Thursday, December 8, 2011

Two things that are quite different about church life here in Sudan, as compared to the U.S., are the numbers and the stewardship. Our churches in the US typically do not have very large congregations. Here in Sudan a typical parish will have 300 to 400 in attendance at the main church and at least an equal number at various chapels that are part of that parish. A typical confirmation class will have 25 to 35 confirmands each year. The Cathedral parish regularly has 800 to 900 in attendance at two services and has ten chapels with a more than equal number in attendance each Sunday. Three weeks ago some 83 adults and youth were presented for confirmation. If the numbers in attendance are high the number of dollars or Sudanese pounds that are given in support of the church is low. This is mostly due to the fact that most people here have very little cash. They are subsistence farmers and literally live from farm field to mouth. Every Sunday a table is put out in the middle of every church with a basket or bowl on it. During the singing of one of the hymns those making an offering come forward and very publically place a paper bill or two (they have no available coinage) in whatever vessel has been placed out. Most people put in a one or two pound note which is equivalent to 34 or 68 cents. Which is a lot given the fact that they have no cash. Some do not put in anything. There are no yearly pledges, no offering envelopes, no quarterly statements and no giving by check.

Most Sudanese, like most Americans, give to support the church because they think it “the thing to do.” rather than trying to return to God a tithe of all they have been given out of a sense of heart-felt thanksgiving . Sudanese, like many American Episcopalians, give very generously of their time although their time gifts often take a very different form. Things that U.S. churches typically would pay professionals or laborers to do are often done by church members. Yesterday, for instance, 84 men and women dug two foot deep “foundation trenches” for a home that they are building for their bishop, Samuel Peni. They worked for three hours in the very hot sun with picks, hoes and shovels. At the same time 17 youth turned up to mix cement and make large and very heavy concrete blocks for this construction project.nday a table is put out in the middle of every church with a basket or bowl on it. During the singing of one of the hymns those making an offering come forward and very publically place a paper bill or two (they have no available coinage) in whatever vessel has been placed out. Most people put in a one or two pound note which is equivalent to 34 or 68 cents. Which is a lot given the fact that they have no cash. Some do not put in anything. There are no yearly pledges, no offering envelopes, no quarterly statements and no giving by check.

Clergy and lay leaders in the Church here in Sudan are treated with far greater respect and honor than in the U.S. Special seats are set aside at all worship services at the front of the church for the Bishop, his wife, diocesan staff and visiting clergy and lay leaders. Before any announcements, a sermon or a talk is given the person talking specifically acknowledges the presence of any clerical or lay leaders that are present. When a visiting Bishop or important visitor arrives they are very typically met by a large group of waiting persons who are waving palm leaves, clapping and singing songs of welcome. At the conclusion of a worship service the first persons to leave the church building are always the preacher, officiant, lay readers,

the bishop, his wife, and various diocesan staff. When the bishop enters a room all rise and when he is approached people typically bow deeply, take his hand and touch their foreheads to or kiss his hand. All of these customs are NOT examples of rampant clericalism run amok but rather of the deep honor and respect that people have for their lay and clerical leaders.

Significant lay participation in Sudanese church life is a given. In the U.S. the clergy are typically called on to offer a prayer at church or family functions. In Nzara, by contrast, lay leaders are often without any kind of warning asked to offer prayer before meals, in the midst of worship services or on special occasions. It is assumed that all church members can pray aloud, without any kind of written prayers to rely on and with a certain degree of fluency. At the Morning Prayer service at the cathedral lay leaders, not clergy, are the most frequent preachers and leaders of worship. It should, perhaps, also be noted that when we speak of lay and clergy leaders that those terms are inclusive of both men and women. Most priests and lay leaders are men but it is a rare occasion when women clergy or lay leaders do not “up front.”

