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 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....

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 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 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.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Living Conditions

Dear Friends,

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!

Monday, August 8, 2011

theological reflections

Dear Friends,
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.

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.