on and in fact was not on) had been cancelled because of Hurricane Irene. The computer was not allowing people to even go to D.C. who were checked through to the next destination, it may have been New York.

Okay. So I was directed to United to take care of the problem as it was United where the problem originated. I went to the United desk. I was asked what time my flight was leaving (later I understood why I was asked that) and directed to the Additional Services desk. That is when the nightmare began.

Tonight in the hotel I am switching the projector and the computer from my backpack to my rolling bag. For two hours I stood in line at the Additional Services desk with 25 pounds perched upon my aching back. Never a good idea.

I took my place at the end of a line of people who were waiting to rebook their flights due to cancellations to due Hurricane Irene. I noticed many of the folks were going to Boston and there had been no additional flights scheduled and there was a lot of unhappiness to go around.

After today I consider myself a seasoned traveler. So I quickly noted that I really should leave the area where I was standing by oh say 10:30 for an international flight at 11:45....a lady (a normal person, not an employee) had let me know soon after my arrival that my problem was hurricane related due to the computer systems. She said a lot of people were just paying the extra charges and then dealing with reimbursements later. My bet was that a lot of people were not flying to Juba and then to Malakal where there has been no power and no internet for three days. It is not easy to use Skype without internet. So I made the fateful decision to stick things out and take care of it stateside.

The long and the short of it is that no one came through the group asking if anyone was there for any reason besides rebooking. There was only one employee dealing with this massive group of people, and sometimes there was no employee at all. I understood that they had everyone available on the front lines, but sometimes there are extraordinary situations that call for extra-
ordinary responses.

I finally decided to start asking questions. I untied the ribbon from the post and started making noise. I was not there to rebook and I had a flight to catch. Maybe there were other people who had immediate needs too. This is not to say that one person is more important than the others (except maybe the Pope or the President of the United States) but instead that sometimes one person's matter is more urgent and needs to be repriortized.

Not one single employee listened to me at this point or made any kind of move to help me or to see if other people were in the same circumstance as myself. Eventually someone did make a feeble attempt but I was still ignored. At one point I advocated for another woman, left my rolling bag with the man from China who I had struck up a conversation with being that I have lived in China and could speak somewhat knowledgeably about his home country, took this woman by the hand (so to speak) and found someone several counters away who would listen to her. I should have stayed and gotten help next, but no I was foolish enough to think that the line was going to start moving more quickly when a second employee finally showed up at 10:30.

At 11:00 I finally got my turn. That is why I am at a hotel here in D.C. tonight. Fortunately my case got turned over to someone who actually knew what to do with me and who was kind and very helpful. He thought I had a boarding pass (oh no, no, no, no, no) and was hustling me down to the gate when I said "I don't even have a boarding pass." Ah, the fateful words....well, the good news was that the double charge was made on my credit card and tomorrow morning the luggage will be good to go and should (I do repeat should) meet me in Juba on Wednesday morning. He took me to the Ethiopian Airline counter where they were stunned to know that I had been there for three, I repeat three, hours. "They" sent me to the reticketing counter in the basement and the angel God had sent to me accompanied me. He made sure that they had me on the same flight for tomorrow, I got my printed information proving the same, and then we went back upstairs where he proceeded to find me a hotel voucher from somewhere. He also provided me with a food voucher.

I took the shuttle to the hotel, went and got two Diet Cokes, crawled into bed and slept all afternoon. Remember the statement at the beginning about wanting to sleep for hours.....?

So I'm now typing my blog, watching CNN, more rested and have another wake up call for 6:00 a.m., planning to again get to the airport at 8:45, three, I repeat three, hours early. Apparently all I have to do this time is to check-in. Right, I'm supposed to believe that????? :)

I do hope and pray that everyone in South Sudan got my email letting them know I will be a day late. I hate to worry people. The helpful man at the airport did tell me that the airline will know in Juba that I will be coming in on Wednesday and not Tuesday and so will hopefully be able to tell my folks in Juba that. Sometimes one just has to leave it in God's hands.....

