Thursday, September 8, 2011

How do we start eliminating poverty?

In August Diantha and I attended the Sudan Roundtable, held in Uganda, with 6 of our Sudanese colleagues (pastors, laypersons, women, youth) as well as representatives of every United Methodist interest doing substantial mission in Sudan: East Africa Annual Conference; UMCOR, Women's Division and others from GBGM; Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church. The idea was to listen to representatives of the Sudanese United Methodist Church speak of their priorities, and talk about how we might increase our coordination and cooperation to meet these needs. A new District Advisory Committee set up by the new District Superintendent Fred Dearing had after much discussion and discernment settled on Eliminating Poverty and Reducing Killer Diseases as their first and second priorities, respectively. After two intense days of discussion in Uganda, we hope and pray that the resulting work by all the partners in mission in Sudan will continue to act on these priorities. As we reflected on them ourselves out of our one short year of experience on the ground here (and several years of work in these areas in the US) we came up with suggestions for principles that might guide the work of eliminating poverty, and that we are trying to practice:
1. Support projects that work with people, not just for people. We are currently using the church/village planning approach: the church/village picks the project area, the District sets budget limits within funding available, village and District work together to make the project fit budget. Building the capacity of the local church/village to manage their own development is more important than any concrete outcome: strengthening the experience of owning the process, learning to approach a big task/far goal step by step, learning to realize and bring their own assets into the project (materials, labor) so that the process is genuinely a partnership between the church/village and the District, and becomes culturally sustainable with local leadership beyond our involvement. Pastors appreciate being clear and consistent about following Biblical principles for the way the outside resource-provider assists the church/village for the up-building of all the UM churches in South Sudan. These include:
i. Equality (Acts 2:44-45) no one has too little or too much, and
ii. Accountability (Matthew 25:14-29) what have you done with what was given?
Diantha and I continue to practice these principles as we hold churches accountable to the changes they have made in their project plans, especially when that means they run short of money! We gently remind them as we have from the beginning that we have the same amount of money to help each church (thank you, Holston Conference!) and that if they change the project from the plan and budget agreed upon, they need to also take responsibility to find the resources to finish the project.
iii. Participation (Mark 6:35-44) start with what you have, even if it is small. We have been gratified to find how willing the church members and village neighbors have been to raise more money, to dig latrine holes, to make bricks and build school shelters, and find a variety of ways to contribute their part to the project benefiting their church and village.
iv. Planning (Luke 14:28-30) count the cost before starting. One or two churches have led the way by planning ahead and saving some of their harvest to provide seed for the next season; we have copied their example in providing all the churches with seeds on the condition they make a commitment to do the same thing, as well as planning to use some of the harvest also to help the needs of widows and orphans that are in each church.

