Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mangos and Other Happy Thoughts

In these dark and difficult times in the world, finding joy in the simple things in life is particularly important. So I will share with you some random thoughts.

Mangos: Mango season has begun. For those of you who have never happened to visit the tropics during mango season, you might say, “so what”, but for those of you who have ever tasted a mushy stringy mango freshly fallen from the tree… well, you know! I keep being presented with bags of mangos, and I have decided that this is a sign of friendship. I live in a duplex with the Archbishop and his wife Mama Deborah, and several members of the provincial staff. The Archbishop and Mama Deborah, and several of my housemates are gone traveling this week, and so those remaining are particularly concerned with my wellbeing (which is good since I still haven’t learned how to light a cooking fire). Before the group left, I was presented with a bag of mangos, and though I am not quite halfway through, yesterday evening, another bag showed up in the living room! I have always been a hoarder, but this is a plethora of mangos, which I can eat with wild abandon.

One of my housemates, and I were discussing just last evening, whose teeth were better suited for mango eating. We disagreed. He said mine were closer together (I say crammed together) and therefore better for scraping the last bit of mango away from the seed. And I said his, because the mango strings didn’t get stuck in his teeth as much. As for me, my dentist has finally gotten his wish, I floss several times a day. But I still have bits of mango string stuck in there. It is worth it. The mango season is longer in Sudan, because the well-watered mangos along the Nile start producing early. So we have almost 4 months of sticky, slimy, sweet, delicious, jucy, messy, goopy, amazingness! With flossing afterward for some of us.

Water bottle woes: At home in the states, I am practically militant about drinking tap water, and not buying water bottles. In Sudan I buy an average of 4 per day. And here, coming face to face we have two environmental dilemmas: Do I use coal to boil my own water, or do I buy bottled water… Well I’ve already answered that for the time being, because I just can’t get the coal to light. But the silver lining is that I’m finding all kinds of uses for the water bottles. I am cutting the tops and bottoms to make pots for seedlings, and planting a whole bottle with a hole in the bottom next to a tree seedling for drip irrigation. A water bottle can also make a cup and funnel if you cut the top off, but there are only so many cups and funnels one needs. Any other ideas? Juba is nearly surrounded by a mile swath of water bottles, plastic bags, and soda cans. I dream of recycling plants!

Language learning: There are at least 300 languages spoken in Sudan. Arabic being the most universal, English being the semi-universal language of the well educated in the south, and then hundreds of tribal languages. Now for a girl who found Spanish to be ten times harder than Calculus, this is daunting. My Arabic is deplorable. It consists of only the most necessary words: a greeting, thank you, water, and mango. I am making an effort, and as of today, resolved to do better. I am furthest ahead in Dinka, because one of the bishops spent several hours tutoring me, and then quizzes me whenever he sees me. My goal is to learn the phrase “I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” in as many languages as possible. This is the appropriate way to greet a group of Christians, and everywhere a visitor goes, they are expected to greet the people with a speech. So far I have mastered it in Dinka, Bari, and Acholi, which has made me very popular in certain places. The most necessary phrases after that are “thank you” a greeting, “my name is” and “I am not married”. I can also say “I teach the church people agriculture” in Dinka.

This is my job: So in the last month I attended the bishops and spouses retreat (though I am neither a bishop nor a spouse). I’ve been to England for a meeting at Lambeth palace. I’ve finished my diocesan agriculture profiles for all 25 dioceses, and the overall planning and visioning report for the ECS Agriculture Department. I’ve met with a chief, landlords, and a county commissioner, and I’ve started the budgeting process for the department. Wow, it has been a busy month! And only 5 days of it spent in an office. As Buck Blanchard would say “I love my job”. (sorry you have to be in-the-know for that one). But the point is, I love my job!

May you be overwhelmed by abundance in the world around you, may your mangos always be ripe, and may you bubble over with the joy of God!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lambeth and Canterbury

I returned last week from a couple weeks in England. I was there for a meeting, and stayed to visit a friend, and explore. The meeting was a roundtable discussion on health, theological education, and agriculture in Sudan, and the Archbishop of Sudan, three other Sudanese bishops, and some of the ECS staff, as well as partners from the US and UK were all there. The roundtable was held at Lambeth palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, just across the Themes river from the houses of parliament. It was quite an experience.

