Thursday, January 29, 2009

Advocacy Action to Help the People of Lui and Mundri

Hello everyone,

in recent weeks you might have seen terrible reports coming out of Southern Sudan about incursions from the Lord's Resistance Army (a terrible rebel force from Uganda that, among other things, is not only brutal but uses child soldiers as agents of their brutality) into Mundri (a neighboring diocese to Lui). In addition to the injury and death this has caused, it has also caused an influx of refugees into Lui. You can find out more about this here:

The Rev. Dan Handschy, rector of Church of the Advent in Crestwood and part of the mission team that recently returned from Lui, has been in touch with the Episcopal Office of Government Relations in Washington and will continue to relay their counsel as to how we can best use our political power to pressure our government to enforce the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and stop these incursions (there is widespread belief that the Khartoum government funds the LRA in exchange for them continuing to destabilize and terrorize the south).

Below is a letter Dan wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He has also included contact information to send a similar letter to Sens. Claire McCaskill and Kit Bond as well as UN Ambassador Susan Rice. The letter can easily adapted for use by you and your congregation.

Please circulate this widely and please take this opportunity to raise your voice. Terrible things are happening far away, but they are happening to our sisters and brothers and we live in a nation that has the power and influence to stop them -- or at least give it a really good try. But we have to do our part.

Names and Addresses for letters concerning Sudan

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary:

Ambassador Susan Rice
U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations
U. S. Mission to the U. N.
140 E 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

Dear Madam Ambassador:

Senator Claire McCaskill

Dear Senator McCaskill:

Senator Christopher Bond

Dear Senator Bond:

Sample Letter

The Honorable Hilary Clinton
Secretary of State
U. S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

I am a member of Church of the Advent, an Episcopal Church in St. Louis, in the Diocese of Missouri. Our parish has a sister parish relationship with the parish church of Lozoh, in the Diocese of Lui, of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. Over Christmas, our pastor and one of our members accompanied six other missioners from Missouri on a trip to the Diocese of Lui, ECS.

Since their return, we have learned that the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel army from northern Uganda has been active in the Diocese of Mundri, the Diocese just west of Lui. Many people from Mundri have been displaced, leaving their crops in the field to be stolen or burned by the LRA. Some of those displaced persons have come to the village of Lozoh, our sister parish.

I am writing to urge you to make peace in Sudan a top priority of the new adminstration. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement has been in place only a few short years, after 21 years of civil war. Anything might destabilize that peace and return southern Sudan to war. This would be disastrous for our friends there. Whatever the United States and the United Nations can do to help keep the peace in Southern Sudan will make an important difference.

Know that this letter comes with our best regards.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Deep Wells, Deep Relationships

Episcopal Life Online has posted a story about our recent work with the people in the Episcopal Diocese of Lui (Sudan). I think the ELO reporter did a pretty good job with the story. I commend it to you.

Note: I'm copying ELO's text below, but I've added some of our photographs that weren't in the ELO story.
= = = = =

MISSOURI: Deep Wells, Deep Relationships in Lui

[Episcopal News Service] Eight Missouri Episcopalians left family, friends and holiday traditions behind to spend the Christmas season in Sudan. The mission trip was the latest chapter in the companion relationship between the Diocese of Missouri and the Diocese of Lui in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, now rebuilding after more than two decades of civil war. It has also provided the opportunity to develop close and lasting relationships that are invigorating faith communities in both dioceses.

The Venerable Robert Anton Franken, a member of the Missouri team, helped launch the relationship between the dioceses in 2006, a time when there was no running water, sewers, electricity or telephones in Lui. During seven trips to Sudan in the past three years, he has seen a lot of rebuilding in the war-torn country and notes that Missouri Episcopalians have played a key role.

Efforts by members of the Diocese of Missouri have provided a computer and satellite access for the diocesan office in Lui, enabling communication by telephone and email. A $19,200 grant from United Thank Offering will help to establish a grinding mill, which will be a project of the Mothers Union. Missouri also hosted a Sudanese priest, the Rev. Stephen Dokolo, for two years of theological education, enabling him to return to Sudan to teach other clergy.

Another gift from the Diocese of Missouri has eased the burdens of daily life for hundreds of Moru families: the convenience and benefit of clean water.

Deep Wells

Since 2006 the Diocese of Missouri has provided for the drilling of six wells in Lui, each at a cost of approximately $17,000, according to Franken, who worked with Lui Bishop Bullen Dolli to select locations for the wells.

