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.

Friday, January 31, 2014


January 17th, 2014, our intended date of return to South Sudan, has come and gone, and we are still waiting in Uganda. We left Nasir in the middle of December for our regularly scheduled “Kampala assignment,” but due to the continuing conflict, particularly in Upper Nile State, we have not yet been cleared to return. It has been heartbreaking to watch as what began as a political clash in Juba has since spread and fractured the country along tribal lines.

The cell phone towers have been down since a few weeks into the fighting, and we have been unable to speak with our friends in Nasir. We hope that they are doing well, and we are eager to hear from them. Both the uncertainty of the conflict in surrounding areas and the inability to communicate with our staff on the ground have kept us from returning. Every Village has committed to reevaluating the situation on a weekly basis, and we are praying that we will be able to return soon.

While waiting here in Uganda cannot compare to what those in South Sudan are facing, it has been a challenging time, not knowing what the future will hold. Will it be a week or a month before we go back? Will Nasir be the same or different from when we left? As we wait I sometimes feel like Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal – can’t go forward, can’t go back.

One positive thing about being in Kampala is that it has allowed us to meet missionaries serving in other parts of South Sudan. I have been encouraged by our times of fellowship and prayer. I have enjoyed comparing stories about cultural misunderstandings, language mishaps, snake encounters, and donkey cart dealings, and hearing the wisdom of those who have served faithfully for many years. But better than sharing stories has been meeting people who share our love for the South Sudanese, who are eager to return in spite of difficult circumstances.

So while there have been many times that I have sounded like the Israelites sitting in the desert, wondering why God led them out of Egypt only to have them die in the desert, I know that God is faithful. He can be trusted with the next two years of my life as well as the future of South Sudan.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Departure from South Sudan

“There is war in Juba!” one of our acquaintances shouted to Christina and me as we walked along the dusty road toward the airstrip. We said hello, waved, and kept walking, thinking he must have been exaggerating or making a political statement. It was a peaceful winter day in Nasir, a chilly 70°F. We had just swung through the market on our way to meet the plane that was bringing in our next 3 months of supplies and would carry us out the following day.

After 3 months in South Sudan, I was both sad to leave Nasir (which has really started to feel like home) and excited to spend some time in Uganda, a place with hot showers, fresh produce, and toilets that flush. For this first rotation, Every Village decided that our team would spend Christmas all together in Uganda before starting to alternate our times in and out of country.

The plane had originally been scheduled to land later in the week, but the flight had been moved up to Monday December 16th due to scheduling conflicts. We made it to the airstrip early and sat down under a tree to wait for the plane to come.

We finally heard the distant roar of the engine, and watched as the plane swooped down low for a flyover before circling back around to land. A crowd gathered around us while we waited for the pilot to finish the post flight checklist. They asked us: Where was the plane coming from? Hadn’t we heard there was fighting in Juba?

The pilot confirmed the reports from Juba and explained that we could still fly out the next day, refueling in Bor instead of Juba. We unloaded the supplies onto donkey carts and walked the mile back to our compound.

The next morning we got up early, closed up our houses, and trekked back out to the airstrip with mostly empty bags. Some of our local staff came to see us off, and we all waved as we boarded the plane and took off down the runway.

We landed in Bor without incident, but the airport seemed eerily empty – there were no other planes and only a few UN helicopters parked on the airstrip. A couple of UN peacekeepers met us as we came to a stop, asking where we were coming from, who was on board, and where we were going. Apparently the airspace over South Sudan was closed and the airport shut down. They reported that there had been some fighting in Bor overnight.

Thankfully we were cleared to continue onto Uganda, and as the plane was refueling a small SUV drove up and two Americans got out. They were scheduled to return to the U.S. at the end of the week, but since all other flights were cancelled, they were hoping to get a ride out on our plane. They had packed their things in 5 minutes. We scooted over to make room­ and enjoyed hearing about their work in Bor as we flew the rest of the way to Kampala.

The next few days we watched the BBC news reports with heavy hearts as we saw the conflict escalate to other parts of South Sudan. We realized how perfect God’s timing was for us to leave when we did. Although I do not expect that we would have been in danger in Nasir, I know that it brings our family and friends peace of mind to know that we are away from the conflict.

