Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What will the neighbor's think???? :)

Dear Friends,
Greetings! The last two days have been moving in days....moving into my new home which is much nearer to the college.

Today I had help getting my exercise machine, tall blue bookcase and solar panels there. As the kids in the neighborhood gathered around calling out "haw od ja!" (foreigner) I thought aloud, "this must be the most exciting thing that has happened around here in quite a while!" I also know that I stick out like a sore thumb having so many boxes to move in. Well, maybe not a sore thumb but it certainly sets me apart from the roaring crowd.

I am leaving for Ethiopia in the morning for just over two weeks of rest and relaxation. I’m not sure if I have ever felt so ready for that. Getting this move to happen has not been easy. And it is never a good idea, at least not for me, to be moving up to the day before I leave on a trip.

When I come back I will be living in an entirely new and different neighborhood. This is a Nuer neighborhood, one of the tribes/people groups of South Sudan and also Ethiopia. They are a Nilotic people, meaning that they live in the vicinity of the Nile River. I have learned through the experience of renting this house that there are four primary locations for the Nuer tribe in South Sudan. Nassir (of Emma’s War fame) Akobo (across the Nile River from Gambella, Ethiopia), Bentieu and Ayod, a village in the Jonglei State. I have also learned that while all Nuer are part of the same tribe there are subsets of Nuer which exist in clans. The clans consist of people who are all related to each other whereas different clans which make up the Nuer tribe may not be related to one another and may have different traditions and customs.

So this will be the street that I live on. There are no other foreigners living anywhere near me that I am aware of which will make this experience more like China than it has been so far here in Malakal. It will also be more like Khartoum as my immediate neighbors there were local people, Egyptian and Sudanese.

Today I had help looking for a table and chair for the new house. I have someone staying in the house while I am gone as I have been told it isn’t safe to leave the house without someone to keep it safe from burglary. I experienced firsthand the closure of border between Sudan and South Sudan. Khartoum, in retaliation for both the shut down of South Sudan’s oil fields and thus a large part of Sudan’s revenue, and also because South Sudan chose to separate from Sudan, has closed the border and no goods are coming into the South from Sudan in the north.

Due to two civil wars between the north and the south which lasted about 50 years with a short ten or so year reprieve, the South has no infrastructure to speak of and no industry. The South at this moment is almost totally reliant on goods and food coming in from other countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. This means that merchandise and food stuff is very expensive.

I purchased a small and short plastic table and two plastic chairs for 210 South Sudanese Pounds. With the exchange rate at generally about $1.00 U.S. dollar to 3 SSP this means that the table and two chairs cost about $70.00 USD. Unfortunately this means that my new home is not going to have much furniture in it until either prices become more reasonable or if I find that I can bring things in from Ethiopia or the United States more cheaply.
I walked to the college today from my “old” home to have breakfast and to take care of some of the last minute details of moving and also of traveling. I walked back to the old compound with another professor from the college and one of the things we discussed was our mutual concern over how ordinary South Sudanese people are surviving in these very difficult financial times. 210 SSP would be beyond the reach of many, many people in this town, let alone the prices of staple foods like rice and beans. Being a vegetarian is to my advantage because meat and chicken, etc., are very expensive and many people cannot afford to consume them at all. I am lucky that I don’t miss them.

I am planning to bring a solar stove back with me from the states next summer. I will then be able to have an integrated cooking system. I will have my two burner electric stovetop on the nights when there is electricity. On the days that there is sun and no power I will have the solar stove. I already have a charcoal stove and will use that on the days when there is no power and no sun; this is likely to be particularly true during the rainy season. I have learned that I will need to stock up on charcoal before the rainy season because when it comes the charcoal is not available. My desire is to use as little charcoal as possible because its use contributes to the issue of deforestation.

The landlord has put in a shower for me in a small room which is separate from the main house. In the adjoining small room he has put in a Western toilet in place of the original local squat toilet. Originally the shower room was an empty room designed for use with a bucket. In some manner a tank that holds water will have to be affixed to the roof of the shower room. I am sincerely hoping that this takes places before I return in March.

Just as I have had to think more deeply about where electricity comes from I have also begun wondering how flush toilets work. Where does the water come with which to flush them? It is kind of like having the luxury of a washing machine without ever giving though to how in the world the water comes in and goes out.