Now, on to other things....I have been reflecting in between all this drama and trauma, about what the word ancient means to me. Like the Ancient of Days. Like the Ancient Ones from the movie the Whale Rider. Like the ancient ruins in Rome and in Whitby, England. Like at St. Patrick's church in Northern Ireland.

Ancient and also stormy, windy nights. These two things seem to hold something in common for me. I can sense eternity in them. I believe that it may be that the connection with the Communion of Saints, past, present and future, becomes more clear, more real, more authentic, genuine and present to me with the timelessness of ancient and with the power of stormy, windy night. Still mulling on it....
Blessings,
Debbie

Sunday, August 28, 2011

End of my time in the United States for this year

Dear Friends,
Greetings from Washington D.C.! Tonight I am tucked away in an Embassy Suites hotel room in Arlington, Virginia. I flew in to Dulles International Airport in D.C. from Louisville, Kentucky late this afternoon. In the morning I board an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Juba, South Sudan via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The stay tonight is what is known as a "forced stay." I had to come to D.C. today because the timing of the flights is not right for same day D.C. flight and African flight. The good part about a forced stay is that Ethiopian Airlines picks up the bill. I suspect that they have some sort of a deal with the hotel chain, maybe discount based on volume. At any rate it is a really nice room, or really a suite. There is a living room of sorts on one end, a mini kitchen and bathroom section in the center and then a bedroom on the other end. There are two big screen tv's....good grief Charlie Brown!

The bad news is that with a nice hotel come big price tags. They want $2.00 for a little bag of m&m's, I don't think so! So dinner was the Manager's Hospitality this evening....free Diet Coke (other people were having the free alcohol) and all the popcorn I could eat. I'm becoming very fond of popcorn!

I am very aware of the fact that tomorrow I head into a time of uncertainty and that the level of comfort in my life is going to diminish rapidly. I am appreciating my last night of drinking tap water and having a thermostat. Malakal, the town in South Sudan where I will ultimately land has been without electricity for three days now, not unlike what the our states here in the US which were hit by Hurricane Irene are facing, except that with Malakal this is going to be more chronic.

The end of the planning is at hand. Planning lists, what will I need, what might I need? What does one take to a place that has food shortages and where electricity is not consistently available? I hope I've planned well enough.....I have heard that the border between Sudan in the north and South Sudan has been closed by Sudan. This means that supplies are not coming in to the new country. Supplies like kerosene and propane. This means that cooking options are limited. If electricity has been out for three days and no one can get hold of kerosene and propane what does one use for cooking? Apparently charcoal is one alternative and I have been told that the charcoal in South Sudan is not treated with chemicals as ours is here in the states. I do have a solar cooker with me but it won't arrive for a while and I have never used it before.

My luggage will be taken to the Mission Aviation Fellowship on its arrival in Juba. Piece by piece it will be delivered to me in Malakal over the course of weeks. Part of the planning has been to try and prioritize what I need first. Plates and silverware in the first box. Most of the books I am taking with me are later on. Books weigh a lot, theological education is a beloved and expensive vocation.

In the midst of all the packing, anxiety and travel I have been contemplating yet another tension in my life of faith. Being a Christian does not guarantee safety or a smooth ride. "God does not promise life without pain, God promises to walk with us in the pain." On the other hand, I do believe that when I am walking in God's will that God goes ahead of me and prepares the path, the way. You might see why I spend time contemplating these two ends of the spectrum.

While I am in Ethiopia it is likely that blogspot will be blocked. If this is so I will blog at debbiesjourneycontinues.wordpress.com. Please feel free to join me on my journey at that blog if this one is not accessible to me. I don't know if blogspot will be available in South Sudan or not; so check them both out and keep walking with me on the journey.
Blessings,
Debbie

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Living Conditions

Dear Friends,
Greetings!