2. Increase wealth by building on the asset base: this means that the main emphasis for the Sudan District UMC is on sustainable agricultural development which multiplies amount of crops that can be grown in a given area and in a given time by using improved methods of conservation farming while still using hand tools and homemade inputs rather than purchased fertilizer, pesticide, etc. Recently we have given each church a moringa tree and several papaya trees after the pastors attended a workshop teaching them the nutritional benefits of moringa and the medicinal benefits of papaya.
3. Improve the capacity to manage, not just increase, wealth. Projects eventually must be financially sustainable beyond our involvement. Our Microenterprise Program (PUMMP) teaches this to pastors and church leaders; we just graduated the first class of 6 pastors and gave them loans. Pastor Faustino of Ligitolo said, “This is the training we have been needing to improve ourselves!” Now we have started training a second group of 9 pastors in business management, this time in the local language (Kakwa), and we plan to hold training for churches on managing projects; to seek funding for a village savings bank program that includes financial management; and to develop workshop on managing personal finances for pastors, women, youth and other church leaders.
4. Start now developing leaders who can take over the work. One way to do this is to strengthen local leaders to get out of poverty themselves so that they can help others to do so, beginning with pastors, who receive little to no salary. Local people are increasing their ability to manage church/village planning (Pastor Isaac Sebit), manage the Eden Teaching Farm (Alex Lupayi), and manage the PUMMP training and the personal financial management training (Joice Jaka). With the help of short-term volunteer Thomas Sherbakoff, we trained 3 key church leaders in Basic Fund Accounting so they can handle the larger amounts of funds coming in to various District programs.
5. Make training a priority over equipment/materials. Many NGOs and mission efforts in the past have provided tractors and other pieces of equipment that are now lying unused, broken or rusting because of problems such as: Who can repair it? Where do you get replacement parts and how do you afford them? Who can afford the fuel? Other problems include disputes over ownership and management of the equipment. In our Basic Farming Methods training for 31 village farmers we gave hoes, machetes, and seeds only after they completed training; the pastors received a Moringa tree seedling only after attending the Moringa training. Diantha just coordinated a training for Traditional Birth Attendants that significantly increased the skills of 46 village women, who then receive 10 UMCOR birth kits each to carry out their new knowledge. We are hoping to get funding for a program to build the capacity of United Methodist Women groups so they can develop the capacity to handle income-generating pieces of equipment.
6. Look for and use collaboration wherever possible and appropriate. Many more people can be helped with many more services, resources and knowledge to reduce poverty by cooperating with other mission groups and NGOs. So, we have started monthly roundtables of other NGOs and mission groups working in agriculture, and in health. Christian Reformed World Relief Committee has provided free training and materials for workshops on maize, cassava, and sweet potatoes for 130 farmers in 2 UM churches. UMCOR is planning for UM churches to benefit from their projects in fish farming, poultry raising, cassava growing, beekeeping, renovating a remote primary health care unit, and community health outreach. We are providing UMCOR with business training for 220 farmers.
7. Seek sustainability to make poverty reduction permanent. Besides cultural and financial sustainability, environmental sustainability is key so the land remains an asset producing wealth. I had resigned myself to a gradual, difficult process of persuading people that this is a long-range investment that may not show results now, but will in the future. So it was wonderful to receive this letter from the pastor of Logo United Methodist Church, after he actually applied the no-till/mulch method I taught the pastors, to growing maize (corn) on a small experimental plot near his home: “We are very happy for what you taught us about agriculture. The maize seeds which you gave us 198 seeds for 99 holes give us three buckets which is dry now. Next year we want to arrange ourselves in a group. Let God give you more ideas for helping us. Thanks, yours in Christ, Rev. Simon Duku”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A New Sudan

1. Independence Day in the New Sudan
The night before Independence Day, our new District Superintendent Fred Dearing received passes for us to sit in the bleachers to watch the official birth of the Republic of South Sudan. I was amazed at the diversity of the crowd gathered in Yei's Freedom Square to celebrate their first Independence day. It included not only the many Christian denominations that are here, but also local Muslims; not just South Sudanese from almost every state, but even Darfuris who sincerely celebrated the independence of their Southern brothers and sisters even while their home area in the western part of the North continues to suffer massacres of entire villages. It was great to witness that in the midst of their own celebration, South Sudanese pledged continued efforts for peace and freedom in Darfur. All the more amazing to realize that Independence is not just decades but centuries overdue for South Sudanese, who have been controlled, exploited and oppressed by others since ancient times without cease. In a sea of hundreds of banners, one summed it up in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Free At Last.” People had walked to Yei from surrounding villages; some climbed trees to join the thousands enjoying marching and speeches in Yei's Freedom Square. Every local civic group and school had a banner and marched in a long parade; Salaam United Methodist School was there marching in their school uniforms. Sudanese women groups marched with banners proclaiming their commitment to playing a key role in the development of the new South Sudan. As we looked around us in the bleachers, we saw Sudanese young educated professionals listening intently to all the speeches, responding at times to commit themselves to the task of building a new nation. The highlight of the day was the simple act of lowering the flag of Sudan, and raising the new flag of the Republic of South Sudan. People cheered and ululated wildly, and that energy continued into the afternoon as dozens of tribal groups gathered in circles around Freedom Square into the evening to dance traditional tribal dances: Kakwa, Nuer, Dinka, Mandari, and many more. I hope and pray the peaceful, joyful spirit of those co-existing celebrations on Independence Day can be continued permanently into the complex process of becoming one nation of many tribes working together.

