Newsletter from South Sudan No. 1

by Michael Ford last modified 14 Oct, 2013 03:04 PM

The Revd Jane Shaw sends her first update from Africa.

Saturday Oct 12th. Greetings from Andrew Poppe and me, from Mundri in South Sudan! It’s very important to “bring greetings” when you arrive from somewhere else, we made the mistake of forgetting this when meeting our students, and had to be reminded. We are well, feeling extremely well looked-after, getting to know the locality and looking forward to starting serious teaching on Monday next.

We arrived in Juba on Tuesday morning, after overnight flight from UK via Nairobi, and were greeted at the airport by both Bishop Bismark (Bishop of Mundri – he stayed with me in June for the Link celebrations) and Revd Paul Issa, Principal of Bishop Ngalamu Theological College (BNTC). They shepherded us through the formalities and drove us back to the ECS (Episcopal Church of Sudan) guest house where we stayed two nights. The middle day was spent in immigration registration formalities, reporting to the ECS Provincial Secretary, changing money, making some purchases including a new printer and spare cartridges for the College... and in the evening, meeting an ex-pat friend and dining out.

All our business was complete by Thursday lunchtime, so we set off, Bishop driving, on the long road to Mundri. The road is not good. Mercifully, at the place where you have to drive through the river because the bridge is broken, the river was quite low and we crossed safely. We passed several places where UN de-miners were still clearing mines – here on the left is a picture of the machine they use. We stopped once on the road for a cold drink (and for Bishop to greet a fellow bishop who was going the other way in a public bus); and we went over several swampy places where the going was very difficult.

It was already dark when we stopped in Lui, 15 miles short of Mundri, to “drop in” on the Bishop of Lui – he had been alerted by mobile phone. Mobiles are ubiquitous and a real blessing. Bishop Stephen and his wife welcomed us warmly, and insisted on us staying to eat supper with them (though I suspect this meant the women of the family, who did not eat with us, may have gone short). It was quite a party – 13 of us - because we were also joined by two of his young pastors; there was a big Annual Youth Festival called 10-10 (held on 10 October) going on outside the Cathedral next door, and both Bishop and pastors had been involved.

We left about 9.30 p.m. – Bishop Bismark seemed happy to drive in the dark – and after a brief encounter with a drunken soldier swinging an AK 47 (who we think wanted money but when he saw the Bishop’s collar said “Sorry Father!” and waved us on), reached Mundri about 11.00. The journey, including stops, had taken 9 hours, and was an education in itself. We were glad to put our heads down and sleep.

The guesthouse where we are staying, run by an NGO [charity] called Mundri Relief and Development Association (MRDA), is well-appointed, with en-suite bedrooms (loo and shower both work!) and a verandah where meals are placed on a side table for us to help ourselves. There is a separate pavilion building which has solar-powered TV. If you want hot water, you take your bucket to a cauldron simmering over an open fire. Our rooms are named, not numbered, so I am in Man City and Andrew in Liverpool... other guest rooms include Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Yesterday, our first day in Mundri, Paul collected us in his beaten-up old minibus, but it became clear this was a one-off favour – normally we will walk over to the College. After a brief visit to the market, we bumped up a truly awful track to the College. It has beautiful and extensive grounds, crying out for cultivation when time and money permit. Many of its buildings are still in a wrecked state after the bombardment during the civil war when Bishop Gwynne College evacuated; but the central building has been well restored, and gives a very good impression. It includes two classrooms, the Principal’s Office, Library and dining room. The chapel is not yet restored but is occasionally used for worship, just as it is; some other buildings are used by students from sleeping accommodation.

We were introduced to the students in a very formal presentation – each of us told our story, and then each of the students described themselves. They come from 5 or 6 different dioceses; most are already ordained, and nearly all are married, some with four or even six children. There are three women among the 21 students – ECS doesn’t have a problem with women in ministry, even to being bishops, though that hasn’t yet come about. It was a very good session, with much joking and laughter. Then we spent some time in the Principal’s Office, while Andrew set up and connected the new printer to both staff laptops; we had an excellent lunch (rather better than the students’ maize porridge and greens, which was bit embarrassing), and then sat with the students under the trees and gossiped while Paul did some business.

Then he collected us to set off for another visit: a relative of the Bishop’s wife had lost a little girl, who died in Lui Hospital on Monday; the child had of course been buried the same day, but the Funeral Prayers at the family home were for today, with Paul leading. “It’s not far to the village” said Paul. So we trekked through the bush along little winding paths in hot sun for at least 40 minutes and were very pink when we arrived at the place. Chairs were brought, and we sat under an awning in silence while family members emerged and shook hands all round. The Bishop’s wife joined us (Bishop had visited earlier) and tea was brought. Finally, after about an hour and a half, Paul began the prayers (in the local language, Moro); each of us was invited to contribute a few words, which Paul translated, and then he prayed more formally, ending with the Grace. It was a serious but not a solemn atmosphere, and we felt humbled and immensely privileged to have been allowed to share in this family’s time of grief.

Then we began the long trek back along the paths, over the bridge, into the town and across fields and more paths, back to our compound “by the short cut”. In town we met the Commissioner, who is the all-powerful governor of the county. He was very affable, clearly knew Paul well (in fact was walking along with Paul’s uncle, and it seems everyone here is related somehow). He also spoke passionately of uniting and increasing the Body of Christ in south Sudan… very welcome words; I wonder if we shall see him in church on Sunday.

Back to the guest house for a welcome cold shower, and good supper (chicken, beans, rice, greens, and some of my paw-paw, bought on the road on Thursday). A memorable first day, and I think we need the weekend to absorb it. No teaching till Monday, but tomorrow (Sunday) we are expected to attend the English service at 8.30 in the Cathedral, followed by the main (Moro language) service at 10.30. We will be called up and asked to introduce ourselves but not to preach…not this week at least! But even introductions seem to include an element of Giving the Word, so I must prepare something brief. As I learned in Pakistan, a pastor never goes anywhere without a homily up her sleeve.

Now you are up to date. Thank you for your prayers and interest; may you have a good week ahead; and God willing, I’ll be in touch next week.

With every blessing,

Jane

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