Franken explained that they are "deep water wells which don't dry up during the drought season." He said the wells have ranged in depth from 165 feet to 360 feet, all drilled through solid granite, and that the water is drinkable without filtering.

The wells are also about witness, said Franken. "They are all drilled on church property, but open to the community, so it's a real witness about what the church is doing."

The Rev. Joe Chambers, Episcopal campus ministry chaplain at the University of Missouri, Columbia, wanted to join the mission team so he could make a direct connection with the people who are using the wells—one of which he helped to provide.

Chambers was a part of the 2008 Waters of Hope bike ride, a joint project of the Dioceses of Iowa and Missouri. The ride raised $65,000 which went to provide for clean water making devices for the Diocese of Swaziland and for one deep water well in the Diocese of Lui. A similar ride through Missouri in 2009 will seek to raise additional funds for clean water projects.

Chambers says that Missouri's goal is to provide a well for each of the seven archdeaneries of the Diocese of Lui. That goal will be exceeded by the time the next mission team from Missouri arrives this May, as arrangements have been made for three new wells to be drilled, paid for with funds already given by Missouri Episcopalians.

Missouri missioner Debra Smith said the team witnessed first hand why providing clean water is one of the Millennium Development Goals.

"We saw how much healthier the people in Lui look, especially the children," she said. "And because they no longer spend time at water holes spooning water into containers, some women have had time to enter adult education classes to learn to read their own language."

Deep Relationships

Smith's husband, Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith, told the diocese's 2008 convention that mission transforms the missioner. "That's the great secret," he said, "missioners then scatter transformation among the communities who sent them in the first place."

Debra Smith said the transformation generated through the relationship with Lui has "spilled over" throughout the Diocese of Missouri and that there is "an awareness of the vastness of creation and how small the world really is."

No place has this been more true that at the Church of the Advent in Crestwood, whose rector, the Rev. Dan Handshy, was a member of the Missouri team, making his first visit to Sudan.

In 2006, the Church of the Advent established a sister relationship with the congregation in Lozoh, in the Diocese of Lui. One Sunday, Handshy announced to his congregation that the church building in Lozoh had been destroyed in a grass fire. After church an eight-year-old boy came up to Handshy and said, "Why don't we have a bake sale?" They did and raised $450 from the sale of hot cross buns baked in large part by children. The money was sent to Lui along with a large ceremonial check signed by Advent's Sunday School children.

Upon entering the one-room diocesan office in Lui, Handshy said he froze and tears began to run down his cheeks. There was the large check, framed and hanging on the wall. Bishop Bullen reported that the check is taken out and used in catechism classes as concrete evidence that the Diocese of Lui is part of a larger family, the Anglican Communion.

"That's what this relationship is about," said Handshy. "We now have very young children who have a real sense about what the Anglican Communion is."

Smith said the trip was more than a project, "it was a visit to friends, the only real way we have to check in with some people we have come to love."

"Maybe we go to inspect wells or photograph a chapel or check on the grinding mill progress, but the real purpose in our visit is to see our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ," she said.

Deeper Understandings

The Christmas trip to Lui, including an unexpected meeting with Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, the primate of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, provided an opportunity to talk about the issue of human sexuality—an issue that has caused controversy throughout the Anglican Communion with some repercussions in Missouri this past year.

On July 22, 2008, while attending the Lambeth Conference for Anglican bishops, Deng held a press conference during which he called for the resignation of the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire. He said Robinson should resign in order to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion.

Deng also said that homosexuality is not "approved by the Bible" and "is not part of my culture." He said there are no gay or lesbian people in Sudan.

Following Deng's comments, a number of people in the Diocese of Missouri called for the termination of the companion relationship with the Dicoese of Lui, some of them members of Handshy's parish, which is an "Oasis" congregation that has been explicit in welcoming and involving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.

Yet, Handshy reported that the Advent congregation was so involved in its relationship with Lozoh that it could not see severing its relationship with Episcopalians in Sudan, despite the hurt caused by Deng's remarks. The parish submitted a resolution to the 2008 convention of the Diocese of Missouri that affirmed the commitment of the diocese to the "work of inclusion of all the baptized in the whole sacramental life of the Episcopal Church" and also affirmed Missouri's commitment to the Episcopal Church in Sudan "despite the sometimes painful differences with Archbishop Daniel in our understandings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

In the rationale for supporting the resolution, members of the Church of the Advent said, among other things, "we cannot afford to do without the gifts we received from our fellow Christians in Sudan." The resolution was adopted overwhelmingly.

