Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Emily, Tammy and I are at O'hare connecting to our final destinations.

We are tired, but good.

More later. Happy New Year!

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The journey home

Believe it or not, 5 of the 8 missioners from Missouri will start heading home tomorrow morning. The trip will take a few days and will be very tiring, so please keep us in your prayers.

I will update this blog on our progress, but we are limited, so you probably won't here from us until Wednesday when we all split up from O'Hare.

The weekend was spent by missioners completing projects and meetings within Lui. It seems like a lot of the focus is already on our next trip and the interim time between. We are doing our best to see where are energy could best be used, and finding ways that we can better communicate between here and Missouri.

This trip has been a lot of many things. It's been powerful, fun, spiritual, prayerful, quiet, loud, long, short, and hot (not really cold, although it did get just a little bit cold one or two nights). Overall it's been very good.

I will encourage Deb and Dan to blog while I am gone, and Debbie will be keeping her blog posted here:

I am sure I will post a reflection or two after some contemplation from afar, and I will encourage Emily to do the same after she takes the GOE (General Ordination Exams...please keep her in your prayers)!

More later, but for now, araboya for reading!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Christmas

Since our team split up yesterday to four separate archdeaconries we didn't have the opportunity to wish you all a virtual Merry Christmas from Lui. So, Merry Christmas everyone! (they say Happy Christmas here)

We spent Christmas Eve at the compound singing Christmas carols (small hymn books compliments of Nancy) and attended the late night Christmas Eve service at the cathedral. The service actually started at midnight, which was new for all of us as we are used to having midnight mass at 10:30 or 11pm.

Yesterday Dan and Deb went to Wandi, Tammy and I went to Kediba, Robert and Nancy went to 'Buagyi, and Debbie and Emily went to Lui Parish.

Every trip was full of festivities highlighted by grand celebrations in and around the churches. In Kediba there were an estimated 3750 people gathered to celebrate Christmas and to greet us as their guest. All of our groups reported large numbers and lengthy celebrations (every service was over 3 hours). Everyone was pretty tired when we gathered back at the guest compound for dinner. It was delightful to greet each other in exhaustion and wonderful to all get a peaceful night of sleep.

Today we attended the ordination of three deacons and six priests. The service was much longer than any of us have ever experienced. It was exhausting. We were hot, hungry, and a little worn out by the time Bishop Bullen stood up to introduce more government officials, distinguish guests, and Bishop Bismark from the Diocese of Mundri, all of whom gave speeches. In the end it lasted four hours, so next time you complain about church being too long just think of the Lui ordinations.

Believe it or not five of us in the group only have two full days left here in Lui. So tomorrow, many of us are wrapping up things from our projects and Sunday we will celebrate together in church for the last time as a team on this trip.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve in Lui

(new photos below!)

Christmas Eve in Lui: the first Christmas Eve I have ever spent away from home (hi, Mom!) in twenty-six years. Like many Christians, I have always had angst about American Christmas: whether or not to give gifts, where is 'Christ' in the consumer free-for-all, and what to do about Santa Claus. Now, half a world away from the normal traditions, stripped of excess, I am finding Jesus at Christmas for the first time.

Yesterday, I was invited to preach at the monthly meeting of the Mother's Union. Here in Sudan, nearly all 'women's work' - including economic sustainability projects, prayers for new babies, pastoral care for bereaved women, and literacy education - happens through the Mother's Union. Using Mark 16:1-8 (when Mary, Mary Magdalene and Salome are the first to receive the Gospel message of Christ's resurrection), I preached about how 'women's work' was changed with Jesus: that we, as women, are charged to be Gospel-bearers (theotokos) in the world. In the case of Mary, the mother of Jesus, this meant physically carrying God within herself for nine months. For others, it means bearing hope to sisters who are suffering; for me, it often means spending hours preparing sermons in order to bear the Gospel for others.