2.Oil and Food in the New Sudan
Petrol (gasoline) prices in Yei have risen to about $6.80 per gallon, but farther north in Unity State they are over $10 per gallon, down from $12 per gallon during the height of the fuel shortage a few weeks ago. Even though 75% of the known oil is located in South Sudan, all the pipelines and processing are in the north, and the north stopped allowing shipments of oil after the vote to separate. Oil from other countries has slowed down, reportedly because Libyan oil production has been disrupted. South Sudan is working on arrangements to build a pipeline through Kenya to a seaport, but that is expected to take 8 years. Meanwhile, higher fuel prices mean higher food costs (over half the local food is still imported and trucked in.) Already food prices were rising independently of this crisis; according to the South Sudan Minister of Agriculture Anne Itto, maize (corn) prices in Kenya rose 130% in the first half of 2011. Adding to that the fuel crisis in South Sudan, Itto says maize prices have quadrupled here (Sudan Tribune 16 July 2011). The conservation farming methods we're teaching here are increasing yields by 6.5 times in Zimbabwe just using existing hand tools with no commercial fertilizers (Conservation Farming in Zimbabwe: Evaluation Report, January 2011, Canadian Food Grains Bank.) If we can show that these methods do even half as well in South Sudan, it could help increase food production here quickly and inexpensively.

3. Training Leaders for the New Sudan
Elizabeth Heft, an Individual Volunteer in Mission from Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, is here for 6 weeks as an Individual Volunteer in Mission conducting training for youth leaders of the 17 United Methodist churches in South Sudan. It was exciting to see 35 Sudanese young adults, about 1/3 women, gathered for the 2-day retreat here in Yei. Elizabeth and Peter Lomorro, the Youth Coordinator for Sudan District, did a fantastic job of providing much appreciated training while the young adults provided joyful worship with drums, shakers, song and dance...and fervent commitments to the task of leading and teaching youth in the remote village churches. Looking over this group of energized young women and men gathered in Yei UMC as we celebrated communion on the final day of the retreat, I was moved with the knowledge that faith development among the youth of the village churches would take a major step forward, and astounded to realize that several of these young adults would be, in a few years, pastors of these and of new churches. What an incredible gift!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mission in South Sudan: May 11, 2011

Hankins Leave Sudan
There were tears, prayers, singing and heartfelt thanks as Boo and Phyllis Hankins met one last time with the United Methodist pastors in Sudan District. After two years of mission service in Sudan Boo and Phyllis Hankins are leaving Sudan, to return to serve churches in Tennessee at the request of Bishop Swanson of Holston Conference. In fact, they left 3 days ago after preparing Diantha and I to respond to interim tasks such as unexpected medical needs of pastors and the ongoing support of several orphans and sponsored students. The Sudanese pastors thanked them for strengthening the churches and teaching them English and more. Their fellow missionaries thanked them for their example of teamwork and endurance as they persevered resolving crises in church and school. Diantha and I are grateful that God used them to do the difficult pioneering work in the development of the church here, work that not many others we know would be able or willing to do. Twenty-two years of the traumas of war and refugee camps leave deep wounds in peoples' hearts; in the case of the Sudanese United Methodists, these wounds have been exacerbated by the corrupt behavior of several former local church leaders which has deepened a prevailing sense of mistrust. The Hankins have worked step by step with these church members to build stability, continuity, and a sense of being part of a much large connection that will not let them be the victims of the whims of individuals any more.

Women's Division Team Visits Sudan
Two staff (Marva Usher-Kerr, Carol Van Gorp) and a Board member (Ollie Pleggenkuhle) of the Women's Division of the General Board visited South Sudan in April. They held a workshop for the United Methodist Women leaders to help them develop come together as a district, and develop some goals. In preparation for their visit, Diantha researched the existing programs for women's literacy in South Sudan, and the effectiveness of different approaches. We are hoping for their continued support of agricultural training for women, and continue to explore with them a possible approach to increasing the literacy of women, and of beginning village micro-finance programs that would put management of credit in the hands of trained village committees controlled by women.

