Tongues Galore

Working in South Sudan is working in a land of many languages.  I live in a guesthouse primarily run by Ugandans who speak a mixture of Luganda, Lusoga, and Swahili.  The guests come from all over the world.  One day I hear Dutch, the next German.  The official language of South Sudan is English but the lingua franca is Juba Arabic – an oral Arabic derivation.  Of course, Juba Arabic is distinct from classical Arabic, the only written form of Arabic found in South Sudan.  Arabic bibles, signs, newspapers, and business documents are all written in classical Arabic.  The tribal languages are many.  When the British colonized Sudan over 100 years ago they forcefully reduced the 60+ southern tribal languages they encountered to a more manageable single digit number.  Within the Diocese of Rejaf, people primarily speak Bari, but there are also congregations that worship in Dinka, along with other countless members from areas with a different “mother tongue”.

When we lead a workshop in South Sudan, we will spend valuable time repeating scripture readings in Bari, Zande, Moro, Lingala (a Congolese language), Arabic, Dinka, and sometimes English for those who don’t speak the other languages well.  (Ironically, the Dinka, the tribe with the most political and economic clout, are yet to complete a full translation of the bible.  The Dinka’s have the New Testament and a few choice verses of the Old Testament, but disagreements along dialects have stalled a complete translation.)  The goal is to let as many people as possible hear the scriptures in their “mother tongue”.  I remember during one teaching, the scripture was read in at least 5 African languages, but we only taught in two languages – Juba Arabic and Bari.  I asked Mama Rose why we needed to spend time reading in five languages if we were only going to teach in two.  Mama Rose responded, “the people understand it better when they hear it in their own tongue.”

A better understanding is the entire goal of the project.  We’ve tried to frame the lessons to speak directly to the situation of South Sudan, giving examples straight from the South Sudanese context, adlibbing to include examples distinct to particular villages.  Even the art we use as teaching aids are intentionally drawn so the audience will see themselves in the images.  Whenever I teach, I speak in English.  I know a few words in Bari and Juba Arabic, which I sprinkle in from time to time.  “Piong Nake” means clean water in Bari.  “Mojo Nadif” is clean water in Juba Arabic.  Aside from these and a few others, Mama Rose translates my words into the idioms of the people.  Occasionally I’ll say five words, and she’ll translate them using many words.  I’ll ask, “Mama Rose what did you say? I didn’t say all that.”  She’ll respond, “I’m just saying it so they’ll understand”.

This clash of languages always drifts my imagination back to the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first poured out.  Until my time in South Sudan, what most amazed me about Pentecost is that the people spoke in other languages.  I no longer see what was spoken as the greatest Pentecost day miracle.  My attention is now drawn to what was heard.  Even the scriptures spend only three verses (or 62 words) describing what was spoken, and spends 7 verses (or 104 words) describing what was heard.  Jews from every nation heard the wonderful works of God in the vernacular that was most germane (or understandable) to the individual.  They heard words in a way that broke through confusion and removed ambiguities about the world’s most important message.  It was effortless hearing.  The grand lesson of Pentecost seems to be that Holy Spirit inspired speech enables the hearer to hear the wonderful works of God in a form that is natural and personal.  This is our goal as we teach, and we pray that the Holy Spirit inspires us.

Mama Rose teaching

 

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Community Health Education

It’s been so long since I’ve written, with so many things both good and bad having happened, it’s hard to know what to say as I attempt to write again.

The project is now in full swing.  Every week, I’m spending 4 days and 3 nights in different villages alongside Mama Rose and other church members.  Our goal is to teach health lessons that would, if implemented, considerably change the health situation and save many lives.  We have 10 health lessons – HIV/AIDs & STDs, Malaria, Pneumonia, Safe Water (Diarrhea), Handling Human Waste, Handling General Waste, Maternal and Child Health, Epilepsy, Nutrition, and Sanitation and Hygiene.  Each lesson is comprised of a biblical study connected to a scientific study.  The lessons are relatively simple, which makes it possible for a person without formal medical training (i.e. Darriel) to give the lessons and answer the subsequent questions.

The most basic health practice embedded in a number of the lessons is hand washing.  We encourage people to wash their hands with soap or ash before eating, preparing food, and after relieving their bodies (urinating or defecating).  Soap or ash is important to help remove unseen germs and bacteria. The hands need something abrasive to remove the germs.  Ash is a simple and good substitute for soap because it is abrasive, purified from fire, and freely available in every location.  As hands are generally the sole instruments used for eating, washing hands with soap or ash becomes necessary and not just helpful.

