Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Harvest time!

The project I've been working on in Panyikwara, Eastern Equatoria state started harvest this month! I thought I'd share these photos of some of the participants with their produce (some of it still growing in the field). See if you can spot the sesame, sorghum, and beans!

This is (in order of appearance): Abdalla















Prayer Requests

Please continue to pray for the situation in Western Equatoria with the LRA (northern Ugandan rebels/terrorists). Two weeks ago, 9 people were killed in the diocese of Nzara. Most of the diocese of Nzara, and all of the diocese of Yambio and the diocese of Ezo are displaced to the towns. Ibba also continues to be effected. And Maridi, Mundri, and Lainya continue to have large numbers of IDPs (internally displaced people). Though this area is very fertile and has had plenty of rain this year, they expect widespread hunger next year because the crops were abandoned as people fled, or burned by the rebels.

The drought in East Africa this year caused terrible crop shortages across Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and south Sudan. Many dioceses in south Sudan are effected, and expect the hunger season to begin early and be more severe next year. Please pray for them.

Please pray for peace and reconciliation between the tribes to end the conflicts over cattle and territory that have killed thousands this year.

Please pray for the Government of National Unity, the Government of South Sudan, and for the continued implementation of the peace process. Especially for the peaceful conclusion of the legislative session, and peaceful elections next April.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The last two Sundays were spent at more enthronements and consecrations of bishops. We had the enthronement of the Bishop of Pacong, and the bishop of Akot (two new dioceses), and the consecration of the assistant bishop of Yirol, the assistant bishop of Port Sudan, and the bishop of Wau.

Wonderful celebrations all, of the life and growth of the Church!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Standing Committee

We just finished a big meeting in Rumbek. It was the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which stands in place of the Synod which only meets every 3 years. It was all hands on deck with the provincial staff, so my typing skills were put to use as a minute taker. I minited the house of laity and some of the general sessions.

Some of the more noteworthy decisions were the affirmation that women may become deacons, priests, or bishops, and an affirmation to continue dialog with all members of the Anglican Communion.

During the reading of the resolutions, when it got to the one about women bishops, a great cheer went up from the Mother’s Union, and the bishop’s wives.

For those of you who have ever put on a conference or convention you know the sheer volume of logistical matters involved. This meeting was impressive. The logistics of getting all the bishops and delegates from all over Sudan to one place was amazing. Many of the delegates had never been to Rumbek before.

For me this meeting was the convergence of two worlds. We were in a air conditioned conference facility that could have been in an office park in some commercial district in California. We were following set legislative practices that reminded me both of diocesan conventions I’ve been to and of my time working at the State Capitol. But then in the evening we all left the conference room and went back to our tukls (grass roofed huts), pit latrines, bucket showers, and plastic chairs under the moon. The other difference is that in this meeting, besides the normal matters of church governance, they were discussing matters of life and death, hunger, development, and peace.

See the appeal by the Standing Committee regarding the situation in Sudan: click here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Register to Vote!

Today, my boss, the Archbishop of ECS, Daniel Deng Bul, and the Catholic Archbishop Paulino, went to register to vote. This month is the registration of voters for the election next year. It has been more than 20 years since there has been an election in south Sudan, so there is great anticipation. The two Archbishops and their staff saw this as an opportunity to encourage people to get out and register. So they lined up, and got their registration cards, in front of many cameras. It will be all over the news here tonight, and in the paper tomorrow, and hopefully be a big help in both encouraging people to register, and educating them on how to do it.

As I watched the convoy of my coworkers driving off to register, I was filled with joy and pride for them, and hope for the future of this country. I remember how excited I was when I registered to vote for the first time, but this was something much more. The smiles were big when they returned. “Did you register?”… “Yes!”

Photos: the car I drive, proudly displaying it’s new sticker
and Archbishop Daniel proudly displaying his voter id card.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I had the honor of attending the enthronement of the first bishop of Terakeka, the Rt. Rev. Micah Dawidi this past weekend.

It was a wonderful celebration! The service and speeches lasted just over six hours. The people of Terakeka, a community about an hour’s drive north of Juba, were very excited. Their diocese was created this year, split from the diocese of Juba, and they were very happy to enthrone their long-time beloved assistant bishop, as their diocesan bishop.

Terakeka was greatly affected in October by the displacement of people from fighting in the region. Twenty villages in the area were burned, and 50 people killed, according to official reports. We saw many IDPs staying at schools and various public areas in the town of Terakeka. We walked down to the Nile, and the pastor showed us the boats, and told us that if it weren’t for those boats, that ferried fleeing IDPs across the river during the conflict, many more would have been killed.

As we walked through the town, I saw a moringa tree. I am always looking for moringa trees, which grow wild here, or are planted as ornamental trees. Most people don’t know about their life-saving properties. I always see it as an encouragement when I find the moringa tree growing. I plucked some leaves, and told one of the villagers who was walking with us, that you could eat them, and that they were good for you. He told me “no, we don’t eat them”. So to prove my point, my friend Trevor and I ate a hand full of leaves then and there!

It was wonderful to see the joy that the people had that day of celebration. Despite all the struggle and conflict in the area, they came together to rejoice, to dance, and to sing.

I ask your thanksgivings and your prayers for the new Diocese of Terakeka!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sun Brownies!


Here is my solar oven. You can make your own if you have a black pot, a clear plastic bag (heat-resistant is best). And a shiny surface. You can look up lots of designs on the internet. I learned about solar cooking in Tanzania. (thanks Peggy and Nancy for teaching me, and giving me the kit!)

Here is my first attempt, brownies, made on Halloween! I checked the temperature at the height of cooking, and it was 190F. It took about an hour and a half to cook.

