Reflections from South Sudan
The Revd Tim Storey, Rector of Blandford Forum, writes after his return from a one-month teaching trip with the Revd Jim Findlay, Priest in Charge of Salisbury St Mark.
Becoming A Child Again
John 1:12 - Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
Good digestion is important! I am currently digesting a month of memories and experiences that were inspiring and challenging, heart-warming and painful, exhilarating and exhausting …and much, much more. And like a good meal, I need to take time to digest these things properly, making sure that I absorb the goodness of what I have received and letting its benefit take effect. And there was much to benefit from.
As I reflect on a month in South Sudan, I have been struck by something very profound and that is the simplicity of the life there. There is a temptation for us to see “simple” as equating to “naïve”, that simplicity means that the individual or community concerned is simple, and is unable to grasp the complexities of life, and therefore retreats into a world where things are less complicated. And we are tempted to think that “one day they’ll grow up” and will grasp and grapple with the issues that we face. That is wrong. That is seeing their experience and inflicting our world on them.
The people of South Sudan have far less complicated lives than us. They do not have a thousand voices shouting at them each day through TV, the Internet and Emails. They do not have the demands of an accelerating world that demands they “keep up”. In fact, they nickname white people as “kawajas”, defined as “white people who walk too fast”. This may be a literal term (and believe me I slowed down a lot in the heat as the days went by!) but also a metaphorical term for the relative speed of life.
Life in South Sudan is about subsistence and survival - the need to grow what can be sold to provide enough to live on. There is apparently no more than 30 miles of tarmac in the whole of the nation and the roads (believe me) are appalling. The hospitals defy description despite the commitment and dedication of the staff. Electricity is provided by either solar panels or generators but that is restricted to the well off or charity workers. Most have a mobile phone (with the most appalling ring tones imaginable) and a few have motorbikes. The expectations of life are not about the accumulation of possessions or a pension fund, but simply to live. And that is where God comes in.
The Church in Sudan is immense. It preaches the Gospel to a people who have little in life and yet they are truly “blessed”. Read the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-11 and it describes a people who know what it is to mourn (after decades of civil war), to be poor in spirit (with the trauma that results) and be meek (as that is all they have), and you know that they are open to God through desperation that there is nothing else in life - that is the people of South Sudan. There used to be the statement “Jesus Christ is the answer” which elicited the response “But what is the question?” and, in this case the questions is “what do you need when everything else, material possessions, security, good health etc in life is stripped away?”
I lost my heart to a small girl while I was in Mundri. Susannah is about 3 years old and utterly adorable. She was fascinated by the kawaja but eventually this 500 watt smile would light up her face. A little hand would slip into mine as we walked around the college. We could not communicate beyond a smile but it didn’t matter. So often our relationship with God is complicated by agendas and our ambitions and drive to achieve in worldly terms. John tells us that to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God and Luke 18:17 tells us that the simplicity of trust in God like Susannah’s relationship with me is a picture of the simplicity that our relationship with God should mirror. Of course life is more complicated than that in Britain. Of course, as South Sudan grows, so will the issues. But the Christians of South Sudan have an enormous amount to teach us in Britain, if we can stop long enough to notice it.