Many people have adopted the practice of washing their hands, and mouth, with water only before eating.  Soap is reserved for washing hands after eating meat to remove the resulting smell.  Some people practice this behavior because they honestly don’t understand the significance.  Others, particularly the younger participants, tell of me this behavior while holding back their laughter, suggesting that they already know it’s an unhealthy practice.

Attitude is perhaps the biggest hurdle to better health.  Some people want to be healthy, but are not ready to adjust their habits.  For those whose chronic sickness has reached the point of utter frustration, they welcome the lessons and begin making changes immediately.  For those people who are slower to adapt, we try to convince them that changing their habits is in their best interests.  The bible lessons help tremendously in this regard, because the lessons represent something bigger than the kawajas (foreigner or white person) but from he scriptures as well.

We’ve begun teaching the lessons village by village, setting up health committees and convincing people to pledge to live healthier lives.  To date, we’ve conducted trainings in 10 centers.  I was happy with one of the recent trainings when the village chief stood up and issued a decree that everyone must build a latrine.  I was amazed at the chief’s sayings.  In that moment, I came closer to understanding  how Jonah must have felt when the King of Nineveh issued his decree after Jonah’s preaching.

Chief giving decree that everyone must have a bakana (or pit latrine)

This center also is also run by a pastor who is very passionate.  He sincerely wanted to understand why he keeps getting intestinal worms and suffering the subsequent consequences.  I told him intestinal worms, particularly the worms from which he and many others suffer, come from what is called the fecal – oral route.  The fecal – oral route is a fancy way of saying that people are unwittingly digesting their own feces or the feces of other people.  Flies, drinking un-purified water, and eating with unwashed hands are the greatest contributors to intestinal worms.  To my surprise, the following day when we celebrated the Lord’s Super, they sent around a basin for everyone to wash their hands with soap before receiving into their hands a wafer blessed as the body of Jesus Christ.

I was very excited to see that initiative.  It meant that they understood the lessons we’d been teaching and were beginning to implement them.  After we teach the lessons all day on Friday and Saturday, I’m usually asked to preach on Sunday.  That Sunday I preached from Duet 30:19, “This day….I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses, now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  Choosing life is the entire goal of the project.  We aim to teach people what a choice for life looks like, and encourage them to make that choice.  Building a latrine and eating with hands washed with soap are terrific beginnings on the journey of a choice for life.

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Graduation Time via South Sudan

This is the season where people all over the States are turning tassels, receiving their degrees, and moving on to the next era in life.  Unfortunately, I missed my cousin’s graduation, but I was able to sort of see my Dukies graduate through a live stream that was a bit too broad for my broadband.  Thankfully, I made out a couple friends speaking from the podium, and many others being hooded with full smiles.

In South Sudan, I witnessed a graduation of another kind.  The school year in South Sudan ends just before Christmas, so even if Juba University wasn’t still shut down from the student riots a month back, now would not be the season to eye people walk across stage.  The graduation I witnessed was that of the church’s next set of leaders.  It was the licensing of Mother’s Union and lay speakers.

Their graduation was a four-day event.  During the first three days, they received training of various sorts – goals of Mother’s Union, management and planning, Community Health, and a few others.  Unfortunately, the training for one day was canceled because the rain made a bridge impassable.  Consequently, the facilitators couldn’t make it.  The training recipients, and graduates, were very eager to receive the training and the licensing.  Some of them walked from as far as 10 miles away.  Almost all slept outside in a camp-like fashion.  The people dressed in their best clothes, which they thoroughly washed, ironed, and folded meticulously before beginning the journey (for some who live in particular villages, this only happens about once a year on special occasions).

Kenyi teaching a Health Lesson. Mama Rose is on his left translating from Bari to Juba Arabic.


Me teaching a biblical message on Community Health. On my right is Bishop Enock translating my words into in Bari. On my left, the chaplain of the police training center nearby is translating my words into Juba Arabic

The training and graduation was in the future headquarters area of Rejaf – Diocese.  Bishop Enock is planning for the construction of a nice cathedral, guesthouse, offices and staff housing.  Currently, all that is a there is a small church made of locally made bricks, trees, and mud.  The church has an image of a cross carved out of far wall of the church.  The decorative opening provides much needed light to enter the sanctuary.  Outside the church are always a few families of goats.  Sometimes a couple of dogs, which occasionally walk into the structure during worship services, are also outside.  The church is located next to a small mountain called Jebel Rejaf (Jebel or Gebel is the Arabic word for mountain), which the locals call a hill.