On the second day of the trip, the Missouri missioners attended the dedication of new offices in the neighboring Diocese of Mundri. There the group encountered Deng, who was on hand to preside at the service. Handshy said that within five minutes of the group's arrival Deng brought up the remarks he had made at the Lambeth Conference, saying they were "the feelings of my people and I was there representing my people."

Handshy reported that Deng also said that the feelings of his people were not necessarily his own feelings. To Handshy, Deng's remarks seem to leave open the possibility that this own views about Bishop Robinson might be different or more complex than his people.

Whatever his beliefs, Deng made it clear to the group that the Episcopal Church of Sudan is staying in the Anglican Communion, even if they disagree on some issues.

For me to hear that," said Handshy, "was worth the price of admission."

Smith reported that she had the opportunity to have "a really good conversation" with Bishop Bullen about issues of homosexuality, including the belief held by many in the United States that they are born that way. She reported that this seemed to be "new information" to Bullen, who asked "hard and honest questions." Smith said there are significant cultural differences that make it difficult for the Sudanese to wrap their minds around how we see this issue.

"What's important is that we are talking about this with them and that is not derailing the relationship," she said.

-- Joe Bjordal is Episcopal Life Media correspondent in the dioceses of Provinces V and VI. He is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Anglican Communion alive and well

One of the high points of my trip to Lui was discovering that Vasco and Gordon had framed a silly display "check" that the kids of Advent had given to Vasco for the Church at Lozoh. When Deb had come back from Lui after her six month stay, she had felt a special fondness for Lozoh. She asked if we could enter a sister relationship with that parish, which we did. Every week, we pray for the Parish at Lozoh and for Noel N, their pastor. During Lent of 2007, we got the news that the church at Lozoh (a mud church, with a grass roof) had burned in an uncontrolled brush fire. After I had announced the news, a Sunday School kid, Mark, who was eight years old, asked if we could do something. He suggested a bake sale.

Nathaniel and the Sunday School kids ran with it. They baked hundreds of dozens of hot-cross buns, which they sold to anyone who would buy them on Palm Sunday. The kids raised $450. They wanted the money to go for a new metal roof for the Church, so it wouldn't burn again. Vasco and Bishop Bullen were in town during Easter 2007, and went over to Office Max and copied a check onto a three foot banner. We filled it out, and all the kids signed the check. On a Sunday, we presented it to Vasco. I figured he would get back to his hotel, and pitch it.

On my second day in Lui, we went to the Diocesan Office (a two room mud house, with a metal roof, a generator and two computers). Vasco brought out the check, now framed. He told me they use it in catechism classes to show the reality of the Anglican Communion: here's a parish in America that prays for the parish in Lozoh (who in their turn pray for the parish in America). This is what their Sunday School did when they heard about the fire in Lozoh. I have to admit, I was completely non-plused. We throw out these little actions, only to discover they have huge consequences. You can be sure I'll show this photo to the Sunday School kids at Advent, along with the photo of the new church at Lozoh, with its metal roof.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lui dust

With all of the trucks roaring through Lui while we were there (container trucks, dump trucks, pick up trucks), and the cars and the motor cycles, there was always a certain amount of dust in the air. You could see it settling on the leaves of trees and plants alongside the road. I had a white tee shirt hanging on a line in my room of the mud guest house. When I took it down to pack for our return trip, I noticed a red line of dust where the shirt had been folded over the line. The toes of my boots pretty much remained covered with a reddish-orange patina the whole time we were in Lui. When I got home and unloaded everything into the washing machine, I caught the distinctive smell of Lui dust on pretty much everything I brought back, including the suitcase.

I noticed with some regret on the trip home, that my boots were loosing their coating of Lui dust. Walking through airports, sitting on airplanes, being wrapped under airline blankets against the unexpected cold (funny how ambient temperature becomes relative), the dust was coming off. Jesus instructed his disciples, when he sent them out two by two, that if a town or village did not welcome them, they should shake the dust of that town off their feet as they left, nevertheless warning them that the kingdom had come near. So, if a town had welcomed them, were they to keep the dust on their feet? We were certainly welcomed, we ate what was set before us, and we really didn't have to tell anyone that the kingdom was near -- it was pretty obvious.

The Moru are not all good, and we Americans tend to romanticize people who live simply. That would be a mistake. We met plenty of people with the sophistication to "work the system" and there are plenty of systems to work. It would be easy to get sucked into that good liberal guilt that tells us we should just give lots and lots of money, but that isn't relationship. Walking around the cathedral our second or third day in Lui, Deb and I were invited to sit on good chairs in someone's compound and offered "first pour" coffee, in small shot glasses. We sat and talked and laughed and were generally well entertained. No one asked us for money, they were just delighted that we would sit. There were many moments like that, which helped me to see what interdependence and community really look like. I'm sorry to see my boots loosing their coating of reddish-orange dust.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Safe Return!