We don’t have an oven (or a refrigerator), so this is the first time I’ve gotten to make brownies all year, very exciting! A whole new world of cooking opportunities is open to me (provided the sun is shining!)

Looking at the sun got me thinking about how the same sun is looking down on all my friends and family in the US. And so I checked the sunrise time in California, and there is about an hour after sunrise in California, which is just before sunset here, so for that hour, we are both looking up at the same sun at the same time… in fact it's happening at this very moment! The world isn’t so big after all…. well maybe it is!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cooking with the sun!

I just got back from another visit to our companion diocese, Western Tanganyika (I also visited in March). It was a wonderful visit! So wonderful to see my friends in Western Tanganika again, and to make new friends too. Tanzania is a beautiful country, and though they have problems with inadequate healthcare and education as well as poverty, the presence of a stable peace for so long has left it’s mark on the psyche of the nation. It was truly wonderful and encouraging to be there.

Two ladies from my home diocese came too, and they happen to be accomplished solar cooks. I must admit I was a little skeptical about the idea of cooking with the sun, but Peggy and Nancy got me really excited with their stories of all the things they had cooked. Bishop Gerard, and others in Western Tanganika are very interested in solar cooking, because of it’s potential impact on the lives of women (saves time and money), and on the environment (to slow deforestation). So they were excited about the solar cooking workshop which was planned for our visit.

I gave a talk on nutrition, and gardening techniques, to accompany the solar cooking workshop. But it didn’t take long for me to be won over by the idea of solar cooking. We were thwarted by some cloudy days, but we still managed to cook rice, and chicken. You can make bread, and cookies and cake in a solar oven! As well as stews, casseroles, meat, etc, etc.

Here’s what you need to cook with the sun: A thin walled dark colored pot, a heat-resistant plastic bag, and a shiny, bendable surface… that’s it! Oh yeah, and you need the sun!

Peggy and Nancy sent me back to Sudan with one of their training kits. But, since it’s still the rainy season, the clouds this week have slowed me down. But I have plans for several experiments this weekend (a baked apple, and brownies!) I’ll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Movein' in Yambio

Yambio is a beautiful place, surrounded by dense tropical forest. It reminds me quite a bit of Liberia. There are trees and birds here that I’ve seen in Liberia, but no place else in Sudan. There is a tranquility about the forest, perhaps it’s the quiet sounds of wind over leaves, birds chirping. Perhaps it’s the cool of the shade, the beauty of the flowers, the age and grandeur of the trees.

But there is no peace in this region. Yambio is the capitol of Western Equitoria state. The region has been plagued by the LRA (a group of northern Ugandan rebels) since December of last year, with a big increase of attacks in August (Ezo, which I have mentioned before is in Western Equitoria). All of the parishes in the diocese of Yambio which are outside the town have been displaced to the town. Many of their homes and crops have been burned, and people have been abducted and killed. There are more than 2,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) living on the church land in Yambio, most of whom are church members. They have planted some crops, but it is not enough and the people are suffering. We visited some of them. It was difficult to meet some of the IDPs see the situation they are in, and have nothing to offer them but the few words of greeting I have learned in Zande. And yet, being here is good. Being able to tell their story. Sharing meals and prayers and worship. Learning the local handshake, hearing their stories.

This month there was an attack in Ibba diocese to the east of Yambio. Please continue to pray for Bishop John and the diocese of Ezo, Bishop Peter and the Diocese of Yambio, Cannon Samuel and the Diocese of Nzara, Bishop Wilson and the Diocese of Ibba, Bishop Justin and the Diocese of Maridi, and Bishop Bismark and the Diocese of Mundri. All continue to be effected either by direct attacks by the LRA, or by the continued influx of IDPs from the violence.

But there is hope. At the end of August the ECS in Yambio and Ezo participated in an ecumenical peace march. There were 3 days of fasting and prayer, followed by a two mile barefoot march to the town square in Yambio. 10,000 people, including church and government leaders joined in the march. And the rally that followed brought attention both within Sudan and internationally to the plight of the people. The presence of hope is much more pronounced now, the people were authorized to organize community defense, and there have been fewer LRA attacks this month.

I saw Bishop John a couple days ago. He said, “Our prayers are really being answered.” He was full of hope that the situation will improve, though he also said that the losses that they have suffered will never be forgotten, and even when people can go home, it will be to start all over again from zero. He also said he has really been encouraged by the prayers of people all over the world.

These bishops inspire me by their leadership, their struggle to help the people, their witness for peace and reconciliation, and their speaking out for the voiceless. I have heard several times, “as long as any of my people are here, I will be here”. They do not flee from danger, but face it in the faith of their calling. It is a tremendous burden they bear.

In Yambio on Sunday, there was much joyful singing and dancing, even though the people are suffering. Bishop Peter was telling me, “you know, our people love to dance. They dance to show respect, for celebration, or for mourning.” He laughed and said, “so if you see people dancing you will wonder, are they happy, are they sad?” I once heard it said that during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa, they would stop the proceedings occasionally to sing and dance, that this helped the people let go of or work through the terrible truths that were being brought to light.

Move. That’s what this says to me. Not the kind of moving that keeps you busy or helps you run away from the difficult things. Move, in the presence of terrible and beautiful truth. Do something. We can’t fix it, that’s not our job, but we can act. We are called to love one another. With all the little things we do, we are constantly forming who we are. The Church is alive, and in the world, not just a liturgy on Sunday. There is plenty of hope in the world, because God is here. Lets move, out of our comfort zones, out of our inward focus, out of our attitudes of scarcity. Lets see what we can do, where we can go, who we can touch, who we can become.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Song of the Saints of God

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.”

In mission work, in life in general I suppose, there is always juxtaposition of states of being: joy and sorrow, hope and despair, love and fear, beauty and horror. They exist side by side, often in the same situations. The tension then is trying to hold these separate experiences of the world at the same time, and recognizing the presence of God there in the midst of it.