ECS – Rejaf church with Jebel Rejaf in the background and the goats.

The Fourth day was a Sunday.  They held a special worship service that concluded in what I’ve termed the graduation.  A few people from the UN came, along with other high government officials.  All the diocesan leaders were present, dressed in their best clothes.  The Bishop wore his bishop garb with a new mitre (or hat) he recently received from a Catholic Bishop.  For the first time the lay speakers put on their stoles and the Mother’s Union members held their membership cards.  Some of the women were becoming Mother’s Union members and becoming lay leaders at the same time.  Like graduations in the West, they shook the hand of the institutional leader (the Bishop) and received a certificate.  They all smiled and were extremely proud in the moment.

Mother’s Union members holding up Mother’s Union membership cards


Women receiving stole reserved for lay speakers

 

It was good for all involved.  Afterwards, we ate the bull that was slaughtered that morning and I took group photos of those involved.  The occasion was shared with the retirement of an archdeacon.   Each area represented danced and presented gifts (money, goats, and decorations) to the Archdeacon.  The children beat the drum, blew an instrument made from a bullhorn, and played a harp-like/lyre-like instrument called dungu.  In the end, everyone had danced and eaten, the retired archdeacon was appreciated, and the graduates were proud and ready to move on to their next assignment.

Logo choir singing and presenting goat to retired archdeacon.


Child playing instrument made from a bull’s horn

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A Praise in the Middle of Chaos

Living and working in South Sudan is full of paradox.  Like Dickens’ ‘…Two Cities’ it includes the best of times and the worst of times.  The bad is obvious.  Poor country, disease is prevalent, and the rumors of violence are continuous.  The good is more fundamental.  Great people, smiling and active children, a country with high hopes for their future, and a church that is integral in almost every aspect of society.

In many ways, to work in this environment and remain healthy is to simultaneously love the people and hate the circumstances.  Love of the people is necessary.  Not only is it the first rule of leadership, but without it, nothing, and I do mean nothing, would make me stay around.  To be the sole missionary working with a foreign church is too expensive.  I miss my family, and being here has caused me to sacrifice relationships and moments that are very dear to me.  Hating the circumstance is also important, I feel.  Part of what fuels me is a disdain for the suffering of those created in God’s image.  I also don’t want to see people who were created to thrive barely get by.

I used to describe my work as trying to use the scriptures to explain how our health is integral to our faith and integral to the life of the church.  Now, I understand my task as something much more basic.  It is simply to live out Christianity more fully.  When the gospel is lived out, it impacts every aspect of our lives – health included.

The other day the Community Health Education team (Mama Rose, Medical Officer Kenyi, Driver Joseph, and me) traveled some 60 miles from Juba to the payam of Lobonok.  We went there to speak to the pregnant women, and see what they were planning for their deliveries.  After speaking to the women, we were told that one of the pregnant women had a husband who was sick.  We looked at the man and soon decided he needed to go to the hospital.  He looked pretty bad, about two days from death (I’m able to estimate this from of my experience as a VA chaplain).  He was coughing heavily.  When he sat up, his face grimaced and he grabbed his sides.  My uncle, who once had tuberculosis, recently described to me what it felt like to have TB.  When I saw the man, it seemed like my uncle’s words were coming to life right before me.

After much persuasion and a promise to take care of him, we found ourselves traveling back to Juba with an additional passenger.  The man’s sickness brought a stench vile enough to cause Mama Rose to vomit 15 minutes into the journey.  In such a situation, there is nothing much to do but look out the window and try to take in as much fresh air as possible.

As I looked out the window, I began admiring the area’s natural beauty.  I’d been to Lobonok before, but this was the first time I noticed the area’s magnificence.  I don’t know if it was because I was less comfortable when I first came (anxiety always clouds what’s beautiful), or if it was because the tall grass was now burned.  Either way, after about 5 minutes of staring out the window in awe of my surroundings, it began to dawn on me that my work as a minister requires me to ride along a bumpy dirt road in the heart of Africa.  What a gift!  I had to just praise God in my heart for the moment.  Then I looked behind me and saw sitting beside Kenyi an extremely sick man, a man struggling to keep his head up and whose mouth we covered because we feared his illness.  Oddly enough, I had to praise God for that too.