Today I am going to blog about a question that I put on Facebook. It is something that I've been nibbling around the corners of and finally figured out what it is I want to know more about. Or know more deeply.

How does "bloom where you are planted" fit with Jesus' "foxes have nowhere to lie their heads and neither does the Son of Man?"

Okay, here goes:

I am beginning to think/discern/contemplate that the differences between these two life-styles may have to do with kind of life to which one is called. I say this because I know that some people are called to live in the same home in the same neighborhood in the same town, state and country their entire lives. And others of us seem to be called to perpetual movement.

Maybe this is connected with the spiritual gifts with which the Holy Spirit endows different people. I read recently in an article in Sojourner's Magazine about someone who had been given the gift of stability. I am stable in how I deal with life, not flustered by every little thing that gets thrown at me (at least not for too long) but I wouldn't say I've been given the gift of stability. That doesn't mean I don't occasionally LONG for it.

Maybe it has to do with the particular work that God calls each of us to, or how we are called to raise our children. I say this because over the course of time I have come to realize that there are different kinds of Family Planning. One of the kinds is: What is our plan for this family? How do we want this family to contribute to the world? What are our goals for our children and for our lives together while they live with us? And then, for instance, there are certain vocations which travel more easily than others. Being a stock broker on Wall Street might mean being a stock broker on Wall Street. Being a teacher, or a minister (of which I am both) or a doctor or nurse or computer technician might imply the ability to travel with that skill set to other places.

Maybe it has to do with each unique person's unique journey with God. For me I think that blooming where I am planted did not allow enough water to reach my roots. Maybe it was a little too easy. Maybe it did not develop TRUST hardy enough in me. Maybe TRUST was the spiritual fruit of the spirit that I needed to have developed most in me, and this is the way to do it.

Maybe for someone who is called to bloom where they are planted learning how to be consistent is the lesson in their lives to which God is calling them. I don't know, it just kind of makes some sense to me. Whatever it is that we need, we get.

In the Gospels Jesus says he can't stay one place too long because he came for many. In a sense he kind of had a home base with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. But he didn't have a HOME. His home was with God, his Abba. On the other hand, in Exodus the Israelis were kept on the move for 40 years before they were allowed to enter the Promised Land and bloom where they were planted. Do you think God lost the map that showed the entrance to the Promised Land? I don't. I think God was forming God's people into God's people so that they would be prepared to settle down and take root.

There are different kinds of "missionaries". All Christians are called to be missionaries, whether in the local neighborhood or across oceans. To be a Christian missionary means to speak of and show in action the love of God in Jesus Christ. I think that when we are open to being used by God for God's purposes in the world that this will happen. In opening ourselves up in this way to God we also open up God's ability to deepen us and grow us in the best ways for who we are and what we can give to the world. What God can give to the world through us. Those ways may surprise us, they certainly have surprised me!

So whether we are supposed to bloom where we are planted or be like foxes without beds and pillows, we are still on a journey of discovery that is put in place by the God who loves us. When I was in Bible College a few years back (as a non-traditional student) I used to be amazed by the people who were downsizing their wardrobes and belongings. These were the folks who were being called into overseas mission work.

Here I am a BA in Biblical Studies and an ordained minister several years later trying to decide what part of my life I can fit into eight boxes as I head overseas again in a few short weeks. I find God's sense of humor, well....humorous. haha. I guess the joke is on me. I am not a pot, I am a fox.

God knows me so much better than I know myself!
Blessings,
Debbie

Monday, August 8, 2011

theological reflections

Dear Friends,
Greetings!
One of the things that I do as I go about my life is to write myself notes. I write notes that are a to-do list. I wrote notes about reflections and thoughts. I write notes about subjects for blogging or for my monthly newsletters.

This particular blog is going to be about a theological reflection that came under a subject for blogging. It is about: Free Will v Irresistible Grace.