Many Sudanese priests have very limited education. It is not at all unusual to find clergy who have only finished five or six years of primary school and one year of a bible college. Most U.S. Episcopal clergy have at least finished 19 years of formal educational instruction. Church life here has been disrupted by over 40 years of on and off civil war. Many Sudanese have had to flee their homes and live in the bush or in a neighboring country. Any opportunity they might have had for primary and secondary education much less seminary has often been minimal. Less educated priests are frequently assigned to smaller congregations or act as assistants to better educated clergy Better educated priests who have a knowledge of English and a Bachelor of Divinity Degree may be ordained but find it impossible to support their families due to the fact that priests in Nzara receive no cash salary. They would typically have a mud brick/thatch roofed hut provided for housing and some food is harvested for their use from a previouslparish garden partially maintained by parishioners but no salary. These priests frequently find that they can get very well paying jobs in the government, at an NGO, or in business so they often moonlight at these other jobs or give up any church position entirely. Diocesan staffs and the very largest parishes have better educated clergy. This fact of church life is changing. As peace has come more and more clergy are being sent off for three years of formal theological education.

In many ways life in the church in Nzara and in the United States have a lot in common and in other ways are really quite different. For instance both churches use The Book Of Common Prayer to guide their worship BUT here the Zande translation is from the 1662 English Prayer Book. This means that the Gloria, which our Eucharist begins with, comes at the conclusion of the Sudanese service and that the ten commandments are read each and every Sunday at the service’s opening. Only two lessons are read each Sunday (one from an Epistle and the other a Gospel lesson) and they are on a one year rotating schedule. These are actually printed in the ECS Prayer Book/Hymnal. Our lessons include one drawn from the Old Testament, are on a three year rotation and are not printed in the Prayer Book. The hymns that are part of the Sudanese Prayer book only have the words printed (following the English practice) and do not have any accompanying music. Many of the hymns that are sung would be familiar to our ears because we sing the same tunes but many are drawn from evangelical hymnody sources. Many of the hymns have been memorized by the older members of the congregation. There are very few hymnals available to the younger members of the congregation because they are currently out of print. New hymnal/prayer books are on order but no money is available to pay for them.

The church in Sudan was planted or begun by English evangelical Anglicans who were sent out by a missionary society called the Church Missionary Society or the CMS. They were what used to be called a “low church” group. The CMS emphasized the importance of the Bible, simplicity in worship, and an almost puritanical morality. Thus it is that the church seasons (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany Lent, Easter, Pentecost) are largely ignored. Most people have never even heard those terms and days like Ash Wednesday pass without notice. Every Sunday white, never green or purple, cloths cover the altar. Many churches do not have a cross. Clergy wear black cassocks and white surpluses with black stoles or tippets. There are no candles on the altar. The bread and the wine of the Eucharist are replaced with broken pieces of English biscuits or cookies that are dipped in cool aid rather than wine and then placed in ones outstretched hands. Total abstinence from any form of liquor is strongly urged for all and insisted upon with clergy. There are no kneelers or kneeling cushions.

Men and women sit on opposite sides of the church except for the choirs which are seated together but sing in male and female sections. The main service at the Cathedral, where we attend, begins at 11:00 each Sunday and is typically three hours in length. It is based on the Prayer Book’s service of Morning Prayer. The Eucharist is about an hour service and is at 8:00.

The length of the main service is primarily due to the fact that there are typically three choirs each of which sing at least two or three songs each. The service which we have just come from included confirmation and the ordination of 4 deacons and two priests. It lasted six hours and had 1,300 people in attendance (most sitting under trees outside the church where they listened to the service). The service featured music sung by five different choirs sing (3 from the Cathedral and 2 from other parishes). Each choir have different outfits that that they wear. The 74 children in todays childrens choir featured girls in pink and green colored dresses and boys in purple over-shirts. The young men in the 54 member youth choir who sang today wore black pants and shirts, accented with white shoes, belts and ties. The girls wore long dresses made of cloth featuring blue and green flowers on a tan background. Every song that is sung is accompanied by various movements. Every hand, bottom, leg, arm, head and foot is in constant movement. The songs are accompanied by drums, a wide variety of “shakers” made of gourds, tin cans or bells and very loud electric guitars. In most parish churches they don’t have electric generators. Instead they use hand made harps of various sizes, drums and shakers. Many songs are of what musicians would label a “call and response” type. A soloist will sing a phrase and the choir will repeat the singers words. Many songs are composed by choir members or the choir leaders. Any time there is any music being sung women in various parts of the church will issue forth with a very high, shrill almost yodel like cry of delight and encouragement. During the singing various members of the congregation will sometime get up and dance in the aisle, clap their hands, sing along, or simply sway with the music. An all pervasive sense of genuine joy permeates the music and worship life of the Nzara Diocese.