Reducing Poverty: Our thinking advances...
For 9 months we have been thinking day and night about the issues of poverty we see daily: hunger, lack of money to pay for school fees or medicines. We can see now how the pieces might fit together to allow people to improve their life situations: now they have little income, so there are always more demands and urgent needs and their culture encourages them to help others rather than saving. If we could help them start micro-finance programs, in the future it would allow people to add up small savings in a village "bank" that they manage collectively, and learn to manage their money, which could be used to start income-generating activities or to pay for household needs such as school fees and medicines. There's another key piece of the puzzle: they need to improve their income, which in rural South Sudan mainly means improving agricultural yields and income so they can grow enough for their families, and have some left over to sell. Yet another piece: health is important. If they learn to improve their health and even to grow some of the medicinal plants they need, they are strong enough to contribute to the family income; but if they are sick, they deplete the family income.

Collaboration Blossoms
"How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!" (Ps. 133:1) From the time we got here, we've tried to get to know the other groups and people at work in South Sudan, especially in health, agriculture, education and micro-finance. The result last fall was that Diantha was invited by an NGO to help create a manual for training community health workers, and I was asked to be part of interdenominational trainings for pastors youth. At our request, another mission group provided our UM nursery schools with digital players with a variety of teacher training lessons on them. In March we contracted with a Christian Reformed group to provide training for 31 farmers from United Methodist churches. We were concerned that there was no regular gatherings of people doing similar work, to share progress and consider working together; so Diantha and I played a key role in starting monthly informal "teas" around agriculture and another around health. Since then the cooperative work has exploded: the same Christian Reformed group has offered to train for free, two groups of 50 farmers on improved cassava and sweet potatoes from two different villages where there are UM churches; UMCOR is working with us to select one of our remote UM churches for a fish-farming project and is trying to set up a health project so that it benefits another of more remote villages where there is a UM church. While our budget is tiny compared to the other mission and NGO groups here, or perhaps partly because of it, a lot is happening to help the villages we focus on, because of the growing willingness to collaborate.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mission in South Sudan: April 1, 2011

Farming God's Way (FGW) Moves Forward
Small steps forward for this method of conservation agriculture in which soil fertility and scarce water is kept and increased both by not plowing and by covering the ground with a layer of mulch; and by adding natural fertilizers like composted grass and manure. FGW incorporates principles from observing Creation and from the Bible that works well to teach these methods in the villages of south Sudan. I held a workshop February 16 for 19 UM pastors and assistant pastors (I expected 10!) to introduce them to FGW; as a result, so far two pastors (from Logo and Mirodu villages) reporting to me that they have prepared a sample plot using these methods and are ready for me to supply them with maize (corn) seed so they can try it out! This makes me very happy. As of today I am proud to announce that Eden Teaching Farm of the Sudan District has officially begun what the new UN report on agroecology (conservation agriculture) calls "decentralized participatory research."
Not only that, but these methods may help Darfur in the north of Sudan. I've had a couple detailed email exchanges with a colleague in Darfur who hopes to use these methods there, and have tried to help her figure out how to adapt the the FGW methods to that area which has drier climate and scarcer resources than we in the south. I'm eager to see what may work there.
Steps forward on the global scene too: I've just discovered a new UN report (December 2010) advocating strongly for increasing the practice and scale of agroecology to increase food security and help small farmers worldwide; and a decision by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. in June 2010 to promote this "integrated holistic approach" for sustainable crop intensification. They even mention the importance of "learning by doing" and of partnering with non-governmental groups at the local level. So far the farming methods we are beginning here is not yet widely accepted or practiced in Sudan, but this tells me it will be promoted more and more. I'm encouraged in my work and thankful to be helping the villages and churches we work with to be involved at the beginning of an important movement.

