Monday, June 16, 2008

Africa Talk Date Change

I will be sharing some of my experiences in Africa at my home church in two weeks (please note the date change):
When: June 29 (Sunday) at 12:15 PM
Where: Massanutten Presbyterian Church
Please let me know if you would like to come and I will send you an evite. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back in America

Well, it’s been over a month since I’ve gotten back from Africa and I’d like to share with you all what’s been going on in my life since then:

The night before I was supposed to leave Sudan, we still had a few people at our house in Torit from our retreat weekend. At one point during the evening, Matt, Tara (short-termer in Yei), Megan Nelson (short-term coordinator from Kampala), and Verena (pre-AIM candidate) were all sitting on my bed while I was packing. This was reminiscent of my last night in the States with my sister, her boyfriend, and my parents in and out of my room while I was packing. The day I left Sudan was an emotional day for me. Beatrice came to say goodbye and told me that her girls already missed me. Peace, her 3-year-old, told her mother that she was going to sneak into my luggage and go with me! My flight was late (not unusual) so I was able to spend a little bit more time with the Bylers and Matthew. As I boarded the plane, I said my tearful goodbyes and left Torit. As I was flying over the town, I couldn’t believe that I was leaving. Six months flew past and it felt like only a couple of weeks.

me, Megan, Lydia, Meghan, Tara

my Sudanese family

I flew out of Sudan with Megan Nelson and we were able to spend the afternoon and evening in Kampala shopping and just hanging out. I spent the evening at Matoke Inn with the new innkeepers, Nigel and Rowena, and another couple (Susan and Mike Boyett, whom I met during the LAMP course). I got very little sleep that night and before I knew it, I was in a van driving back to Entebbe airport. God blessed me with one last glimpse of the African sunrise that will be forever engraved in my mind.

As I was traveling I began to realize how much I was going to miss Africa and the friends I had made there. In fact it was really hard to leave. At one point while I was sitting on the plane in London, I looked out the window and saw that the gate over was boarding a Kenyan Airways plane. I seriously contemplated getting off my flight and going to that gate. As I was flying over NYC, I felt like it was almost surreal. It was actually a bit over-whelming. How could I already be back in the States?

I arrived safely in New York late Wednesday evening (April 23) and my flight from London to Newark was actually an hour early (when does that ever happen?). My friends, Mark and Jess, were there greeting me in Hokie style (they literally had a sign with turkey tracks on it). After I met Jess and Mark, Jess bought me a Starbucks latte, and even though I woke up the next morning with bad stomach cramps (too much milk too fast) it was still amazing. That night, I only got about five hours of sleep. So between the little sleep my first night back in the States and practically no sleep in Kampala or on the plane, I was exhausted.

After my debrief session with Miriam (which was great!), my parents and Jo picked me up from Pearl River. I was so excited to see them, especially Jo! As soon as I got in the car and we started traveling, I couldn’t stop starring at my surroundings. It was so strange to look around me and see green…let along properly paved highways! My first reintroduction back into American culture was going to Panera Bread right outside of NYC at noon. Oh my! It was a bit overwhelming. And to top it off Jo and I got this woman that took our order and she treated us like we were five-years-old! I never wanted to get out of a place so bad! After lunch we traveled into Manhattan, where we would spend the next two days.

We had an excellent time in the city. That Thursday turned out to be a beautiful day. We met up with Jess and Mark and just walked around Central Park. It was beautiful! Everything was in full bloom. Jo got some amazing pictures (you should check out her blogspot when you get a's linked to the right). We toured the Met on Friday and it was great but I was exhausted. I still wasn't sleeping all that well and I wasn’t really feeling too great (I don't think I realized how rich American food was). Friday night we got to see a play (Wicked is amazing). And Saturday we headed home. New York was nice but I was happy to finally get home.

NYC in full bloom

me in Central Park

The Met

Since I’ve been back I’ve had the chance settle back into the “American” life. One of the first things I did when I got home was just stand in front of the refrigerator! It’s actually kind of weird. I was able to go six months without refrigeration, a reliable internet connection, television and cable, hot water, air-conditioned vehicles, a variety of clothes, stores with a wide selection of food, washing machines and dryers and, oh goodness, so much more! It’s amazing that I didn’t even realize that I had missed those things until I was around them again. I was able to get by without a lot of the conveniences of this lifestyle.