I personally have come to believe that free will and irresistible grace both exist and are in tension with each other. Kind of like "done and not yet".

I think this is Armenianism and Calvinism arm wrestling together. My understanding of the two, briefly, is that an Armenian believes that we can move towards God and Calvinists believe that God moves towards us. We either have the free will to decide to move towards God or God moves towards us and draws us to God through Christ in grace that we are not able to resist, we are swept off of our feet, so to speak.

As I said, I think that both ends of this continuum are at work and that we live in both of them. One of them, free will, lets God off the hook. If it is our choice whether we move towards God then clearly it is our fault if we don't choose to do so. On the other hand, with irresistible grace the responsibility is put squarely on God.

Perhaps I am taking the cowardly way out by claiming that both God on the hook and humanity on the hook exist. Or perhaps I am claiming the mystery that is. There are an awful lot of people who have not chosen to move towards God in this world if that is the reality. Maybe living a God centered life is a little too demanding? On the other hand, God has chosen not to move towards an awful lot of people if irresistible grace is the reality. I have heard it said that a Calvinist does not judge who God has or has not claimed, we just continue praying for Christ to act in the lives of those for whom such action is not yet apparent, to us anyhow.

This will be a good discussion for me to continue to have in the innermost regions of my heart and soul as I turn my face towards South Sudan. What does Christian discipleship entail? If God has claimed me is my life not supposed to be marked in a particular way? If I have claimed God, either first or in return, am I not looking in a different direction than the rest of the world?

If I am a Christian, or a God fearer, do I look towards the ferocity of the battles in the Old Testament or to the non violence that Jesus preached/preaches in the New Testament? Which of those realities claims me? Owns me? Holds me captive? Am I captive to violence or am I captive to the Kin_dom of God drawn near? Is that a violent Kin_dom or a peace loving Kin-dom?

The tribes of South Sudan continue to interact with one another violently. For those that say they are Christian, what does this mean to them? Have they chosen to draw near to God as an Armenian, or has God chosen to draw near to them as a Calvinist? Do they belong to God whether by free will or irresistible grace? And how does this form and change their reality?

These are questions that my students and I will be wrestling with....theologically reflecting.
Blessings,
Debbie

Fall Shadows

Dear Friends,
Greetings from Louisville!

Even though it is hot and muggy outside, I can feel fall and that is exciting and sweet to me.
I can sense fall in the shadows as they they fall in the apartment. The lighting of the sun coming
through the windows is not as direct and brutal as it is in the high summer months.

Fall has always been special to me because it meant that it was time to go back to school and start learning again! It means classes and community and thinking and praying. And nowadays it also means for me, teaching! I find myself delighted and enchanted with the role of teacher. Everything that I see or touch during the day is a potential teaching tool, a new way to show my students a practical application to a lesson being taught. And while this is a process that goes on all year, it is especially during the season/time of fall that it becomes intensely precious and real to me; I get to go back to South Sudan and start teaching again VERY SOON!

I am sitting on the coach in "my" apartment at the Furlough Home on the campus of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This has been a wonderful temporary home for the last few months. I am coming to accept that homes will probably always be temporary for me. There is a struggle within me to learn how to make "home" lighter, to travel more easily. I enjoy creating home and making home inviting for myself and others. I am moving into the concept of doing that more and more with local materials and not so much with taking home with me.

My hope for the Nile Theological College is that at some point down the line we will be able to move into a more adequate facility for a college. We are blessed that we are being hosted by a local Christian school in Malakal, and just as with a host home, it isn't quite our own. I am learning both in my own personal life and in my communal teaching life to be something like the Israelis of the Hebrew/Old Testament who were kept on the move for so many years, finding God as their true home.

