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!