Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The End of an Era...

We are at the end of our term in Sudan. I leave in two days. Time has flown…some days flew by, I guess. As we finish, I find myself somewhat sentimental but also extremely excited. I suppose good-byes are usually bittersweet.
Saying ‘good-byes’ are important in this culture. If you go and don’t say good-bye, it can be an insult to the person who isn’t informed of the leave. Because of this, I began saying my ‘good-byes’ about a month ago in an effort to make sure I saw all of the people I needed to see.
However, as I was saying good-bye to friends, telling them I will probably never see them again, I was astounded by their reaction. Most people who were informed of our leaving simply responded by saying, “Well, you’ll be back in about a year, so we’ll see you again.” I kept trying to insist, “No, I don’t think you will see me again,” but they would say, “Yeah, that’s what all of you say but then five months, maybe 8 months later, you are here again. We’ll see you again.” It became a big frustration for me. No one seemed to grasp that I really AM NOT coming back (or at least have no plans to return any time soon). While this is a somewhat selfish response, I kept thinking, “Won’t ANYONE miss us when we’re gone? These are some of my best Dinka friends, and they don’t care at all that we are leaving!” While I know the Lord has used our time here to further His kingdom, I’ve often found myself wondering if our time was worth it if the people didn’t care that we were leaving.
Finally, I went to see a Dinka friend of mine who has worked with foreigners a lot and is familiar with western cultures. As I was saying good-bye to him, he said, “I will know that you are not coming back to Sudan, but for my heart, I will try to carry hope in it. So, I will say to myself, ‘I know Ayen is never coming back, but maybe one day she will return when she is needed because we cannot go through this day thinking we will never see her again. We will see her again. We must see her again.’ And that is why Dinka people, we never say ‘good-bye’.”
After his explanation, I understood better what all of the farewells actually meant. Yesterday, Jamie and I were meeting with one of the women’s groups we have been meeting with for the last year and a half. These are incredible ladies who have become great friends, and I will be very sad to leave them. As we said good-bye to them, they continued to do the traditional “see you later” rather than discussing how we aren’t returning. However, as we talked about our departure plans, one of the ladies decided that saying good-bye that day wasn’t good enough. She said, “We will come to the airport to tell you farewell. We will sing songs for you as you fly away in the airplane. We will see you until you leave.” And as we left yesterday afternoon, every single lady said, “I’ll see you Friday at the airport. We’ll sing and pray as you fly away.”
As we were taking one final picture with all of the women, one lady leaned over to Jamie and said, “My eyes are bringing water,” or in other words, she had tears in her eyes. And I realized God had allowed us to see in some small way that we are loved by at least a few here. As I have spent the last two years learning to love the Dinka, it’s so humbling and amazing to realize that we are loved by some of them, too. Having heard the women talk about how their lives have changed since learning more about Jesus, it’s so amazing to realize that not only are WE loved by these Dinka women, but JESUS is loved by them, too. So, even though I still have to sort through every farewell to decipher what it really means, I can leave knowing that the Lord used our time here to further His kingdom after all!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year

Well, folks, we’ve hit another milestone. Another year has passed, and another has begun. Welcome to 2010.

Like most other years, I decided that I needed to have some kind of New Year’s resolution to uphold for at least the first few weeks of 2010. I never do very well with these, primarily because they are always a half-baked idea...something that I know I SHOULD do but don’t necessarily have any desire or motivation to see myself accomplish. This year, I resolved to put only one scoop of sugar in my tea. After a year and a half of drinking Dinka-style tea, where an inch-thick layer of sugar rests at the bottom of the glass, unable to completely dissolve in the mixture, I find that I put too much sugar in my tea these days. I have decided to cut back.

While in many situations in life, I am an optimist, in this one, I am a realist. I know that in a few weeks, I will probably go back to putting several scoops of sugar in my tea. This won’t be intentional, and I will put up a decent effort to avoid it; however, I just don’t really WANT it. I don’t WANT my tea to taste bitter. I like my tea with lots of sugar now. I have learned that meeting goals all boils down to what I really desire in life...what I really WANT to see happen. What I crave. What I yearn to have. If I don’t desire something with my whole being, I will never see it through.

