Sunday, June 22, 2014


Dear Friends,
Last week was busy, substantial and exhausting.  Last week I was blessed to be a Missionary Advisory Delegate (MAD) at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

A week ago I attended church at the Broadstreet Presbyterian church in Detroit, Michigan.  It is the historic African American Presbyterian church in Detroit.  The worship style was distinctly different from the worship styles of primarily caucasion attended Presbyterian churches in the states and also distinctly different from the African churches in Africa which I have attended.

In the midst of worship I had the realization that just as I have an interest in my historical origins in places like Ireland and Scotland, it makes sense to me that African Americans would have an interest in finding out about their African roots and historical origins.

Scottish bagpipes joyfully led the beginning of the opening of the GA last week.  Presbyterians have our roots in Scotland.  Many people who have nothing of Scottish blood in their veins are Presbyterian, and at the same time Scotland is where our Presbyterian heritage hails from thanks to John Knox.  The Reformed tradition comes from John Calvin in Geneva, but Presbyterians, we are specifically from Scotland.

There were adventures that I hope were once in a lifetime getting to the Hampton Inn here in Louisville to begin three days of becoming more equipped for my itineration assignment at the Presbyterian Center on Witherspoon Street.  Then I will have a day in the missionary housing at the Furlough Home on the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary campus, I will be doing laundry in preparation for my flight to Portland, Oregon on Friday.  Saturday is the Cascades Presbytery summer Presbytery Meeting and I am very happy to be stateside so that I can attend this meeting for the Presbytery of my clergy membership. 

I am impressed by the Hampton Inn here.  For someone like myself who is essentially homeless at the moment it provides something of a homey atmosphere.  There are several spaces (rooms I guess) with comfortable chairs and coaches and coffee is always available.  In the mornings there is a nice breakfast provided, with more coffee.  My room does not have a frig which was a bit of a surprise after the hotel room in Detroit which DID have a frig....but the room has a wonderful bed that I am assuming is King Size and a coach and desk that give it more the feel of a bathroom/bedroom/living area.  I am grateful for that sense of American normalacy. 

More soon....

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dear Friends,
It has been a while since I have connected with you in this blog.  I have left Lusaka and made the journey back to the United States where I am at the moment.  I have spent the first almost three weeks of this trip in the Seattle area where my childhood and adult roots were and are.  I have been on Itineration Assignment here in Seattle;  recovering from jet lag, attempting to acquire an organized system for traveling and living out of a suitcase, preaching, joining Presbyterian Women at lunch, and conducting adult Question and Answer sessions at several local churches. 

Tomorrow I will leave this region of the United States and head for Detroit, Michigan.  There I will join thousands of other Presbyterians at the General Assembly.  I am looking forward to this time of fellowship and deliberating on how the Triune God is at work in the life of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

From this time of transition into the work of the church I will move into another period of Itineration Assignment which will take me back to the West Coast to the Presbytery of the Cascades (and my Presbytery of membership) and then to the heartland of Pennsylvania.  In Pennsylvania I will be on the staff of the New Wilmington Mission Conference and then will remain for a few days in the bounds of Shenango Presbytery preaching and doing presentations before I return to my home base of Louisville, Kentucky.

I continue to await word of my return to South Sudan and the time of the reopening of the Nile Theological College.  As of this moment the situation in South Sudan remains volatile and uncertain.  Children are out of school foraging for leaves and water lilies to supplement the meager rations that organizations such as the United Nations are able to provide to IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in refugee camps or on United Nations bases.  There is a real concern that famine may come in the near future to many thousands or millions of people in South Sudan.

Please continue to pray for the country of South Sudan and in particular for the faculty, staff and students of the Nile Theological College.  The longer the disruption of education is prolonged the harder it may become to resume it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

More Lusaka Reflections....

February 24, 2014

I walked into a bookstore today at one of the malls here in Lusaka.  While books may be expensive in the United States they are many times more expensive overseas.  I am always grateful for when I go into bookstores anywhere.

