Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Things the Next Group Might Explore

Since being home for almost a month now, I find there are small (or maybe not so small) things that I realize I did not know about or understand. For me, it was so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and moment-by-moment activities and conversations that I failed to process some of the “big picture,” and only recognized these gaps when I got home. If I were going back to Lui this month, these would be the questions I would explore with people. And I offer them partly to the next group because sometimes it’s hard to know what to discuss with people, and perhaps some of these can become “discussion questions” on your trip.

Infrastructure. I found it astonishing, as I learned more and more about how much infrastructure is not present in Lui: no system for tending to roads, no postal service, no communication infrastructure. One of the most striking to me, though, was that there seems to be no structure for registering land ownership. Apparently, if someone wants to settle on a parcel of land, s/he (but mostly he) goes to the Bishop and asks permission to stake out that parcel. There seems to be nothing like our Recorder of Deeds. In fact, there seems to be no civil authority whatsoever for registering “ownership” of land. But maybe this is just because I did not ask the right questions. I would be interesting in learning more about this. I gathered that one goes to Bishop Bullen in these cases and asks for a certain parcel of land. Is that true? And, if so, does he maintain some sort of “land registry”?

And that ties into a broader issue. My perception was that there is no civil government, no civil authority. My perception is that those structures – if they ever existed – were destroyed in the decades of civil war. We learned that the Episcopal Diocese of Lui was just about the only structure that continued to function through the period of the wars, and they are thus functioning as the “civil” authorities as well as the ecclesiastical ones. I would like to understand more about that.

Evangelism. As I’ve observed, the Bishop is confirming dozens (hundreds?) of people each year in Lui – ranging from children to senior citizens. I would like to learn more about where these converts are coming from. I assume most of the adults are being converted from the older, animist religions. How are they reaching them? What kind of confirmation process do they undergo? Do they undergo the kind of weeks-long classes that our folks endure?

Indigenous Religions. I’ve seen the statistics that characterize southern Sudan as roughly 20% Christian and 70% “animist.” But I never got a chance to explore what those animist religions are. I’m completely ignorant about them. I hope somebody might shed some light on that, and might explain to us how Lui Diocese reaches out to those people.

Ordination. After I got home, I realized I was not at all clear about what criteria/process they use for ordination. Here, we have a very rigorous, structured “discernment process” through which one may move to the diaconate and priesthood, and we have many requirements regarding education and assessment. I realize I’m not at all clear on what the process is in Lui, but it seemed much looser. I’d like to know more about the process.

And I would like to understand more about the role of women. There are women whom we called “Mama Margaret” or “Mama Janifa.” But I realize now that I was not at all clear on their canonical status. Are they priests? Does Lui ordain women to the diaconate? to the priesthood?

Water. When I gave my “Reflections on Lui” program at Grace/Jeff City last week, folks asked lots of questions. One that stumped me regarding their lack of safe drinking water: Why don’t they just boil their water? When we were in Lui, I noted children drinking unspeakably filthy muddy water. And I understand that many of their most devastating diseases are water-borne. But for some reason, while I was there, it never occurred to me to ask what, if any, steps they can take – or what steps they know to take – to purify their water.

Carnivore or vegetarian? This week I saw a new entry from Deb that mentions the folks in Lui are carnivores. My impression had been that they kept their goats and chickens for the products they generate, rather than eating them. I had understood that they mostly ate grain-based foods and vegetables (when available), but that’s not what I’m seeing from Deb’s blog. I’d like to understand more about what the people of Lui generally eat.

Marriage. During one of our truck rides, I could hear part of a conversations between the Missourians and the Moru about how marriage occurs in Lui. There is discussion in the U.S. about the distinction between civil marriage and "the blessing of a marriage" in our church. I gather that the Moru keep this distinction much more than we do -- that they distinguish the civil from the ecclesial elements -- and that much of it is related to economics. I would like to understand this better.

Women’s sanitation. One woman who attended my “Reflections on Lui” program at Grace last week had friends who made mission trips into the developing countries, and one of the things they observed and were able to help with was how women deal with their menstrual periods, since they lack the kind of sanitary products U.S. women use. That group was able to provide products to those women. She asked me to inquire about what kinds of issues the women of Lui might have, and whether we might be able to offer any assistance there.

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