I have a note that our missioners have returned safely home from Sudan. Look for a posting soon at LuLuLui.

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Arrived in Amsterdam

According to the KLM website, the flight on which Dan, Deb, and Debbie traveled from Entebbe to Amsterdam has now arrived. It's 10:40p here in Missouri and 5:40a in Amsterdam. I'm pleased to know they're making the way back home.

Please keep the team in your prayers. I well remember the cultural shock I experienced when I returned home from Lui back in 2006. Pray for the team -- for their safe travels, their health, and their emotional and spiritual adjustment upon returning home tomorrow. They are scheduled to arrive back in St. Louis at about 4:30 Thursday afternoon.

I give thanks for the marvelous work the missioners have done, and I look forward to hearing from them here and at LuLuLui.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Preaching at Lozoh

Dan Handschy

Deb G and I went yesterday to Lozoh. Sosthen came along to translate for me. Gordon to do some business, John and William to make sure we were taken care of, and Archdeacon Festus (of Lozoh archdeaconry) to introduce us.

The first half of the journey there (on the good road) went very quickly. The second half, on the Lozoh road, was a bit exciting -- bumps and gullies that would high-center a dump truck. The trip might have been easier on motorcycles. When we arrived, we sat in good shade for a few minutes, and as 11:00 approached, I wondered aloud if Church was to start soon. The pastor-in-charge informed us that service had been pushed back till noon, so that people could stay home and chase the birds out of their gardens (away from the sorghum). Evidently, these particular birds take a rather strictly enforced siesta from noon until about three o'clock. So we spent the extra hour meeting the children of Lozoh and looking at the beautiful church. It is probably the prettiest church building in Lui diocese. Concrete block construction, metal framework (the termites can't eat that), and all the doors and window shutters are solid mahogany. Absolutely beautiful. I can't wait to show Adventers the sparkling metal roof.

About noon, I vested and we processed into church. Five or ten minutes into the service, a young woman began to have a nodding seizure, so Deb went down from the chancel to sit with her, and then just stayed there for the rest of the service. She was able to get good pictures and video. I preached on Jeremiah 31:7-14 and Matthew 2:1-12 (the readings for second Sunday after Christmas -- they don't usually follow the lectionary here). I talked about the wise men from the east coming from Babylon, Israel's sworn enemy after the Exile. I spoke about the reconciliation of old enemies in the worship of the child, and in the offering of our very selves to each other. I had noticed in the bottom of the pulpit and offering basket just like the ones we use at Advent (rather more worn, however), and held it up to say that we used two just like this for our offering at home. The church erupted into applause and 'allelyas.' I said it reminded us week by week of our relationship with Lozoh, as we said our prayers.

After service, we had the entire congregation come forward to the chancel in order to take their picture (just as we had done at Advent before we left). We'll have great photos and stories to share when we get home. Like the wise men, we will come home another way -- completely changed.

I won't post again, as we leave tomorrow by MAF, and I probably won't bother in Kampala. If all goes well (and I can't imagine it won't), we'll touch down in Saint Louis on Thursday. See you after that.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Living in the new year

Being in a relationship like this one is not always comfortable. Often, in a conversation, with almost anyone here, there is a lurking but well disguised request for help, often money. We begin to sound like broken records (anyone remember those?): you must ask your bishop, who will ask our bishop, and the bishop will work with the committee to see what can be done. There is a sinking feeling in the gut when the request is made. We are often seen as pockets, when we want to be so much more. There would be many opportunities here for micro-loans if they weren't seen as handouts. These last few quiet days, we have had a chance to be honest with some of our friends about helping in other ways than money. They are not easy conversations.

There was an announcement at the hospital today that all staff who want to stay are going volunteer. The Board of Directors is trying to work out a memorandum of understanding with the Government of South Sudan. If they can make it work, GOSS will pay some salaries. The Board hopes that GOSS will give preference to workers who have stayed on as volunteers during the interim while the hospital cannot pay them. There seems to be an Italian NGO in the wings which would help the Church administer its part of the operation of the hospital. It might be that all that is needed from us is encouragement to flexibility in negotiating the memorandum of agreement, and a few desparately needed items in the meantime.