In the last few weeks, the Episcopal Church of Sudan has suffered two terrible attacks. One in the diocese of Ezo (on the border with Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic), and one in the diocese of Twic East (northern Jonglei state). In Ezo, there has been a renewed ferocity of attacks by the LRA (rebels/terrorists of northern Uganda) in the last few weeks. People have fled to the town center of Ezo for protection, but even there the LRA attacked. The bishop, the diocesan staff and 12 of their parishes are currently displaced. On August 12-13 there was an attack on Ezo town by the LRA. The ECS church was attacked, a lay reader was killed, and 8 Sunday school children were abducted by the LRA. The LRA are known for forcing children to become soldiers, and the torture of those they kill or abduct.

In Twic East diocese there was an attack by approximately a thousand heavily armed militia on the village of Wernyol and the surrounding area, on August 29. More than 40 people were killed in the area, and the ECS Archdeacon Joseph Mabior Garang, was among the dead. He was killed in the church in Wernyol while leading morning prayer.

More than two thousand have died in south Sudan in increasing internal conflict since April. See Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul’s appeal regarding these recent events: http://sudan.anglican.org/jongleiappeal.php

I received the news of these two attacks after returning from a wonderful trip to two dioceses on the border with northern Sudan last Saturday. The news, devastating in itself, also adds to the growing despair people here feel about the instability of the peace. Where is God in all this? How can we reconcile these events with the image of our loving God? And why is it that I come back to this question after asking it so many times in the past?

In the last 25 years, more than two and a half million people died in the war in south Sudan. The Church in Sudan is not a stranger to suffering and death, imprisonment and martyrdom. And yet many of the bishops and leaders in the church who I know are people full of a deep and contagious joy. Despite the existence of such horror and despair in the past and present, joy, peace, love, and hope are very much alive in the hearts of these men and women. I am learning from them that a heart full of this mysterious joy, is something that cannot be taught, but must be gained through prayer and experience. In the journey of our lives, each discovery of redemption, each experience of the presence of hope in the face of despair, love in the face of fear, joy in the face of pain, teaches us about God.

Here God is, in the joy and hope of those wise souls who have gone and continue to go before us, walking with God in humility and patience. We have much to learn from these saints of God. “The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus will”.

We are each a part of the body of Christ alive in the world today. How will we live into that calling today? Perhaps we should start by finishing the song…. “The saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too!”

Monday, August 31, 2009

New Martyrs of Sudan

The Episcopal Church (USA) General Convention this year, approved May 16 as the feast day for the Martyrs of Sudan. (click here for background). This icon, was commissioned by Hope with Sudan, and painted by Sudanese artist Awer Bul, in commemoration of the martyrs. For more info or prints, contact Jerry Drino: jdrino@hopewithsudan.org. Profit from the sale of prints will go to support survivors of recent attacks in Sudan.

People of the church continue to die in Sudan today. Please pray for the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

Prayer Request

Please pray for the Diocese of Ezo, currently suffering from frequent attacks by the LRA rebels. Pray for Bishop John Zawo, the diocesan staff, and the people. Two weeks ago a lay reader was killed in the church, and 8 children abducted, please pray for them and their families. Other lay readers and pastors have been killed, and other Sunday school children abducted by LRA in the past months.

Please pray for the Diocese of Twic East, currently suffering attacks and instability from local militia. Pray for Assistant Bishop Ezekiel, Rev. Phillip, Canon Mark, and all the diocesan leaders. Pray especially for the family of Archdeacon Joseph Mabior Garang, who was killed in the church while leading morning prayer, and the families of the 40 others killed in the attack on Wernyol last Saturday.

These recent attacks are part of an escalation of violence in the region. Please see the Archbishop’s appeal to the international community: click here

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Malakal and Renk

Three of us from the provincial office traveled to Malakal and Renk for the last two weeks. It was a wonderful trip and an adventure.

Malakal and Renk are about 200 miles apart, both on the flat plain that surrounds the Nile river, just north of the Sudd (the largest seasonal swamp in the world). It rained in Malakal while we were there, and I have never seen such mud! It was the kind of mud that adds an extra quarter inch to your height with each step.

This was my first visit to Malakal and Renk, and the purpose was to get acquainted with the area, find out and see what kinds of agriculture projects are going on, and identify the vision the diocese has as well as agricultural potential for future projects. We had meetings with organizations, and with diocesan leaders, andi visited diocesan facilities and farms. I got to give an introduction to agriculture lecture to primary school students in Malakal, and a short, two-hour workshop to the students at Renk Theological College, and members of the Mother’s Union. We talked about how a pastor can take on the role of an agriculture advisor, and we went out to talk about specific techniques in the Mothers Union garden. We also spent some time talking about attitudes of abundance, and looking for the resources and the opportunities existing in their own congregations.

Through our time in Malakal and Renk we were shown wonderful hospitality by each diocesan staff, and the Mothers Union. Mama Rebecca, a deacon and Mothers Union leader in Malakal, accompanied us on the whole trip. She kept us all in order on the journey. She speaks six languages, and talks about God with just about everyone she meets. She carried a thermos of tea with us, she doesn’t like tea herself, but she had it there for us and others she met on the way.

Between Malakal and Renk we took a boat on the Nile, because the roads there are impassable this time of year. The river ride was amazing, both coming and going. Downstream it took 8 hours, upstream it was 25 hours, but I didn’t get tired of seeing the smooth surface of the Nile, the horizon of reeds and water hyacinth, the sun and clouds, the sunset, and the moon and stars all reflected on the glassy surface of the water. As the sun set, Mama Rebecca served tea to several passengers, dishing out milk and sugar. I couldn’t understand the language, but I could tell she was telling stories from the Bible.