So, what have I been doing? Mostly, I’ve been trying to visit people and catch up. So far, I’ve been able to see many of my close friends, family members, and people from church. I’ve also been preparing for upcoming talks through my church…my first one is this Sunday. (I'm the guest speaker at the women's annual meeting; one of the member's wants me to speak at his covenant Sunday school class; I have to make a presentation to the board of deacons; and I will be making my own presentation for the rest to the church.) I have also been going through nearly 2000 pictures (ok that number may be a bit exaggerated…but there are at least 1700!). Jo and I have slowly been going through all of my pictures so that I can start working on presentations. We've been deleting and Jo's been editing in Photoshop. Jo and I have also spent quite a bit of time “de-cluttering” our house. We had a yard sale a couple weekends ago and as I was getting rid of some of that stuff I couldn't help but think "someone in Africa could really use this!" The other big thing for me will be weddings. This year will also be my third round of weddings. I had my first of many wedding events the first weekend of May. I had a bridal shower in northern Virginia, which was great since I got to see my best friend. I’ve also had the first wedding of the year a little over a week ago. I’m going to have a rather busy year and my weekends during the next two months are already filling up.

me and Alli at her bridal shower

me and dad at my cousin's wedding

So, what’s next? That’s something I’m still trying to work out with God. I’m in a discernment period right now. I know that I need to find a job and soon. Between the raising gas prices and the many weddings I will attend or be in, I’ll have to find a job! I’ve been rather lax in this area since I’m still not really sure what I want to do and the job market is not the greatest right now. Many people have asked about Africa. I actually do want to go back. I may look into going back to Kenya but I don’t know when. I’ve got a lot to discuss with God in the coming months. Until then, I will continue to tie up the loose ends of my first trip (presentations and what not).

I do want to thank you all, once again, for all of your support. I would never have gotten to experience Africa if it weren’t for each one of you. Your prayers and financial support have been greatly appreciated. I will hopefully be able to post a slide-show on this blog once Jo and I finish going through pictures. Also, I will be giving a presentation on June 22 at my church. I would like to extend an invitation to you all. I will send out an evite closer to the date with more details. Again, thank you for everything!

Salaam Taaki!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Farewell Sudan

As my time here in Africa is wrapping up, I too am wrapping up my various ministries. Last week was spent finishing up work in both the school and the hospital and saying my goodbyes. (Yes, I still have this full week but due to the Sudan census – which is actually postponed now – things have been shut down for the week.) I also attended the AIC Church for the last time on Sunday since we are having our South Sudan Unit Retreat this weekend.

AIC Primary School
My time at the school was spent reviewing the midterms which I had given the previous week. There are many students in both of my classes that are really struggling through school. I’ll give you an example. I have spent the entire term teaching the alphabet to my P3 students (basically 3rd-graders). After I graded their midterms, I found out that ¾ of the class are failing…by Western standards. The reasons for this vary: the language barrier between me and the students; students showing up for the first time half way through the term; lack of discipline in attending school daily; not being able to understand English which is what all lessons are taught in; and class size (when I showed up for my P3 midterm I had 80 students!). Against all these barriers, the school continues to push forward.


Anyway, as I said earlier, I spent the week reviewing the midterms and then did something fun with each class. For P3, I took the words that they learned while learning the alphabet and played an altered version of “Hang Man”. It was the same concept as “Hang Man” but I called it “Build the Tukel”. I just didn’t think it was appropriate to play the actual “Hang Man”. For my P4 students, I took the opportunity to read two books to them. I have a much better relationship with my P4 students since they seem to understand me better and they’re a much smaller class (about 30). I read them an African book about a little girl’s first day of school. I later read them The Cat in the Hat which they thought pretty funny. I’m not sure that they understood much of either books but they loved the pictures. After I finished reading they gave me a big applause which I was tickled about. At the end of the class period I told the students that I would go back to the US. Many of them told me to take them with me but most of them just wished me “safe travels”. They asked all sorts of questions about where I lived and where other countries were located. I had to explain that the US and Canada are two different countries. One little boy asked if there were villages in the US. I had to explain that there were only towns and cities and nothing that resembled the villages in Africa. The questions continued and so I drew a rough, really rough, map of the world and pointed out where different countries were located. They wanted to know where London, Hong Kong, Australia, Uganda, Tanzania, and several other countries were located. I actually had a lot of fun pointing out the different places.
Me teaching
At the very end of the week I had a meeting with Phil, the headmaster, and deputy headmaster to discuss my time at the school and to talk about AIM’s future involvement with the school. It was a very successful meeting and very beneficial for all of us. The headmaster and deputy both thanked me for my involvement and were very open to allowing future missionaries to come in. Even though I’ve had my frustrations with the school, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. My hope and prayer for the school is that it would continue to grow in effectiveness and efficiency and that it would exemplify Christ so that each child may grow in their faith.


Torit Civil Hospital
I didn’t really have the opportunity to spend a lot of time at the VCT last week. All the counselors, except Richard, had gone to help with the census and the office was pretty much dead. Most of the time I spent working with the VCT was finishing up the sign. The sign turned out to be more difficult to make than I had anticipated. The paint was not the best quality and I didn’t have the proper paintbrushes or stenciling for doing a sign. But in the end the sign turned out ok. It was functional and that was good enough for me. Phil and I hung the sign Friday morning even though no one was even at the clinic. I was also able to make a flier that would be printed after the census and passed out through the town. I hope that now the sign is hung people would be aware that there is a VCT in Torit and not have to travel to other counties to be tested.