Like most African Episcopal churches, those in Sudan encourage fallen away members to make public confessions before the entire congregation. They then go through a period of instruction and amendment of life, and then finally are publically readmitted to the congregation and to communion.

People in Nzara age quickly and often die at very young ages by American standards. A child in Nzara was buried yesterday. She came to school sick, became worse as the day went on and then died within two hours of being brought home from a cause which is still not identified. The deaths that occur are often from easily preventable causes (a burst appendix, infections , diarrhea, etc.) if adequate medical care had been available. Many people suffer chronic pain from bad teeth, backs, or disease. Virtually everyone has recurrent bouts of malaria that cause them to be very tired, have horrendous headaches, and be in great pain. One person told us that his father-in-law had just died and that he was very very old. We asked him how old and were told that he was 67. When we reminded this person that we were both 68 he could hardly believe it and told us that people as old as ourselves usually walk around with a long stick to lean on.

If you were to ask what Zande people do in their leisure hours I would have to say that the most common pastime is to simply sit in a circle of friends or family (often divided by sex) and converse and laugh with one another. Laughter can be heard at all times of day or night. Dominos and a few card games are popular. People love to watch local football (soccer) matches. Some men will watch televised international football games, war movies, music videos or sitcoms in the bars/restraunts courtesy of a satalite dish. Transistor radios are everywhere and feature a lot of American pop music, raggie from Jamaica, and Sudanese (English or local Arabic), Kenyan and Tanzanian (Swahili) and Ugandan (Lugandan or English) pop songs.

Market days are big social occasions. In the very remote areas they are typically held on Sundays after worship services in the shade of some trees. In towns like Nzara, the largest market days are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. In the bigger towns market goods are available every day. The market in a city usually has a large open area where local farmers bring their produce to sell. Near this open area are shops that sell boxed foods and other goods of interest such as bike parts, clothes and shoes of all types, house wares, batteries, soda pop, 50 Kilo bags of rice or flour, building materials and hardware, etc. Very few shops specialize in selling just one category of items. Everyone seems to have a very mixed selection which means that the shopper has to spend a lot of time wandering from shop to shop trying to find, for instance, a light bulb of the right size and character. Mixed in with all these small shops are a few restaurants or bars. On the edge of the markets or along the major roads one can find small booths that sell the charcoal or wood used for cooking and the bundles of cut straw or grass used to roof the mud-brick homes.traunts courtesy of a satalite dish. Transistor radios are everywhere and feature a lot of American pop music, raggie from Jamaica, and Sudanese (English or local Arabic), Kenyan and Tanzanian (Swahili) and Ugandan (Lugandan or English) pop songs.

Most people live out in the country or rural areas rather than in villages or towns. As you travel down any of the major or minor roads you see paths large enough for a bike, motor cycle or a person to get to their homes. Frequently the path to a compound goes right through the middle of several neighbor’s compounds. In the cities there are simply more compounds that are closer to one another. There are no streets, township or city/county roads laid out on stiff mathematically determined grids with sidewalks and street or barnyard lights. Increasingly there are people who can afford to build brick homes with iron sheet roofs and concrete floors. These might have several rooms, tile floors (concrete is next to impossible to keep clean), glass and screened in windows, heavy metal doors, electricity and fans run by generator power and TV/internet services courtesy of a satellite dish. These homes are typically built closer to the main roads because their owners also have cars and need ready access to highways. Most people are still dreaming of the time when they can have just one small tukal with a concrete floor and iron sheet roof some where in their compound. When one flies over Uganda all one can see is zinc metal roofs shining in the sun. One knows when you have crossed the border into south Sudan because virtually all the roofs of the tukals are still grass. The 40 years of war has set this country way behind the development of its neighbors.