On this trip, like Kajo Keji, I was again struck by both the beauty of creation, and the power of people. As we look around us we can choose to see only the suffering and vast need, or we can open our eyes to see also the effort, unity, and love both great and small shown by the people. Mama Rebecca’s thermos of tea is a great symbol of this for me!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kajo Keji

I just spent several days in Kajo Keji diocese, which is near the border with Uganda. The diocese requested that I come put on an agriculture workshop for their theological students, and the diocesan leadership. Archdeacons and rural deans came from all over the diocese, some riding bicycles for many miles to get there. We spent two full days in lectures and doing agriculture labs. We made a compost heap, mulched a pineapple field, made and applied a garlic based natural pesticide, made a level for marking a contour on a hillside, and planted a contour hedge of peas to control erosion. We also spent time discussing designing projects that run on little or no funding, and about attitudes of land stewardship and looking for the abundance God has blessed us with. As always, hearing the stories, ideas, and questions of the participants taught me a lot.

Kajo Keji is a beautiful place. The mangos there are in season 4 times a year! So I saw the strange sight of ripe mangos and mango blossoms on the same tree. There are beautiful tree covered rolling hills, and the temperature always seems perfect. Just being there was a chance to drink in the peaceful beauty of the rural landscape. It was difficult to leave the new friends I made there, and the inspiration the ambient sense of peace seemed to bring me. But I find, now back in the hustle and bustle of Juba, that that sense of peace is lingering.

There is much to be thankful for. Blessings come in unexpected ways. I realized a few weeks ago, that the lack of funding for our agriculture programs this year, has actually taught me about designing simple volunteer driven programs, and has led me to look for the abundance God has given us in new ways. Here is the abundance I see most readily this week: people! It is not the few and the powerful that change the world, it is each and every one of us. We each have the decision every day to love to give to serve. And our decisions inspire others. I met church leaders and students and staff members in Kajo Keji that inspired me with their commitment and their daily decisions to serve and care and give.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mid-Year Reflections

I have been blessed in my work to see a vast amount of southern Sudan. I have visited 19 of the 24 southern dioceses, and logged more than 150 hours on the wild pot-hole strewn dirt roads. It is a tremendously diverse landscape, from black rock mountains in Eastern Equitoria, to dense forests in Western Equitoria, to the tree scattered grassland of Lakes state, to the flat dry plains of Jonglei to the largest seasonal swamp in the world that stretches across several states. The wilderness of southern Sudan is vast. You can drive hours without seeing a single hut.

There are hundreds of people groups and languages in Sudan. There are tribes that are solely agriculturalists, and tribes that are solely livestock herders. There are villages placed on top of rocky mountains for security, villages along fertile rivers, and villages of huts spread far apart on the plain. I have seen the houses of the fabled three little pigs, made of grass, sticks, and bricks: grass walls where people fear attack so they can escape through the walls, houses of sticks in IDP camps with a roof made of a tarp, houses of bricks in villages that have security and prosperity.

It's hard for people in the developed world to imagine what life in a village of huts is like. Most people survive on subsistence agriculture or livestock herding, but there are always shop keepers as well. Living in a hut does not make someone impoverished. Many of the bishops here live in huts, because no other housing is available. It is the lack of schools and medical care which deeply affects people's quality of life. No matter how far out we have gone, even days of driving past nothing but wilderness and occasional villages of thatched huts, to the most rural areas, you still find the same influences from the outside world: coca cola, western clothing, cell phones, and plastic bags.

Life in Juba is different. It is busy and there are traffic jams, lots of shops, buildings springing up everywhere, but it still has the feel of a country town, a country town with a million people. On my way to work I pass some nice air-conditioned shops, and shops in sheds, and a man who has a copy machine on a rickety table under a tree. There are piles of garbage along the streets, which slowly get cleared only to be replaced. Juba is spread out enough that people grow some food in the open spaces and yards. There are only two paved roads in juba, not more than 2 miles long, which are also the only paved roads in south Sudan. Everything that is sold is trucked in from Uganda, over the most impossible dirt tracts with potholes the size of elephants that fill with water, and rickety bridges, which means prices are highly inflated. Juba is one of the most expensive places to live in Africa. The city feels quite safe during the day, but it’s not a good idea to go walking after dark, which is 7pm year-round, this close to the equator. Most of the year it is hot, 90 degrees inside or outside, day or night, which means you get used to it. But this time of year cool spells come with the rain.

Conflict in south Sudan continues, though we don’t see it in Juba, we hear about fighting in the rural areas near by. Occasionally we hear of someone’s relatives who have been killed, or children abducted. The UN announced that the fighting in south Sudan is now more violent and deadly than what is going on in Darfur. Death from treatable diseases also continues to be high, with child and maternal mortality rates some of the highest in the world. Without peace there cannot be development. Pray for peace!

I am still loving my job. I am inspired by the bishops and pastors of the church, who work tirelessly without pay. I love giving workshops on sustainable agriculture. I love making connections between organizations working in agriculture, and dioceses who want to do agriculture projects. I love the process of developing the details of a plan for the ECS Agriculture Department, when the vision came from the bishops and the people. I love working in the demonstration garden I’ve started. I love the enthusiasm for agriculture I encounter at every turn. There are challenges too. Banking issues have prevented us from receiving donor funding for our department, so I am still the only staff member of the department, and we haven’t been able to start our larger scale production projects. I struggle to keep up with the daily tasks of the office, often falling behind, and getting overwhelmed.

