Monday, July 21, 2014

Living in Community

Because of the conflict in South Sudan, many people have fled across the border to Ethiopia. Some are living in refugee camps, but others have gone to surrounding towns to stay with family. When you add the flood of NGO workers to the area, you have a major housing shortage on your hands. Consequently, it was a gift from God that the Pierces, Christina, and I were able to find a small house for the 7 of us to share.


As much as it’s an adjustment to live with a family of five, I know that it’s just as much of an adjustment for them. It’s not easy to be a parent with an audience – having to go to another room to discipline in private, trying to keep things clean or keep the children quiet on a Saturday morning.

It’s also not easy to be the audience. There’s a certain amount of rule breaking that kids get away with when mom or dad is in the other room, but when there are four adults instead of two, not much goes unobserved. When do I say something and when do I keep quiet? When it looks like someone might get hurt? How much is interfering with someone else’s children and how much is part of “it takes a village?”

We’re also not talking about the few hours you spend with your roommate or family after everyone gets home from work or school. This is 24/7 living with the people that are your coworkers, friends, and small group. You eat together, work together, pray together, and battle sickness together. You don’t ask each other “How was your day?” over dinner, because you already know the answer.

Sometimes it can be frustrating, feeling like there’s no place to retreat, but living in community is also freeing. I’m pretty good at covering up my sin for a two hour weekly small group, but when you live together there’s no hiding your issues. My teammates know when I’m having a bad day; they see my frustrations and my selfishness. And it’s a good thing, because it forces me to face it.

In spite of the challenges of intense communal living, I’m so thankful for my teammates. I’m a different person than before we started living together, and I have a much better perspective on parenting. I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d rather have shared the last 11 months, 3 African countries, and 8 different living arrangements.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Holy Land

At the end of June, Christina and I traveled to Israel to meet up with our families for a week. While just visiting the sites would have been amazing in and of itself, it was even better that I got to experience it with my mom and dad, whom I hadn’t seen in 10 months. We rented a car for 3 days to drive up to Galilee and then down to the Dead Sea, but we spent most of our time walking around Jerusalem.


Old Jerusalem is truly an intersection of faiths, with the Armenian, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian Quarters all within less than a square kilometer. One hears church bells echoing amidst calls to prayer and sees mosques next to synagogues next to cathedrals. Most of these buildings were built on top of holy sites, where significant events were believed to have taken place.

One of the most prominent sites in the Old City, the Temple Mount, is highly contested among the different faiths. Now host to the Muslim Dome of the Rock, it is also believed to have been the site of the Jewish Temple before it was destroyed in 70 A.D.


During a tour of the tunnels along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, we reached a place where women were praying and small scraps of paper with prayers written on them were stuffed into cracks and crevices in the wall. We learned that this is said to be the closest point along the Western Wall to where the Holy of Holies used to stand, where the presence of God dwelt.

Of all the holy sites, this one in particular struck me with sadness. People travel from far away, desiring to be near to God, and the closest they can come is outside of the wall around the location of where the holy place used to be.

I realized that I take for granted that for those who believe in Jesus Christ, the temple is no longer about a physical, earthly location but the presence of God living in the hearts of his children: “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Cor 3:16. His Spirit is with us wherever we go.

So while it was amazing to spend a week in Israel and experience many of the sites where Biblical events took place, I am thankful that intimacy with God is not dependent on location. Those living in a remote village in Africa can have the same access to God as someone standing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.


“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:24-28

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The War Hits Home

On May 4th Nasir was finally taken by government troops. This did not come as a surprise to anyone, as Nasir had been the headquarters and recruiting grounds for the rebel forces for months, but the news still hurt. We were so thankful to hear that there were few civilian casualties (unlike other clashes in the past few months), but my heart still grieves with those who fled their homes, many traveling for days on foot to reach the refugee camps.

We heard the news on a Sunday afternoon here in Ethiopia, and we spent our normal team devotion time praying for Nasir. Slowly we were joined by friends: Mary Nyakuoth, a Bible school student, and Nyatet and Mulan, teenage girls who live nearby. We took turns singing and praying in English and Nuer, and we read Psalm 46 together:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. […] He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; […] Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

A week later we heard that following the fighting many compounds in Nasir were looted, including ours. Although we haven’t seen the damage, it was reported that what wasn’t taken was intentionally destroyed. We don’t know which side was responsible for the looting, and it really doesn’t matter. I’m asking God to help me to forgive those who have taken our belongings and praying that the things taken would be a blessing to them. I’m thankful that our treasure is in heaven “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Although in many ways I feel helpless in the face of this conflict, I am thankful for the privilege of being here during this time, meeting friends and colleagues as they come across the border. In a very small way, we are able to share in their sufferings: rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn.

My prayer is that a lasting peace will come swiftly, for the glory of God and the good of all the people of South Sudan.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hospitality

Before I moved to East Africa, I used to think that I understood hospitality. I liked to throw dinner parties; friends from out of town would crash on my couch for a weekend; a group of girls would meet in my apartment every week for dinner and Bible study. “Hospitality” was something for which I could plan, schedule, and budget.

Hospitality among the South Sudanese looks different. Visits are not confined to people you know, they do not have time limits, and they require no prior notice. The minimum expectation is that when someone walks onto your property, you stop whatever you are doing, arrange a seat for the visitor in the shade, and provide a drink.

Hanging out in a shady spot for a language lesson

Many days we could literally spend the entire day entertaining guests, and I confess that there are times when I dread seeing our gate swing open. Yet while these cultural expectations can grate against what I am accustomed to, I think they fall much more in line with the Biblical definition of hospitality.