Steps Forward in Development Hearts and Minds, too
We (mostly Diantha due to my limited mobility on motorcycles) have now completed basic strategic planning meetings in 13out of 17 villages, a process we began last September. We had no idea it would take so long! But we're excited by what's happening. We invite each church to choose an initial project that must meet 4 criteria: (1) It must address a top priority identified by the village during the planning meeting (2) It must involve investment by the village of labor, materials, or both (3) It must require no more than US $150 from us (4) It must be able to be started soon and completed in 4 months or less, so that the church and village have an immediate sense of succeeding in the long path to development. The results are interesting: Three churches have chosen an initial project in agricultural training because they reason that increased production will mean they have more food not only to eat but to sell to get money for school fees, medicines, and other crucial needs. Seven churches have chosen to build an additional school "building" (simply a thatched roof) so they can move more classes from under the trees and expand the number of village children who can be educated (for many of these children the church school is their only option as they cannot afford the higher fees of the government schools, which also may be too far away to walk to). And one church has chosen to build latrines so that their school children can improve their health. One church wants help to get culverts in the road to make it passable in the rainy season and allow their children to walk to school even in the rainy season. The reasoning behind their choices are gratifying. So are, increasingly, the comments made during the planning process. We always ask early on in the meeting for a list of things people are thankful for, as well as (inevitably) a list of what they need. During the first planning meetings last fall, the lists were predictable: they were thankful for their church and the local school the church had begun, the seeds and tools they have been given, the bore hole (deep well) dug with funds from US churches. But since the Referendum in January, the list of thanksgivings have been changing and deepening. We hear thanks for the Referendum, thanks for freedom and peace; and we often hear thanks for the improved life of women. Women are thankful for liberation from the fear that a harsh version of sharia (islamic) law could be imposed on them; thankful that the new government is making a commitment to the rights of women including making women 50% of all government leaders; thankful for a focus on decreasing gender based violence. While the villages and the churches, like the towns and the government, still have a long way to go to put all these changes into practice, its great to hear the excitement and hope in these comments. We feel privileged to be here, doing this, at this time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mission in South Sudan February 20 2011

Apologies (Steve)
Sorry we've been gone from our blog for so long. It's not just that a lot has been happening, its also that we blog into space and don't get much sense of whether people are reading it. But in the last months several folks wrote us quite concerned that we haven't blogged and wondering how things are, how we are. So we're learning that this mostly one-way conversation in which we do the talking is the way blogs are. Sorry, we're new to this, and we'll try to do better.

Steve's Mom (Steve)
By the time I arrived in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, my mother (Peg) was out of the hospital and making steady progress in being better hydrated and in alertness. Diantha and I took our turn after my sister Merri and brother Dan had done the same, in going to the nursing home daily for two weeks and helping feed Mom her pureed diet and nutritional supplement, spoonful by spoonful, about a 90 minute process each meal. And we talked to her and sometime she talked back and a few times it made sense; we hugged her, sang to her, joked with her. On the morning of the 11th day there, as I turned from Mom to greet one of the other nursing home residents, she looked at me and called my name for the first time. Later that afternoon, as I sat holding her hand, she said "I love you." and pulled my hand to her mouth and kissed it. Then I was absolutely sure the whole trip was worth it.

Short-term Mission Team from Holston (Diantha)
We had a busy but successful time with a team here; they got here 3 days after we returned from our trip to the U.S. to see Steve's mom, and stayed for 10 days. They started working in the new demonstration plot next to the District Office, now called Eden Teaching Farm (for demonstrating and teaching agriculture and health practices). There were 6 Sudanese teachers from our UM-related nursery schools who were on break, who came and help make demonstration plots and build the posts for the latrine structure. Now we need to finish the wattle and daub walls and thatch the roof. That was a big project, as I had wanted to use an adapted design from Zimbabwe, and use Sudan's mud hut style, plus the pit was dug bigger than I had told the people the dig. So there was a lot to learn and figure out on my part, but it all worked out well!! We shall see how effective and desirable the design is. We also had chance to take breaks from working in the heat and do short educational pieces, about the Farming God's Way method that Steve was using to design the plots, and sanitation education they could replicate at home. Two or three members of the Holston team joined us, so it was good to get to know them, too. We had fun with the teachers, and they had great fellowship with the U.S. team members.