I realized today that as much as I love books, and I do, I can’t books right now because I don’t know where I am going next and I don’t have a home anywhere to take anything to, let alone books.  I also realized that it is possible that my entire library of two bookcases full of books in Malakal may be gone when I return.  I am not willing to invest money in books at a moment in time when I may have lost a library. 

Saturday I went with friends (they drove me) to a once a month cultural market.  It is sponsored by the Dutch Reformed Church.  There is a similar once a month event in Addis Ababa, the NGO Bazaar.  The one in Addis is definitely a fundraiser and the one here in Lusaka is not so much.  The one on this Saturday felt much more touristy as well.  However, I was able to replace several pairs of earrings that I had originally purchased in Nairobi, Kenya.  One of the sellers at this market in Lusaka had many pairs of earrings from artists in Nairobi.  As she said, they have been doing this for a long time and they know what they are doing.  I found some joy in replacing a couple of things that may be lost in Malakal. 

After the market we went back out to the street.  There was a young boy who was limping and following us.  He said, “I’m hungry.”  My friend gave him a bagel, carefully explaining that it was not sweet.  He came up against the van that we were in and when I saw him peering into the van at the family my heart broke.  I had to fight an extremely strong desire to take him home with me.  He was looking in at something he doesn’t have, a family.  And he was cared for by something he doesn’t have, a mother.  That was what I realized, this child needs a mother.  I want to take him home. 

Poverty is dreadful.  Little children should not have to be begging for food.  We don’t have to beg for crumbs from Jesus (although that was done in order that we don’t have to do it) and these little children should not have to be begging for crumbs.  I had a thought today.   I wonder if the powers and the principalities manifest in unjust systems on earth?  That little boy, and the millions of other children like him in the world, should not have to be paying the price for an unjust global system.
In Christ,

Monday, February 17, 2014


February 17, 2014

I’ve been here in Lusaka now for two weeks.  I am deep into lesson planning for the Missiology I course that I will be teaching starting next week.  I have found out that I can get cable tv for a reasonable price and hopefully starting tomorrow I will have that. 

I have lists of things to reflect on for this blog….I need to move on and so I need to take the time right now to do some of the reflecting!

I am pretty convinced by now in my travels of the world that English is a secondary language in whatever country in which it is spoken.  Even in America it is a secondary language because the first languages are the native languages, such as Dakota.  The dominant culture in the United States has succeeded in minimizing the original languages spoken in what is now known as the United States of America to the point where most people think (or at least I did for many years) that English has always been spoken there.  Not so.

I actually don’t know if there are any countries, or cultures, in the world where English is the first language.  Obviously English started somewhere and spread, probably through colonialization and global conquest.  Even in the UK there are first original languages, Irish in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales.  English is secondary.

The point I actually wanted to make in this blog entry is that languages put (most) Americans to shame.  Here I am in Lusaka and listening to the accented English of the Zambians and realizing day after day that English is not their first language.  When groups get up to sing in chapel on Friday mornings here at the Theological University College they often speak in their “mother” tongue, the tongue of their original people group. 

I first realized in Khartoum, Sudan, that all of my students knew at least two languages, English and their original mother tongue from their people group.  Many of them also knew Arabic and many of them knew several people group languages.  Then I was told how many languages Sudan had, it numbered in the hundreds.  I was, and am, in awe.

As a country we Americans need to find a way to make learning secondary languages more accessible and possible.  Language learning gives us a common ground with so much of the rest of the world.  I know a little bit of a few languages, so at least I can say, “I know a little bit of German, or Spanish, or Chinese, or Arabic.”  But I don’t have them mastered the way that most people in most countries have their secondary languages mastered.  And it is most people.  The colonizers, the ones who originally brought English into most of the countries around the world, are usually in a minority.  The minority language becomes the official language and thus becomes spoken by the majority as well.  Often the minority population that brought the official language does not learn the language(s) of the majority but the majority must learn the minority group language in order to access government services, medical care, education, etc.