There is no water during the day on the property, only at night. So I will have to have a bucket of water in the toilet room to use for flushing when there is no water coming into the pipes. I don’t know yet if this will be a no toilet paper in the toilet situation....I hope the paper can flush, but if not I’ve been living in Asia and Africa and the Middle East long enough to know how it works without the paper flush!

The young boy who cleaned the furniture for me today was not happy with his work. I explained to him that he needs to have the furniture clean for his customers. There was a South Sudanese man sitting outside of the shop where the chairs were stacked. He is living in Norway and was back for a visit for two weeks. As I was talking to the young boy he acknowledged that the young people in South Sudan need guidance in how to behave. Someone told me that there are street children who are rude because they don’t know any better. The young people who come out of homes and have families are more respectful of other people.

God help this country. Please continue to pray for South Sudan on many levels. There is the damaged humanity of many people. There is the lack of roads to get things to market thus making air an expensive alternative in the places that have airstrips. Food is not grown locally which means expensive prices in the marketplace. Please pray for the people whose income is from outstripped by basic needs. Please pray that the Lord God will help us all.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Little and Mighty", a sermon.

“Little and Mighty”
2 Kings 5:1-14
Mark 10:35-45
The Nile Theological College
Spring Semester, 2012
Rev. Debbie Blane

Two Bible passages. Two stories of men who want to be the “top dog”.
Jesus’ response to them? If you want to be the “top dog” you have to take
your place in line with everyone else.

There is no such thing as top dog in Jesus’ world. Jesus wasn’t top dog either. He was a servant. And he told us that is what we, as leader’s in the church, are supposed to be too. Servants.

As I re-read the passage in 2 Kings I noted with interest that the Arameans, in one of their raids, had taken a young girl captive. The young girl who was to be the catalyst for change in this story. I thought to myself, “hmmm, that sounds a lot like South Sudan. Children being kidnapped in raids.”

The Bible always speaks to us in our own times.

The passage begins with a description of Namaan. He was a great warrior. One of the problems with Namaan, as we will find later in the story, is that he does not interpret his greatness in the same way that God does.

If he was in charge of the raids, and it sounds like he was, then this means he was also giving approval for kidnapping of young children. This was not good news for the children or for their families. It was only a benefit for the people who received free child labor in their homes and businesses.

We can create a story here out of the information we are given in the Biblical text. So I am doing to do that...create a story that puts flesh and blood and bone on the minimalist report that the Scripture gives us about this event.

A young girl had been kidnapped on one of the raids led by Namaan who was the Commander of the army of the King of Aram. She had been brought to the home of the Commander himself, Namaan, and his wife. She served Namaan’s wife.

She had been brought up in a home where she had learned to speak the truth and had learned to listen carefully to what was talked about around her. In spite of being a foreigner in a foreign land she was a young girl with a heart of love. She cared about people and wanted the best for them even when those very people had taken her far away from her own home and land and from her mother and father and sisters and brothers.

One day she was folding linens with her mistress and her mistress mentioned that she was so very sad that her husband Namaan had leprosy. Her mistress said that she wished there was a way that Namaan could be cured so that he wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in public any longer.

The young girl remembered a man who she had heard about when she was at home in her own land of Israel. She didn’t know his name but she did know that he was a prophet and that he lived in Samaria. And she knew that he had a reputation for healing people. Perhaps he could heal her mistresses’ husband.....

She spoke up and told her mistress that if only her lord was with this prophet that he might be able to heal his leprosy.

We can imagine what happened next. Perhaps the mistress began crying with joy at the thought that her husband might have a chance to be cured. Perhaps she thanked her young helper. Perhaps she ran down the hall to find Namaan and share the good news with him, “The young girl who you brought to me from the land of Israel knows of a prophet who might be able to heal you Namaan!”

Perhaps Namaan jumped right up from the work he was doing in his office, polishing his fine boots and horses’ saddle, and ran to the king, hoping beyond hope that this word could indeed be true! Could he, a great Commander, truly be healed of the leprosy that had plagued him for so long? After all, a man so great as he deserved to be cured of this horrible skin condition! Who was more worthy of this than Namaan himself, a mighty Commander of a mighty army? Scripture doesn’t tell us if he thanked the young girl for this suggestion or not....as so many of the woman in Scripture once she has made a life changing suggestion her role is over.

Namaan ran to the King of Aram and told him what the young girl from Israel had told his wife. There might be a cure! The King was probably very relieved because the leprosy probably caused Namaan to have to take more sick days than the King wanted him to!

