14 April 2012

and then there was Simon...

“Aidah, what are you up to today?” Larissa asked.

“Same old same old.” I answered with a smart aleck smirk.

“Ah, but how are you feeling about the same old same old is probably the better question?”

“Indeed it is.” Not sure that I ever answered the question, I got up from the breakfast table (that’s right, I’ve adopted the age old tradition of eating breakfast since moving to S. Sudan...imagine that.) cleared my dishes, washed them at the sink, left the team house and slunk back to my house to fulfill my morning’s task of reading a bit of the gospel of Luke - another age old tradition I’m trying to adopt (reading scripture on a daily basis)...feeling generally discouraged about the language learning process and my part in it, and as it turns out, God noticed. Imagine that.

The portion on the slate for this morning? Chapter 5. Shall I refresh your memory? no problem, don’t mention it :)

The chapter begins with Jesus getting into Simon’s boat on the Sea of Galilee, with a couple other boats nearby, Jesus asks Simon and his buddies to head out a bit from the shore and then stop so he can teach the crowd gathered on the shore from the boat. He does His teaching thing, then things get particularly interesting...

Jesus tells Simon and his buddies to go out further into the lake where it’s deep and cast their nets. Simon’s response? Priceless.

“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Essentially he tells Jesus, “Are you kidding?! We’ve been working all night and have NOTHING to show for it. But you are Jesus, so because you’ve asked, I’ll do it.”

You may remember what happens next. Brings the term “boat load” to new heights :) After they cast their nets, the nets filled to the point of starting to break under the weight of all the fish - they called their buddies to come with their boats to help bring in the catch - and the boats start sinking they're so full!

Simon’s response? Again, priceless.

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Jesus’ response is a bit curious to me...

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

But the guys drop everything - all those fish they just caught - and follow Jesus wherever He’s off to.

Me and Simon, we’d be pretty tight I think. He says it like it is, doubt and blatant pronouncements of practical realities and all...reminding Jesus of just how ridiculous his request is...

You want me to do what? Go into the highways and byways of Mundri and plop my shy, extremely self conscious self down and whip out a few phrases in Arabic about what things are located near the roundabout and what kind of juice I want to order from the restaurant??!?! Just drum up some toddler like arabic conversations from thin air? Right. Who are you kidding?!?!?! I’ve been pressing on for more than a month and I still can only understand a few words, if that, when people talk to me...

But see Simon knew what was up. He knew Jesus was worth listening to, no matter how crazy ridiculous the request. Simon knew the value of the “trust and obey” mantra.

Okay, God I’ll go. I’ll go sit with Wilma again today. I’ll go try out a couple new phrases...Today I’ll do what you’ve asked of me, and for now, that means learning and practicing a bit more Arabic. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to follow and participate in conversation, I doubt that you, God, can actually bring Arabic proficien about in my life, but today you’ve put a lesson and the market in front of me. So I’ll go.

Maybe tomorrow will be progress towards the next step...the believing that He has the power to accomplish this crazy language thing in my life...maybe, just maybe. But how encouraging, to see God blow Simon’s lousy expectations and doubt TOTALLY out of the water...almost literally!

And then maybe the day after tomorrow there will be repentance for the doubt and lousy expectations and unbelief in my heart...

As I headed out the door, after having told Larissa about God’s gift to me in Luke 5 as I read, she hollered “remember the boats!”

Funny thing is I corrected her, telling her it was the nets I wanted to remember. But as I road off around the office towards the road, tears started rolling down my cheeks. In the echo of Larissa’s holler after me as I left the house, I heard my mom’s voice as she hollered after us as we headed out the door to school in St. Louis - “Remember who’s in your boat!”

My mom knew who Simon’s belief/unbelief battle was with, and she wanted us to remember He was with us as we walked through whatever He had for us that day. We rolled our eyes, being the teenagers we were, but the tears were rolling today in S. Sudan as I heard the echo of her voice of truth through Larissa.

12 April 2012

roller coaster

turns out not everyone experiences roller coasters in the same way...my favorite part? the crest of the tallest hill, the anticipation of the feeling of free falling down the hill on the other side, being able to look out over the whole amusement park and surrounding areas...I LOVE roller coasters.

but then there is the colloquial understanding of the "roller coaster of emotions"...the up and down, ebb and tide of joy and sadness in quick succession...in this metaphor the free falling down the hill is equivocated to sadness - not necessarily the same as the actually experience of a roller coaster, for me at least, but I digress. The point is, there are some seasons in life in which emotions change drastically, frequently and in quick succession.