Richard and I

That same week we had an eye surgeon and his team that came up from Uganda to perform cataract surgeries. By the end of the week, they performed over 60 surgeries and saw many other patients for check-ups and issued prescriptions. Wednesday, after I finished at the VCT, I joined Phil, Linda, Matt and the rest of the team. I didn’t really help but it was just amazing to see the number of people that came out. I had the opportunity to talk to one girl who was suffering from severe blindness. She was in her early 20s and was attending school in Juba. She was a bright girl. Her English was perfect. She had done well for herself in spite of her condition. Unfortunately, there was nothing the doctor could do for her, but he did encourage her to keep up with her education and doing what she’s been doing. There was another woman who, I am told, was led by a cane by her daughter to the clinic on Monday. Her cataracts were so bad that she was unable to see to walk. Luckily, the doctor was able to remove her cataracts and restore her sight. I saw her on Wednesday and she was still smiling. She even raised her cane (in the form of a cross) and gave praise to Jesus in her mother tongue. This touched me so much! So many people came and accepted their diagnosis. Others came, heard their diagnosis, and decided that it wasn’t helpful. All in all, it was a very successful week and many people received their sight again.

Play Time
Saturday was my last day to spend some time with Amama, Peace, Winny, and a new-comer, Okecha Tonny (actually Beatrice’s youngest brother – he’s probably about 9 or 10). I’m not even sure that I’ve mentioned this, but I have had the girls, and lately Okecha, over to the house once a week to play games, color, look at books, and do other craft things. They have even helped me with my Arabic a bit. This last day we did the same things but they sang a few songs for me (which I recorded). I will take some of my craft things over to the kids before I leave so that they can continue their creativity. They have been such a joy to be around and I will miss spending time with them.


AIC Church of Torit
Sunday was the last time for me to worship at the AIC Church. During the service they have a time when the visitors stand up and introduce themselves and tell the congregation where they come from. I too stood up and was able to greet the church. I told them that I would return to the US soon. When I said this many of the Women of Good News started murmuring or saying “oh”. Many of the church members (who I knew) did not realize that I was leaving so soon. At the end of the service I was able to greet everyone in the church in the greeting line. Many people told me to greet my “people of the US” and others told me not to go. After church was completely over, greeting line and all, Amama (Pastor Peter’s eldest daughter) grabbed my hands and refused to let them go. I know that she knows I will leave soon. I would so love to take her home with me. Her and her sisters! I was able to take some pictures of many of the kids once again along with Pastor Peter and his family. I’m really going to miss that family! I have really enjoyed getting to know some of the people in the church and I know that I will be quite sad to leave them.

AIC Church

Pastor Peter and his family

Although I have wrapped up my ministries I still have much to do my last full week in Africa. This weekend we will have our South Sudan Unit Retreat. Most of the AIM missionaries from all over Sudan will come to Torit for a time of reunion and encouragement. I am helping Linda get the house in order, baking, planning the children’s program, and setting up the accommodations for everyone (basically putting up tents but still appropriately appointed). It’s funny to me that I will be meeting some of these people for the very first time only to leave two days later, but I guess life is full of moments like that! I am excited that I am still here to be a part of this weekend and to see those I do know before I return home.

It’s still strange to me that my time in Africa is coming to a close. I feel as though I’ve been here for years and, at the same time, that I’ve only been here a couple of weeks. I’ve been asked about how I’m feeling about leaving. Part of me is excited to see my family and friends but the other part of me is sad to leave new friends and, well, Africa. God placed the desire for Africa in my heart a while ago. Even though God gave me the opportunity to serve in Africa, the desire only grows more. I pray that another opportunity will be given to me in the future, but we will see where God will lead me. I want to thank each one of you for supporting me in this mission. From your prayers and encouragement to your financial support and gifts, I appreciate it all. I would not be here today if I did not have your support. For that, I thank you.

This will not be my last entry. I may post a brief entry about the retreat and leaving Sudan once I’m back in the States. I will also post an entry reflecting on my time in Africa. So I guess the next time you will hear from me, I will be in America. I will see you soon! Salaam Taaki!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Gulu: Delays, Easter, and Kopé Café

Good Friday started quite early for me. Sleeping in a tent on the Scotland’s compound in Ikotos, I was awakened not only to rooster crowing only a few yards away but to the neighbor’s radio playing nothing but static. It was not even 5 am. After lying there a few minutes hoping that our neighbors would just turn off the radio, I finally stepped out of my tent. Kennedy, our Ugandan friend with LWF (Lutheran World Federation), was supposed to pick us up at 6 am so that we could proceed to Gulu. By 5:30 Lydia (a new short-termer working in Ikotos with Meghan for three months), Meghan, Matt, and I were up and getting ready for our journey.