Virtually everything Karen and I buy in the shops is made outside of Sudan. The packaged mango juice and concrete is made in Uganda, the jam and tea is from Kenya, batteries and ink jet cartridges from the US, and just about everything else from China. The trucks all seem to be second hand Japanese exports. Land Rover and Toyota seems to have captured the biggest share of the car market. Interestingly there do not seem to be anything that we would call crafts items for sale anywhere. There are virtually no tourists and so there is no one to buy such things. We were at the Yabua church one day and saw some beautiful black clay pots. We eventually found the person who had made them and ordered four but in that process discovered that our request was a first.

People frequently asked me when I was home in the fall about the wild animals I had seen. I had to disappoint them and tell them that there are none in the area that we are living in. There are no monkeys, lions, elephants, zebras, crocodiles, etc. What animals there might have been have either been eaten for food during the long civil wars or because they destroyed or damaged crops. This is not to say that South Sudan has no such animals. I have read stories about wild life in certain remote areas such as in the northern portions of Nzara county.

In previous letters I have described the diet of the people here, the kind of mud brick and thatch roofed tukals (4 x 4 meter huts) that make up the typical family compound or yard and 1community life? There is enough to be said that I have divided this subject into two letters.

Let me begin by describing in greater detail what the local diet consists, how it is prepared and Zande eating customs. The so called “greens,“ that are a staple, are simply the cut up leaves of various plants. The leaves are mixed with water, salt and sometimes with ground peanuts and vigorously boiled for some time. A bean, peanut or sesame seed sauce or the broth of a meat soup is frequently poured over rice or over a glutinous paste made of corn, millet or Casava flour. The meals do not have a great deal of variety. They do not eat with utensils but with their fingers. One simply takes a bit of one of the flour pastes in two or three fingers, tip it into the greens, sauce or soup broth and then take it to your mouth. Because their fingers are their utensils they are very careful to wash their hands before eating as well as after. There is always a basin, soap and a container of water outside any public eating area. In a home someone will come around a room of guests to give them the opportunity to clean their hands. This meal ritual always starts with the person of highest rank and the guests. Food is placed on a small low table in the middle of the room and each person, again according to their social ranking, goes to the table, serves themselves and returns to eat their meal at their seat and without a table. Tea, water or juice is served before or after the meal. Fruit (papya, pinnapple, bananas , mangoes, oranges) are most often served as snacks during the day rather that at meals Tea is the most common hot beverage and is typically served with lots of sugar and some milk powder. The actual cooking of the food typically takes place on the ground over an open fire or in a completely open sided kitchen tukal. Because of these conditions food is frequently salted with wind blown grit.

Pork, lamb and hamburger are virtually unknown. Chicken, smoked fish and wild game (antelope mostly) are quite expensive. Very tough beef (often with bits of bone attached) or goat are the typical meats of choice if meat is served. Meat is boiled vigorously in order to kill any germs. Ground nuts or peanuts are one of the chief sources of protein. They have virtually no deserts of any type except for a short bread like cookie that has little sugar. Most vegetables are unavailable (lettuce, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, etc.) except for tomatoes, onions, a Sudanese type of sweet potatoe and pumpkin. Western grown fruits like apples, grapes, grapefruit, cherries, artichokes, etc. are never seen in local markets.

The eating of fried termites is a local specialty. Recently we had our first real rain storm after three months of very dry weather. The evening after the storm our dining area was filled with flying insects which turned out, much to our surprise, to be termites. They very quickly lose their wings after hatching and fall to the ground. They are collected, cleaned (their wings are taken off), washed and then fried in palm oil. They look a little like wild rice and are crunchy. Their taste is hard to describe. Soda pop is available but expensive and includes, of all things, lots of Red Bull. African beers and liguor of a variety of types is available everywhere but both clergy and laity are urged not to partake in order to set an example in a place with far too much alcoholism. Prescription drug, marijuana and other illicit drug use is rare.