The work of Gospel-bearing is often excruciating here in Sudan. Jacqlyn, a thirty-four year old deacon, will be ordained a priest on the 26th. Two weeks after she was ordained a deacon in 2004, she was sitting with her mother and sisters and two other female clergy-people on the grounds of this very Cathedral (where we are staying). Some soldiers arrived, incensed by a previous conflict. While her family was able to run, Jacqlyn did not escape and so she was beaten by twelve soldiers. After her recovery, Jacqlyn traveled to Nairobi and was trained for six months in trauma healing and recovery and now runs workshops for women in the area. I am very, very glad to be here at the time of her ordination.

I also met Helen, the local government coordinator for NGO activities in the area. She is also in her early thirties, and spent the twenty-one years of the civil war (from 1982 to 2003) living in bush, traveling from place to place in order to survive. I cannot fathom living that way for twenty-one years; nonetheless, Helen has not only survived - she has returned in order to rebuild her community.

These two women are Gospel-bearers to the people of Southern Sudan. Like the women in Mark 16, Jacqlyn and Helen are witnesses to suffering, and thus are able to participate in the birth of hope into the world.

Merry Christmas.

Emily Bloemker


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The last two days have been really busy. The team has been doing a lot of teaching and listening and taking inventory.

Yesterday morning Emily and I both had a lengthy conversation with a group of 25-35 year old church leaders. We were initially told we would be speaking to the youth, so we were a bit surprised when we showed up to see about 25 young adults. The group of mostly men were interested in speaking about life as Christians living in Southern Sudan compared to life as Christians living in the U.S. We spoke about politics, AIDS, action and service, and even managed to sing each other a Christmas song in our mother tongue. Emily and I chose to sing a verse from Silent Night, and in doing so we managed to impress ourselves. It wasn't so much our individual voices that gave us ideas of becoming a touring duet vocal group around Lui Diocese, but the combination of our voices and the fact that we were able to remember the words to the song gave us ideas of stardom!

The fruitful conversation was wrapped in deep theological reflection. The stories we told about our own cultures enriched our understanding of one another and allowed us to feel the love of Christ at work. The deep faith and belief in the Moru people is astounding. It's simply inspiring to be introduced to a way of thinking and living that is so devoted to Christ. It's something so foreign to my eyes that it is hard to believe.

We stressed the importance of the future elections that will decide much of Sudan's future. Each one of them seemed to have a grasp on the political climate and when asked if they were planning to vote, they instantly responded with a resounding yes. But we stressed to them that their work was not just within the group and within the church, but in the unchurched in the community in which they live.

In many ways we are discovering that our cultures have more similarities than differences. Certainly Missouri doesn't suffer from post-war conditions in a tropical climate with no electricity, running water, or adequate heath care, but we do share deeply our desire to learn more about each other and to invite God into that relationship.

Along with Emily and my conversation yesterday with the "youth," Dan and Robert spoken with the candidates for ordination, who will be ordained this Friday, about church administration. One of the topics of conversation was about church insurance. Dan proposed a way that the diocese could come up with their own insurance policy by each individual church agreeing to help the other churches equally if something were to go wrong. The only difference is that the policy would not require each church to purchase anything, or pay a premium or deductible when they made a claim. Dan's obviously on to something! Today Dan and Robert spoke with the ordinands about stewardship, which looks a lot different in the economic conditions that plague this country. Here, stewardship is about so much more than fund raising. Tomorrow, Dan and I will speak to the ordinands about preaching.

Debbie, Deb, Tammy, Emily, and Nancy all attended a special Mother's Union meeting today, where they shared in prayer and stories. Their work here is very powerful and should be known. Emily will post more about this meeting later (hopefully tomorrow), and share with you some of the incredible interviews that she has had with some of the women in Lui.

More to come for sure. I will post pictures tomorrow.


P.S. The roosters are obnoxious.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Farewell to Stephen!

After nearly two wonderful years, we bade farewell to Rev. Stephen Dokolo on Sunday morning. As I write this, Stephen should be back with his family (wife and 3-year old son!) whom he hadn't seen since leaving to come to Missouri in early 2006.

It was a team effort getting Stephen on his way back to Uganda (and, eventually, Lui). He successfully defended his thesis at Eden Seminary last week and then all that was left was the daunting task of packing. The Rev. Susan Naylor and the stalwart Men of Emmanuel (Webster Groves) packed nearly 600 pounds of books into more than 20 boxes. Eleven suitcases had to be repacked to four suitcases because of holiday extra suitcase limits on Northwest/KLM, with the remnants left behind to be shipped as well (thank goodness Susan has an in with Air Cargo!).