Language learning is one of those seasons.

Tuesday I was sky high with the joy of having communicated even just a single unrehearsed thought in Juba Arabic to a couple women I was sitting with in the market. They asked me "Larissa kadoo?" which means "Larissa is good?" in Moru. My ears perked up and I realized this was a great opportunity to expand a bit on my usual one or two word responses...I might actually be able to say something about what Larissa is doing today! It happens to be that Larissa was anticipating possibly starting to teach English at the Theological College that day but she wasn't sure if all the students had shown up yet...but it also just happens to be that I've learned some vocabulary about teaching and learning and school and such and had also just learned the words for yesterday, today and tomorrow in Arabic...perfect...so I muddled through something like this..."Ai, huwo kweis. Huwo... gi....derisu....('hm, can I actually say that, is that the right form of the verb, or does that one mean to learn...shoot, oh well, give it a whirl')... inglisi fi...('hm, I wonder what local people who are not ECS staff call BNTC? well I'll just call it what I think I've heard it called by who knows who and maybe that will work even though it's the english words...') ...Theological College.... aleela wala bokura." All that work for "Yes, Larissa is good. She is going to teach English at the Theological College today or tomorrow."

"Aiwa. Kadoo" Wilma answered. "Ok (Moru), good (Arabic)." And then I think the lady next to her asked what I said and she repeated it for her, so I think she really did get it.

WUH HOO!!!!!!!! Happy dance in my head :) I strung the right-ish words together in a way that was not a rehearsed line from one of my lessons but created all by myself, albeit very simple, and in a way that actually communicated meaning...it felt so good!

The next day I was back in the market sitting with Wilma and a couple other ladies again and she was kind and asked me another very simple question. "Agila wen?" which means 'where is the bicycle?' 'Oooh, oooh, oooh,' I thought again. I also learned some directional words and how to describe where things are located...maybe I can actually tell her that it's next to the shop of the Arabic men...but I struggled to remember the word for "next to"...I knew it ended in "ib" and that it had a "g" in it, but that's all....5 minutes I grimaced and groaned out loud as I probed the depths of the recesses of my mind for the word, trying a couple things I thought it might be, but it didn't really ever come...communication fail. They laughed and chuckled and I really thought one of them said something about "ita...jama Larissa..." which means 'you...university Larissa' according to what I'd learned...which I thought was pretty cleaver, essentially "you need to go to Larissa's school." :) maybe she said something totally different and I was just hearing things I knew into things people are saying...also a habit I have picked up along my language learning way. They asked me a couple other things, other people stopped by and asked me things, none of which I could understand or come up with a response to. There was a lot of silence. Probably only bothered me, but, alas, I left way discouraged.

Today I went in for my language lesson and it turned out that not only had I missed a call from my language helper who would have told me he had a meeting and couldn't do a lesson today, but he had also been waiting for me at our allotted time yesterday when I had in fact assumed (based on my past experience in Bundibugyo) that the morning's rain would have delayed him and so I didn't call until later when in fact he had been prompt and waiting for me. Sooooooo, one small victory followed by 2 days of fails...

notes to self: S. Sudanese people are more timely than Ugandans, use their own phone airtime more readily than Ugandans, I need to develop a thicker skin re. language fails and courage in continuing to pursue using it, and all the fails are I think worth the few victories :)

most funny language goof up thus far (that I know of ): "Ita deru ashrubu shunuu?" - the question posed to me. "Ana deru ashrubu Senke." Translations: What do you want to drink? I want to drink motorcycle. Explanation: ashrubu = to drink, arkabu = to ride...clearly I misunderstood and thought I was being asked what did I want to ride? The "b" totally threw me off :) Laughed out loud. Thank God for comic relief :)

09 April 2012


I like boxes. They contain things. I can put things in them, close them up and put a label on it and remember what’s inside without having to actually look at the things. But they also help define things. Does this shirt go in the summer or winter box? Winter. Good, then this is not a shirt I should wear in hot weather, and/or is not made for wearing in hot weather. Categories, definitions, expectations, lines...boxes are how I roll.

