Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quilting prisms together....

Dear Friends,
I am discovering that is a rewarding as well as exhausting feat to teach cross-culturally. Today in Theology II class (Sin & Salvation) I realized that I needed to find out what, within the cultural context of my students) the meaning of the word Sin is for them. I first introduced three viewpoints of sin: Reformed (corporate and about God’s work in us); Catholic (original sin) and Evangelical (personal and an individual choice for salvation). Then we had something to base our discussion on.

I was really glad I asked. It appears that Africa has been highly influenced by missionary theology and is in the original sin camp. So I explained that I see things from a Reformed perspective and very much emphasize social justice and structural sin. So while I will not tell them how to think, they must sort this out for themselves, I will indeed be presenting material from my own bias even though I will try to give them information from the other viewpoints as well.

Perhaps it is this way with all teaching. I just happen to keenly feel the need to know about viewpoint as a white American teaching black Africans, and primarily men at that. I do not want to teach in an unexamined way, that is, as if only my own viewpoint exists. That could be very confusing for the students, as well as invalidating, and also incorrect.

I realized in class today that our discussions are circular. A student will pose a question. Then other students will reflect on a possible answer. Then I put in my understanding. Then another student will ask a question and then same thing again. The more the questions that are asked and the more the reflection, the more clarity comes. It is a group project really. Together, all of us, are stitching a quilt. A quilt seen from many prisms, because each person contributes something unique of their own and it grows into a gift from the group to all of us.

One of our conclusions today was that God called Abraham and sent him out because God created Abraham for this purpose. We also realized just how missional the Old Testament is by looking at Abraham’s Call and Send narrative alongside The Great Commission where Jesus Call and Sends all Christians.

We talked about a wide range of subjects today in this our first Theology II class. I was happy to know that most of the areas the students wish to touch upon have been covered in the syllabus. We will talk about economic justice and ecological justice. We
will talk about alcoholism and the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and we will talk about healing from the wounds of trauma (such as a generation or two of civil war), as well as the training that is needed for counselors.

It is good to be in the classroom again!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dust Bowl and other thoughts....

Dear Friends,

Life is different here in Malakal. It is intentional. It is slow. Everything takes a long time. Some of this is because without a car I must walk just about everywhere. Not as many different tasks can be accomplished in one day as at "home" in Seattle. Of course I also don't have to deal with things like, say, cleaning the oven. Because I have no oven. I do have to cope with never ending sand in this, the dry season.

I have never seen sand like this before. Blowing. Everywhere. My tear ducts have sand in them. My clothes have to be shaken out before wearing them.

I understand the term "The Dust Bowl" now, from the Great Depression in the United States. When the land turned to dust. Yes, it really does. Turn to dust.

Today I must walk to the college to see the Academic Dean. Then I must walk to the bank to see if the wire transfer from Seattle has been deposited into my account yet. These two locations are on opposite ends of the town. I won't be walking on sidewalks. They don't exist here in Malakal. Only the sides of the streets. Most people walk in the middle of the streets because that is where it is flat and easier to walk. The sides are full of potholes and mountain ranges. I think it is because the grading equipment that evens the center of the roads out does not extend far enough to smooth out the sides as well.

Dust poofs up with every step. I totally understand now why Jesus wanted to wash the feet of the disciples and they didn't need a full bath. The feet here become filthy. At least mine do. Dust caked on. Everything dries out on the skin. Lots and lots of lotion gets used and still the skin gets dry. Glasses give some protection to the eyes, thank goodness. I've noticed that after just a few minutes my glasses look as though they haven't been washed.

I worshipped Sunday in the small Nuer congregation near the college where I have decided to belong. The female pastor said that now that I have been there twice on my own (without being invited to preach) that they know that I belong to them fully....I was invited to preach next week and reluctantly asked if I could hold off on that as I begin teaching this week and will not have time to do a sermon justice.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, is Opening Day at the college for the Spring Semester term, 2012. Wednesday the Concentrated Courses begin. For at least the first five days I will have to walk the 15-30 minutes to the college from where I am currently living, and the same back later in the day. If I am able to move on February 1 then my walk will shortened by over 2/3rds! Then I will have to start using my exercise machine to get my 45 minutes a day of exercise!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

It's the small things....