Each person knows what tribe, clan and family of which they are a part. The sense of being an integral part of a large extended family is very important to the Sudanese and great efforts are made to maintain family ties. I went with the bishop to visit one of his uncles on one occasion. He told me an old Zande proverb: “you do not need to ask what road your uncle lives on if he has died.” When we got to the uncles home we saw that he had made sure that his whole family was there to greet us. He had a meal ready for us to eat. We were the only ones to eat.

Zande men or women cannot marry within their own clan. Children are given a Christian name that is typically from the bible, a traditional name that is determined by a family leader and the name of their father. Women, after they are married, take their husbands first name as their second name (ie. Mary David or Grace Mobutu). The payment of a dowry by the groom to the bride’s family is still common. The choice of one’s marriage partner is a mixture of customs that involves both free choice and arrangements by one’s family. Very large families in which there are 6 to 8 children are typical. Bishop Samuel comes from a family of 18 children. Children are highly prized! Symbols of this can are apparent in the names sometimes given the young such as “Gifted,“ or “Tambua” (thanks). Most families seem to have children who are who has died, or simply an orphan.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I have decided that you all might be interested in some of the “little things” that we have learned since coming to Nzara. These little things are of a wide variety and character. They consist of learning something about local customs that it would be good to accommodate ourselves to as well as very practical things that make daily life a whole lot easier.

One of the first traditions that I violated in my complete and utter ignorance was the almost universally followed custom of shaking hands at the door of the church after service. After my first daily service of morning prayers (opening prayer, bible reading, homily, confession, absolution, Lord’s Prayer, general prayers, benediction and announcements) I shook hands with the officiant and proceeded to walk home. I looked back for some reason only to discover that everyone was looking at me from a long line of greeters that I had left a hole in by my “rudeness.” It is the clear expectation that everyone in church, not just the clergy, greets everyone else in church that day. Out in the market place or on ones coming into any room it is typical that everyone shakes hands with every other person in the room. A perfunctory verbal greeting of “Hi, how are you all?” will NOT do.

Then there are the little clues one discovers about how to avoid problems before they occur. One of these clues is that when at the local street market to never buy eggs from a seller who is setting out in the open without any protection from the blazing sun for the eggs he or she is selling. If you do you will find that the sun has, in effect, already partially cooked the fresh eggs you have just purchased. Another clue we learned very early on is to always make sure that you hear and feel the click of the lid on the plastic container into which you have put the sugar and whole milk powder you use for your tea and coffee. If you don’t the white ants that are everywhere will quickly discover your negligence and invade the container. The same holds true for making sure that the bread is securely wrapped in a plastic bag and then put in a large plastic bucket with a tight seal. Yet another clue for daily living is to make sure that all four legs of the stool that the basin sits on when you take your daily bucket bath are securely on the floor. If they are not the stool will tip and the basin will spill its water contents on the floor. Such a scenario leaves you naked in the bath house covered with soap and with no water to wash the soap off with. Karen and I have both done this once. It has never happened to either of us again. See it is possible for some very old dogs to learn at least a few new tricks.

The dry season, that we are presently in, has brought with it yet another new learning and that is to always be ready to roll up your car window. It is hard to over emphasize how dusty it is on the roads. The window facing oncoming traffic has to be lowered every time another car, bus or truck approaches. The blue of the Bishops car is made red after but one short trip, I have to wear a clean pair of pants every day because those of the day before are covered in dust and every time a table or window sill is wiped down the cloth turns a dull reddish brown almost instantly. Bishop Samuel has commented to people here that instead of shining his shoes every day when he is at home that he spent almost a full year at Wartburg Seminary in the US without having to clean off any accumulated dust.