I hope this has been a useful reflection.  More soon…

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ruminations in Lusaka.

February 6, 2014

I’ve been here in Zambia for a few days now.  I am going to share with you some of the observations I am making as I learn more about the world and also about the African continent.

It is fairly clear to me that most people do not know what goes on in the world beyond their daily bubble.  It is also fairly clear that this is because most people are absorbed in the goings on in their daily bubbles.  I am not sure where this absorption comes from.  Why are there some people who want to know what is going on in the bigger world?  Why are there some people who seek out knowledge by reading or watching television or by finding other people to talk with, dialogue with, learn with and learn from?  I have noticed from my childhood that there are people who want their bubbles to remain closed and tight and others who almost seem to be called by God to strip the bubbles away and seek out a larger world that stretches and transforms them.

In seminary I learned about the local, the national and the global.  There are at least three different contexts that affect each person in the world.  In some places in the world, such as currently in South Sudan, the daily and the local require constant attention in order to just survive.  In more developed and peaceful places in the world, such as Zambia, the same could perhaps be true except that it has to do with making sure that the bubble isn’t threatened.  People who live in a peaceful world must keep it that way by paying attention and making sure that threats don’t enter into the prosperity.

(I just found out that there is no recycling here in Lusaka.  What a pity.)

If we look at the life of Jesus we can see our model for bursting the bubble and living a life outside of our comfort zone.  We can also see the results, after all, he ended up dead on a cross.  Even before Jesus in the Old Testament (the Hebrew Testament) we see people who burst the bubble and lived outside their comfort zone, after all we have the witness of the Prophets.  Scary, scary to be a prophet.  Most of them ended up dead too.  Granted we will all end up dead in the end, but isn’t the fantasy to die peacefully in one’s sleep?  Not at the end of a gun or a missile?
My first day here someone told me that southern Africa (this includes Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc.) is in a different world from East Central Africa.  I take this to mean that they are in a prosperous bubble, although someone else told me that within the capital of Zambia, Lusaka, where I am currently residing as a resident alien, the poverty rate is 20%.  Outside of Lusaka, in the rest of Zambia, the poverty rate is 80%.  Maybe the bubble isn’t quite as thick where the prosperity isn’t shared quite as much.

So I have now figured out that East Central Africa is probably where South Sudan is located.  While south Africa has benefitted from the progressive West,  East Central Africa has adopted things like wearing men’s suits in 110 degree weather, but does not have the marks of prosperity like huge modern sterile shopping centers. 

East Central Africa must include as well countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Chad, etc.  I say this based on the fact that I continue to read that the countries surrounding South Sudan are concerned not only for the people of South Sudan but also about the possibility of regional unrest.  I take this to mean that the domino affect could come into play.  One country’s government falls, perhaps the next country’s government falls, etc.  So that the African Union becomes involved to shore up the falling/failing/frailing infrastructure that is barely holding South Sudan together in order that the entire region does not fall into disarray.

I am not a politician so I am sorting this out from my own perspective as someone whose bubble has been burst many years ago and tries to understand the world from the perspective of the wounded people on the ground. 

The term the West is another interesting phenomena.  The West somewhat implies looking to the West on a world map.  However, Europe is also “progressive” and Europe is really to the North of Africa.  Pretty much right above it on the world maps that I look at.  There is another term for the upper part of the globe that I cannot think of at this moment, and that term takes into account both the global North and the global West.  Why is it that the global South has been so gypped?  And are they really gypped or is that just by European and American standards that we see those areas of the globe in that way?
Back to the beginning of today’s ruminating.  I am experiencing a bubble here in south Africa, in Zambia.  I am not comfortable with this bubble.  While I used to think that I was more comfortable with the prosperity of the Western world, and the places where colonization has brought that prosperity, I don’t think this is the case any longer.  I am beginning to think that perhaps I am not comfortable anywhere anymore.