Learning what life is like for other people in the world, realizing that more than half of the world’s population lives on $2 a day or less… this is important. It’s not about guilt. I don’t think that guilt helps. But I do know that Jesus leads us by his example, out into the world, into relationship with people who we think are different from us. Jesus broke the rules of society to cross the barriers his culture put up, to embrace the outcast and the suffering. Christ came not with wealth and power, but as a poor manual laborer who started life as a refugee. He radically challenged the established, the wealthy, the powerful, and the comfortable. He spoke strongly for justice peace and reconciliation.

When we open our eyes, and our hearts, we see that every last person on earth is the same, a beloved child of God. Fixing or changing people or the world is not our work. Our work is to be agents of reconciliation, love, peace, and hope in everything we do, in the way we live our lives! And it is a calling of great joy! I struggle with this as much as the next person. It’s good to remember that being the love of Christ to the next person who walks into my office, is probably more important then my project planning!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I just got back from a week in Egypt with my sister Audrey, and our long-time friend Melissa. The pyramids and the sphinx and the tombs and temples were absolutely breathtaking! I still can’t believe we were there! After climbing in and out of pyramids and tombs and up and down the 5 floor walk-up hostel we were staying at, and riding camels, we were quite sore, but it was all worth it! I have never seen anything so amazing! I look at this picture and still can’t quite believe it.

Audrey then came and spent a week with me in Juba. We did workshops, went on a couple road trips to Lainya and Rokon, met with teachers and bishops, and visited the one swimming pool in town! It was wonderful to have her and share what my life is like here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Joke!

I have a joke to share with you. Bishop Alapayo has told it to me twice, because I asked for a repeat performance.
There was a pastor in a rural church, and there was an old woman who went to his church who lived alone. She had a cat who she loved very much, so one day she took the cat to the pastor and said, “I love this cat very much, and I want to make sure that he goes to heaven with me, so I would like you to baptize him.” The pastor was surprised, and tried gently to tell her that he couldn’t baptize a cat. But the old lady insisted, and said, “you know this cat is very important to me, it would make me so happy if you baptized him, I would put an iron sheet roof on the church.” Well, the pastor thought about it, Why not? And so he baptized the cat, and the old lady was good on her word, she fixed up the church properly, and everyone was very happy. But then the bishop heard about the cat. He called the pastor to him, “What is this I hear about you baptizing cats!” “Well, your Lordship it was only one cat, and now we have iron sheets for a roof.” The bishop continued to scold the pastor thoroughly. Then a few weeks later the bishop was visiting the church. “Oh, pastor,” he said, “What has happened to your church?” The pastor smiled and said, “remember that cat I baptized?” And the bishop said “Bring that cat to me, and I will confirm it!”
Ok, so it’s probably not as funny without Bishop Alapayo telling it. My favorite part is the “Oh Pastor,” the way Bishop Alapayo says it, and the way you can see the punchline building in his grin and the twinkle in his eyes. And then he tells the punchline again, and we laugh again. In my family we like to retell punchlines too!

Part of the humor of the joke is how important roofs are here. The vast majority of villages in south Sudan are made up entirely of thatched buildings. Houses, schools, churches, stores all thatched buildings. I have seen some impressively huge thatched structures. But thatch has to be replaced at least every 3 years, and mud buildings get infested with termites and bats, and have to be rebuilt at least every 10 years, and it is a lot of work, and a lot of materials. So an “iron sheet” roof, which we would call “corrugated tin”, and which is actually zinc, is the desire of every church that meets under a tree or a thatched roof. In communities where no other building has a permanent roof, the people make the church roof their first priority.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pray for Peace

The UN has officially recognized death tolls from violent conflict are now higher in south Sudan than Darfur. Leaders in the government as well as other leaders including Archbishop Daniel, have sounded the alarm that the peace agreement which ended the longest running civil war in Africa in 2005, is now in danger of failing. But there is still hope!

Please pray for the peace process, pray for the leaders of Sudan, pray for the Church, pray for the people.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

ECS Agriculture Gifts

For those of you interested in supporting the specific projects of the ECS Agriculture Office, here is your opportunity!
Click Here for a brochure that has funding options from $40 to $70,000 to support the work of the agriculture department of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which I am helping to establish. If you are interested, please contact Frank Gray (info on brochure).
(photo: demonstration garden at the ECS guest house, paid for by small gifts fundraising)

Monday, June 1, 2009

God can revivie us!

The hot winds blew across the parched ground. The rains are late this year in Abyei. There are scattered scrub trees, but the grass has long since been grazed to nothing on the flat, dry plain. We gathered at the site of the ECS church and school, which were destroyed in violence that flared one year and two weeks ago. The church is now just a grass mat shade structure under a partially burned tree, with indistinct piles of rubble around. The mother’s union came to greet us with song, dance, and welcome banners carefully lettered in English and Arabic. Just like churches everywhere, the ladies wore nametags, and just like churches across Sudan coming to greet their Archbishop, they jumped and danced and clapped and sang with glee. The Sunday school came out in a line, dancing and singing with hand-cut tissue paper flowers in their hair. There were cold sodas, and loud speakers. Everyone wore their best clothes. It was a celebration of great joy.

Bishop Francis Loyo of Rokon Diocese was with our delegation. He had been the ECS representative sent to Abyei last year to distribute emergency assistance after the conflict. He spoke to the people, “Following Christ is not an easy task. It is founded on suffering.” Bishop Loyo is a man of tremendous faith, and unquenchable joy.

One of the representatives from the government addressed the gathered congregation, “Despite everything we have suffered, we still trust in God who can revive us.”

God can revive us! That thought has remained with me. As in the other desperate and conflict torn places in southern Sudan, there was unexpected hope and abundance among the ashes.