It is hard being in a place that is so very different from your own on major holidays like Christmas and New Years. First and foremost is the fact that the familiar faces of the holidays, your family, friends and fellow church members are not there to wish you a “Merry Christmas!” There are no Christmas trees and pine boughs, with their familiar scent, to decorate homes with although I must say that we should have no trouble later this year preparing for Palm Sunday. Given the fact of no local Sudanese post office we did not receive so much as one single Christmas card nor, thank God, even one Christmas gift catalogue. The freind to which we forwarded our mail reports that we had a few cards and letters from those who we hold dear but whom we only hear from at Christmas. Not a few people are unaware that we are in Sudan and therefore unable to receive their yearly epistles. Another difference this year was the fact that there wasn’t any snow and cold to bundle up against. The roads had no ice or snow banks. Instead there are clouds of reddish-brown dust that follow every on-coming car, truck and bus that one meets on the local roads. The dust makes visibility impossible at times. As far as hallowed church traditions go we did have the opportunity to sing “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” but it was, of course, in Zande and, therefore, not quite so satisfying. Most of our traditional Christmas hymns and tunes are not used here although we did, knowing this would happen, place several albums of Christmas music on our computers before leaving the US. There was no Advent purple or blue, no poinsettias, no manger scenes and no home, store or street Christmas decorations of lighted candles, stars, wreathes, or red bows.

What there was here was a great sense of anticipation for what is by far and away Nzara’s biggest holiday celebration whether one is Christian or not.. The six man crew who have made 3,600 cement blocks for our two upcoming building projects, told me early on that they would not be working from Thursday, Dec. 23rd until Monday, Dec. 27th. They took a four day vacation. For people who normally work (when they can find work) six days a week each and every week this is quite unusual. There excused absence was symbolic of all that needed to be done to prepare for the anticipated festivities. It was also made very clear to me that I should make a special effort to pay all the roofers painters, block makers, truck drivers and Costanzia (the young girl who helps with our water carrying, hand clothes washing, marketing, etc.) a few days before “Xmas” as they refer to the holy-day in English.. This was because all would like to have some funds to buy food, clothes and gifts for these much anticipated “days off.” Christmas was a time filled with such things as relaxing, visiting, church-going and much feasting.

The Christmas Festival here is very much centered in the life of the church! It is a holy-day and not a commercial enticement to shoppers to overspend. One never hears songs about Frosty the Snowman or his friend Rudolf nor does anyone hum “jingle bells” or croon “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” What one does hear every night (beginning Dec. 1st) are large groups of children, with drum accompaniment, going up and down the roads singing songs of welcome to the Christ child. As the big day drew closer we heard the four Cathedral choirs having a lot of extra practices. One day all kinds of people showed up to give the cathedral a thorough cleaning. The number of people who came to Christmas services was so great that the Cathedral scheduled a Christmas Eve service, a relatively new innovation, as well as the two traditional services on Christmas Day. A total of 1900 people attended the main service and 400 came to the other two services.. At the main service most people sat outside the church in the shade of the palm and mango trees or on the grassy area on the Cathedral’s shady side. They could hear the service and preaching and would rise to sing/dance to the hymns and the songs sung by the choir with accompaniment by electric guitars, drums, and dozens of different types of noise makers and bells. The church school choir had 106 children in it , the youth choir 86, the mothers Union choir 36 and the adult choir about 31. Each chir sang three songs which is what mostly accounts for the services three hour length. The youth choir also acted out and sang about Gabriel’s announcement to Mary during one song. Then later as they sang Mary, presumably after Jesus’ birth, danced around the church in abandonment and joy as she twirled a large white baby doll in her outstretched hands.

One very unique feature of our Sudan Christmas was the “competition” between 1) the men, 2) the women and 3) the youth for which group would give the most money. Separate alms basins were passed to each group, many of whom had saved up for weeks to make a special offering, The winning group receives a flag that they can proudly display for the rest of the year. The women lost last year to the men. They vowed that this year things would be different. After the New Year the winner will be announced.

We have not, in our eagerness to experience an Nzara Christmas celebration neglected all of our own culture’s traditions and customs. We did, for instance, have a private celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Christmas Eve. We used the American Book of Common Prayer and sang a a few of our favorite Christmas carols in English. Last week we went on a hunt for communion wine and finally found some. They sell a lot of bottles of beer and gin (sold in cellophane packets that each contain about one shot) in many many shops but one hardly ever sees wine. On Christmas Eve we walked to seven of the surrounding family compounds of those we work with every day. We gave each family gifts of a pineapple as well as a large plastic jug of multi-colored gum balls and a few balloons for the family’s children. Having looked in vain in a multitude of small shops for red ribbons to tie around the tops of the pineapples and jars we decided instead to cut up some spare green fabric we have to make festive colored strips as substitutes.