I have liked Nairobi because the marks of colonization are very evident there.  It is HUGE, GIGANTIC, the outskirts of the mega city seem to go on for miles.  The shopping centers are western meccas of wealth and the enormous variety of products that makes me almost nauseus after so long away from them.  I find myself being overwhelmed and thinking that perhaps the little country stores in the United States that are attached to gas stations are more manageable for me now.

I have not so much liked Addis Ababa in Ethiopia because it has seemed too foreign to me.  Ethiopia is the only country that was not colonized.  This is said of Liberia as well but it isn’t true.  Former African slaves from the United States colonized Liberia and made the indigenous Africans who lived there into their slaves. 

Ethiopia has seemed too foreign to me and I have not been totally comfortable there.  But now I am beginning to think that it is more comfortable than south Africa. 

South Sudan is another story altogether.  Juba, the capital of South Sudan, is not huge and gigantic (yet) like Addis Ababa or Nairobi or Lusaka.  It is however huge and gigantic compared to Malakal, or at least what Malakal was like when I last saw it on December 7th, 2013.  I think it has changed since having a war played out over its streets the last two months. 

Malakal is the capital of the Upper Nile States.  This is one of the oil producing states and Malakal is very close to the border with Sudan.  I had heard from people that Malakal was of strategic importance because it was a major garrison town during the civil war when South Sudan was part of Sudan and the north and south were at war.  Now I understand more what this really meant.  Malakal is on the Nile River and Malakal also has a paved airstrip at its airport.  These two things make it accessible and desirable for warring parties to possess.

Malakal also has been neglected.  Life there is very difficult which may be why one daydreams about the other cities in Africa.  But the reality of real life is not the same as daydreams.  I don’t like bubbles.  I don’t do well with people who don’t want to see beyond the safe walls that they have built around their prosperity and their little tiny local worlds. 

So where do I belong?  I suspect that the answer is back in Malakal, South Sudan.  Because I can actually make a difference there.  And without making a difference, what point is there in living?

I must add a caveat here.  These thoughts are about me, myself and I and do not reflect on other people who ARE making a difference here in Lusaka.  I am just realizing that I have a different calling, that is all.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lusaka, Zambia

February 2, 2014

I arrived yesterday, February 1, 2014, in Lusaka Zambia.  Between December 13th and February 1st I was in Addis Ababa.

I had planned to leave Addis Ababa on January 6th and fly back to Juba, then fly from Juba to Malakal on January 7th.  I would then have had until February 10th for working on my UNISA degree program, sorting through my things and packing for my move to another house on the church compound in Malakal and doing final preparations for the Theology II class which I was to teach for the Concentrated Course at the Nile Theological College.

Instead violence broke out in Juba on December 15th and by December 16th my own world began to change.  The worlds of many other thousands of people in South Sudan were changing at the same time as my own.  Thousands of people lost their lives, their earthly worlds abruptly came to an end.  Thousands of people became internally displaced within South Sudan itself, fleeing to and taking shelter at United Nations Compounds in places such as Juba and Malakal.  Thousands of people became refugees in other countries such as Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.

On a personal basis this has been a difficult time for myself.  I have had little news on the fate of many colleagues and students.  I know that a handful of each are safe and alive.  The compound where I live in Malakal has been sheltering 2,000 people and the compound at the BAM Center where the Nile Theological College has been located has been sheltering 4,000 people. 

Since I left Malakal for only four weeks (one week in Juba working on and obtaining a six month visa with the help of a local pastor there and then three weeks in Addis Ababa) I left with limited supplies, including clothing and medicine.  I had also packed very few summer clothing items as I was in Juba for only a week and then was going to a cool climate in Addis Ababa where I had stored clothes made for me by a local group of disabled women who have wonderful tailoring abilities.  Now I am in Lusaka and it is warm here.  I will have to sacrifice myself and find a way to get clothes made for yet another climate:)

This also means that the lion’s share of my belongings are in Malakal and I do not know whether they have been safe from looting or if I will find them stolen or destroyed upon my return.  This includes my two bookcases of books.  It also includes a wonderful collection of colorful African dresses made for me by tailors in Sudan and South Sudan as well as in Ghana. 