Dear Friends,
Today the power came on for about two hours in the middle of the day. I got to lie in bed reading with a LIGHT! I got to have the fan on sending somewhat cooler air over me and the soothing rhythm of the sound of its whirring was a delight to my ears.

I realized that most of us in the developed world don't realize how special these things that we take for granted are -- electricity at the flick of a switch, rarely failing us.

Today Malakal was: long walks. I walked to one bank and then I walked to another bank. I bought peanuts and sesame cakes from a young boy. He shows his appreciation by giving me five cakes when I have only paid for four. I felt guilty until someone told me he wouldn't do that if he couldn't afford to.

I walked home a different way from the second bank. Dust, dust is everywhere. I saw the back of a grown man in a nice suit as he peed in a ditch. I was stunned, why I don't know, I saw fairly old kids pee and poop in the open in China.

A man asked me why I wasn't in a car. It was hot and dusty and I was walking. He probably thought I was with an NGO (Non Governmental Organization) as they are prolific in most places in South Sudan and other parts of Africa as well. I said I am with the church and I don't have a car.

Wire transfers from banks in the United States apparently take longer here in Africa. The bank in the US said the money would be in my Malakal account today. The bank in Malakal says it will be next Monday. Life is slower here. It just is.

It is slower here. And it involves lots of waiting. I got used to that in Israel/Palestine and in China. In Israel/Palestine people couldn't make specific time commitments because of the amount of unpredictable time involved with going through checkpoints. In China there was always chaos in the hospital, at the pharmacy and the banks. Whoever could shove the most got served first. In Malakal in my own bank it appears chaotic, whole groups of people sitting and no "take a number" system. However I have discovered that under the apparent chaos is actually structure. The workers in the bank go back and forth between people. No one gets upset if they are sitting in the Bank Manager's Office and someone else comes in and sits down too. Even I am learning not to get upset:) Eventually everyone has their request listened to. In the United States one person gets the full attention of the employee until they leave the bank. Here five people at a time might get attention. And somehow the business gets done; gets transacted.

I have also discovered in the banks in Malakal that if I don't have a routine transaction, like taking money out of my account, that I can go directly to the managers. They don't seem to mind. I don't have to wait in line for an hour to get redirected to another person. That is kinda nice.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Brief Day...or a Brief on a Day....

Dear Friends,
Greetings from dusty, dusty Malakal! Today I found out that a gas station isn't always a gas station! Sometimes it is a can of gas at a cans of gas store and is poured into the gas tank with a for business, it is one way to get fuel.

My houseguest and colleague and I were driven to all sorts of places in Malakal that I had not seen before today by the church driver, Peter. We were trying to locate the place where NGO, church worker types sign up so that if there is an evacuation we can be evacuated by the United Nations. In this respect Malakal is very similar to China. One must expect to spend time looking for places and not have appointments backed up to the adventure.

Directions can be nebulous, meaning that they point to a general direction and not, perhaps, to a specific location. Only by visiting several destinations in a general direction can one find the specific location. It was like that today. One hopes that ultimately one will end up in the correct building. It was the correct the building although it turns out that there are other buildings and NGOs that must be visited BEFORE we can sign up at the United Nations building where we first began. Confusing? It is just Africa....

I should have had breakfast, that might have helped:)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sorrow and Joy!

Dear Friends,
Greetings from dusty, dusty Malakal! Today has had many walks in it which would surely thrill my female doctor in the states and the male cardio doctor in least none of them were done in intense heat.

My student who is helping me in the renting of the house which I hope to move to at the end of January or early February gave me great encouragement today. We had walked towards the college to meet with another student whose father owns the house. On the way back to my current home we passed many young women. I found myself wondering what their fates would be in life. Were they to marry young and spend their lives cooking on charcoal stoves for the many children which they would begin to bear very quickly after their marriage? Young women who have not been exposed to anything else but what their culture dictates don't even know that there are options for them out there, that we live in a big and international world.