So the King sent Namaan off to Israel to the King of Israel. The King of Aram was going through the proper diplomatic channels and dealing with the head of state who could then deal with the prophet. The prophet was way down the line of authority.

The King sent Namaan with a letter of introduction and very special gifts and no doubt explained how very valuable Namaan was to him because he was such as important Commander of his army.

The King of Israel was not terribly happy to receive Namaan, the gifts and the letter. “Grrrr!” he said! How did I get put into the middle of this mess?

Fortunately Elisha, the man of God, heard that the King of Israel was ripping his clothes up because he had been upset by this visitor. Elisha sent a message to the King of Israel. “Let the man come to me so that he can find out that there is a prophet in this land.”

Namaan went to Elisha’s gate. Namaan had his entire retinue with him. He had his horses and chariots. Can you tell that Namaan was letting people know how important he was and how rich he was? He was not a modest man either in how much money he had or in how he behaved. He was an important man and he was letting Elisha know that.

Elisha sent another message. This time it was to Namaan. “Go and wash yourself in the Jordan seven times. You will be healed.”

So, did Namaan go do this? Did he run to Jordan and wash himself seven times and rejoice in his healing?

Certainly not. Namaan was an important man. Namaan was the Commander of the King of Aran’s army. Namaan had horses and chariots. He expected Elisha to recognize all of this and treat him differently than he would treat other people. He expected Elisha to acknowledge just how important Namaan was. And Elisha didn’t.

Namaan threw a fit. “I THOUGHT THAT FOR ME he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!”

Namaan was special. Namaan was important. And Elisha didn’t acknowledge that. To Elisha, Namaan was no better and no worse, no more important than all of the rest of God’s children.

Furthermore, Namaan didn’t want to bathe in the Jordan. There were other rivers which were much more exotic. He wanted to go to one of them. He was special. Namaan turned away in a rage.

Lucky for Namaan that he had servants who were not as egotistical as he was. They could see that Namaan was not going to be cured if he continued acting like a two year old. So they reasoned with him. “If it was something difficult that Elisha asked you to do, would you not do it?” Yes, of course he would have. Something befitting his stature in life.

Instead, Elisha was treating him as Elisha would have treated any child. Simply.

Eventually Namaan went down to the Jordan river, bathed seven times, and was healed.

Do you suppose that this healing of his leprosy helped to heal him of his arrogance? In the part of this story, which we are not reading, it appears that this episode did perhaps heal him of his arrogance. It does not however tell us if he ever went back to the young girl who served his wife and thanked her. But because Elisha did not respond to Namaan’s temper tantrums and treated him like a normal person, Namaan’s arrogance was healed too.

When we turn to our passage in Mark we can see a similar story. Two of Jesus’ disciples seemed to believe that they were better than the other ten disciples and they wanted a special place for themselves at the right and the left of Jesus when he became a great military ruler.

If Namaan had lived in the time of Jesus instead of the time of Elisha, he might have heard different words than “go to the Jordan and bathe seven times and you will be healed.” He might have heard: “...whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Whether it was the wisdom of Elisha or the words of eternal life of Jesus, Namaan would have heard that he was no better than anyone else. That to be a great Commander of an army meant to be a servant of the people who worked under him. It did not mean to be pompous and to expect special treatment.

Do you know who I think is the greatest of all (besides Jesus of course!) in these two stories from our Scripture?

I think it is the nameless young girl who was taken captive in a raid by the Aramean army from her native land of Israel. She did not have to speak up about Elisha, but she did. She chose to be a servant in the truest sense of the word. Though she was the lowest person in the household, a servant and a female, she thought to care for the person who was the most powerful. She could have chosen to continue to watch him suffer. But she did not. She spoke words of life to his wife who spoke them to Namaan.

I believe that this young girl was the embodiment of Jesus’ words that the last shall be first. May she be an example to all of us of the unselfishness of servanthood. Though little she was mighty. She did not aspire to greatness and yet she was great because she truly served. More than her chores and duties to her mistress she served out of her knowledge that came from her home land, knowledge that no one else would have had. And because of this a young girl who had been ripped away from her people became good news to Namaan. And when Namaan was healed physically it appears in the rest of the story that he was healed emotionally and spiritually too. And who knows who else was healed because he was healed because she had spoken words of life.