So here I sit on a coach as I type this blog. I am surrounded by the supplies that I have been purchasing, and some that have been gifts, over the last few months while I have been "home" in the states. I have plastic trunks (only to be found at Walmart as far as I have seen) and a limit of 50 pounds for each trunk. Pretty hard to figure out what 50 pounds is....books and cooking supplies seem to be the most important items to take this time around. Somehow when I went to China in 2007 I didn't think to take kitchen things and my apartment was indeed fully supplied (although I went and got my own dishes because I didn't like the mismatched lot in the kitchen there). I never asked about the kitchen in Khartoum in 2009 and yet it was indeed fully furnished. This time I have inquired ahead in 2011 and I know that I won't have anything in the kitchen, except running water and that is a huge plus in South Sudan! So I am taking from the United States what I can anticipate needing....I may publish a book someday with a list of everything that I took to set up house in Malakal!

I have had major moves in 2007, 2009 and now 2011. I pray that I will be able to settle down for a few years now and dive joyfully into the work that the Lord has made for me. For Just Such a Time as This I am being sent to Malakal in the newest country in the world, the Republic of South Sudan. Our God is an awesome God and I am awesomely joyous that I will be going soon to my new home and to continue my work and be with my well loved students and colleagues once again. I know that the heat will be there and I will face on a daily basis the challenges of living in a less developed town and country. I also know that I will have to daily draw on Jesus' strength to see me through the trials. And yes, there will be trials.

Somehow I have to get the 500 pounds of going home into the ten pieces of luggage. If there is more than 500 pounds then they may not be going home with me. I am praying now for patience and fortitude. If I can do this job and do it well it will make my homecoming easier. Not easy, but easier. I need to be able to eat, to clean up in the kitchen, to wash my hair and take my medications and vitamins. I need to have the things with me that I require to keep my body, mind and spirit healthy. I seem to require different things as a North American than my African brothers and sisters. So I have to haul with me those differences. That's okay.

That's just okay. That is just fine.
Blessings,
Debbie

Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Good Reads book review of Karen Armonstrong's "Islam"

"Islam: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles)" by Karen Armstrong.

As usual a well written book by the author....condensing a mass of information down to a readable document. Since I don't know much about Islam I can only assume that she has written factually and knowledgeably. Her descriptions of fundamentalism, whether Muslim or Christian or Jewish, were very helpful to me. She says that fundamentalism is a reaction to modernism....modernism being that which diminishes traditional and core values. When fundamentalism is the response/reaction the core values of all religions such as compassion and tolerance are overridden by the struggle to survive. I found this to be a helpful explanation. A helpful read, I recommend it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

passive and active solar and a multitude of other things.....r

Dear Friends,
Greetings from the New Wilmington Mission Conference! I am in New Wilmington Pennsylvania this week on the beautiful campus of the New Wilmington College....it is a Presbyterian college and has small versions of the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. It is hot and humid here, although thankfully the last couple of days have been cooler than the first day, Friday, was.

I preached on Sunday at the Bell Memorial Church in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. What a wonderful church that was! The people like each other! They were friendly and encouraging to me and it was obvious that they put mission at the center of their mutual life together as the church. They are involved in many projects locally such as raised beds for growing produce that is donated to the local food bank. Someone had gone far beyond the call of duty to create and provide a bulletin board that featured pictures I have used in monthly newsletters of both the North and the South of Sudan and the display had a Sudanese shirt and even currency from the North!

This was a people who had a good grasp on the challenges, and opportunities, that I will be facing in the South when I return to a new country and village in August. I will continue in the same work in a new place. I will face the challenge of electricity 12 hours a day, during the evening. This means figuring out how to remain cool during the long hot days in Malakal. Because electricity will not necessarily be consistently available I also have to have alternative ways to cook, light the house, provide a breeze to combat the heat, and power my computer as much of my work involves internet and word processing, among other challenges.

I have heard that alternate sources of cooking fuel such as propane are possibly in short supply because the government of the north in Sudan is making crossing the border difficult for those who would promote trade between the two countries. Sudan, in the north, is the primary source for propane and other fuel sources. I will be taking a solar cooker and black enamelware cooking pot with me, these of course will only work on bright sunny days so I must come up with other ways to cook as well....propane, kerosene and electric being three of these.

