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.