Lydia and I

By 5:50, we were ready and waiting. 6 am faded into 6:30 and still no Kennedy. Matt and Meghan walked over to the LWF compound to find out where the ride was. When they got back, they told us that they had gotten Kennedy out of bed and that we would probably leave in another hour. Well, we didn’t actually leave until about 10 am. (To those of you who hate delays, this is a typical travel day in Africa.) Now, we originally thought that the only people riding in the vehicle would be the driver, Kennedy, Andrew, Godfrey (both of whom also work for LWF), and the four of us. When word got out that there was a vehicle traveling to Uganda, there were more people that turned out to get a ride. We drove a Land Cruiser to Uganda. There were ten of us in the back on bench seats, and three in front (including the driver). Needless to say, it was a tight squeeze. Most of the luggage had to be put up on the roof rack since we needed has much space as possible for leg-room. The road was extremely bumpy but was much smoother (still a bit bumpy) once we crossed into Uganda. We had lunch in Kitgum, where we also dropped a few passengers. As we traveled on to Gulu from Kitgum, we passed so many IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camps. These camps were set up during the war in Uganda when the LRA (Lord’s Resistant Army) was attacking the north. People fled from their homes to these camps and many of them are still living in these camps. These camps were full of hundreds of tukels just piled up on top of one another. There was barely any space between each tukel. I wish I could have taken pictures but the vehicle was moving too quickly and the road was too bumpy.


We finally reached Gulu in the late afternoon. Gulu is a small town (but much bigger than Torit) bustling with Ugandans and NGOs. Our first task, after dropping a few people, was to find an ATM. Unfortunately, due to the holiday weekend, practically every bank was closed, including the only bank in Gulu that accepts our missionary accounts. We dropped Matt and another girl off at the “bus stop” (the gas station where the busses stop). Matt was going to travel on to Kampala that evening and we confirmed that the busses to Kampala would be arriving shortly. Kennedy then took us girls to a guest house close to where he lived called Crete Mini Conference Center. Well, it wasn’t really a conference center and, in fact, it wasn’t really set up to accommodate guests. There were beds and facilities but I got the feeling that there weren’t many people that stayed there. Our room consisted of three sets of bunk beds crammed into a very small space. The bathroom was a full bathroom without running water. We had to dump water from a Jeri can into the toilet to flush it. (I believe that was the hardest shower/sponge bath I’ve ever taken!) While our room was being made up, we visited Kennedy’s family for a while. Around 6:30 pm, Kennedy got a phone call from Matt. The busses to Kampala hadn’t shown up yet, and Matt decided to not travel on since he wouldn’t arrive until after midnight. We picked Matt up just as the busses were arriving and from there went to Andrew’s house for dinner. We met Andrew’s wife, Doreen, and his youngest child, Gifty (she is named this because Andrew and Doreen believed her to be a gift from the Lord). Gifty is so adorable! She’s only 3-months-old and she can already sit up.

Andrew, Gifty, and Doreen

Dinner was amazing! I believe that was the best African meal I’ve ever had. Doreen is an amazing cook. We kept telling her that she needed to open her own restaurant. We had such a great time visiting with Andrew’s family.

Saturday, I was awakened to “Another One Bites the Dust”. It was 4 am and Meghan’s cell phone was going off. Doreen was calling to let us know that they would be leaving at 5 am for Kampala and that Matt could accompany them. I fell back to sleep before Matt even left. Later that morning, Meghan, Lydia, and I walked into the heart of Gulu. Our first stop was a Ugandan bank where we were able to exchange some US dollars for Ugandan shillings. It wasn’t much but it was enough to get by with until the banks reopened on Monday. We had breakfast at this little coffee shop named Kopé Café. It was a quaint little café with Mzungu food. We spent the entire morning at this café eating, sipping coffee, and reading. I almost felt like I was back in the States.

Inside the Kopé Café

Our Waitresses

While we were at Kopé, Meghan discovered an older lady that lived behind the café who made jewelry. This woman, Janet, made paper beads and then strung them together into necklaces. I was so excited because I’ve wanted to purchase this kind of jewelry. I went back and talked to Janet for some time and she showed me how to make the beads. Before I left I purchased several necklaces and thanked her profusely. She in turn thanked me so much because she knew that she would now have a good Easter meal. (Now, don’t think I spent a lot of money because I really didn’t. It was only a couple of dollars but to her that was quite a bit more.) Later in the afternoon we walked all around Gulu and did a little souvenir shopping. Towards the end of the day it began to rain, so we headed back to Kopé Café for dinner and then to the guest house for some sleep.