When I lived in Khartoum I was able to obtain bottled water so I didn't have to worry about purifying water. This will not be so in South Sudan. The Nile Theological College has a Katedyn water purifier system that should be waiting for me in the south, and I have obtained a portable solar system for using the sun to kill the bacteria in the water as well.

Shenango Presbytery has heeded my call for help in obtaining a solar generator and is in the process of fundraising for one. I am grateful indeed for this partnership! This would enable me to use one of the most consistent and readily available natural resources of South Sudan -- the sunshine! -- to provide for my fuel needs in cooking, lighting, cooling, etc.

I have learned about both passive and active solar heating and cooling during this time in Pennsylvania. At one of my host homes I learned that passive solar is used in places that do not have enough year round sunshine to rely on solar energy alone. Passive solar means that the people who design a home take advantage of what sunshine energy there is and make up the difference between their energy needs and what is available through solar with another power source such as electricity. Large windows are put on the south side of a home, with smaller ones on the other sides. There can be coils put under the flooring in areas where water flows if a person chooses to heat some of their water with solar. Another design feature can be a double vacuum door. This is where there are two entrance doors with an area between them. A person enters the first door and when that door is closed then enters the home through the second door. It is similar to the function of layering clothes in the colder climates, the air is trapped between the layers....in this case the heat is not allowed into the home and in the winter the cold is not allowed in.

In an active solar situation solar panels on the roofs of homes are used. When I was in Sacramento, California earlier this year my host home had solar panels. The water was heated with solar and much of the electricity came from solar. The solar is off of the power grid and my hostess only paid for the electricity which was used from the grid when the solar power didn't generate enough energy for her needs. She had small electric bills.

I look forward to the day that solar is a main source of the power in the world. We will probably always have to rely on other sources of power as well, particularly in countries in the north because sunshine is simply not plentiful enough to supply all of the needs people may have, or think that we have.

New Wilmington is in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. I had not seen a horse and buggy with Amish people inside before this week, well perhaps in pictures....I have heard that the furniture that is available here in amazing as it is handmade by the Amish. I have also heard that they grow wonderful organic produce. I must admit that I admire them for maintaining a style of life that, to me, appears to be very difficult when there is such abundance of cars, electricity, cell phones and other modern conveniences surrounding them. I may live a similar lifestyle to theirs in South Sudan but it isn't like I will be surrounded by the conveniences of the United States....so I do have an admiration for that ability to steer a course that they believe in and adhere to it.

The music here at the New Wilmington Mission Conference is remniscent to me of the Prayer and Praise at the Lutheran Bible Institute (Trinity Lutheran College) when I was a student there. So many familiar praise songs. I do believe that there needs to be a mix of praise worship (contemporary) and traditional hymns. Our traditional hymns as the church universal are important to keep alive in both our hearts and in practice, many of them are treasures of theology. I become concerned when all or most of the music at church sponsored or church related events is modern. We do need to support our contemporary musicians, artists and liturgical dancers, etc., and at the same time we need to be sure that our heritage and tradition is not lost to the coming generations. At the Bell Memorial Presbyterian Church this past Sunday I was so happy to experience both a worship team with modern songs and then, later in the service, a beautiful traditional hymn from days gone by.
Blessings,
Debbie

Saturday, July 16, 2011

American Culture

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I am entering into my third day here in Pennsylvania in the United States. I have the blessing of a morning to myself in a peaceful home with wireless internet.

I am enjoying the rolling hills and compact, rounded trees of Pennsylvania. I have been in this state two or three times now and each time am struck by the differences between the rolling hills here and the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. The are both beautiful in their own ways....for me the mountains will always be home.

