Monday, June 20, 2011

Reflections on ministry and the Holy Spirit.

June 19, 2011

Dear Friends,

Greetings. I have been in Oregon now for three days. Friday I arrived in the morning at the Portland airport and spend the day with Wycliffe missionaries at their home. I also had the joy of a long nap. I do not deal well with jet lag and by the time I got to Oregon around 11:00 in the morning I had been up since 4:00 a.m. Eastern Time which was 1:00 a.m. Pacific Time. I was pretty darn tired!

Saturday morning was a time for a presentation in an intimate group at Jim and Louise’s home. I was asked to share my story, and to start at the beginning. So they heard it!

Saturday I was taken out to lunch at Bob’s Red Mill, different than the Red Mill in Seattle. I was in organic flour heaven! It turns out that not only is it a natural foods restaurant it is also a natural foods grocery store. I was able to find sought after vegetable broth powder to put in recipes in Sudan that call for chicken broth.

Saturday night was spent with another host family, a second career pastor and his wife. It was wonderful to hear the stories of how God has worked in their lives bringing them to a time of a new ministry after retirement.

Today has been a blessed time of preaching and “camp”. This morning I preached at a small church in Portland. I am preaching one sermon for all of the itineration times as there is not time to write a new one for each Sunday. I also am preaching one that I preached in the chapel at the Nile Theological College in Khartoum. I want to give the congregations a flavor of what it would be to hear a North American ordained woman through the lens of a Sudanese man or woman.

This morning I felt a different voice in the preaching. This was the voice of the teacher, the one who makes the bridge between the listener (the student) and God’s Word. It was the voice of the one introducing uncomfortable and radical thoughts and trying to keep God’s actions in the world accessible though possibly foreign.

The Holy Spirit was strongly present in the service and the congregation felt it as well. We had trod on Holy Ground.

This afternoon I was whisked away from Portland and brought to a Presbyterian Church camp in the woods. This is the first week of camp for the summer and the program this first week is for Middle Schoolers.

As always when I come someplace in the mountains surrounded by trees I think of Buck Creek in the Cascades mountain range in Washington state. That camp has since passed out of Presbyterian camps but was formative in my own youth and in the childhoods of my two children.

There was a campfire tonight that I chose to attend. I was absolutely freezing with my African top and jean skirt, someone was so kind as to find me a camp t-shirt with long sleeves and it helped some, but let me tell you it is cold at night in the woods!

The flames of the fire reminded me of my years at Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) in Issaquah, Washington. At the Providence Point site there was a wooded area near “the loop” (a paved road that went around most of the multi acred property). The area had a campfire pit and rough wooden benches lined up the way that such things are at campsites. Tonight as my guide and I approached the campfire I was reminded that these times of fellowship, singing, story telling and fires are also times of faith formation. That is what I experienced at LBI (now Trinity Lutheran College) and what I hope the young people who are at this camp this week will also experience.

Community away from the formal setting of a church building forms faith in different way. This community is perhaps more wholistic, just as the community is where I teach in South Sudan. Bible Colleges, church camps, mission trips, provide a 24/7 experience of eating together, singing together, worshipping together, talking together. Praying together. Hearing God speak in community for a longer stretch than Sunday morning service. With those of us for whom relationship is a major faith vehicle, spending time in community, soaked in community, away from other distractions, can be a way for God to speak to us that may not happen in other settings.

I realized tonight at the campfire that this has been a special and powerful day. It has been a gentle powerful, not an overwhelming powerful. Kind of like the movement of the Holy Spirit this morning through the sermon. Gentle, not overwhelming.

The Apostle Paul experienced Jesus Christ in an overwhelming bee sting kind of way. My own experience of Jesus Christ has been in a gentle rosebud opening slowly over time way. Jesus knows that not everyone is capable of enduring the flame of overwhelming. On the other hand, not everyone has the patience for the gentle rosebud.

Tomorrow I have 45 minutes with the kids. I’m taking pictures of my students in Africa and I will tell their stories. I will tell the story of how God in Jesus Christ got me to Africa and the story of God in Jesus Christ is working in the lives of my student.

We will also pray. Sudan is on fire today. South Sudan will (hopefully) be declaring independence from the north of Sudan on July 9th, 2011. There are forces in Sudan that are not happy about this separation. There are many battles being waged against the civilian populations of Sudan. Prayer is needed. Against this backdrop of human pain and suffering is the story of hope. My students are that story.




Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Prep time....

Dear Friends,

Greetings. As I spend my time in Louisville, Kentucky focused on preparations for returning to Africa I have learned a few things.

What will soon be South Sudan is considered a hardship post. This not only means that there are what, to an American, seem to be very basic living conditions, it also means that even just getting there to begin one’s work is hard. It takes more work.

Some of this is because there is not an infrastructure to speak of in a country that has been torn apart by almost 50 years of civil war. Looking the last few days at pictures and readers journalistic renditions of what is happening in Sudan in general I realize that it is very hard to focus on things like getting an education when most of the llife’s energy is spent trying to find something to eat every day.

