At home in church

Jenny_2010 Posted by Jenny Bell on Fri, 15 Apr 2011 | 0 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to Post this to Facebook

Church here evokes all sorts of mixed emotions for me.

The Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS/Anglican), the Roman Catholic Church and the Presbyterian churches are the main denominations across South Sudan although there are a number of others also. I am working for the ECS Diocese of Yei as its Health Coordinator and live only 5 minutes’ walk from Immanuel Cathedral so it might seem logical to attend there. The first two services are in English, then one in Bari (a local language) and an afternoon one in Juba Arabic (a basic non-written form of Arabic).

Much of the (English) service can initially strike one as negative heritage of colonialism. The church in the west has changed from what is still seen here. In this hot climate, the vestments that are worn must be unbelievably warm to wear! It seems so odd and even jarring to sing western hymns and songs in English within this environment. I recall when I was here at the end of September there was a phrase about autumn leaves and snow!

People are usually best able to express their heart in their mother tongue. The complexities of language and the nuance of expression mean that prayer (both by self and for others) is most effective in one’s first language. However language is not a straightforward issue here! Each Sudanese person has their own tribal language. There are several groups of tribal languages in South Sudan, but native speakers of the various dialects within these groups can usually understand one another. Juba Arabic was the common language of communication. Remember that northern Sudan is Arabic and the business people often came from there. With South Sudan becoming its own country, there is an understandable trend away from Arabic. Schooling has been done in English (with some exceptions for early primary years). However the teachers have English as a second (or more!) language, as do the students. It is a challenge as a westerner to acclimatize one’s ear to African English. The accent is different and the sentence construction also differs. Equally, nationals often have trouble understanding English spoken by westerners!

Adding in less-than-optimal acoustics in church, one strains to understand what people at the front are actually saying. Those preaching have likely not had much opportunity for training so the sermons often do not seem to connect to the text that was read. The message is frequently about basic salvation but one wonders if people really understand what ‘sin’ is or if they have tasted the depth of the Father’s love for them. The majority of the congregation do not have their own Bibles and the literacy rate is perhaps not high. So one wonders how much each person can understand through the broken English from the front.

Yet the 7:30am service (how often does that happen in back home and how many people would get up?!?) is packed, with about 1,500 mostly young people attending. The potential impact is amazing. So much could be done!! The young people seem enthusiastic and there is lively singing. Hopefully a Sunday School will get started for all the children who so quietly sit through the services. Again, so much potential.

Jesus started with a few. I long to build relationships and would love to be part of a small group Bible study, where one could really discuss things and pray for one another. I am very much still adjusting to life here and need to be patient. My working days have been full of logistics and administrative detail. I long to get some of that sorted so that I can spend more time with staff at the clinic as well as in teaching.

I am hoping to have individual meetings with some of the senior staff at Martha Clinic in Yei this week. Partly to get to know them personally and also to discuss their views on the clinic as well as their personal aspirations. There is a weekly half-hour ‘devotions’ at the clinic on Thursday afternoons that was started just before I arrived and which has lots of scope to be developed. And I would love to start an optional Bible study for staff but likely need to build relationships more first.

I moved into my lovely new home a few weeks ago but am still waiting for a shelving unit for my bedroom and a counter for my kitchen. It continues to work well to cook with Tabitha, Sheila has now left.

Many thanks for your support and encouragement. It is much appreciated.

Love Jenny

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