10 years ago when I finished my undergraduate education, I would have never imagined that I would live and work so far from home in an area so beautiful.  4 years ago when I entered Duke Divinity School, I would have never imagined that literally saving physical lives would be part of my ministry.  It’s difficult to explain the gratification that came from seeing two beautiful sites at once – God’s creation in the mountains of South Sudan, and God’s creation in a man headed for healing.  That day in the car, I shared with the Community Health Education team what a blessing it was for me to work with them in South Sudan, to touch all the lives that we touch.  They think every American is rich and easily travels, so it’s hard for them to appreciate the significance.  But in that moment, I understood I was living a rare and unexpected blessing, nothing less than a miracle.  In reality, I’m the grandson of a sharecropper.  Like most middle-income African-Americans, I’m one generation from poverty.

When I came home, I found a website that allowed me to upload pictures and send one of my grandmothers a postcard.  I did that as an attempt to share the journey and blessing with her.  I remember attending the 2001 National Society of Black Engineers Annual National Conference in Indianapolis, IN.  At the closing gala the keynote speaker said, “You are the product of unceasing prayer!”  I believed him them, but last week those words never rang truer.  I know the blessings I receive are not of my virtue.  In ministry, the gift you receive is always greater than the gift you are.  I received a great gift that day, a tremendous blessing of aesthetic pleasure, and joy and satisfaction in work.  It was more than I had ever imagined, and still somehow I know the best is yet to come.

“‘What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’
the things God has prepared for those who love him—”  1 Cor 2:9

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Politics, War, and Health in South Sudan

To call South Sudan a political hotbed is an understatement.  The country is the newest in the world.  The ruling government is still making the transition to a legitimate political party after twenty plus years as a rebel army.  If I am ever on the brink of forgetting the political importance of this location and moment, I am reminded daily by the four journalist who live with me at CCC (and the others who frequently rotate in and out between helicopter trips and UN charted flights to the country’s less stable regions).

Politically, when South Sudan succeeded from Sudan, they succeeded with 75% of the oil shared by the two nations.  Since succession, Sudan and South Sudan have been in a political chess match over oil revenues.  Sudan moved their pawns across the boarder to occupy the disputed oil rich region of Abyei, then tried to control the center of the board by knighting South Sudan with absurd oil transport fees (the oil pipeline runs through Sudan).  South Sudan retaliated by shutting down all oil production, a move that captured one of Sudan’s power pieces at the sacrifice of one of their own.  Now, both parties are now fighting tit-for-tat along the border, each claiming land and resources to be their own, scrambling to be the first to announce, “check” and “check mate”.

The impact of South Sudan’s politics and war on the health sector are significant.  The government of South Sudan’s budget is almost entirely dependent on oil revenues.  Thus, when the oil production was stopped, the primary means for the government to finance its work stopped.  At first, the government spoke of cutting salaries, but that didn’t sit well with the government employees.  Now they’ve eliminated a number of programs and ordered all ministries to cut funding by a minimum of 30% (although I doubt the military budget will be reduced).  For the health sector, these cuts mean South Sudan cannot afford to sufficiently purchase drugs nor send teams to rural areas to deliver the drugs.

The UN’s Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) has supplied South Sudan with the bulk of their medicines since the comprehensive peace agreement was signed 5 ½ years ago.  In June, the MDTF runs out.  At that time, South Sudan is supposed to begin purchasing drugs and fully manage their own medical logistics.  As of last month, the government didn’t have a budget or a plan to purchase or distribute replacement drugs.  Before the political situation heightened, meager management and apathy were to blame, now it is the lack of resources.

The drugs supplied through the MDTF are projected to run out in August.  Many South Sudanese are banking on the UN or other NGO’s to step in with additional millions in assistance.  However, no such funds have been allocated and the UN has repeatedly said they will not add funding for the purchase of basic medicines, something South Sudan should and could have planned for months ago.  The UN has been attempting to push more and more responsibilities onto the government, at times opting to leave work undone rather than intervene with management or resources.

