25 August 2013

parting of the red tape

"Parting of the Red Sea" - version 1
permission to be, please.

when you are guests in a country, you have to play by your host's rules.  What happens when your host doesn't actually know what it's rules are?  bureaucratic red tape chaos.  When you are a new country, you have the privilege of making your own new rules.  It's great.  Freedom = choice.  BUT when this freedom is found in a context like that of South Sudan, in an African context in which organization is NOT a cultural strong suit, freedom = choice = mayhem!  With no strong centralized process, every office takes the opportunity to call its own shots and every person in every office takes the opportunity to call their own shots depending on, well, who knows what, depending on the color of the shoes they're wearing that day or the number of full matatus that passed by them that morning on their way into work, I have no idea really.  It takes "getting the run around" to a totally new level.  Totally contrary information from every person you talk to, spending days going from office to office, desk to desk, as the amount of money that you owe in order to play by the rules goes up and up and up...

when you have even a single bone of organizational capacity in your body as a missionary you find yourself in the role of pursuing logistical issues for your team.  Like the African context, the missionary context is not one of organizational strength.  I'm a nurse.  I'm pretty good at following rules/directions.  It's a professional liability not to be.  But when you don't know what the directions are, things get, well, let's just say "complicated."

Our team has been trying to play by non-existent rules for several years now, and it's kind of exhausting.  Our operational certification as an NGO expires in October and in like good missionaries we are trying to gather what we need in advance and be prepared for the mayhem that awaits us in Juba.  It's a really long story, which would probably bore most of you, but it involves wading through the sea of red tape and trying to figure out what our hosts rules are and how we need to go about playing by them...NGO's need to employ a certain percentage of national staff and have work permits and we are an NGO but we partner with the church and what does that mean for our status with the government, and what if our goal as an organization is to strengthen and equip and encourage South Sudanese in already existing positions NOT to create new positions that will then one day cease to exist...we are willing to pay our dues but what if we are being charged dues without explanation of what they are for, or being charged for fees in years that the country did not exist...and the list goes on...

But there is hope at the end of the tunnel.  The week in which we were trying to make decisions as a team about how to move forward we had a guest - WHM South Sudan's Miri Moto compound has become a tourist destination believe it or not - soon you'll be able to find us on Yelp! - and this particular week we had guests from Maridi and Uganda taking their R&R time with us - the guest from Maridi overheard us discussion our dilemmas and recommended we talk to his team leader who had recently sorted through similar issues...anyone able to shed ANY light on this chaos was very welcome, so I gave Leah a call...I don't even know Leah's second name...I just know she is an American living in Maridi and leading a team there.  But that's more than enough to elicit a phone call.

Who knew.  Leah is a rock star.  I mean, not a REAL rock star, but a South Sudanese red tape rock star for sure, which is actually just as cool as a REAL rock star.  She informed me of their team's very recent saga which had come to completion in the last few weeks due to help from another large missions agency in country..."AAAHHHHHH!!!!!" - I'm pretty sure the angelic music was audible.  Turns out I have a nurse friend who works for said large missions agency who happens to be in Canada at the moment, which happens to be 8-10 hours behind us right now...and who happened to be online at that very moment...*unashamed plug for the Facebook chat function - never know when it might come in handy*...and you'll never believe this, but with Facebook chat and international emails between 3 countries on 2 continents, within 30 minutes my 2nd South Sudanese red tape rock star friend, Christiane, had hooked me up with a word document of exactly what we needed to do...yes, a word document...4 pages of pure gold!  Pure gold that outlined step by step, bullet point by bullet point what we needed to do to pursue registration as a Faith Based Organization...which seems to fit who we are much more than an NGO which puts us on equal par with those giants of UNICEF and WFP and such...did I mention there were contact names and phone numbers?  Did I mention there were scanned copies of the application form?  UN-BE-LIEVABLE! A registration that supposedly negates our need for work permits (ie. saving us literally thousands of dollars) and gives us approval for 1 yr multiple entry visas...incredible...seems too good to be true in fact...all of my bosses (Bishop here in South Sudan, and Michael Masso from the USA) grilled me on the legitimacy of such a thing...but I had done my homework...well, my friends had done their homework and I had read their answers so-to-speak, and it seems legit...for real!

Just the night before I had been at my wit's end, fed up with trying to figure out the system, fed up with trying to ask "permission to be" from people who didn't seem to want me to be...my teammates had tried to tell me it was going to be okay, but I wasn't quite sure.  I was kinda worried we were going to be kicked out of the country...for real.  The next morning my teammates prayed, and within hours it all came together...I was interrupting the teacher training going on with texts of excitement..."call me at your earliest convenience" I told Bethany, our fearless interim team leader at the time..."What is it?!" she said when she found her earliest convenience...and I launched into the kind of unbelievable saga of the morning...Now, I'm not sure about your feelings about prayer, honestly sometimes I'm not sure either, but this seemed like a pretty direct answer...I could hardly contain myself...and usually I have no problem containing myself...containment issues are not really a Lutjens problem...