Therefore, there is very little infrastructure. This means that there is no easy way for foreigners to get money to the south for daily expenses. There are no banks in Malakal, where I will be living. Because of the border disputes with Khartoum in the north of Sudan there are many road closures. The cost of gasoline has risen and this means that food prices are going up and there are severe food shortages in many areas. The water in Sudan is not drinkable, at least not for an ex-patriot from the United States. I must plan ahead as to how to obtain clean drinking water and what food to take in order to be able to eat while I am learning the lay of the land when I arrive in my new home.

There is a shortage of electricity. In the area where I will live in Malakal there may be 12 hours of electricity per day. I am having to learn about inverters, rechargeable batteries and solar cooking. I am taking a battery operated fan with me and will need to look for a solar powered flashlight.

There are limited supplies of things like shampoo, no one I’ve spoken to has seen conditioner so I am having to take in my own supplies of those personal essentials. African hair is different than Western hair and so it makes sense that the stores in this little town would not have the kind of hair products that I need.

I’ve been told that there is no hand lotion to be had in Malakal. So I am taking my own supplies of lotion, feet become very dry and flaky in the African climate. There are probably few doctors and no dentists where I am going so I am investigating where I can find services when I need them.

Some of this looking ahead is because eventually I will be returning to a first world country and I will need to keep myself in a physical condition to be able to return with grace. An analogy would be this: I used to wonder why missionaries sent their children to ex-patriot schools instead of to school with the local children to whom they ministered. At some in Khartoum I realized it is because the missionary kids need to be prepared to re-enter, or enter for the first time, their first culture, the culture of their first tongue. Those young people may choose to go to college in the United States, they may choose to follow God’s call on their lives in the United States. In order for that to be an option for them they must be able to relate to the academic curriculum that other children who are in school in the United States are experiencing.

My issues are something like that. While I am spending a significant amount of my adult life in other countries, I must be prepared for the time when I will return to the culture of my first tongue, to the United States.

In a sense I have a foot in both worlds. I am living and serving in Africa, and yet I must always remember that to some degree the United States is the home to which I will return when God calls me back there. In advance preparation for that time I care for myself as if I was in the United States to the best of my ability in a country that is far, far different from my own.

I hope it is helpful for me to share some of my journey in this time of preparation for my return to Sudan. It is a time of trails and exhaustion. What keeps me going forward is knowing that God is sending me to South Sudan for Such a Time as This. I have an assignment and the Lord is providing me with the means to fulfill that assignment. God has given me a strong love for my students and that is my driving force.



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

This is the 100th BLOG!

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I am watching CNN in my apartment at the Furlough Home at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am missing advertisements for Abu Dhabi, Egypt, UAE, etc., on Al Jazeera television that was available to me in Khartoum, Sudan. I am certainly becoming more informed about political issues in the United States however!

I have just under two months now until I return to Africa on August 2nd. I have collected a battery operated fan for the hot days without electricity in Malakal in the south of Sudan, as well as ordering a basic solar stove and a bag to purify water through solar heat. I find it ironic that the batteries which will power the fan will have to be recharged at night with electricity. I wish that solar was more advanced at this point in history. I think it is a cutting edge and has not been developed to a point of daily use yet. I do trust that in due time it will be as common and reliable a technology as electricity. In countries such as Sudan where solar heat is plentiful most of the year, I hope it will become a widely used and free form of power and fuel after an initial investment for solar equipment. In places in the world where there is not yet electricity, solar could well be the next step in creating a powered infrastructure.

I also have a mosquito net tent coming to me via UPS. The malaria bearing mosquitos are rampant in Africa and South Sudan will be full of the pesky creatures. Learning that I will need to sleep under netting in order to avoid the ailment I began to question if a tent might exist. I feel claustrophobic under netting and was thrilled to learn that yes, tents do exist. The one I will take with me to Africa has coverage quite a ways up the sides because mosquitos can bite through netting. It also has a zipped front so I can easily get in and out. I don't know if my bed will fit into the tent or if the tent will have to sit on the bed, but I feel better already knowing that I will be protected from mosquitos and all sorts of crawling insects and rodents....

The solar equipment and the mosquito tent were given to me by friends in Sacramento. I am very grateful for their care.

I'll write again soon and let you know how the preparations are coming. Please be aware that there is a great deal of military conflict in Sudan in the Nuba Mountains right now and keep the Sudanese people in your prayers.

Friday, June 3, 2011

God's Mercies

Dear Friends,
Greetings! The last few days have been filled with God's mercies fresh every day.

I continue to be in a time of transition as I take care of medical needs, do itineration and prepare for my return to Africa. God continues to speak to me through other people and through circumstances.

One person recently told me that she feels God is looking out for me. Another person recently gave me an option that I had not thought of for a situation. I could feel God speaking to me through her words. The dental work that I need before I go back to Africa was unaffordable for me in Seattle and yet here in Louisville it is more so. God is merciful and faithful.

I believe, help my unbelief. In times of stress I continue to need to pray this short little prayer many times a day. It is short and potent. It is potent because it is so honest. I believe. Honestly Jesus, I do believe. Help my unbelief. Help me when I fall short in belief and have trouble trusting your plan because I cannot see that plan. I need to start adding, "thank you for loving me no matter what the circumstances. Thank-you for caring for my physical as well as emotional and spiritual well-being." Amen.