Those living in the village, who rely on free medications or medications at drastically reduced prices, will be the first to suffer.  Months ago I was trying to convince a group of villagers to purchase mosquito nets. A woman responded that nets are 15 SSP but malaria medicine is 1 SSP.  She said, “Why should I buy a net?”  After discussing the benefits of prevention and risks of disease, I added, “How long do you think you’ll be able to receive medicine at that price…A lot of people around the world are working hard to help you and your children stay alive, soon you’ll have to do your part”.  When I spoke I didn’t realize that the time would possibly come so soon, but I fear it is.

Aside from the availability and distribution of medicines, another result that politics and war is having on health is that the environment is becoming increasingly hazardous.  The halted oil revenues have prevented the government from procuring the requisite diesel fuel to run city generators.  The consequence is not only that my room is much hotter than I would like, but also that the city run water purification plant has shut down.  Instead of having purified water delivered throughout the city for drinking and bathing, people are receiving unpurified water directly from the Nile.  To drink that water unpurified is literally to drink poison.  To bathe with unpurified Nile water is to invite all manner of fungi and skin infections, which contribute to an overall compromised immune system.  Just two months ago the mayor of Juba made it illegal for water trucks to collect water from the Nile, citing the plethora of diseases associated with the usage of that water as the primary basis for the decree.  Of course now, out of necessity, that decree is ignored.

Those who are savvy will collect and utilize rainwater, but that practice hasn’t reached the “tipping point” yet in South Sudan.  If you couple the water problems and the coming decline of public medicines available with the ever-increasing cost of living in Juba (since the start of the Heglig conflict, market prices have risen at least 15%), the health prospects for the poor appear bleak.  Those with money will always find charcoal to boil their drinking and bathing water, they’ll purchase medicine from private clinics, and they’ll purchase oil for their personal generators.  But those without financial resources will have a difficult time.  Thus, in the politics and wars of South Sudan, like most other conflicts, the poor are sure to suffer first and longest.  In the end, it is they who will concede to being “check mated” in Sudan and South Sudan’s continuous game.

Nile River at Juba, South Sudan

 

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Easter in South Sudan

It was good to spend Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, in South Sudan.  The Episcopal Church of Sudan held services for the entire Holy Week.  I was under the weather with a few small illnesses (salmonella and malaria), so I didn’t participate until Thursday.  On Thursday afternoon, they held a “foot washing” service (sorry no pictures).  The preacher for the day washed the feet of all the congregants, some 40 people, and afterwards the Bishop washed his feet.  It was only the second time in my life that I’ve taken part in foot washing, the first being apart of my welcome at St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port au Prince, Haiti.  The ECS foot washing service was a great time to reflect and re-learn from the South Sudanese the events of Jesus’ passion, specifically Christ needing to wash the feet of the disciples, lest they would have “no part” in Him (John 13:8).

Good Friday was a public holiday, so they held services at 11am.  The service commemorated the promises and death of Jesus.  The narrative of Jesus on the cross was retold and the seriousness of the commemoration was emphasized, often by making reference to the Filipino Christian group that actually crucifies men each year.  Thankfully they did not emulate the group.

Bishop and Worship Leaders at Good Friday Service at ECS – Rejaf

Canon Thomas preaching on Good Friday at ECS - Rejaf

On Saturday, they held an evening candlelight service.  Children brought, or were given, candles that they lit as they walked into the church.

Girl holding candle at Saturday, Easter Candlelight service. All Saints Cathedral

CCC girls at the Candle Light service

I went to the service at ECS’ All Saints Cathedral.  I walked in and saw Joseph Taban, the South Sudanese former Duke Divinity Student, serving as worship leader.  The next day, Easter Sunday, Joseph preached for the early morning English service.  He preached a sermon on the 7 sayings of Christ after the resurrection.

Fr. Joseph Taban at ECS - All Saints Cathedral

Afterwards, I shared a rare cup of tea with a few other missionaries serving ECS in South Sudan.  When I went to my usual Sunday morning service at Rejaf’s Pro-Cathedral, Bishop Enock preached.  What I remember from his sermon (through translation; it was preached in Bari, a language I don’t know) is the need to forgive our enemies, and that in forgiveness there is the new life for the one who forgives, and new life becomes available for the one who made the offense.

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Sermonette: Teach us to number our days….