Not having an oven we have provided oil, sugar, flour and baking soda to the daughter of a Cathedral parishioner who has agreed to bake us some small cookies. We planned to serve these along with fresh pineapple, water and mango juice for those, we were told, who would stop by to visit us on Christmas day. Not one person came to visit us or our neighbors. We finally realized that any visitors that might come to visit on this family-oriented holiday would only be other family members and we had no family. We read, listened to Christmas music on our computer, had a chicken dinner and watched the Polar Express movie that someone gave us on DVD. We had a few gifts to give to one another.

We had two very small reminders of all the Christmas decorations we typically have spread throughout our home in Galena. One was a very small two part crèche scene complete with the babe, a sheep, the holy family and three kings. The other was the wide base of a Christmas candle in which we placed four candles very close to one another. It served as our make-shift Advent wreathe. Each day we read to one another from a special Advent book we brought with us. We also cut down some large liter water bottles, filled the bottoms with sand and then placed candles in each bottle. These “luminaries” burnrd at the altar and at each of nine windows in the Cathedral at midnight on Christmas Eve. Normally the altars of Sudanese Episcopal Churches never have candles.

That is probably more than any of you every wanted to know about an Nzara Christmas, but I was sure that some of you would be interested. Our next big adventure is the New Years Youth Sunday Celebration at which I have been asked by the youth to preach. All the offerings that day go to youth work. On Jan. 7th 126 youth, men and women came to Nzara from all over the Diocese to dig the trenches for both the new Training/Youth Center and Primary Health Care Unit. We began simultaneous construction beginning the next day and by the 24th the walls were completed for both buildings. I have been going with the bishop on his confirmation service rounds to the various parishes. We typically have 30 or so confirmands but at the Cathedral a week ago we had 83. On these visits we have distributed some 1,100 pairs of eye glasses. We are now preparing for the sewing machine training workshop.

On Jan 9th the one week of voting began on the question of whether Southern Sudan should become a separate nation. On the next Monday I was told that of the over 2750 voters in one of the voting places in Nzara town only 5 voted against separation. Please pray the largely Islamic/Arab northern part of Sudan might accept the results of the election. The President of Sudan, has said that if the south does vote for independence that everyone in the North will be forced to become a Moslem, English will be outlawed as a second language and that Islamic law will apply to all of the millions of Christians who form a large minority in the North.

Fr. Bob and Karen North

Saturday, December 3, 2011

5th Letter From Nzara

Every trip seems to have an in-between time when you have not quite arrived at where you intend to be but have departed from where you once were. Such is the time we are experiencing at the present moment. We took the plane out of Chicago in the early evening, stopped over in London and arrived in Kampala, Uganda around 10:00 the day after we left. We had to spend $280 in weight overcharges because of the two suitcases that we brought with us full of 1100 pairs of eyeglasses of all types and styles. It was well worth the price of being enabled to, in effect, give the gift of sight to another human being. We rested over night in Kampala and then the next day flew to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan

We are staying in a guest house near All Saints Episcopal Cathedral that is the temporary home of four different missionaries. They include the English Interim Principal of the Juba Seminary, who has resurrected the seminary from near collapse, and his wife who teaches English there in a kind of first year of preparation for further study. The other members of this household are Robin an agricultural specialist, who gave up her room for us to sleep in, and a young English gal who works in Public Relations for the Episcopal Church of Sudan. Robin has strung a sheet across one end of the living room a dis using the area she created as her bedroom.