My student began to talk of encouraging girls to sign up for the Diploma Program at the Nile Theological College where I teach and where he is a student. I suggested that they sign up for the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Theology degree programs....I think that he is saying they may be intimidated by a four year program for now. Perhaps the place to start IS with the three year Diploma Program and then encourage them to go on for the BA or BTH and to encourage those that follow on their shoulders to go into the degree programs.

God has sent me a student in this young man who understands that this culture and society is not naturally encouraging of the development of women, young or more mature, into strong and independent people. The culture does not encourage the cultivation of their minds or thought processes. This young student is indeed a great encouragement to me!

I then said that after we have more female students then we must see to it that the church begins to ordain them! Yes. As a speaker at the previous semester's Opening Conference said, "If you give the women a reason to come, they will come!"

Please pray for God to open wide the gates of this Theological College to female students. Please pray that God will open wide the eyes of those in the community whose encouragement for the women will be necessary in order for them to seek an education. This seeking will be an indication that the Kin-dom of God is at hand!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wow! Half way through January!

Dear Friends,
Greetings from dusty Malakal.....! I am doing well in my little town. I have a houseguest for now, a fellow Presbyterian Co-Worker, Sharon, who is staying with me. She is teaching me things like the art of making charcoal fires and cooking over said fire. I have "suddenly" become a huge advocate of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls! I say, "let them learn these important survival skills before they grow up and need them!"

I worshipped today at the church where I have chosen to be in community. It is a small Nuer church with a woman pastor. I was made to feel very, very welcome. I hope to be moving to a new home by the end of the month and this church is quite close to the new home. For this morning getting there included a 20 minutes walk and then some more after I was met by a friend who showed me the way. When I had gone before to preach we went by taxi and I had not a clue how to get to the building.

The church is in a small neighborhood and I discovered this morning it is very close to a branch of the Nile River! I believe it may be the White Nile that is here in this part of South Sudan. The White Nile and the Blue Nile join in Khartoum, Sudan, I have taken pictures of that joining. But today's sighting was of one of the branches. There were naked people taking baths in the river so I did not go close up.....if someone has no source of water at home and getting water to said home would be a major undertaking, then bathing in a nearby river seems to be a good solution.

In my new home I will have a source of water, however I will have no water inside of the house itself. This is going to take some getting used to. There is an outdoor building with two rooms, one of which has a traditional toilet and the other is simply a big room with a drain, meant to be, I assumed, a bucket bath (aka shower) room. I have asked if the owner would install an actual shower in it and a Western type toilet seat on the traditional toilet. I think that jumping from the frying pan into the fire all at once as far as living more Sudanese might be too much for me.

I will have my solar cooking, electricity at night as I am still in the area of Malakal which receives electric, and I am learning to cook with charcoal on a charcoal burner. It is somewhat similar to a barbecue in the states, it has been suggested to me to stock up on three or four bags of it during the rainy season as it won't be available then. The wood is too wet during rainy season to be able to burn it for charcoal. I have learned that charcoal is a major cause of deforestation because the wood is burned to create it. I am also figuring out that coal is a totally different product as it is dug out of the deep earth. I am not particularly happy about contributing to deforestation, however there have to be alternatives if electricity is not available and the sun is not bright/hot enough.

I think that Malakal is getting more used to myself and Sharon. We are being greeted by more people as we walk to market and walk about the town. It can be nice to be remembered. The children also seem more comfortable in talking with us. It will be strange to be here alone again when Sharon leaves, perhaps it is all the better than I am moving to a new home and will have something to keep me busy for a while, besides teaching too!, making it into a home. I have dreams of cushions on the floor of the veranda, which will be my living room and office, and pictures somehow gotten on the walls. I looked for furniture today. It is very high priced in the market so I am going to have to find another way of obtaining it. In Khartoum I probably could have put the word out and found used furniture to buy from another ex-pat, there was a lot of passing around of homes and furnishings there. There was also a much larger ex-pat community, more like the size that was in Nanjing, China when I was there.