We have had good opportunities to talk to people about issues. Debbie S had an important conversation with Bishop Bullen about homosexuality. Most Sudanese think homosexuality is a sin, and if one repents and asks forgiveness all will be well. Debbie stressed that many people in America believe people are born that way, that it is not a choice, that God has made a person one way or another. This seemed genuinely new information to him, but he took it into careful consideration. One step at a time. Also, a young Moru woman who lives in the Church compound came last night and peppered us with questions about family planning. Seems like under previous administrations, the hospital had not been forthcoming with information. Again, here is a real opportunity to make a huge difference in the lives of people.

Still a lot to process, but we will come home with much information to throw in the mix for how future trips might run, and what the needs are.

Dan Handschy posting for Joe Chambers.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Twilight Zone

Happy New Year from Lui, Sudan. A different voice today: Dan Handschy

Life in the Lui Cathedral Guest compound has been quiet the last few days after our five companions have headed back to the States through Juba and Kampala. There has been a lot of time for catching up on notes and sermons and the like. Deb G preached the English sermon this morning for Holy Name Day. It was a wonderful sermon about how our name locates us in community (really true here, where children are named by the community at a naming ceremony), and that God has named us with the divine name, and claimed us as God's own. Our Lui friends have named us and claimed us, and we are blessed. Manyagugu told us that on Holy Name Day, people come to church to write their names afresh in God's book of life. What a great image.

Day before yesterday, Deb and I went to the hospital and saw the operating theater, the x-ray room (a shipping container with windows cut in it), and talked to Lois, the head nurse. We saw Charity Vasco, who was in the maternity ward. In the maternity ward, we also saw a mother with a five day old baby. The mother had fallen in the fire and had pretty bad burns on her face and shoulder. We saw John Fulla's uncle, as John was getting ready to take him to Juba for surgery, because the doctor had not yet been to Lui. Don't know if it would have made much difference anyway. In the operating room, they had no suture materials. They also had exactly zero rolls of adhesive tape in the whole hospital. Patients' families could buy it in the market and bring it to the hospital. Someone in Juba is skimming the shipments of supplies to the hospital. A case that should contain 8 rolls will have one or two.

WhenDebbie S got back from Juba, we got the blue supply box out of the store room, andwent through it. We threw away expired medicines, and decided that the mosquito net and trauma suture kit in the box would be better at the hospital. Deb carried them over in the afternoon. Lois nearly wept. She was able to change the dressings on the mother's burns. They hadn't been changed in two days.

This morning, on the way to church (the Moru service, at11:00 a.m.), life got a little more interesting. I noticed six white people under the mango tree. Now I know how strange we look. We got to church a few minutes early, and sat in the south transept. The other white visitors were escorted to the chancel. The usher tried to escort us forward also, but we declined.

When the time came for the introductions, the leader of the other team stood up and introduced them. They were with Sudan Christian Strategic Advocacy. They were in town for the day. He then opened his bible and declaimed to us a word of encouragement. I couldn't quite tell how were were being encouraged, probably because of the interruptions for translation. One of the women of the group got up and held up her bible, and told us that whoever ate food would hunger again, and whoever drank water would thrist again, but whoever drank for the living water of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the bible would never thirst again. It made me wonder how many jerry cans of water Ada and John Leon carry into the compound for us. I worked it out to be about six a day. Another one stood up and asked us all to hold up our bibles. He was encouraged that so many had bibles. I didn't hold mine up.

After church, we all had lunch in the piyat. They said that they were here to look at drilling wells in East and West Mundri. They evidently have a lot of money for that and that is a very good thing. The more wells the better. I guess it's o.k. to thirst after all. Then they said they were also here to teach discipleship. They wanted to train some of the Moru, who could then go to the Nuba Mountains and to Darfur. I guess that's a good thing. Tomorrow, they are coming back for a tour of the hospital. If they have deep pockets (as they seem to for the wells they are drilling) maybe they can do something at the hospital. I want to make sure I'm there when they come.

I'll end this post by pondering the idea of discipleship. When I hear the stories of people like Dean Joseph, and Manyagugu, who stayed on as priests in the Diocese of Lui during twenty years of war, and didn't flee, but made the rounds to the preaching stations to take care of the Christians there; when I hear about Canon Ezra and Morris, who worked on translating the Bible into Moru while the war was going on, and how Canon Ezra was shot trying to get to Juba; when I listen to Gordon and Vasco, who had to farm by night, I realize that I don't know a thing about discipleship. I hope to learn a little here from my Moru friends. I suspect my life is changed forever. I don't know that my Moru friends will be as profoundly changed by know me, as I by them.

And finally, hello to Shelley, Madeline and Lizzy. See you in a week.