Easter Sunday brought the rains. We went to Christ Church, an Anglican church, which is where Andrew goes to church. We just weren’t really sure where to go. It was a large church but when we arrived at 8 am the church wasn’t really full. I believe we were the only Mzungus in the church. I had high hopes for this service, especially when they sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and read from John about Christ’s resurrection. (The AIC churches, at least in Sudan, don’t really make a big deal about Easter so I was excited to attend an Easter service.) The bishop gave the sermon and he didn’t quite hit the nail. I won’t go into detail but I’ll give you an example: he claimed that the “one whom Jesus loved” was Judas. He was quoting the scripture from John! The bishop spoke for about 45 minutes or so. I started noticing that the church was getting fuller and fuller. People were still arriving AFTER the sermon. I don’t quite remember what happened in the second half of the service other than the serving of communion and the choir singing the Hallelujah chorus (the choir did a decent job, but I’m not too sure what the guy on the piano was playing). By the end of the 2 ½ hour service the bishop once again got up and addressed the people living in the IDP camps. He told them: “Go home! Go home! The war is over! Go home!” It was quite an interesting Easter service.

Christ Church

Lydia and I

After church we went to Kopé Café for brunch and then back to the Crete guesthouse to pack up our stuff. We then moved to another guesthouse called the Franklin House. (We really wanted running water.) After we were settled we walked to the outskirts of Gulu to this really nice conference center (which we couldn’t afford to stay at) for a late Easter lunch. We all agreed that Kopé Café was better. The rest of the evening we just spent hanging out at the Franklin House. I got the chance to know Lydia a little better since we were sharing a room (Meghan had her own room). Later that night, Meghan and I called our families.

Lydia, Meghan, and I inside Kopé Café

Easter Monday was a beautiful day. Our first stop…Kopé Café (yes, we went there every day!). Once we discovered the banks were open we were able to access the ATM and then do a little resupply. (Since we don’t have that much food variety in Sudan, more so in Ikotos, then we have to do resupply on dry stuffs outside of the country.) We spent the entire day stocking up. We took a short break and relaxed a bit at the guesthouse. (They had track events on the TVs in the restaurant area so we sat glued to the television for some time.) We then walked through the open market to see what fresh produce we needed. That was by far the most organized open market I’ve ever seen! All of the grains were in one area, fruits and vegetables in another, and fish in another. They even had an entire pavilion for just bananas. I’ve never seen so many bananas. As we were walking through deciding on what to buy, Meghan pointed out a few tables where several old women sat and noted that they were selling “witch doctor” products. The tables were full of random odd things. Once we had made our way through the entire market, we started at the banana pavilion and made our way back. Meghan and Lydia stocked up since they can’t get much fresh produce in the Ikotos market. I only bought a few fresh items (string beans, green peppers, and oranges).

After our market trip, we showered and returned to Kopé Café for dinner. While we were there we received a call from Doreen letting us know that they were back in town. She asked us if we wanted to come over so that she could teach us how to prepare a local Ugandan dish. We quickly ate and walked over to the house. We sat and chatted with Andrew for a bit and played with Gifty. Then Doreen showed us how to prepare greens with eggs (cooked leafy greens mixed with tomato, onion, and eggs). Around 9:30 or so we finished preparing the greens and sat down with the family and had a second meal (we didn’t eat that much). The greens were delicious; I just hope that I can remember how to make them! I enjoyed hanging out with Andrew’s family so much. They are such a loving family!

Tuesday was a travel day…and a waiting day. Meghan and I went to Kopé Café for breakfast while Lydia was running. We made a few quick stops before we returned to the Franklin House to finish packing. By 10 am our stuff was in the vehicle and the driver was taking us to visit the Invisible Children office. Meghan has worked with Invisible Children in the States promoting their efforts and participating in local events. She was really excited to finally see the organization in person. We were given a tour by the PR person, another Mzungu named Kelly. Kelly took us through all the departments and told us what IC is currently doing and what the future looks like as well. I would love to tell you more about what they are doing by I fear that this entry is already too long. You can check out their website on the link to the right of the page.

After our tour we went to pick up Kennedy and found out that we were going to Kopé Café to wait for Andrew. We were told that we would be leaving around 11:30 am. (Are you starting to see a pattern?) We waited at the café until about 1:30. When Andrew showed up we waited in the vehicle until 2:30 until Kennedy showed up (he had wandered off some where). My Western side really came out while we were waiting. I was really anxious to get back to Sudan and my patience was waning. When Kennedy finally showed up we sped to Kitgum but by the time we got there it was too late to proceed to Sudan. The Sudan border would close at 5 pm and it was either sleep in Kitgum or sleep in the bush at the Sudan border. So, we stayed in Kitgum that night. We left the next day about mid-morning and made it back to Ikotos by about 3. I had even more problems trying to get back to Torit but I finally made it back by Friday afternoon.

Our Gulu trip made for a nice holiday weekend and a nice break from Sudan, despite the few frustrations of travel. As my time in Africa comes to a close in the next few weeks, I will spend it in Torit. I am looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks will bring. Well, until next time…Salaam Taaki!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Blessed Literacy

“Happy is the one who reads this book…”
~Revelation 1:3a~

I was struck by this verse last Friday at the small graduation ceremony for those teachers undergoing training in the Latuko language. These teachers had just completed their course so that they could go back to their home churches and teach others how to read and write in their mother tongue. I was so encouraged by these teachers. Each one was very eager to get back to their homes to begin teaching. The hope is that eventually the Latuko people will be able to read the Bible in their own language. What a wonderful gift! The Latuko Bible does exist, but very few know how to read it. With this course the Latuko people will get the chance to read daily the Word of God.