Visiting Abyei was part of the Archbishop’s tour of Wau diocese. We spent a week in the town of Wau for a diocesan meeting. It was the longest I’ve spent in any town besides Juba, and it was a bit like going on a short term mission trip with the staff from the provincial office, and several bishops. We spent a lot of time chatting together, meeting people, and putting on workshops. A group of women priests (photo above) waited on us hand and foot, and it seemed as though a goat or sheep was slaughtered every night for a feast. When we left, we were presented with gifts. The men received walking sticks, and I was given a beautiful carved tea tray, and an embroidered bed sheet. This is the paradox of mission work, you go to serve, give, and work, and in turn you are served, given gifts, and revived!

God can revive us! This is a theme that has entered my agriculture workshops as well. It has surprised me how closely agriculture and theology can be related. Without realizing it was happening, the lessons I have learned traveling with the Archbishop have worked their way into my teaching. Peace, development, and agriculture improvement do not come from stuff, they come from a changing of the human heart, and that is the work of the Spirit. Should we pray for our land? Should we pray for the knowledge to help revive it? Are the answers already written in creation around us? Yes, yes, yes! Our job—each one of us, as members of the human race who hope for a better tomorrow—is to plant the seeds. We can plant the seeds of hope in everything we do. The Spirit will water them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Q&A with 7th Graders in Georgia

My cousin Hayley’s 7th grade advanced social studies class at West Side Magnet School in LaGrange, Georgia sent me questions about life in Sudan. Some of our conversation is included below. If anyone has more questions, you can leave a comment on this post, and I’ll answer.

”What food do you eat?”
Stew, roasted meat (goat or cow), greens, rice, stiff porridge of flour, bread, beans, fruit, and vegetables.

”What is the weather like in the place you're at?”
In Juba it is hot all the time 80-100 degrees. The rainy season started in April, and we get a good storm a couple times a week. The rain will last until November here in Juba. Climates vary tremendously across Sudan. With tropical forest, grass land, mountains, the largest swamp in the world, and desert.

“What are the conditions for people?”
In south Sudan the situation is dire for many people. Returning refugees do not have access to the food and water they need. Education and health care facilities are rare and poorly staffed when they exist. Maternal and child mortality are some of the highest rates in the world. Hunger is widespread.

”What is your job, specifically, in Sudan?”
I work for the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which is the largest Christian denomination here. I work for the provincial office, which is the office of the Archbishop for all of Sudan (north and south). I am a missionary of the Episcopal Church USA, assigned here to work for the Archbishop at his request. I am an agriculturalist, and so my job is to start an agriculture department for the church. I have been helping in the planning process for larger scale food production projects, and I assist the regional bishops with training and advising for their agriculture programs. I do workshops with subsistence farmers and pastors, teaching them improved farming techniques, that allow them to increase their food production without having to purchase expensive inputs (sustainable techniques like composting, mulching, adjusting plant density, etc). I spend most of my time traveling in the south to the rural areas. When I am at home in Juba, I attend a lot of meetings, and work in the office.

”Do they have any similarities to us? If so, how?”
People everywhere are essentially the same they have the same concerns: family, friends, making a living. People argue and tell jokes, they go to work, they go shopping, kids play games and make toys out of anything they can find. Soccer is the favorite sport. People go to church, sing songs… the similarities are endless. There are 5 kids in the family I live with and we don’t speak the same language, but we still play tons of games together, and laugh all the time.

”Life is obviously different there; how did you adapt?”
Its not so hard to adapt. The food is different, but good. Learning the meaning behind different sayings and how to be polite is difficult at first when you come to a new culture. What is difficult now is worrying about the future of the country and the increasing violence. But it is also hard missing my family and friends.

”Where and how do you get most of your water from?”
At home we have running water in the house. When I am traveling in areas that don’t have running water, someone goes and hauls water by the bucket from a hand-pump well, or from a river. Many diseases are spread in water, so drinking water must be boiled or purchased.

”What is your living system (daily routine?)”
When I am in Juba, I get up around 7, have tea with family I live with, drive or walk about ½ mile to the office. Where we have power, internet, printers, scanners, etc. I research on the internet, communicate with bishops and others about projects, planning (calling, meeting, writing). When I am traveling, which is more than ½ the time, it is different. We drive down dirt roads, stay in local accommodations which are usually tukls (huts), we are greeted by the people, eat, meet with bishops, tour the diocese, see agriculture projects, conduct workshops, and pray together.

”Do you know anyway that we may help?”
You can write to President Obama and to your Members of Congress and Sentors. Tell them that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan is in danger of falling apart, and the country going back to war. Remind them that the US is one of the countries that signed the agreement as a guarantor of the peace, and it is our responsibility to do something before it is too late.
You can also give money to groups working in Sudan. And you can pray for Sudan.

Special thanks to Hayley for organizing this discussion, and to she and her classmates for their concern for the people of Sudan!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hope and Fear

More than 1,000, possibly more than 2,000 people have been killed in south Sudan in tribal clashes over the last two months. It is hard to know for sure, because it doesn’t seem to be on the news. And the LRA is still killing and spreading fear throughout Western and Central Equitoria states. I have noticed that the conflict in Darfur has captured the hearts and minds of people all over the world, but people fail to realize that Darfur is part of Sudan, and if there is no peace between the north and the south, there will be no peace in Darfur. The peace today stands uncertain.

The Archbishop of Sudan, Daniel Deng Bul, sounded the alarm this month in a letter to the international community. “Arms smuggling, re-armament and incitement of tribal violence is being carried out by enemies of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement… Why is the international community allowing this violence to continue? I beseech you to act now to prevent it and protect the peace of my people.” (full text)

The Archbishop is a man of tremendous vision, and I am honored to be working for him. In his first year in office he has been working tirelessly and without pay to bring development to Sudan. But development work cannot happen in the presence of violence and insecurity. I had an agriculture workshop scheduled today, which was canceled because of insecurity in the area. Now, as the CPA is threatened, the Archbishop has become an outspoken advocate of peace. Last week, the front page of the Juba newspaper had his photo and the title, “Church sounds the alarm”. He is struggling to find the means to travel to some of these conflict torn areas to preach about peace, and reconciliation. His voice makes a difference. The Church makes a difference.

