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.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

By request the sermon 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!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


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!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Bank

Dear Friends,

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!