Baby Linda and Linda Byler

As I thought about this verse, Revelation 1:3a, I realize that I’ve never heard this verse before. Well, I’ve never heard this translation (Good News Bible). I would like to break this verse down a bit. The NIV Bible uses the word “blessed” which means much more than “happy”. This word describes the favorable circumstances God has put a person in. The NIV Bible uses the word “prophecy” instead of “book”. Now some would argue that this verse is only implied for the book of Revelation since it is based off the prophecy given by John. But for the sake of this simple verse, the word “prophecy” and “book” means “any word from God – whether command, instruction, history, or prediction” (NIV Commentary). I’m going to go back to using the word “happy”. When I heard this verse, I thought to myself, “am I happy when I read the Bible?” Honestly, I would have to say no, not all the time. When I was honest with myself in answering this question it saddened me. I have to ability to read and write, in English none-the-less! (I’m learning very quickly that English really is a hard language to learn. If you don’t believe me, try teaching 50 Sudanese children different techniques of English!) And yet, there are days when I feel like it’s more of a chore to pick up the Bible and read. I have witnessed the different people groups here in Sudan get excited when they see any book in their own language and even more so when it’s a Bible. I wish I could be excited every day when I go to pick up my Bible! I know that whatever I read, whether it is a Psalm or a passage out of Leviticus, the Lord will bless my life through that reading in some way. I may not know how and it may not happen that particular day but I believe I will be blessed by that passage. I was vulnerable with you, now I would ask you to be vulnerable with yourselves. Ask yourself the same thing I asked myself: “Am I happy when I read the Bible?” Then take the extra step and try and figure out why. You may have to dig a little to find the answer but it is there.

Linda, Teresa, and Beatrice

This weekend we celebrate the hope of our salvation. Friday we will witness our Savior sacrificing His life for each one of us. Sunday we will see our salvation secured. I encourage you to open up to the Gospels and read about what your Savior did for you. My prayer for you this Easter is that you may find joy in reading the Word of the Lord.

Baby Linda

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…”
~1 Peter 1:3,4a~


Monday, March 3, 2008

The Needs of Torit

I’ve been back in Torit for almost four weeks now and things just don’t seem to slow down. After a long weekend of recuperation at the beginning of February, I dove back into my areas of ministry.

Work at the hospital has been pretty sluggish. My first week and a half saw no patients. I learned from Richard, the counselor I work with, that many people in the area just don’t know that the VCT clinic (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) is at the hospital. Now I knew this was a problem prior to the World AIDS Day event in December but I thought for sure more people would be aware of it by now. But the reality is, that there are people in Torit that are traveling to Nimule and Magwai (other counties within Eastern Equatoria State) to visit the VCTs there. These people are spending money to travel to a VCT in other areas of the state when they could walk freely to a clinic in their own town. I suggested that perhaps we could send out some fliers. Richard liked the idea but thought that people wouldn’t even know where the clinic was located. The problem is the clinic currently has no sign; not even on the building where the clinic is located. Richard has been in contact with the AIDS Commissioner in Juba to get funding for a sign but to no avail. I asked him how much it would cost for a sign and he told me over 1000 Sudanese Pounds (roughly 500 USD). I thought that was a bit outrageous but learned that this would include signs on both ends of the town (so those traveling through in either direction would be aware of the VCT) and one in front of the hospital. Signs and advertisements are the best option for the VCT. Word-of-mouth usually works but that doesn’t seem to be a very reliable stream of communication at this time. To remedy this, I have asked if I could create a temporary sign or plaque to be attached to the building. This way, as long as people know that the VCT is at the hospital, they can just wonder around the compound until they find the right building. Richard has okayed this and so I hope to get a sign made very soon. The next step I will take will be to create fliers, with Richard, that can be spread throughout the town. I hope that we can send them by the various government buildings and churches. I will be using some of my funds to finance this project in hopes that the VCT will be able to be used to its fullest.