It is easy to feel hopelessness in the face of mounting uncertainty for the future of Sudan. It is easy to see only the bad things that are happening anywhere in this world. But this week, I am inspired by this leader who stands firmly with the Gospel message of peace and reconciliation. And I am honored that my presence here is helping support the programs of the Church, which bring hope.

I had my first agriculture workshop last week in the diocese of Lainya. I met with 17 pastors and lay leaders for a day-long discussion and practice. We started with a bible study on passages that talk about stewardship of the land, and a discussion. “We need tractors, tools, seeds…” this is a refrain I have heard everywhere. But this time, we used it as an opportunity to talk about what they do have, and how God might be calling them to act with what has been provided in creation around them. One thing we came up with was that they could plant a teak plantation using seeds from the wild trees, and use that for an investment for the church and the pastors. We also went out into the field to observe and practice some improved techniques. By looking and evaluating, the participants came up with 7 different benefits of mulch! Convincing people to mulch instead of burn is one of my priorities as an agriculturalist. Since we talked about what happens in both mulching and burning, and looked at the results, and connected that to what we read in the bible about learning from creation, it seems to have made an impact. It was a good and hope-filled day.

God has been moving in my heart on the subject of hope. As I sat praying a few days ago, demanding answers to my worry and longing, a single word came to me – patience. And all my questions and demands of “why” and “when” and “how,” seemed to be clouds of darkness and confusion, and at the center of it all was a dazzlingly beautiful light, that was the love of God. This seemed to be the answer to my questions… take a step back, remember what is important. I find it immensely difficult to trust God, because after all, bad things happen to good people. But this picture in my heart is a reminder. There is no truth in these questions I ask, no hope. Hope is in the love of God, everywhere and eternal.

Patience is a choice, focusing on the love of God is a choice. I have been frustrated that I don’t find these choices to be natural. It takes me whispering the words “rely on God” before I can even consider that patience is a choice! But I think this is the work of life to which we are called. We can choose whether our work is fulfilling or not, based on the choices we make every second of the day. Many of these choices are too hard, too different from our normal way of being. But we have the Holy Spirit inside us, just waiting for us to remember that we can’t do it alone.

So in spite of all that is going on, and because of it, I feel the presence of the peace which passes understanding. And I am assured that it is through our weaknesses and failings, and through the troubles and hopelessness of this world that God’s glory is revealed.

ECS Website

For more news about what's going on in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, check out the ECS website

See the Archbishop's appeal to the international community for urgent assistance in safeguarding the peace in Sudan: click here

See the planning document for the ECS Agriculture Department which I am working on establishing: click here

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Frisbees and Easter Season Thoughts

The five kids I live with and I made an important discovery today. The lid of the common laundry soap tubs, can be used as a Frisbee. Bul and Ayak, the oldest two, are quite good at playing Frisbee. The twins Achan and Angar, have recently become interested, and will catch it if it’s thrown to them at a range of about two feet. But the youngest, Nibol, puts us all to shame with her fierce bravery. She is two. She grits her teeth, and gets into her Frisbee stance. If the Frisbee is thrown low enough, she can stamp it out of the air, and she chucks it at least ten feet. She jumps up and down and claps her hands, and we all join in. The importance of the soap container discovery is that Frisbee has now become, to use the development work lingo, a locally sustainable game. And because the lid is lightweight, it means it doesn’t hurt if you hit someone with it. Since the Frisbee I brought is made of heavy plastic, and half our players are under the age of four, this is a big improvement! The kids (except Bul) don’t speak English, and I can only say a few things in Arabic, but we have found a common language in Frisbee, and funny faces, and games where someone pretends to be a crocodile or monster and eats the others. They also taught me a game much like “this little piggy” only it’s counted on fingers, and involves tickling at random intervals. Much to their pleasure, they have discovered I am extremely ticklish. Giggling is the universal language.

Today I took a trip out to one of our project sites in Panyikwara, and two of my friends, Rev. Charles and Tito came with me. I decided since we are friends, and it was Saturday, and the trip was 3 hours and more than 100 miles each way, that this officially counted as a road trip. So I described the importance of a road trip in my culture. Since the road was dirt, and full of potholes, I decided it could also be classified as off-roading. In order to complete the experience, we took the requisite goofy this-is-us-on-a-road-trip photos.

When we got to Panyikwara, I got to meet Charles’ family again, and this time I learned the names of his kids, and how to say “thank you for the delicious food” in Acholi. His youngest Odira, is the exact same age as my nephew, not quite two. I loved watching him, and realizing that my nephew has probably learned some of the same motor skills these months I’ve been away. When Charles handed him a little money, I was amazed, that he toddled off to the corner store (only 100 yards from the house), to buy a cookie. We did get down to business by discussing the salary structure the employees were proposing, and we engaged in a discussion with the county ag advisor about aide and whether people value things that are free. We also attended part of a workshop on seed production.

Charles is leaving to start seminary in Uganda tomorrow. I am happy for him, but sad for all of us who will miss him. Nearly every trip I have been on around Southern Sudan, Charles has gone too. And I have come to rely on his eternal optimism, constant laughter, and unquenchable joy. His cheerfulness seems to provoke my crankiness when I am frustrated or haven’t had lunch yet, and he has put up with me with patience and good humor. Every day, he reminds me “It’s in God’s hands.” Charles, and most of the pastors of the Episcopal Church of Sudan sacrifice so much to do the work they feel they are called to do. I am constantly humbled by Charles’ cheerful sacrificing.

