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Friday, January 08, 2010

To Sudan and Back

We visited WHM's Mundri, South Sudan team this week, catching a ride on a MAF shuttle on Thursday that took us first through Arua and then Yei, and a ride back on an AIM-AIR charter whose pilot turned out to be a father of classmates of both Caleb and Luke. Though the time was short the visit was rich, so it will be hard to encapsulate in a blog post.
Sudan = vast, bright, dry winds, crackling teak leaves, ebony skin, tall thin Africans, heat, space. You can practically see the Uganda/Sudan border from the air, because once you fly over it the population density plummets. For most of the way from Yei to Mundri there is no sign of human touch at all. No roads, no huts or villages, no paths or tracks, no electric lines, not even a goat or cow, just endless plains and a winding, slow marshy river twisting northward. Then near Mundri the world comes to life again with swept dust compounds dotted with four or five neat square thatch tukuls, a radius of farm, and then more space, a spindly line of tan path creating a web between the scattered homesteads.
Mundri = stifled bustle, a growing town, much changed in the two plus years since my first visit or even the one plus years since Scott's. Shimmering afternoon heat, a growing line of shops, more boreholes, pumps, jerry cans, vehicles, trucks, women selling cabbages and corn and lentils, flies buzzing around mounds of cassava, cooking oil doled out in one-cup increments in recycled plastic water bottles. A completed bridge spanning the river we had first crossed by boat. Enclaves of plastic chairs along the main road as hotels/restaurants proliferate, even though most are little more than a simple wooden counter, a tea kettle on coals, a tray of cups. Soldiers in camouflage, striding, sitting, manning check points. As dusk falls generators rumble to life all over the town, glowing lights under the huge expanse of stars.
WHM Community = creative carving out of a loving life in a hard place. They are renting a small but serviceable "modern" cement house right in the thick of the warrens of town compounds, a family of five in the cramped oven of the house with four single women living in two satellite structures, a large safari tent and a typical Sudanese mud/thatch tukul. The perimeter of the yard is fenced (as many others are too), so the effect is one of privacy and space in spite of having other huts abutting all sides. We were thankful to be assigned a small camping tent where the four of us could all stretch out our mattresses by putting one side-ways. It is dry season, and the evening breeze brings cool relief until the night turns pleasantly chilly. We slept well outdoors while the Massos baked in their house. MUCH QUIETER than our town Nyahuka!
WHM Community to Come, soon = building site, biking in a pod of onjodek ya kanisa (or something like that meaning foreign non-manual laborers who are connected to the church . . called out by happy waving kids all along the way) the 2 1/2 km west of town to view the new WHM compound where Michael is building housing for the team in cooperation with the Episcopal Church of Sudan. This mutual project already has an impressive office-block completed, and the bishop's house and the Masso's are up to the ring beams, neighbors, while the community eating/dining area and one of the single women's small homes are under roof. Creative designs, culturally appropriate, a central larger round house for the group to cook and dine in, surrounded by separate sleeping quarters. All requiring tremendous inputs of labor and perseverance and funds, cement and supplies trucked days away from Uganda, the future slowly emerging from the construction-site rubble, a home and ministry center created out of partnership.
Schools = emerging. Several of the team teach in the slowly resurrecting Bishop Ngalamu Bible college, a post-war post-apocalyptic compound which was once a fine college-level center of learning and is now a nearly deserted shell where a dozen or more lay pastors are embarking upon English and Bible and Community Development. A hopeful expectation is in the air, that an Australian branch of the Anglican communion will rehabilitate the entire campus. Other team-mates teach, and teach teachers, at the church's primary school. While our team prayed for money to rehab this crumbling hardly-a-school-at-all . . . Oxfam arrived and built three spiff classroom blocks. Still with over 700 kids and 16 teachers, even 9 rooms is grossly inadequate. Overflow pours into the old ruins, and under the trees. And lastly the local government secondary school, where one team member braves her way through high school physics instruction. Only three classrooms are inhabitable. The theme: opportunity, rebuilding, eagerness for education, but need in every direction far greater than can be quickly met.
Boreholes = water, life, lines of waiting jerry cans at every tap, never at rest, always pumping and flowing, drawing the life-sustaining moisture from the ground for a growing population as people return to their newly peaceful homeland. We tour, this one fixed by Michael and Christine, this one with a new solar pump. This is why God sent the Massos, and why the Moru were so grateful that they came.
Church = indigenous, wisdom, competence, we spend the evening with the Bishop and his family, highly educated and dedicated people who have left the cities of Nairobi and Kampala to serve their people. Bright-blue clad women in a huge circle, the Mothers Union. New huts being constructed voluntarily for a huge revival conference at the end of the month. An experienced counselor meeting with Bethany to map out their hopes to bring Biblical truth and comfort into war-traumatized lives. Ideas, hope. Resilience, the work of a past century enabling this people-group to re-group and thrive after massive displacement and loss.
Life = relationships, words, tastes. We bike through the villages, greeting, smiling. Bethany and Karen and I sit with a young lady who teaches them Moru, thankful for sticky sweet lemonade in the afternoon's oppressive sunshine. The day ends at Omar's cafe, a semi-circle of plastic chairs, fading orange light, evening chatter, a pile of fluffly pita bread dipped in flavorful pools of lentil, fulful (beans), fried egg or meat, sprinkled with strong onions and salt, as the team practices their recently acquired Arabic. South Sudan, an amalgam of languages. The Bishops's daughter cheerfully explains that she prefers Lugbara, the Ugandan language near her secondary school in Arua, though her family speaks Arabic at home, Moru in town, English in class and with us, and previously Swahili in their Kenya-refugee days.
Peace = fragile. Today marked five years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South, a tenuous truce, with rumors of new conflict hovering just below the surface of calm progress and new development. We met an activist for non-violence, who had traveled to India to study Ghandi's principles and wants to bring Christians and Muslims, North and South, Arabic and African cultures, together. Elections loom uneasily on the horizon, slated for March or April, but no one seems convinced they can be pulled off. Uncertainty. Most of the country's wealth lies in oil, deposited inconveniently right along the North-South border, disputed.
Meanwhile a brave little team faithfully lives day to day, learning to talk to people and trying to hear their bruised hearts, stumbling into speech and responsibility. Sweating over bricks and mortar and pipes and power, carving out a survivable space for raising children and hosting friends, aware that the whole country may implode again in a year. Laughing together, singing around a fire under the cool relief of the night sky, dreaming, asking God which of the thousand needs and opportunities are their calling. The flickering light that we pray will grow and push back forces of greed and vengeance and fear. This is where God's people should be, rebuilding the broken civilization and bringing witness to the world. Grateful for our glimpse of it all.


KevinandJD said...

Beautiful. Thanks for the glimpse of life out there in S. Sudan.

Phyllis Masso said...

Wow, Jennifer. Good job capturing the sights, sounds, feel, vision of World Harvest's Southern Sudan team activity and Mundri ambiance.