Peace and Amama

Primary School

School, on the other hand, has been incredibly busy. School actually started before I got back which I didn’t think would start until the end of February. AND the school has expanded to not just nursery, Kindergarten, and Primary 1, but those three plus P2-P4. When I found this out my first question was “And who will be teaching all these levels?” When I left in December there was only Charles (the headmaster), Rogers, and myself. We now have another young man from the church and Beatrice, Pastor Peter’s wife. Beatrice, however, only teaches when she’s not incredibly busy. (She constantly has to play hostess and she’s a mother of three, one of which is still nursing.) I was a bit apprehensive in coming back to the school and this news made me even more apprehensive. I knew how much I struggled in the last term; I wasn’t sure what this term was going to be like. But God is good and I am actually very much enjoying school. I met with Charles and Rogers to discuss what I would be doing during this term and we agreed that I would still come on just Tuesday and Thursday mornings, but this term I would only teach English to P3 and P4. With how the schedule works, I will be teaching P3 and P4 Tuesday mornings and only P4 on Thursday mornings. Charles thought that the older students would understand me better and be a bit more disciplined. So far he’s right. I arrived my first day of teaching in this new term and found the school relatively organized but still a bit chaotic. Classes have been separated as best as possible but with large numbers. Two classes meet in a large UNICEF tent behind the church (they’ve made a partition to separate the classes), two more classes meet under big trees beside the church, one class is in the church, and the other is beside the school office (also in the church). While school seems to be going well, the numbers keep growing. In fact, it has been four weeks since the beginning of school and we still have parents registering their children. I’ll give you an example: My first day of teaching P4 (Thursday, February 14), I had six students. The second day (Tuesday, February 19) I had 12-15 students. The third day I had 21 students. Last Thursday I had close to 30 students in just P4. I have only taught one P3 class and that was over two weeks ago, so I have no clue what the class will look like now. I believe that there are easily 200 students at the school right now and only four-five teachers. (See if that would be suitable in the States!) I think the reason they are still admitting students to the school, even four weeks after the beginning of the term, is so that the school will be recognized by the government. I also think that is the reason for the addition of more class levels. I don’t believe the AIC school in Torit was recognized by the government last year, therefore the teachers do not get paid. (I’m not really sure how the pay system worked last year or if the two teachers even got paid.) Once the school is recognized by the government, the government can also send in more teachers and hopefully funds for a real school building. Right now there is a real need for teachers, trained teachers, in Torit. The town is growing and it’s growing fast. More and more families are moving back to town and they need schools to send their children to, thus the need for teachers. If you are interesting in teaching in Torit, let me know! Anyway, back to school…my students do seem to be a little more disciplined than last term and they seem to understand me better. I have two or three P4 students who speak English very well and they have been such a blessing to me. They have been able to translate a bit of what I’m saying to the rest of the class. I feel more encouraged at the school this term and I definitely enjoy it more. I still see areas of struggles from time to time but it was nothing like last term. One struggle I still have is the style of teaching. I have to be gracious in this area because the way the other teachers teach is the way they were shown when they were in school. They have also not been properly trained. Usually a lesson consists of the teacher copying the lesson in English straight from the book onto the blackboard. They will read what’s on the board and make the students repeat it several times aloud and then they walk away leaving the students behind to copy what’s on the board into their notebooks. That’s it. There is no real teaching going on. They don’t work one-on-one with any child and they don’t even give the children a chance to ask questions if they have them. The children are expected to understand it. And of course most of the children don’t really understand even if they say they do. Most of them can’t speak English, so I’m sure they can’t read it. I have been trying to do more teaching than just copying things onto the board. I am using the books for the grade levels but I try to explain the lesson and then give them an exercise. With P4, I actually grade their exercises during the class time so that I can correct them and see patterns of misunderstanding. At the end of the lesson, I then go over the entire exercise and have them give me answers. I have even told them that if they do need help or they don’t understand something that I will help them. I actually had one little boy this past week ask for help because he didn’t understand what he was suppose to do. I hope that I can model this style of teaching not only to the students but to the other teachers so that hopefully they will at least be able to see the difference in styles.

Making Jewelry

Not only have I been busy in the school and the hospital, but I’ve also been helping Russ and Lyn Noble with a project. Russ and Lyn’s ministry is literacy within native languages. In the past they have run training courses in eight different languages of South Sudan. This coming week they will be starting a training course in Latuko or Otuho (both the same language just different spellings and sayings). The Latuko tribe is one of the largest, other than Acholi, in Eastern Equatoria. The goal of the course is to train teachers from different areas around the state to teach literacy in their mother tongue. There are two teachers coming from seven or eight towns across Eastern Equatoria. The course will run for ten days at the end of which the newly trained teachers will go back to their home churches and start a literacy class. In a couple of months, Russ and Lyn hope to travel to these churches to see how the classes have progressed. So, where do I fit in? Well, they have been creating materials for the course over the past two weeks which need assembling, cutting, laminated (yes, they have a laminator), and other things. That is what I’ve been doing in my spare time. Any of you who know me well and have worked with me know that I actually enjoy doing these things. It has actually been really interesting to do some of these things because I’ve gotten to see a little more of the Nobles’ ministry and a new language. The Latuko language has 35 letters in their alphabet! 35! I found out that another language in Western Equatoria close to Congo border has 45 letters in their alphabet! Russ and Lyn have been persevering through computer glitches, teaching methods, and teaching materials for the past few weeks but they are just about prepared and should be ready to go Tuesday morning. Please be praying for them over the next two weeks and specifically, that they can produce eager, well-trained teachers.


That is just a taste of what life in Torit has been like since I’ve been back. There is much more that I have not shared, but I’m sure I will share those experiences in due time. Well until next time…Salaam Taaki!


