Thursday, August 09, 2007
Mundri and Lui, a Visit to Southern Sudan
Here are some impressions of Southern Sudan, if one is even allowed to have impressions in only three days of travel . . . A vast, green, flooded, flat, forested, harsh, muddy land (in the rainy season, which is peaking now) dotted with people of determination, history, hope.
Seven missionaries from our team flew from Bundibugyo to Arua (Uganda, for customs) then to Mundri, in Western Equatoria, Sudan. We were hosted by veteran missionaries David and Heather Sharland and the Episcopal Church of Sudan. The Sharlands have been in Africa about twenty years and in this part of Sudan the last 8, and in spite of some harrowing close calls with bandits and bombs they have managed to develop close ties with their Anglican church counterparts, and poured their passions into agriculture and village health. Michael and Scott met them on their first trip to Sudan almost a year ago, and Michael has been in touch with David over the months. The Sharlands work in Lui, which is 25 km east of Mundri. They asked the Massos to consider Mundri as a potential WHM site. The ECS has been in Mundri almost 90 years, established under a slave trading tree by a Dr. Fraser who then went on to build some amazingly solid (in every sense of the word) schools and a hospital in Lui.
A few adventures, and then the summary. Adventures first: to reach Mundri town from the airstrip requires crossing the Yei river, which at this point in the rainy season is about fifty yards of fast-flowing brown water and debris. The bridge was blown up during the war, so groups of 15 or 20 people pile into an old wooden row boat that is tied to a rope, and a very strong man then pulls you hand over hand across the flooded waters. We were received royally, politely. There is a dignity and pride that people have not lost in the war. They are looking for help and partnership but they have their own sense of mission as a church to rebuild their country. Lots of tea and talk in a small mud-walled kitbbi, then a walk through the local school, which was not much more than crumbling mud walls and a few pole benches. The cathedral, however, is very impressive. At this point in the tour the government official arrived with his ivory stick and suit, and announced that the river had reached the highest flood stage since 1983 (the beginning of the current north-south conflict, so a definite point of reference in everyone’s mind) and we would not be permitted to cross back over that night. This was a bit upsetting to our host David whose wife and other friends in Lui were expecting us . . . And to us, since the car and our back-packs were on the other side of the river . . . But we saw God’s hand giving us more time in Mundri. We ended up in a guest house consisting of a dozen or so tukuls, the Sudanese version of a small square hut with a thatch roof. Our church hosts fed us, then we all sat outside in chairs in the dark and asked questions about peoples’ life stories, culture, marriage, land, crops. Stranded by floods in a small town, a dot on the vast map of Sudan, but with our team of friends and a very gracious church group.
The next morning we first learned to brush our teeth with a local stick when we saw everyone else doing so . . .and then walked around more of the town, clinic, schools. It was a bit of history to see some of the “returnees” already settled temporarily in schools, and another 118 dropped off by the IOM (UN agency dealing with displaced people) that morning, after flying from Khartoum and being trucked to Lui. Peace is growing, though no one knows for how long. Those who fled the war are now coming back to resume their lives among those who stayed. Both suffered.
By mid day we headed back across the river, which had ebbed back down slightly, then bounced the rutted and puddled 25 km east of the river to Lui. This town is smaller, but had more of the mission influence in the last century. Again we met remarkable people, smiling and competent and determined, working with very little. Again we sat and drank tea and ate rice and beans with church leaders, listening to their problems and dreams. A highlight for me was to tour the Samaritan’s Purse hospital where people I’ve met worked under very strenuous conditions during the war. We stayed in little mud tukuls again, and visited also the Sharland’s home for more fellowship.
Impressions: much like Bundibugyo when we first came (no cell phones, no fridges, long roads, few varieties of goods) but in other ways much further ahead in terms of Christian impact and international aid attention. The church is a much more pervasive institution and means of reaching the people with mercy ministries, and longs for that. English is the medium of instruction and communication, a big plus for Americans. WHM would be partnering with a wise mentoring missionary couple and some amazing Sudanese Christians, very appealing. Because of Samaritan’s Purse’s legacy, the training schools, the supplies I saw, and the much lower population, I did not sense the medical needs being as great as those in Bundibugyo and I know they would be much more intense in other areas of Sudan. But we came away thinking this would be a good place for WHM to start, particularly with the handful of schools already formed and functional whose teachers need encouragement and training. The trip allows Michael to gather data and pray and form ideas to present to our board in the Fall. Stay tuned!