We hope to return to South Sudan soon and invite you to join us in praying for peace to come swiftly.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Are you a woman or a girl?"

“Are you a woman or a girl?” – one of the most frequent questions that I am asked in South Sudan. This question confused me at first. Even though I am shorter than most Nuer women, surely they could see that I am over 18. I would test out my newly learned Nuer phrase “I have 25 years,” which did not seem to answer the question. Finally one of our translators explained that they were not asking my age but if I was married.

In Nasir, the average age for girls to marry is somewhere between 15 and 19. I have been told that it is impossible for a girl to be 25 and unmarried, and apparently some people think I am lying when I say that I am a “girl”. Others offer up potential candidates who would be willing to negotiate cows (the bride price) with my father.

In some ways marriage in Nasir looks very different than what I am accustomed to: men often have more than one wife; outward displays of affection are absent; and women bear most of the responsibility of caring for the family, working sunup to sundown hauling water, grinding grain, and washing. One measure of a wife’s value is how many cows her husband paid for her, which I have been told depends on her appearance, her strength, her behavior, and level of education.

The last few months have challenged me to think differently about what marriage is and what it is not, and to take a closer look at my own culture’s views. Through these cross-cultural observations, God has revealed ways in which I have created an idol of this relationship, ascribing characteristics to it that can only come from God. Biblical marriage may reflect attributes such as provision, security, comfort, and companionship, but it is not the source of any of these things. Whether single or married (happily or unhappily), only in a relationship with Jesus Christ can true contentment be found.

Sometimes I wonder why God has led me to a place of ministry where I have no peers, no one in the same season of life. Perhaps to show that in Him there is a different kind of family, connected not by marriage and children, but by the blood of Christ.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Typical Day

Typical days in Nasir are few and hard to come by – something unexpected always happens: snake hunts, surprise visitors, catching escaped chickens, or windstorms blowing the fence over. If we did happen to have a normal day, this is what it would probably look like:
05:30 – Wake-up with the roosters, read my Bible, boil water for coffee and oatmeal, watch sunrise

07:30 – Sweep floor, filter water, start soaking laundry

08:00 – Team prayer

09:00 – Community outreach / language practice

12:00 – PB&J sandwich for lunch, washing dishes, hang laundry up to dry

13:00 – Language review, answering emails

14:00 – Language lesson with Nuer tutor

17:30 – Cooking dinner / watching sunset

19:00 – Dinner with team

20:00 – Dishes and cleaning up from dinner

20:30 – Cup and basin bath

21:00 - Reading / bedtime to the sound of crickets, frogs, drumming, children singing, and dogs fighting

Life is definitely different than in the states, but each day it starts to feel more like home. I'm so thankful to be here in South Sudan!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Language Learning

Though the truth of Jesus Christ transcends language and culture, we believe that learning Nuer, the local language here in Nasir, is an important part of loving and ministering to people well. That is why for our first year on the field, we are devoting 30 hours a week to language learning, both through tutors and practicing in the community.

Pierces with Duop - one of our language tutors

The South Sudanese are quick to encourage us, saying Nuer is an easy language and we will learn quickly, but we know that it will take a lot of practice and commitment to get there. Though the characters of the phonetic Nuer alphabet appear similar to English, they make very different sounds. For example, it does not matter if you substitute f for p or s for th, but there are 4 different n’s that must be spoken very precisely (n, nh, ny, and ng). We are also learning to think of Nuer as a song, humming each new phrase to hear the tones correctly.

 First official day of language - learning the Nuer alphabet

In our eagerness to speak with people, we have made our fair share of blunders. For instance we realized after a couple of days that we had been thanking people for their barn instead of their help. A few weeks ago we finally figured out that the words for husband and name sound similar, as well as married and food, so when people asked us “What is your name?” Christina and I had been replying “I am not food.” We wondered why everyone thought it was so funny…

My favorite part though is walking past a lady on the way to the market, dignified and stone-faced, usually carrying around 40 pounds on her head with perfect balance. I love watching her face light up as I greet her in Nuer, and, in spite of her load, how she goes out of her way to speak with me. We chat until we reach the end of my Nuer, which right now does not take long, but it gives me the motivation to persevere. I look forward to the day when I can finally hear these ladies’ stories without a translator!