There is God. This answer comes at the end of a week I have found difficult. This week I have felt more susceptible to cynical and hopeless trains of thought. The violence in Jonglei state is escalating, with more than 1,000 killed in the last two months. But violence in other areas continues too, with the LRA in Western Equitoria, and fighting over cattle raiding in several other states as well. We met more IDPs in our visit to Lainya last weekend, displaced by the LRA. I have found it hard not to focus on the question “why?” I have found it hard to believe in the peace. But into this struggling searching frame of mind, today comes the Frisbee discovery, and five giggling kids, and travels with friends.

As I sit here writing to you, my heart is full of a renewed sense of joy. Whenever I write to you I am reminded of your love and prayers which sustain me daily. I am reminded of all the things I love about my home and my diocese, all of you, and this job. And I am honored again to be entrusted to this work, to be the physical presence of the love you have for the people of Sudan. And that work I think is just as much about throwing Frisbees as it is about teaching agriculture.

God is all around us, calling to us in the beauty and wonder of humanity and creation. Some days it’s easier to see that than others. But if God is there, solidly present in hope and joy and the peace which passes understanding, even in the homeless shelter in Atascadero, and in post-Katrina Mississippi, and in impoverished Central American villages, and in post-war Liberia, and in conflict-ridden Sudan, then surely God is everywhere, and God’s love can redeem it all. We are not living in a world where evil and death and hopelessness get the final word. We are living in a world of Easter. Christ is risen indeed!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Peace Journey to Easter

The convoy of three flat bed semi-trucks, half a dozen pick-ups and SUVs, and assorted government and police vehicles, thudded over potholes, fish-tailed through muddy slews, trundled over bumps and rocks, and occasionally zigzagged out into the bush or open plain searching for a passable route, all the while accompanied by the sound of drums and song coming from the 200 singing evangelists aboard the semi-trucks. In all we were, the Archbishop and his wife, three bishops, a hand full of staff, at least 30 pastors, and the 200 strong marching choir. In a week and a half we traveled approximately 550 miles, averaging less than 20 miles per hour, through forest and plain and swamp, across territory plagued by cattle raiders and rogues, stopping at every village and town to greet the crowds who came to welcome us, preach about reconciliation, and pray for peace and justice. This was the Archbishop’s peace, reconciliation, and evangelism tour of Jonglei state.

The Episcopal Church of Sudan is praying for Jonglei State in this time of insecurity. In March more than 750 people were killed, and on Palm Sunday 40 were killed in one village. Cattle raiders ambush the cattle keepers, kill them, and steal the cows, then fighting breaks out between the groups.

We set out from Juba on Holy Wednesday. On Maundy Thursday we were in the town of Bor, which is the capitol of the state. Our marching choir, the “Youth Mamas”, and the youth of Bor, led a prayer march around the town. We stopped, and the Archbishop prayed first at the hospital, then the prison, then at the government offices. Finally we ended up at the town square, where the bishops led a prayer and preaching rally, attended by thousands of people.

Most of the church women in Sudan and some of the men, carry crosses with them. They wave them when singing songs, hold them aloft in testimony, or just hold them as a tangible reminder of their faith. As we traveled along the road, I saw that people carried their crosses not just to church, but everywhere they went: walking to the next village, collecting firewood, hauling water… I wondered if they clung to their crosses because of the insecurity. The Archbishop told me it had become the way they lived their lives—carrying the cross. I was presented with a cross by one of the women, because I greeted them in the name of Jesus, in the Dinka language. So on Good Friday, I had a cross to carry and wave.

One of the villages we stopped at on Good Friday was the village of Kapat, where 40 people had been killed by thieves less than a week before on Palm Sunday. Jerry Drino tells me that some of our Sudanese brothers in the Diocese of El Camino Real lost family members in this village. It is a small village, and the people were obviously crushed by such a tragedy. And yet the Mother’s Union still came out to greet the delegation, singing and waving their crosses. We stayed a bit longer at this village. One of the women was asked to pray, and though I couldn’t understand the words, I could hear the passion of her faith behind her tears, and it moved me deeply. With the cross in my hand and Kapat on my mind, I thought about the meaning of Good Friday. And it seemed that this path we were on was the way of the cross. The suffering and fear and despair along the path is too great for us to bear. But Christ has borne it, and the people have found comfort carrying the cross of Christ.

On Easter, our open-air service in the village of Wangulei was attended by nearly 5,000 people. We continued northward to places so remote they had never been visited by an Archbishop or any dignitary. But the church was still there, cut off most of the year by impassable roads. We passed the conflicted boarder between the Dinka and Nuer tribes, into the Nuer territory. In the town of Ayod we were greeted by the choirs of 4 different denominations, for a wonderful display of Christian unity. We stayed two days, and I noticed the feeling change as we were there. Excitement and hope were building. The Youth Mamas were a particularly powerful witness, made up of many different tribes, on a mission together for peace. People were gathering where the Youth Mamas were camped-out to talk with them and learn from them. The people insisted we stay an extra night so they could slaughter a bull for a feast. The local witch doctor cast aside his magic accessories, and went to the Youth Mamas for prayer. 63 people were confirmed, three evangelists were commissioned, and three people ordained. And after the prayer rally, 5 thieves were caught. The group that gathered to see us off was a very different group indeed than the one that greeted us. Their faces were alight with something I had not noticed earlier—hope, courage, joy.

It was a Holy Week of walking in the way of the suffering, and it was an Easter Week of transformation by the risen Christ. The problems continue in Jonglei, with another clash in the east two days ago, and reports of more than 500 killed. But into this broken and hurting world we proclaim the hope of Christ crucified and risen. And I can tell you with certainty that that hope makes all the difference.