Sandy and Skip Coburn picked Stephen up at 6:30 am and we helped him navigate the check-in procedures and get all his bags where they needed to go. Skip then treated Stephen to a farewell cup of coffee (he probably can't wait to get back to Moru coffee, though from the missives from our missioners in Lui/Mundri, it's probably only a matter of time before Starbucks hits Southern Sudan!), after which we went to the airport chapel and prayed with and over Stephen in thanksgiving for his time with us and in petition for safety for his journey.

We waved goodbye to Stephen and saw his broad, bright smile for the last time (for awhile, at least) as he passed through security.

Thanks to Susan Naylor, Rick Kuhn (and all the Men of Emmanuel), Sandy and Skip Coburn and all those who helped Stephen get on his way. We are so richer for his time with us ... and can't wait to see who Lui sends our way next!

Ama Kado!


I posted some pictures below of the past few days. Enjoy!


The other day at the Mundri Diocesan Office dedication Bishop Bullen spoke about three biggest things that plague Southern Sudan:Ignorance, Poverty, and Disease.

There is no deadlier combination that I can think of that would be worse, unless you brought back the war. But because Sudan is no longer at war and the Moru are no longer forced to live in the bush, rebuilding and creating life is at the center of their focus. There is great evidence that progress has been made in education, health care, and economic development, yet, Lui town is still a place in great need, and the Moru people have many challenges ahead.

One example that is central to building up this community is the "new"road. The road has been redone and is very smooth compared to what it once was. It is a perfect example of things to come as it represents a gateway to new things. It brings in supplies, basic imports, new forms of transportation (the bus pictured below travels to Juba once a day for only $10 U.S.), and connects Lui to the greater world. It's a central part of eliminating poverty, disease, and ignorance. The road brings great promise and is no different than a new road in the U.S. when major roads are built and gateways are established.

In the same address to his people, Bullen said, "Change, Change,Change, you must change, or change will change you."

The progress of the road is one aspect of new life that forces people to change. Since the road is faster, accidents that may cause injury are now a reality, something the Moru have never had to deal with. With any new technology or new advancement in society, there are always new problems and new consequences, so learning how to change is important.

It's going to take hard work and sacrifice to make Southern Sudan a better place, and I have no doubt in my mind that the people of Lui Diocese will step up to the task.

More stories and reflections to come!

Stay tuned!

Joe Chambers

P.S. It's 96 degrees in the shade. I hear it's cold back home.

Moru lesson of the day:
Mede- Greetings
Ama Kado- We are good!

Some Pictures!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A note from Emily

Greetings from the Diocese of Lui! I am writing at 4:30 in theafternoon, when the air is hot and still but the promise of coolevening beckons. It is a good time of day. The generator, whichDebbie Smith started like a boat motor, is humming in the shed next tothe office (allowing us to write this blog).

What is there to write about Lui? All of the missioners are safe andsound, though we have had a long two days. Yesterday, we attended thededication of diocesan offices in the Diocese of Mundri, approximatelyfifteen miles from here. Compared to 2005 (my last trip to Sudan),the road has greatly improved and all land mines have been removed bya United Nations team. This progress is so hopeful, because smoothroads make for the beginning of other types of infrastructure:bridges, culverts, etc.

The main excitement of the dedication yesterday was that ArchbishopDaniel Deng Bul was present, along with some of his family. He is a'big man', both in stature and in authority. He stands over six feettall, and is built like a linebacker. The Archbishop works hard tohold together a church that is split by political, ethnic and economicdifferences. It was surprising to all of us from Missouri that theArchbishop, within five minutes of our arrival, addressed the remarksthat he made about Gene Robinson at Lambeth. "What I said at Lambeth,this was the feeling of my people, and I was there as representativeof the people of Sudan," explained the Archbishop. "This is notnecessarily my feeling as well." His remarks were very politic, inthat they left open the possibility that the Archbishop's views on theelection and consecration of Gene Robinson are different, or morecomplex, than those of his people.