Just in a few hours in Lusaka I have realized more things about Africa and why it is a continent that is hard for Americans to truly comprehend.  There are well over 50 languages spoken here in Zambia.  It occurred to me yesterday that if all of the original languages of all the people groups in the United States were spoken today that we too would have many, many languages spoken.  This would, I assume, begin with the Native American languages.  It would expand to include all of the Asian, African, European and Latin American languages of all of our people groups who make up America.  Instead somehow at least I always seem to think of America as a homogenous group of people with only one language, English.  Upon deeper thought, this simply is not so.

I am also acutely aware that Ethiopia is the only African nation that was never colonized.  This is said about Liberia as well but the truth, in my eyes, is that Liberia was colonized by former African slaves from the United States.  Those former slaves became the oppressors of Liberia and turned the native Liberians into slaves, as happens in so many places in the world.  Israel was created because of the oppression of the Jews and now the Jews oppress the Palestinians, etc. 

So far Ethiopia is the African country in which I am least comfortable.  Having examined myself in this I believe it is because it is not the least bit European in character and I find my comfort zone in the countries that bear the marks of, say, the United Kingdom.  I have heard it said that Ethiopia believes it not like the rest of Africa.  It is true.  It was not colonized by other nations and therefore does not bear the marks of that intrusion.  And for myself it is the marks of that intrusion that makes other countries perhaps more international and more familiar to me.  I am not saying that this is a good thing on my part.  I am just acknowledging that reality of what I recognize in myself. 

It is rainy season here in Lusaka.  I am enjoying the sound of the rain on the roof and the windows of the house.  I suspect that when I walk outside I will not be threated by the kind of mud that clay ground creates when it is wet.  In Malakal the ground is apparently clay and clay does not absorb water, instead it becomes a mud that a person sinks into.  The time I fell in the mud in Malakal my boots had stayed in one place and I had continued to move forward and so my body was not able to stay upright.  Boom!  I don’t think that this is going to happen in Lusaka.  And for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sermon on South Sudan preached in Addis Ababa on December 29, 2013.

“The Creation of a New Creation”
Leviticus 26:3-22
Revelation 21:1-8
Anuak Worship
December 29, 2013
Rev. Debbie Blane

The message from these lectionary readings has been clear to me since I first read them on Monday of last week.  I knew that the sermon was to be about South Sudan.  I just wasn’t sure about preaching a sermon about South Sudan in Ethiopia.  During the week I received different signs of confirmation that this would be appropriate.  In a sense, as the river that flows between South Sudan and Gambella,  the Baro River  on the Ethiopian side and the Sobat River on the South Sudanese side, is a fluid boundary between South Sudan and Gambella in Ethiopia, the troubles of the one country are the troubles of the other country.  In addition to that, this sermon is about something much more universal.  It is about human sin and the impact that this sin has on people who are innocent civilian bystanders.

I do not believe that our God visits evil upon God’s people.  I do believe though that God takes what is meant for evil and uses it for good.

Looking at our first Scripture reading for this morning in Leviticus, we go back to ancient Biblical times in our search for answers for today.  In Leviticus chapter 26:3-12 we have a picture of what God wanted for the Israelites.    Verse 12 says, “I am the Lord your God , who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” 

In using the principle of applying Scripture to our own lives in the here and the now this could be God speaking to South Sudan.  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Sudan so that you would no longer be slaves to the people of Sudan; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.

The hopes that God has for God’s people include abundant crops and peace in the land; still very relevant for today’s world.

When we read on to Leviticus 26:13-22 we see what happens when God’s people ignore God and do whatever they want to one another and to the land.  I have come to understand that God does not do horrible things to us, WE do horrible things to ourselves when we ignore the good ways that God has provided for us to live with one another. 