This is redemption. God takes situations that are meant for evil and turns them into good.

Do you see yourself in this story? Which of the characters are you? The servant girl, Namaan’s wife, Namaan, The King of Aram or the King of Israel, Elisha or one of Namaan’s servants who encouraged him to learn to be humble? Whoever you are in the story you can know that God works in ALL of us. Redemption is a gift that knows no gender, class or racial boundaries. God can redeem the most humble -- and even the most arrogant!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

SOS to Mom, SOS to Mom!

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I went to the college today in order to have several of my friends and colleagues come to the rental house to help me discern what work still needs to be done on it before I can move in.

On my way to the college I heard a goat bleating. This little animal was very loud in its bleating! I figured out that it was calling to its mother! I watched as it ran, bounded would be an appropriate word as well, down the road towards its mother. Suddenly there were two little goats and they were busily finding their mother's milk underneath her body! Unfortunately my camera was buried too far inside of my backpack and I was not able to get a picture:(

This scene made me think of Jesus. Jesus talked with the disciples and the other people who followed him about the sheep who recognize the shepherd's voice. This mother goat recognized the voice of her baby goat and the baby goat knew how to find its mother.

This is so much like our God! Jesus knows our voices and tenderly comes and finds us when we are hungry for his presence. We can bound for joy in Jesus' presence and in our quest to locate where our Savior is. There is nothing like watching a visual image playing out on a dusty, unpaved road in Africa to help a Biblical truth take on flesh and bone and become a lived reality right in front of my eyes!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Teaching and it's many joys.....

Dear Friends,
Greetings from hot and dusty Malakal! I found out today that the compound on which I currently reside is directly in the path of all of the dust coming down from the Sahara. I’m pretty certain it is all of the dust in the whole world that the wind sweeps across the compound and that lands on my books, computer, cement floor and table! This morning someone told me that even just across the street from us green grass is evident. I thought that was pretty funny, the grass really is greener on the other side!

I have now completed my teaching for Theology II here at the Nile Theological College. We met, my 23 students and I, for 12 days. We had approximately three hours of class each day and learned a great deal from one another. One of the many things that I love
about teaching is that I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.

I had taught Theology I with this group of students last semester here in Malakal. I am hoping to teach them Theology III and Theology IIII and then watch them graduate. It is good to have the same students for a number of years. What I find is that as my teaching style becomes more familiar to them and as I get to know each of them better and understand their writing and learning styles better that our work can go to deeper levels because we don’t spend so much time in the introductory phases.

Because we have discussions that involve the whole class and not just a student addressing only me and I them we do reach clarity more often than not on the questions that are being asked. Just prior to teaching this class I had read a book called In The Shadow of the Sun that was written by a Polish journalist about his time in Africa. The book talked about the idea that Africans don’t have a concept of sin in the same way that we in the West do. I asked my students to help clarify this for me because it is good for me to know if we are coming towards a subject from two very different worldviews.

I have learned that in Africa the concept of time is very different from North America. Africans do not plan because tomorrow is not their concern, only today. In the same way sin or personal or corporate wrong doing is not understood as something that creates road blocks in relationships with God, self and others. Sin has more to do with the ancestors being displeased with the current activity of an individual or family group, clan or tribe.

It is helpful to understand when the knowledge that I have is not going to be understood in the ways that it was taught to me and how I understand it. Our class sessions were fulfilling and exhausting. You might imagine! Putting out a thought and circling, circling until there was something of a resolution and then revising how I had planned to present the material. I am thankful to have work that allows me to be creative and intentional.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Making a Difference

Dear Friends,
Greetings! Yesterday a student helped me to see that I am truly making a difference in their lives.

We were waiting for someone to bring the key so that I could see the work that is being done on my new house in Malakal. A young boy came by on a donkey cart and was busy beating his donkey....as always my response to this cruelty is to wonder aloud why a child is doing this. I've been told that they don't know how to treat the animals and are given charge of them when they are far too young.

The day before in Theology II class we had discussed the groaning of all creation along with all of the children of God as a result of sin introduced into God's perfect world (Romans 8). I discussed how we as human beings have been given responsibility to CARE for all of creation and not to harm it. This includes vegetation and animals.

My student looked at me yesterday and said, "This is what you were talking about in class yesterday!" He was right. I told him that he has a given for seeing immediate application of what he learns. And he does.