On his way from Mundri to Juba today, the Archbishop stopped andvisited us at Lui, which was a great honor. I was especiallyfascinated by the story he told of how the women in Sudan upheld thechurch during the war. Archbishop Deng Bul spoke about how, duringbombing raids, women would gather under the trees every morning from4am until 6am in order to pray and to encourage each other, becauseevery day they expected to die. Since the men were off fighting thewar, the women were primarily responsible for the spiritual lives oftheir communities. Mama Deborah, the Archbishop's wife, said thatnow, Sudanese parents teach their children peace and responsibilityfor the rebuilding of their nation. It was a powerful visit.

We hope that you all are well in the United States, and we are sograteful for your prayers.

Emily Bloemker

Friday, December 19, 2008

In Lui

We are here in Lui!

The team arrived yesterday afternoon from Uganda and were welcomed with great hospitality. The flight to Mundri "International" Airstrip on the Cessna Caravan was delightful, as Laura, our pilot from Missionary Air Fellowship couldn't have been better.

We were greeted with open arms from Bishop Bullen and Vasco, the diocesan secretary, along with many other people that turned a small airfield in South Sudan into a big welcoming party.

We were taken to Mundri to meet with the West Mundri County Commissioner, along with his staff, and had a quick look at some of the recent improvements in Mundri. Most notably were the bridge, cellphone tower, bank, two gas stations, and the new Mundri Diocesan office building that will be dedicated in a ceremony tomorrow led by Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul.

We were introduced to many clergy and leaders in Mundri, as we happened to arrive during the Diocesan Standing Committee meeting, where Bishop Bismark happily welcomed us and made us feel at home.

The road from Mundri to Lui has also been improved. It only took us twenty minutes to travel, where in years past it would have taken much longer. It was smooth and speedy.

Once we arrived in Lui we were welcomed with singing under the mango tree. A perfect end to our long and arduous travels.

Our accommodations are amazing. The Cathedral compound guest quarters offer each one of us a nice space to spread out our things and find comfort. The meals have been wonderful, and the coffee is incredible!

More updates to come for sure, including pictures and voices from other missioners.

It's good to be home in Lui.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


We have word that the missioners have now all arrived safely in Kampala. Thanks be to God!

Tomorrow, the entire team will fly into Lui on a small, non-pressurized airplane ... probably similar to the one pictured here (from our 2006 mission).

Then they will land in what we have come to call the "Mundri International Airport." Don't schedule an appointment with your optometrist: You're right that it's merely a rough dirt landing strip. According to my notes, our missioners will leave Kampala at about 7:30 Thursday morming in Kampala (about now, 10:30pm, in Missouri). By the time we awake in Missouri, they should be on the ground in Lui.

If you are trying to follow their schedule, be aware that Lui is 9 hours later than St. Louis. So when it's 10pm in the Central timezone, it's 7am the next day in Lui. The posts here will appear with CDT "timestamps."

You may also want to know about the weather in Lui. Weather Underground has daily weather for Juba, in southern Sudan. Juba is about 50 miles northeast of Lui, so the weather for Juba will probably be pretty close to Lui's. We're running in the teens here, but they're going to see temperatures in the 90s in the next few days.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On The Journey.

Dan, Tammy, Emily, and Joe are at St. Louis Lambert International about to board a plane for Detroit, where we will catch a plane to Amsterdam.

Deb is in the air on her way to Kampala, and Debie, Robert, and Nancy are awating us all.

We're all very excited and looking forward to trip.

Thank you all for your prayers and support. We look forward to sharing our stories with you.


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Monday, December 15, 2008

And we're off!

The December 2008 Lui mission team from the Diocese of Missouri is set and ready to go. Some missioners are already on their way, while others leave tomorrow, including Emily Bloemker as her ordination to the transitional diaconate is this evening at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis.

This is the place to come for text updates, photos, and stories about our trip. Hopefully all of the missioners will have the opportunity to share their own experience on this page and share their own voices of mission.

Please pray for us on this journey as we seek to deepen our relationship with our brothers and sisters of Lui.

Joe Chambers