Usually when the Lord is trying to teach me something, he gives me an opportunity to practice it. One night around 11pm I woke up to the sound of voices and our dog Brown growling outside. I opened the door to my mud hut and saw about 10 people sitting on the ground outside in the dark. They were pastors and their families who had just arrived from Nasir. Their vehicle had broken down, so they had to walk the rest of the way. We didn’t have enough beds for everyone, but we were able to offer them food, water, and a place to stay for the night.

The next day our team was able to reflect on the experience, and we realized that in the United States we had never even had the opportunity to host complete strangers like that. It is unfortunate because Hebrews 13:2 says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

So while there are times when I wish there were a less open door culture, I am thankful for how the Lord is stretching and shaping my understanding of hospitality to be more in line with his Word. He is gently showing me ways I selfishly hold onto the time and resources he has given me, and he is revealing his faithfulness in multiplying the gifts offered back to him in praise.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

New Land

After a week and a half of staying at Zola’s Lounge a.k.a. “The Nightclub” (see previous post), we were able to move to more peaceful accommodations. We met an American missionary couple who worked with a local church to allow us to stay in their guest quarters. We have been so blessed by their hospitality. The best part is that we are now staying in the middle of the South Sudanese community in "New Land." I feel more at home going to sleep to the sound of drums rather than Brittany Spears and Justin Bieber.

I am also living in a mud hut for the first time! We were surrounded by mud huts (or “duels”) in Nasir, but our own houses were made from concrete blocks. The huts we are staying in now are really nice – a tarp on the ceiling prevents the bats from roosting in the top, a plastic floor covering makes it easy to sweep, and there are a light and an electrical outlet too. Aside from a couple of encounters with rats and a sweet stray dog that sometimes sleeps in the corner, there haven’t been too many critters.


The mud hut that Christina and I share.



"Brown" - the stray dog that has adopted us

We have resumed daily language lessons with a tutor and spend time practicing in the community. It’s encouraging to hear less “kawaay” (which means foreigner) and more “Nyewec James” (my Nuer name and my father’s name). We have met many who (like us) have come to Ethiopia due to the conflict in South Sudan.

God answered our prayers a few weeks ago when Jared bumped into one of our colleagues who had just arrived from Nasir. The phone lines have been shut down since the war started in December, and we haven’t been able to get in touch with our staff. We have been concerned for our friends, and we were glad to hear that for the most part they are okay. We grieve to get reports of those who have sustained gunshot wounds, lost their husbands, or fled to refugee camps.

Please continue to pray with us for a lasting peace to come to South Sudan. We especially lift up those who have been displaced from their homes, have been injured, or have lost loved ones.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Temporary Reassignment


Due to the continuing conflict in South Sudan, part of our Nasir team has been temporarily reassigned to Western Ethiopia, which has a large Nuer population that frequently travels back and forth to South Sudan.

We landed in Ethiopia Monday morning, and set out to find housing. We ended up visiting several guest houses, but due to the influx of refugees from South Sudan, options were limited. We finally found a place with several rooms and a small fenced area for the children to play.

Unfortunately we realized that what seemed like a quiet restaurant / hotel by day turns into a nightclub in the evening, complete with a subwoofer and strobe lights. We also discovered that the bathroom fixtures are mostly for show – the water is not connected. The hotel provides buckets of water to take cup baths, wash dishes, and do laundry. The first few days we received brown water that clearly came straight from the river until we negotiated a higher price for well water.

While parts of Ethiopia are much more developed than South Sudan, clean water continues to be a challenge. Every time we walk by the river we see people hauling water, bathing, washing cars, and watering cattle, side by side. This experience has given me a renewed passion for bringing clean water to communities in South Sudan.

After a few days I found myself readjusting to the heat (110°F in the shade) and life without running water, but the biggest challenge has been experiencing the culture shock of moving to a new country for the third time in 6 months. By the time I left Nasir it felt like home – I knew my way around and ran into friends every time I went to the market. Now it feels like I am starting over.

Thankfully I am blessed to be in a place that puts the American South to shame when it comes to hospitality. People have literally walked the extra mile to help us find our way around. And amazingly we have already run into people here that we had met in Nasir. The Pierce children especially were local celebrities, and people from Nasir remember them.

We desire to return to South Sudan soon, to be reunited with our friends and colleagues there. Please pray with us for peace to come quickly to South Sudan and for those affected by the conflict.

Radio Training

How does Every Village plan to transition from prerecorded radio broadcasts produced outside of South Sudan to dynamic community radio stations developing content within their own context? With the help of South Sudanese trained to write radio programs, conduct interviews, record music, and serve as DJs, all in their native languages.

In the middle of January the South Sudanese who will be working at the stations in Nasir and Tonj met in Kampala for 6 weeks of radio training. Our team was scheduled to be back in Nasir before the training started, but given our extended time in Uganda we were able to participate both as teachers and students.

The training has been led by radio experts from 4 different continents, and the topics have ranged from equipment and technical issues to journalism and interview techniques. There was a week devoted to learning how to setup the sound mixer, record interviews, and use sound editing software led by an engineer from HCJB. The next week Jon Hull from Houston’s KSBJ came to discuss the role of a radio presenter.



The best part of training though has been getting to know my South Sudanese colleagues a little better. Daniel is genuine and encouraging; Kang is passionate about community development in Nasir; Albino is thoughtful and diligent in his work; David is always ready to pray and talk about the gospel; and Marco seems quiet but is really smart.

Even though I did not expect to be in Kampala long enough to take part in the training, I am thankful that the Lord has allowed it to happen this way. I am excited to see how the Lord will use each of my colleagues to advance the gospel through radio in South Sudan.