This year has been a series of ups and downs. It’s been a challenging but exciting year, and we’ve seen God do some amazing things among the Dinka people. We’ve also seen a lot of Dinka people who desperately need God. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to do this kind of work, and I’ve learned a lot about God and myself. And what I’ve learned more than anything else is that for most of my life, I have not fully desired God with my whole being. And then I’m surprised when I find that yet again, I have not followed through on something that God has told me to do.

I have been studying Matthew 5-7 for several weeks now for a variety of reasons. At the end of chapter 6, one verse always seems to stand out to me. After the chapter talks about not worrying about worldly goods, food, clothing, and life, there is this little nugget of a verse that says, “But seek FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Seek FIRST God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Above everything else, we should be seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Above everything else, we should desire HIM. His kingdom and His righteousness.

As I drank a cup of very bitter tea this evening, I heard the song “All Along” by Remedy Drive (you should listen to it if you get a chance!) and found it to be very appropriate for today...for this new year. In the song, it talks about how the world just never seems to be enough. How all along, we are looking for something more...the so much more that IS Jesus Christ.

Long story short, this year I realized that my resolution for this year and every other year should be to desire God, fully and with my whole being. To desire Christ in my life. To WANT Him more than anything else. To desire His glory in everything I do. To treasure the time I get to spend in His His kingdom. To cherish His righteousness, through which I am made holy. No matter what the world may put in my path as the most desirable of things, I need to desire Him first. To seek Him first in everything. To want to worship Him and praise Him for what He is doing and has done.

Luke 12:34 says “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” So my prayer for 2010 and the rest of my life is that I would desire and treasure the kingdom of Jesus Christ...and that my heart would reside with Him always.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Another Thanksgiving in Sudan. This year, we celebrated in a more mellow fashion. I think we're all too tired for big celebrations. We were a lot more energetic this time last year, but it was a great day all the same. We've had a great week, and we have a few more busy and exciting weeks planned before another R&R in Kenya. But as I was sitting around the bonfire tonight (one of our Thanksgiving day traditions because we don't have American football games to sit and watch), I realized that I am thankful in particular for three things this year.
1. I am thankful that when I am sitting by the fire, I find myself enjoying the heat because without the fire, I feel cold. I think I am finally accustomed to the the point that I have frequently found myself wearing long pants and jackets and using TWO blankets at night. I am thankful that I don't notice the heat as much as I used to.
2. I am thankful for means of communication that allow me to speak with family and friends who are thousands of miles away. It makes the miles seem much shorter and reminds me that absence sometimes does indeed make the heart grow fonder.
3. In the same way that I realized this last year, I realized that I don't say often enough how thankful I am for my prayer supporters, friends, and family. I am incredibly thankful that God has blessed me with so many prayer warriors. I know you truly are warriors for us...standing in the gaps and working miracles for us that we may never even know. So thank you.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Exciting Things Happening...

Yesterday, a man who stays on our compound saw a leopard crossing the road about a half hour east of where we frequently work in Akot. He said it was massive…like it was on steroids. We’ve heard about a lot of incidents with hyenas recently, as well. It sounds like the wildlife is finally making its reappearance in Southern Sudan! Praise the Lord for how He can make a place that was dead to live again.

In other more exciting news, we had 13 ladies accept Christ last week in a small group I’ve been working with here in Rumbek. The ladies have been involved in one of the other churches in the area for years, and have known most of the basic Bible stories I have been telling (creation, Adam and Eve, the Fall, etc). We got to talk about Jesus for the first time last week, and they just couldn’t hear enough about Christ and what He’s done for us. It was an incredible afternoon—a complete confirmation of our reason for being here! I saw those ladies this afternoon, and they are so joyful now. One of the ladies said to me, “Thank you for coming to tell us the good word of Jesus. It has changed our lives and our hearts—how we think and what we believe. And we are happy to have you come and teach us more so we can know how to live with other people and how to praise God. That word is so good and we are so happy to hear it.” Praise the Lord for new sisters in Christ and for the incredible ways He chooses to work! This was a group who I started teaching somewhat begrudgingly. Praise God that in His wisdom, He knew who was ready to hear His word. And Praise God that He chose to use me, despite my reluctance and flaws.