Yesterday I was able to visit a Presbyterian Church Camp in those rolling hills of Pennsylvania. The camp is located on a large piece of very beautiful property. Tranquil and serene are the words with which I choose to describe this church camp. Of course the scene at the swimming pool was not tranquil and serene -- squealing children, lots of splashing and yelling, and, dare I say, joyous goings on and music made to the Lord? However, the rest of the property was tranquil and serene.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday which led me to reflect on several things....those things are what I am going to share with you today in this blog.

It is possible that around the year 2000 a cultural shift began to happen in the United States. Now, probably some of this was taking place before the year 2000 and certainly it has continued since the year 2000. For a long time our society has been transitioning towards being mobile and, well, temporary. People take a promotion with a job and the whole family moves across a state or across the country. I heard on television about a new scheme being considered for corporations whose employees must frequently relocate; having the employees rent their homes. Then there would be a network of homes for rent across the United States, fully ready for new occupants to move in with just suitcases. Somehow takes the punch line out of giving our kids wings and --- what is that word????? -- ROOTS??????

In having our lives become essentially rootless things are disappearing like, for instance, neighborhoods. Now people just happen to live on a street with other people. The idea of children growing up in the same home with a neighborhood full of other children, their best friends and playmates, who they know all of their growing up years, is becoming a thing of the past.

As I was having this conversation which, on the surface, was related to the shrinking enrollment for Church Camps, I realized some different things.

The face, and the depths, of America are changing. Our values are changing as well. I understand from listening to other people that in perhaps the 50's and 60's (of the 1900s) church tended to be a cultural thing, that was what people did on Sunday mornings, they went to church. Then perhaps later in the century it became that people made a real choice to go to church on Sunday mornings because that was where they really wanted to be. Church held meaning for them. They weren't going to another country club, they were going home.

Church attendance is shrinking now, for a variety of reasons, and so is Church Camp. America's soul is being eaten and occupied by material wealth and consumption. Neighborhoods are rare these days. The kind of neighborhoods where kids grow up together and there is a weiney roast on the 4th of July.

Sports have become King, as far as I hear. There is now a competition for soccer and other sports on Sunday mornings. As I listened to the other person involved in this conversation at the Church Camp yesterday I found myself thinking, someone is making $. Someone is making money, and lots of it. If sports and other camps which are almost required, even though no one would say that out loud, to "fit" in, someone is making money. Sports and consumption are competing with God in American society. MONEY is competing with God, with Jesus Christ, in American society. I kid you not.

The way has been found to undermine relationships. We are kept on the go. We are earning more money and becoming slaves to the jobs which move us to other cities in other states and keep our relationships from developing into RELATIONSHIPS. We are not encountering the Risen Lord in the idolatry of making money, of fitting into American culture and therefore we see no need to send our children to Church Camp where American culture might have a chance of being undermined. OUR lifestyle might be undermined. And by golly, we can't have that! Now, it wouldn't happen by someone verbally attacking capitalism, although that could happen. It would happen because children might encounter God for themselves.

They might encounter God for themselves away from the noise of American consumption and away from the idolatry of Sunday morning sports. They might HEAR God in the quiet places at camp. I found that there were a lot of quiet places at the Church Camp in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. All it took was walking a little ways from the swimming pool and there was plenty of quiet. There were plenty of places to commune with Jesus Christ and discover the he is more important than the money that someone is making by transforming our American society into a transitional, rootless, sports loving, belly gazing country.

While we cannot produce an encounter for someone with the Living God, we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit in helping to create spaces for that encounter. It is the work, the job so to speak, of the Holy Spirit to encounter. I saw the "dorms" for the youth at the Church Camp. I was overwhelmed. Those dorms, while extremely frugal to American youth would be considered luxurious to my Sudanese students in South Sudan. My students often have to ride 2 1/2 to 3 hours EACH way to the college on a bus and are as likely to go to a home with no electricity as they are to go to one without. More likely actually. To have a simple dorm with a bunk bed and a kitchen area on the campus of the Nile Theological College in Malakal, South Sudan, would be a miracle. The money that we Americans spend on buildings and structures in the United States is so extravagant, it was a relief to me to see a simple dorm at the Church Camp. Even so I am quite certain that a Refugee Camp anywhere in the world would never look so good.