One of the Sudanese teachers who worked with us, Amule, was from Ridya, one of the poorer, more remote areas. They are still trying to locate a good place to drill their bore hole, so they don't have the health advantage of clean water. Amule had a resurgence of his malaria the first night of our 4 day training, but I had some medicine on hand to give him. If he had been home in Ridya, he probably could not have gotten any medicine. He broke out in fever, sweat, chills, body ache, and was stumbling around. Also he had not made any arrangements to stay over night. We sent him to Yei UMC where his pastor and others were in pastors training, and church members found a place for him to sleep. I had expected him to be quite sick, so was thankful and surprised when he showed up the next day. He managed to work (and take some breaks; people here work in the heat when they are sick. It's amazing), and was a good bit better by the time he went home. Also, he showed me these deep painful cracks in his feet from walking barefoot so much. I gave him some of the salve I made at home and Vaseline jelly. He had flip flops, and no other shoes, and would have to farm barefoot. Cracks like that also need shoes to heal. Another member of the team had rubber boots here that fit him, and someone donated socks, which we gave him. I usually feel uncomfortable giving individual people a lot of things, but this seemed totally fitting, and would impact his life. I think it makes a difference when you have a relationship with the person you are giving something to. Amule also earned a week's laborer's wage by helping with the plots, and like the other teachers he got a certificate (which people really cherish) and materials to make a tippy tap handwashing station. We all wish him and the others well.

Referendum Results and a Tale of Two Bullets (Steve)
On February 7, the day the results of the Referendum were announced, the short-term team from Holston was still here. At about 8:50 pm it must have been announced on local radio stations that President Omar Al-Bashir had accepted the results of the Referendum that 99% of the voters in South Sudan had chosen separation from the north. Immediately cheering broke out in neighborhoods on all sides around the UMCOR compound where we stay, and within 5 minutes we heard repeated gunshots as well. The two UMCOR guards on duty, one who had served as a guard to John Garang, the former leader of the southern rebel army, came quickly to our guest apartment to reassure us that the gunshots were celebratory and we had nothing to fear. "It is an end to war! It is the beginning of peace!" they told us. They were very excited. I suggested we pray to inaugurate this new era, and with Diantha the four of us held hands and prayed that God would lead and bless the new South Sudan. The cheering, and celebratory shooting into the air, went on for another six hours without stopping.

Four days earlier I had found a bullet. Or more exactly, one of the Sudanese teachers helping prepare a farm plot had unearthed an old rusty solid iron bullet about 2.5 inches long; the older teachers and compound guards told us that this was a bullet of the northern army that had overrun Yei at one point, a memento of the 40 years of war that had ravaged South Sudan. We celebrated that what had been a field of war, was now becoming a field of peace where people would learn how to grow more food and live healthier lives with less disease. Then the day after the February 7 spontaneous celebration of the Referendum results, I found a shell casing in the yard in front of our house from someone's jubilant shot into the air. I keep the two bullets, the bullet of war and the bullet of peace, on my desk beside my computer as I write.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My mother, Peg Hodges has been in and out of the hospital in Crossville Tennessee this last week because of severe dehydration. She stopped eating and drinking while at the nursing home in Pleasant Hill, and by God's grace my sister Merri was there. After talking by phone with my brother Dan and via Skype with me, Merri got Mom admitted to the Crossville Hospital. She was unresponsive for a while. But once she was hydrated by IV, she gained responsiveness, her sodium levels are back down to near normal, and she is back in the nursing home as of Friday! We are thankful to God!