Thing is, people don’t go very well into boxes.

But it sure doesn’t stop me from trying to put them there. And funny thing is, most people don’t like trying to be put in there. Now that I stop to think about it, I can’t understand why ;)

Coming to a new place here in South Sudan has made me face my boxing compulsion head on. It’s nothing new, but when you move to new places, find yourself in new communities, doing new things, it’s a bit like a new mirror...you see yourself from a slightly different perspective, you notice new things, for better and for worse ;)

Turns out I have boxes for everyone I meet. I have a box that is especially fashioned for people who I’m in relationship with, my friends and family - anyone beyond an acquaintance...it’s a box that, it turns out, defines what friendship looks like, what community looks like, what loving me looks like...turns out I have expectations for these things. Fairly defined expectations. I had no idea.

How did I come to this realization, you might wonder? Well, see, as it turns out, I guess not everyone has the same expectations. Imagine that.

Turns out people don’t fit in boxes.

Turns out people relate to each other differently. Love, respect, value, look differently to different people...people demonstrate them in different ways. It’s like language - they speak a language I don’t understand...there aren’t words involved exactly but we obviously don’t share a common relational lingua franca.

I’ll be 33 this month. You would think I’d have figured this out by now.

And no, I’m not talking about what’s-his-face’s 5 Love Languages...

Turns out people are complicated. Turns out complicated is what makes us people. Turns out complicated is beautiful. Turns out complicated is frustrating. Turns out complicated is intricate. Turns out complicated is awe-some (in the non- “far out dude” use of the word). Turns out complicated is the way God intended. Turns out I’m complicated.

So, this is a phase of the journey I didn’t expect, but has been unveiled for my consideration and perplexing thoughtfulness. Ever learning. Hopefully ever growing.

05 April 2012


a bit of a break from “tales from S. Sudan”...or not so much a break, just a little change of pace. Lest you think that somehow when you become a missionary and move to a remote place, you lose all sense of who you were before and lose all contact with the outside world...

After team meeting and a fabulously scrumptious curry and naan dinner, we watched Hugo. I’d seen it with the fabulous Miss Keeton at the Moolah in 3D sometime around the turn of the year and really enjoyed it so I was excited to watch it again and for everyone else to enjoy it too. I noticed a few new things this time around.

The most interesting was the role of this relatively minor character named Lisette. She sells flowers in the train station. Smiles, hums to herself even (or maybe I imagined she hums to herself because she looks like a person who would hum to herself), and is generally pleasant and caring and helpful in her small, everyday, mostly unnoticed role. She is not totally unnoticed however as she earns the attention of the Station Inspector. He generally makes my blood curdle with his arrogant and harsh persona, and I’m not insinuating in the least that I’d like to draw the attention of the likes of the Inspector. BUT, in his pursuit of Lisette, there is a moment when he finally gets up the gumption to go and talk to her after putting on his best smile, and she’s kind and pleasant to him in his awkwardness. I think his artificial leg creaks particularly loud at one point in their conversation, drawing attention to it, he becomes self conscious and quickly tells her he was wounded in the War and waddles off in embarrassment.

It’s what happens next that intrigued me most: she calls after him, telling him that she had a brother that served in the war as well. She takes note of his embarrassment and she reaches out...she doesn’t want to leave him in it alone, but joins him in it, in a way. Her brief comment speaks volumes - it says I can see past your leg.

I wanna be like Lisette. I want to be a person that naturally reaches out to people in those places and times when they’re ashamed and embarrassed, a person that doesn’t leave others alone but moves towards them when they need it most.

Thing is, I have the most experience in the role of the Inspector...prideful, harsh, wanting to make others pay in life like he had to, insecure, embarrassed of my quirks and “disabilities” of sorts...maybe it’s my experience in his shoes that makes me want shoes that look more like hers?

The scene moves on or at least I don’t remember much more of it. Later in the movie it’s made clear that she and the Inspector have “gotten together” and live happily ever after or so.

Maybe you’ve seen the movie and you think I’m making far too much of their interaction, over dramatizing things. You’re entitled to your own opinion (or at least that’s what someone or another used to tell me all the time). But in any case, I recommend the movie. Good story, creatively portrayed, well done. And if you watch it, take note of Lisette. We could use more of her in the world.