One of the stories we’ll teach this week deals with the characteristics of God. In teaching Bible stories to people who didn’t grow up in Sunday school, a lot of times we have to begin with the very essence of “who is God?” And we begin with these: God is an eternal spirit who will never change. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He is the creator who loves His creation. He is holy and without sin and will judge the people for their sin because He hates sin and punishes the sinner. He is the giver of all grace, because we all need it and because He loves His people. And finally, God ALWAYS keeps His promises. What a great reminder this week was for me that God has promised to raise up His followers from EVERY nation…and that He is faithfully keeping that promise.

Monday, October 12, 2009

McDonald's French Fries

Last night, I walked into my room after a shower and was immediately engulfed by the delicious smell of McDonald’s French fries. No joke, I totally smelled Mickey D’s fries. So I immediately started hopping around and laughing and getting all excited. I yelled at Laura (in the room next to mine) and ran over to her door. She came to greet me, and I yelled, “Do you have MCDONALDS in here? I smell French fries!!!” She laughed at my ridiculous level of excitement and displayed, to my disappointment, a bowl of tomato soup. “This is all I have,” she said. I then made her come smell my room to see if she could smell the McDonald’s. After walking around for a few minutes, she finally said, “Whitney, I sure don’t smell any French fries in here. You must REALLY be missing McDonald’s!”
And the funny thing is…I never really liked McDonald’s French fries when I was in the US. I suppose absence truly does make the heart grow fonder…

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It was a proud day for me today. For the first time in life, I managed to get a Land Cruiser stuck in the mud. It's not everyday that one gets to stick a Land Cruiser, but for me, today was the day. Fortunately, it wasn't TOO overly stuck, so that was nice. Nothing a little 4-wheel drive couldn't handle. But still...I have officially stuck a Land Cruiser. Check that off my "bucket list"!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Communication Barrier...Still Unbridged

In the last few days since I’ve returned from Kenya, I have noticed a serious lack of communication skills on my part, mostly as a result of my limited language speaking abilities. Because it tends to be quite entertaining, I thought I would give you a few examples of what it sounds like when I try to communicate here. Some days are worse than others as far as language goes. Today was a particularly rough day for me. I usually figure out after the conversation exactly how stupid I sounded during it.

After handing a woman two bags of maize to take home:

Woman: Is it for eating or for planting?
Woman: Yes, it’s maize. Is it for eating or planting?
Woman: I know…but is this maize for eating or planting?
Me: I don’t understand. It’s MAIZE!!!! I don’t know how else to say “maize”… Oh, you can take TWO bags! TWO bags of maize.
Woman: This girl doesn’t understand me. I want to know if I am to eat this maize or plant it.
Jamie (translating for me): Whitney, she wants to know if you are supposed to eat it or plant it.
Whitney: Oh…ummmm…it’s MAIZE!

A woman sees a small bottle of hand-sanitizer on the table:

Woman: What’s this?
Me: Ummm… (random hand gestures and occasional grunts)
Woman: (laughs at my random hand gestures and occasional grunts) I understand. I want some.
Me: Ummm… (more random hand gestures)…give me…hand.
Woman: (gives me her hand) It feels cold.
Me: Ummm…(grunt)

Man tries to ask us for a ride to town:

Man: Can I ride in the vehicle to town?
Me: We are going to town today.
Man: Yes, I know. Can I go with you?
Me: We are going to town right now.
Man: I will just ride in the back. (climbs into the back)
Me: What are you doing?
Man: Going to town.
Me: You can’t go with us. The car is full.
Man: I need to go to town.
Me: Yes, we came from town just this morning.
Man: Okay, I will wait and you tell me if I can go.
Me: …but now we are many people and the car is full.
Man: Okay, I will wait. You tell me if I can go.
Me: Okay. (random hand gesture) I am working here… (walk off to try and find a translator)

And lastly, a woman tries to determine when she will see me again:

Woman: I will see you again on Tuesday in two weeks.
Me: Yes, I will see you on Sunday in…uhhh…
Woman: I will see you Tuesday in two weeks.
Me: Yes, I will see you on Sunday in…uhhh…
Woman: Tuesday in two weeks.
Me: Yes, Sunday. No…Tuesday. In two weeks. Tuesday in two weeks. I will see you… Someday.