The doctors at Crossville Medical Center did tell my sister that Mom has entered the end stage of Alzheimers, and that her ability to eat and drink -- and therefore her health -- will continue to be fragile. My sister left Sunday, and my brother arrived Saturday to take over from her and to be with Mom for a while. In the midst of the crisis last week Diantha and I spent some time in discernment, and decided to fly back the the U.S.; we'll arrive Jan. 5 and stay two weeks, taking our turn being with Mom and trying to get her to eat and drink. We'll stay with Diantha's parents who also live in Pleasant Hill. Folks that want to reach us can get us at 931-277-5951 or

Pray for Sudan and the Referendum; and pray for my mother, Peg Hodges.

Love, and Happy New Year,


Christmas Reflections

It is good to hear even short messages from family and friends, and we have heard from many at Christmas. We are having a nice break, as there is less business activity here during the holidays. Local people who had family out of town, and had money have gone to visit. A number of other missionaries are away for Christmas and the referendum for independence (for the week beginning Jan . 9). It is great to take a break, and catch up on some things at home. We are in the dry season, which is a bit hotter and much more dusty. But yesterday there was some rain, and a bit cooler temperature.
We had a wonderful and meaningful time around Christmas, and keeping busy also helped not feeling lonely. We connected with people over the internet (emails and skypes with family) as well as many folks here, through church and missionary fellowship. We were able to celebrate Jesus birth and the love and gifts we have through other people. We had three gatherings with other missionaries, with international Christmas treats, singing, fellowship and children. We found some carols and music on the internet, and played some of the CD's we brought. We attended Christmas day and Dec 26 Christmas services at church. People were extremely joyful. There was lots of singing the favorite songs, lots of jumping and dancing, and people hollering. There were at least 100 children at Christmas (40 in the childrens choir, which is it's max) plus lots of adults, to fill the church. Many children received new clothes for Christmas. Some had plastic sunglasses, and beads in their hair. One of the women in the church invited several people from church to dinner at her house after services. She served us in her grass thatched mud hut (about 12x12 feet), which was considerably cooler than the heat of the compound. She had covered the ceiling and walls with beautiful cloths, brought a small table and a few chairs inside. She served us some fried bread/biscuits and juice first, then brought their typical foods, fried chicken, boiled eggs, stewed chicken in broth, beef stew with lots of cabbage, cabbage and tomato salad, rice and posho (boiled corn flour, like a thick mush). We usually don't have so much variety in one meal!
We were able to do some small extra things for a few people near us. The guards at the compound where we stay had asked Steve for some gospel music a while back. He made a CD from some different CDs we brought with us. Also, Phyllis Hankins and Diantha visited one of the leaders in the church, Edina, and took more gifts for her twin babies: diapers and a front carrier. We have a policy not to give a lot of handouts as many people ask for many things and we are trying to break the stereotype of white people coming here to give lots of handouts. Also, through our work we are emphasizing how we can work together to help provide needs people have in the villages. It was nice to find some ways to give some simple gifts.
Diantha and Phyllis have continued to help various people with medical concerns. One was one of the women leaders who attends the church in Yei. We were told she was very sick, and a number of church members were at her house visiting. She was no longer able to get up, not eating much and was in a lot of pain. Her whole face was very swollen. They had taken her to two different clinics in the past one and half weeks, each with different diagnoses, and she was still getting worse. Some of the family was advocating to take her to the witch doctor. Once Diantha saw her, she knew enough to realize she was misdiagnosed, and need help right away. Phyllis was able to drive the vehicle close enough to load her in the car. Phyllis was also able to pay the registration fee. We took her to a different clinic, which has good equipment and doctors, and beds for overnights. It turned out to be a bad tooth infection. She is now back home and recovering. Diantha thinks in this, and other similar situations, she is able to judge the conditions enough and help people get the medical care they need. By the time some people go for care, their situations are in a state of advanced need. We are both thankful these interventions are possible and helpful, and this woman did not have to die from a tooth infection.
We have heard people partying in the nearby residences most of the night for several nights. There was somewhat of a repeat over New Year's. The referendum should be quite exciting. On Christmas day, Freedom Square, which is the town square was packed. We heard there was music and traditional dancing. We've heard they have scheduled different pastors and churches to be present until the referendum to pray and preach every day.
God is good to us and our new Sudanese friends and neighbors!!