South Sudan received the gift of independence from the oppressive yoke of the Sudanese government in Khartoum.  The problem is that the many ethnic groups of South Sudan are no longer focused on a common enemy as they were for decades focused on Sudan.  Now that they no longer have a common enemy they are turning in upon themselves and one ethnic group is fighting another ethnic group.  They have not yet become South Sudanese, they are Dinka and Nuer and Anuak and Shilluck, etc., etc. 

I am going to refer briefly here to Genesis 1 and 2 and the beautiful garden that God created for humanity.  When we look at those Scripture passages we can see that God’s intentions for human beings are always positive, creative and uplifting.  It is when we, as God’s creation, turn away from our Creator,  that our lives morally disintegrate and descend into chaos.

So we know that God’s good intentions for us are for peace and abundance.  And we know that when we as human beings turn away from God’s good intentions for us we descend into chaos and do unspeakable things to one another.  We behead people, we rape women and little children, we murder men on the basis of their scarification marks or the language that comes from their mouths when they speak.  These are not the ways that our God has taught us in Jesus Christ to be with one another.

When we turn to our reading of Revelation 21:1-8 we see what the future will hold for the people of God.  We see the creation of a new creation.   We see that what was originally intended as a peaceful garden for two people has now been transformed into a healing city for the world. 

The original intention, the original creation, was destroyed by human beings.  In its place is a new creation, a new vision, a new way for human beings to relate to one another.    And, just as in the garden at the beginning of time in Genesis, God is in the midst of it all.

If we apply this vision of a new thing, a new creation to the country of South Sudan that is currently disintegrating into chaos and human made disaster, we may begin to see and acknowledge that sometimes the chaos that exists must be destroyed in order to make way for the new thing that God is creating. 

While God did not call forth the fighting, the butchering of human life and disregard for property and creation, it is possible that God will work through this sinfulness to purge South Sudan of the elements that are preventing the country from becoming a unified country that desires peace above tribalism, factionalism and self-centered power plays. 

As the garden with two people was destroyed by sin and will be re-created and transformed into a peaceful and healing city for a world full of people, perhaps the spectre in South Sudan of two little boys with loaded guns holding a country hostage behind the bars of a horrible yoke, will be re-created and transformed into a peaceful and healing country known for the unity of its people that are called South Sudanese; instead of for division and tribalism.

Let us pray that the transformative power of the Holy Spirit through the Scripture can bring the country of South Sudan into the will of our God for a people that are living in peace with one another and with the rest of the world.   Let us pray for a country that contributes to the world instead of needing the world to contribute to it on a chronic basis. 

Let us pray for the healing of the sin sickness of South Sudan and at the same time pray for the healing of the sin sickness of so many other places in the world such as Syria and Turkey and Egypt.

When there are grown men holding guns to the heads of one another and the citizens of their countries we really are looking at the brutality of little boys playing with loaded pistols.  It is only God we can call upon to help those little boys heal and mature into useful and God fearing citizens of their countries and the world.  Or God may choose to remove those children from power and put into positions of governance servant leaders who already understand what it means to love and serve the Lord and the Lord’s people. 

This is not only a message for South Sudan, it is a message for the world.  Our sinfulness causes pain to ourselves and other people.  It also causes pain to our God because our God had a garden and has a city ready for us.  Our God had a garden and a city ready for us for a different purpose.  God wants us to lay down our guns, to stop fighting and shedding blood and hurting one another.  Our God wants to wipe every tear from our eyes so that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  For our God wants the old order of things to pass away.  Revelation 21:5a says, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”    Revelation 21:6 says, “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

Our God has such good plans for us!  Let us pray that we as human beings can let go of our selfish, self centered ways and ask for Jesus to heal us and transform us into the mature servants that the Holy Spirit envisions for us.  Let us pray that we can put away our guns and stop hurting one another.  Let us pray that we are able to walk away from the bars of our yokes when God breaks those bars and sets us free.  Help us Oh God not to remain prisoners even when we are healed, but to walk with our heads held high and leave those bars behind.  Let us prayer to take on the servant yoke of Jesus.