On the first evening, they held a welcome service for us at Westminster Abbey. We stood in the heart of the Abbey, surrounded by the tombs of such notable people as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and what seemed like most of the former kings and queens, right back to St. Edward the Confessor. The voices of the spectacular choir echoing marvelously, surrounded by all that history and wealth. There was one tomb of a missionary in Africa in the 1800s, whose body was “carried by faithful souls over land and sea”. And there we stood, being welcomed with a liturgy that included some of the favorite hymns in Sudan (“What a Friend we have in Jesus” and “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus”), and prayers written by women in Sudan.(see post script). The simultaneous juxtaposition and unity between life and worship in England and Sudan, was wonderful to behold. We are different, and yet the same. And those moments of unity, when we reach beyond our own norms to embrace each other in welcome and worship, are beautiful, and are the commonality we need in order to engage in discussion and relationship.

I am reminded again and again of the importance of prayer. Before we (the ECS community) do anything, have a meeting, drive a car, eat a meal, we pray. And that prayer helps us to stay focused on what’s really important. I was complaining about something just the other day, and one of the pastors said, “Let us pray,” and as we focused on prayer, the frustration was put back in it’s rightful place of insignificance. I am constantly amazed and inspired by the faith of the church leaders around me. “It is in God’s hands,” “God will Provide,” “It is to the glory of God,” are phrases I hear daily.

In England I also got to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury, because a friend of mine happened to be there. There is not a place in Canterbury Cathedral which is not incredibly moving. The holiness, the sense that your prayers are joining the prayers of millions of other pilgrims, is palpable. There is a simple candle that burns at the place where the tomb and shrine to St. Thomas Beckett of Canterbury, used to be, until it was destroyed by Henry VIII. Where Thomas was martyred, there is a kneeler that the Pope and Archbihshop of Canterbury once knelt on together in prayer. At the front of the Cathedral there is a chapel dedicated to the modern martyrs. There is a simple altar, and a small statue of a martyr being bared along by mourners. There is also a binder that has stories of the martyrs.

As I knelt at the chapel of the martyrs, I wanted to be overcome by sadness, morn the tragic loss of these brave and faithful people, morn the suffering and evil in this world, but I was interrupted. Perhaps because it is the place where so many have come to pay there respects to the martyr Thomas, but in that place the martyrs seemed more real to me than ever, and they seemed alive. I thought about who they were, and how they lived their lives, about the joy they felt in their walk with Jesus, about how even death itself could not tear them from the love of Christ. And that is the great secret of the martyrs isn’t it? Their foes finally kill them, as they killed Jesus, thinking that they have silenced these lovers of Jesus, these non-violent justice seekers. Only to find that even death cannot conquer the martyrs. I suppose the martyrs can be an example to us in faith and courage and all that, but let’s face it, we are always going to fall short of their example. More than anything, I think they are calling us to not be afraid, reminding us that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not the economy or unemployment, not persecution or hunger, not our daily annoyances and frustrations, not even death can separate us from the love of God. And that is a lesson everyone everywhere can share in!

Prayers Adapted by the Cannon of Westminster from prayers written by women of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (1997) for an ecumenical day of prayer:

O God, into the pain of the tortured,
Breathe stillness

Into the misery of the displacement,
Breathe comfort

Into the hunger of the very poor,
Brethe fullness

Into the death of the innocent,
Breathe life,

Into the pain of the widowed and orphans,
Breathe Hope,

God our Father, you are the source of all truth and peace: look with mercy on your children in all the world. Purify our hearts form all hatred, falsehood and prejudice, and so guide us by your loving wisdom that peace and righteousness may be established among all nations. Come, Holy Spirit; grant us the peace of mind and soul, so that we may receive the great blessing of love, peace, and reconciliation , wherever there is conflict and loss, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Prayer Request

Please pray for peace in Sudan, given the current events today (ICC issuing a warrant for the President).

Pray that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north and the south will remain strong. Pray for peace in the continually troubled region of Darfur, and pray for the people of Darfur, now left without assistance.

Thank you.