The youth at the Church Camp aren't allowed to have MP3 players, cell phone, computers or tvs. The space is created for an encounter. The possibility exists.

I wonder if that possibility ever exists for their parents.
Blessings,
Debbie

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taking Responsibility

Dear Friends,
The last couple of days I have come to see a pattern in the way that governments relate to their predecessor governments. There is a certain period of "grace" when, for instance, the Obama Administration could "blame" the former Bush Administration for many of its woes because it was clear to all involved that those woes were inherited. Wars, economic problems, a devastating recession. The time has come and gone when the Obama Administration is responsible for its own course and can no longer blame its predecessor administration. It must now take responsibility for its own leadership and policies.

In a similar way I have noticed that the newest country in the world, and Africa's 54th country, South Sudan, has acknowledged that as of Saturday the 9th of July, 2011, its problems can no longer be blamed on the government of President al-Bashier in Khartoum, Sudan in the north.
I will say however that I think that the condition the country is in that the new government of South Sudan is an indictment on the governance of the government in Khartoum.

Until this past Saturday South Sudan was a part of the largest country in Africa, the Sudan. Had Sudan wanted to make unity with the south of Sudan a priority, and an attractive priority at that, it might have invested resources in developing the south. It might have chosen not to engage in two civil wars with south, intentionally bombing the infrastructure of the south. The government in Khartoum bombed hospitals, schools, civilian areas including homes, police stations and military compounds. Khartoum was attempting to bring the south to its knees and force the south to remain part and parcel with the north. Strange way to bring compliance, isn't it? It tried to do this by being abusive.

Injustice. South Sudan is a green and fertile region. Yet as a result of years of having her natural resources exploited for use by the north and her people forced into slavery to satisfy the labor needs of the north; as a result of having little or none of the oil revenues which were taken in by the north invested into her people; the new nation of South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Approximately 80% of females in South Sudan are illiterate. A girl child in Sudan is more likely to be married by age 14 than to be in school and it is highly likely that she will have endured female genital cutting. So while South Sudan is a green and potentially fertile area, potentially a bread basket for Western Africa, at this moment in time she is infertile because of the lack of care shown to her by the north. The north has not invested in her, loved her or shared her riches with her.

Now, at some point very soon South Sudan will have to take full responsibility for the condition of her citizens. At some point she can no longer blame, or indict, the north for the goings on in the south which is now an independent and sovereign nation.

South Sudan has some major challenges. Among them are: fighting corruption. There is tribalism run rampant in South Sudan, members of tribes side with one another and fight with one another. Attitudes have been formed in the bush and not in the civilian ranks. In the bush the leader is the one to whom all things are given, the leaders in South Sudan are not used to giving to other people what is rightfully theirs. Along with health care, education, and coming to understand what cultural practices are harmful as well as the value of girl children and women, South Sudan has its hands full. May God be with her and may the international community and the South Sudanese ex-patriots who have benefited from living out of the country be with her as well.
Blessings,
Debbie


Monday, July 11, 2011

Jesus' Yoke Is Light

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I figured out a few weeks ago what this Bible verse is talking about. Come to me all you weary and burden laden. Let me share with you because my yoke is light and you will no longer be tired.

I realized that for me it means I can stop worrying. I have nothing to worry about. Let Jesus' take that burden from me and I will take his yoke.....to take his yoke means to trust him. No one ever said to be a Christ Follower was going to be easy and at the same time I think I know now some of how it is supposed to "work". Being a Reformed Christian of course I know I can't work my way to salvation, but that's the point. If I am working, and worry is work, then I am trying to do things that are not mine to carry. I am taking on the burden of the world and not the yoke of Jesus.
Blessings,
Debbie