Each day here is incredibly busy. We no sooner had landed and deposited our baggage in the living room of the guest house than I was off with two of the seminarians from Nzara to scout out possible sources and prices for purchasing bags of cement, sewing machines, paint, iron sheets used for roofing, interior doors, desk chairs, etc. While in the U.S. several donors were found that will enable us to finish building the office building we began in the middle of October. The building needs a roof, interior doors, electrical outlets, paint, and furniture. We will also be building two health clinics as well as a training/youth center that will be located right next to the new office. The building supplies are for those projects.

This new training/youth building will feature an office for the Mothers Union and the youth ministry of the diocese. It will have a large room where stackable tables and chairs can be set out in various configurations for workshops classes and seminars. On Friday and Saturday nights the youth of various age groups can take it over. We are specifically planning on showing movies that we brought with us which include some 50 titles We will charge a small fee of one pound (32 cents) to see the film. These monies can be used by the youth to pay for new electronic instruments they lust after. We’ll also have pop and popcorn available, music, games and outdoor volleyball. The youth here love playing dominoes and so we bought six sets of the little plastic tiles as well as ten packs of playing cards and four checker games. Music can be played by the youth on a CD/tape player. The space can also be rented out to groups holding celebratory events The building of these four new structures was the occasion for this initial scouting and later buying trip to Juba.

In the days since that first afternoon we have revisited some of these places and gone to see new vendors for the things we need to buy that are typically so expensive in Nzara due to its relative isolation The question before us was always could we save enough money by buying things in Juba to justify the cost of hiring a truck to carry everything to Nzara. This morning I finally sat down with the figures I have gathered. So far we have saved $7000 dollars over what we would have paid for the same materials in Nzara. The weight of all our purchases is somewhat over 30,000 metric tons so the truck we do own would have had to make 6 separate trips. The cost of renting a freight hauler is about $2000 dollars so we end up saving over $5000 dollars and we don’t have to subject our precious truck to the horrible roads between here and Nzara.. We have purchased 260 bags of cement, all kinds of electrical supplies 300 sheets of metal roofing, 94 plastic chairs. 14 low plastic tables, 200 gallons of paint and 90 jerry cans of undercoat, 6 desk chairs 150 sheets of ceiling sheets, and nine brand new Singer treadle operated sewing machines.

The sewing machines represent a potentially big financial problem for me. I had to purchase them in Juba because we have absolutely no where to purchase them any where near us Needles, sewing machine oil and spare parts are available for existing machines but the whole idea of being able to afford a new machine is not in the range of the thinking of our local dressmakers and tailors. .My problem is that I don’t actually have in hand the funds to pay for all the machines and the workshop we want to hold that will train three women from each parish on how to use their new machines It was wholly an act of faith that somehow and in someway the money would come through. This is not to say that I did not do all in my power while in the try to plant many seeds in the minds of friends, family, former parishes, and among all the congregations of the Diocese of Iowa that this would be a project worthy of their support. Many indicated a strong interest but thus far actual cash monies have only been received from one congregation and from some old friends. The price of the machine, its transport, three thirty yard bolts of cloth for three women from a parish to work on and the food and housing for those three women for ten days is only $630 dollars. That is a lot of money for either an individual or many congregations to handle but anything anyone can give will be honored and appreciated.

Much of my time in Juba has been spent seeking trying to figure out how things work between various government, UN, various NGO’s and the Province Officials in the ECS office. Do they offer monies for construction of schools or the digging of wells? Are they presently working in the Western Equatorial Province where Nzara is located? Is the government willing to provide salaries for the staffs of health clinics teachers for schools, etc? I have visited the head offices of World Vision, the ECS office, various Roman Catholic relief agencies, Samaritan’s Purse, UNICEF, etc. I have received some valuable information and advice on how things are done, who is doing what and some leads on possible future sources of funding.

In between buying things and visiting offices Karen and II have had a chance to have supper in the home of our old friend, The Archbishop, eat Ethiopian food on a terrace overlooking the Nile River and, celebrate Thanksgiving (sans turkey but with very tasty chicken and real pumpkin pie) with 16 new friends, We had a chance to eat a dish of soft serve ice cream at the only ice cream parlor in Juba, meet the five seminarians from Nzara who are presently students at the Juba Seminary and dine on such delicacies as pizza and hamburgers.