Friday, February 15, 2008

Goodbye Kenya, Hello Sudan

The second half of ABO went quickly by. Meghan finally recovered and both of us were very active with the children. On top of learning new things about the various African countries and animals, the kids got to experience a trip into the market, a home visit, and time spent at a local school where they also got to swim. On the last day of ABO the children got dressed-up in different African garb and set up a market of their own. Each child laid a konga (blanket/wrap) on the floor and displayed all of their crafts they had made throughout ABO. The parents later walked through the market and did a little “shopping.” Although getting the market set up was a bit stressful, everyone had fun in the end.

Alex Juggling Chicks

Scottish Dance

At the end of the last full week at ABO we had a fun night and a celebration dinner. The fun night was just a bunch of skits, jokes, dances, songs, and trivia games. The kids sang some songs they had learned and a few of the girls put on a puppet show. There was a challenge between the kids and the parents about who knew more about Africa. The kids won. The Scot taught us a Scottish dance. One of the Brits juggled baby chicks (not even kidding!). One of the parents made up a song about coming to Africa to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas. Our skit, though, was hilarious. Meghan, Rachel (one of the 12-year-olds), and I were the six-legged elephant named Gertrude. We covered ourselves with this blanket; my arm as the trunk and Meghan as the rear. Carolyn narrated as we did two tricks. The first trick was to walk over the middle of a person. We got one of the kids to lie down on the floor and we walked over his middle. Then we got Mr. Fast, who is one of the ABO leaders and also incredibly tall, to lie on the floor and we would walk over him from feet to head. When we had walked over half of him we stopped. Carolyn started saying “Gertrude, what are you doing? No, don’t do that!” And about that time Meghan (being in the rear) lifted her leg and dumped a bottle of water onto Mr. Fast’s stomach. The audience and Gertrude were laughing hysterically. The night ended with ice cream, cookies, and brownies. (Yes, I am in Africa, but I don’t get to eat these things all the time!) Now, onto the celebration dinner and, oh my, what a dinner it was! I’ve never seen so much meat in my life! I think the men were getting pretty desperate for iron and protein and, as a result, dinner was a meat fest. I’m not kidding. It was meat for the main course with a side of more meat! We had steak (fillet mignon w/bacon wrapped around it), chicken, pork tenderloin, hot dogs (that tasted like American hot dogs), and all in a large abundance! We also had some sautéed onions, grilled pineapple, fried potatoes, cheese, fruit salad, and, to top it off, ice cream. I don’t think I’ve eaten so much meat in my life! Everything was grilled outside and it was amazing. Poor Meghan, though. She doesn’t eat meat so it was more potatoes for her! After the dinner, a group of young Kenyan women came in and danced for us. They also had us join in for one of the dances. Only a few of us (me included) got up to dance but it was so much fun.

Rachel and Becca

Kids at Fun Night

Carolyn and Meghan

Becca, Amanda, and Lorien

On February 5, we said our goodbyes to everyone and headed up to Nairobi with Carolyn. As soon as we were settled in Nairobi, we grabbed some pizza for lunch and then headed to Junction to shop a bit. Carolyn had to debrief with the ABO leaders, so Meghan and I wandered around this book/music/movie store. After a while, we met Carolyn at Java House to do some emailing, drink coffee, and eat dinner. The next day was the big shopping day. After breakfast at Java House, we bought a few African crafts then head back to Junction to shop at Naukumatt. After shopping a bit we saw a movie…this was our third movie in Africa! Once the movie was over, Meghan had to finish up a little shopping so Carolyn and I went to Java House (again) to do some emailing. That evening Carolyn made dinner for us and we watched a movie. Thursday morning we flew from Nairobi to Loki. We were only in Loki for the day so as soon as we dropped our stuff we went into town to run some errands. We met up with Phil and Linda who were bringing a team out of the Didinga Mountains and also Russ and Lyn, who were out for their resupply. We literally spent the entire day running around and getting things organized for our flight out to Sudan the next day. (Meghan had to do her resupply in Nairobi and Loki so she had A LOT of stuff and weight was becoming an issue since we were taking the small plane into Sudan. Luckily Phil and Linda were able to take all of my stuff and just a few things of Meghan’s with them in their vehicle.)

The Sossamon Family minus Kyle

Me and Rachel

I finally arrived back in Torit early Friday morning (February 8) and, after a little recuperation, spent some time in town and at the AIC church. My, how much has changed! The little town I left in December has grown quite a bit in my absence. Although the town itself has changed, the people themselves have not. I was greeted by the same friendly faces I left two months prior. The greetings this time were “Happy New Year” and “You have been lost!”; appropriate greetings for the beginning of a new year and for one returning after some time. As I continue to reacquaint myself with the town and my ministries, I will share with you more. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kenya. It is such a beautiful country and I would love to explore it more in the future. But for now, I am excited to be back in Torit. Welcome back to Sudan!