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” – Psalm 90:12

Recently, the diocese held the annual mother’s union training, which calls women from all over the diocese to participate in a three-day workshop.  The first group of women to arrive traveled the furthest.  One woman who came was two months pregnant.  The road she took is a very bad road.  The bumps on this road are unimaginable.  The Land Cruiser that carried her is arranged to maximize seating capacity.  The front has three seats – one seat for the driver and two seats for passengers.  There are no back seats in the traditional fashion, only a long cargo area with two parallel benches positioned perpendicular to the front seats.  Arranged this way, the Land Cruiser can hold up to 14 people instead of the usual 8.  This is a great innovation.  The only problem is that those sitting in the elongated cargo area are without adequate back support, and they experience the entire journey sitting sideways.  The result is that the bumps feel twice as rough and your back is bound to be sore even on smooth routes.  I road in the back of a vehicle like this once, and it was one of my least favorite moments in South Sudan.

The back of the landcruiser where the woman sat. This picture was taken on a different occasion, but it's the same vehicle.

I’m not sure if it was the woman’s age, a complicated medical history, or the rough road that was the main factor acting against her, but once she arrived she was bleeding.  When I was told about it, I was told that she miscarried and was going to take some painkillers.  I couldn’t believe what I heard.  I asked how they knew she miscarried.  The response was that she is pregnant and she’s bleeding.  I said, “Okay, then why is she stopping at painkillers?  She needs to see a doctor.”  I was told that the woman didn’t want to miss the workshop, and was worried that the hospital would admit her (hospital admittance = missed workshop).

After debating the proper course of action, I went outside to talk with the woman.  Through a translator, I told her that she needed to see a doctor.  She smiled and responded that the bleeding was small, and had stopped, and that she was feeling okay.  She said that she would spend the night on the church compound and if she felt worse in the morning, then she would go to the doctor.  She exchanged phone numbers with the diocesan staff and promised to call during the night if her condition became an emergency.  I pleaded with her again, but the woman refused to leave.

By this time it was late, everyone was tired, and our patience for trying to convince someone she needed a doctor was low.  I started the car and was waiting for everyone to board so that we could leave.  As I waited, I felt very uneasy.  I knew to leave this woman was to place her, and perhaps the fetus, in grave danger.  One of the basic health lessons I planned to teach at the woman’s workshop was to seek medical attention at the first sign of danger.  How could I teach that lesson verbally, while demonstrating the opposite?

I got out the car and told Mama Rose that the woman had to go to the hospital.  Mama Rose said, “Darriel it’s not me.  The woman has refused.  What can I do?”  I said, “Mama Rose, you are in charge.  This is your program.  You are responsible for her.  You must tell her that she must go to the hospital.  We can’t allow her to choose.”  Mama Rose said okay, said something to the woman, and 5 minutes later we were on our way to the hospital.

By the time we were finally able to see one of the hospital’s midwives, the lady was in a lot of pain.  The midwife examined her and confirmed that she lost the baby.  Her blood pressure was low and she had started bleeding again.  The midwife treated her, ordered the necessary medicines and IVs, and scheduled a procedure for the next morning. The midwife suggested that the woman would have likely died if she hadn’t have reached the hospital that night.

When I pondered what could have happened, I remembered the verse “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom”.  I had this verse in my email signature years ago.  It was during an era when I was crazy enough to work a competitive fulltime job, go to grad school, lead a non-profit branch, and try to keep a social life, all at once.  The verse meant to me then, “time is short, be wise and accomplish all that you can while you’re young and strong.”  But here, in South Sudan, where I’m a little older and the veneers of life are somewhat removed, where I’m often confronted with death and life’s fundamentals, the verse comes to mean something altogether different.  That night in the hospital, the verse meant, “Don’t take tomorrow for granted.  Your life is not under your control alone.  Choose wisely what you cherish in the time you’re given.”

In South Sudan many people cherish tradition, and they treasure it in a way that is difficult for someone from the West to understand.  In the instance of this woman, at least for the moments of our encounter, she cherished the Mother’s Union training.  In the West, we often cherish money, accolades, and safety in a way that South Sudanese find puzzling.  Western or African, what we cherish is our own choosing, and our choice is articulated through the way we spend our time.  The psalmist knew this, and Psalm 90 was (and is), in part, Israel confessing the difficulty in choosing what to cherish.  Consequently, Israel, gives us the great example of petitioning the Creator for assistance in this grand and simple decision.  “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

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