But ladies and gentlemen, the saga is not quite over.  If you believe that prayer moves things, then I'd appreciate you take up our cause in your prayers...Bishop took our FBO paperwork to Juba on Friday, and hopefully passed it along to an ECS logistician....

  • pray this logistician, Mawa, would be willing and ready to process our paperwork for us
  • pray that the Bureau of Religious Affairs would be willing and ready to accept our application without delay
  • pray that the BoRA would readily give us an approval letter for the Ministry of Interior
  • pray that the Ministry of Interior would readily accept the BoRA letter and give us an approval letter for 1 yr multiple entry visas for our whole team
  • pray that in fact, this registration/these visas negate our need for work permits in a very above the board way
I've never been so amazed.  Makes me a little more willing to pray big....but I need your help.

"Parting of the Red Sea - version 2"

home away from home: Uganda

  • the spazzy excitement of banana tree leaves everywhere you look; 
  • lingering 2.5 hour oil lantern lit and burning mosquito coil accompanied dinners at mexican resaurants with teammates who are coworkers as well as friends and, well, family too, at the end of a long day of details and travel; 
  • 5 straight hours of paved road; 
  • the amazing goodness of a leg of chicken roasted on a stick eaten standing by the side of the vehicle while your teammates use the favorite toilet location along said 5 hour stretch of paved road;        
  • the swamps of Dr. Seuss-esque papyrus tufts; 
  • the dukas with goat ropes hanging by the door; 
  • the Kalita and Link buses rumbling by as they pass you on the one lane "highway"; 
  • familiar phrases used and questions asked in the market and the ensuing stumbling/stuttering over words which have since been replaced by those of other east african languages in my brain's "language bank"; 
  • discussions around the Rwenzori View family style dinner table with inquisitive Icelandic journalists traversing the country; 
  • the familiarity of old teammates and ease of falling back into days of life shared; 
  • the conversation that ensues over the loud hum of old 4x4 vehicles whose radios/tape decks are long broken as you "zoom" along the one lane highway unable to break the 100km/hr mark in the aging vehicle, saving you from the traps of the traffic police in their bright white uniforms as they wait in the valleys and around the bends for a reason to wave you to a stop; 
  • the familiar and tiring complications of decision making and bill settling when traveling as a group of 6 single women, and the pauses of thankfulness for said women making it all worth it;
  • the wind whipping through your hair on the back of strange man's motorcycle you voluntarily ride back to the hotel during rush hour traffic and the gasps and "eh!"s that ensue when the trust you put in this stranger's ability to get you from point A to point B in one piece is somehow broken around every bend; 
  • the appreciated airtime acct balance notifications at the end of every MTN phone call/text message; 
  • the refreshing treat of a cold Krest Bitter Lemon nearly everywhere you go; 
  • the luxury of hour long phone calls to parents costing less than $5, 
  • candle lit "last supper"s in the magical ambiance of Mediterraneo;
  • and, of course, the ever present goodbyes...

05 August 2013

lost {and found} in translation

“You know how every week we do communion at church, they also recite the Ten Commandments....(hear recitation of 10 commandments in Moru), well I’ve had those phrases repeating in my head all day today”...Larissa said, as we were gathering for dinner one night this week.

Nope.  I had no idea that the liturgy for Holy Communion sundays included a recitation of the Ten Commandments. 

 The liturgy in the church Larissa and I go to is done completely in Moru.  There are Moru prayer books, this is the EPISCOPAL Church of Sudan, remember, so every Sunday is a prescribed liturgy.  I chose our church because of all the churches in the area, this is the one with the most Juba Arabic translation used - due in part to it’s proximity to the Army barracks and the area of town where there is a high concentration of “returnees” from Khartoum.  But it’s usually the announcements and the sermon that are translated...not ever the liturgy.  So, I usually mentally check out, standing and sitting at the appropriate times, but also smiling at the cute babies that are invariably sitting around and staring back at me...or on my better missionary days I try to make use of the time to pray for the church and for God’s work in hearts through the liturgy and Word being preached...I’ve always been quite content going to a church service I couldn’t understand...because it means that I have the privilege of worshiping with brothers and sisters who are worshiping in their own tongue...you know those parts of Scripture that talk about “every nation and every tongue”...what joy there is in the experience of a small sliver of that.  It’s not always a terribly spiritually enriching experience to have absolutely no idea what’s going on...what’s being said/prayed/sung...actually most times it’s not, but for the privilege of worshiping with “every nation and every tongue”, it’s totally worth it...even when it’s 5 hours long and when I’m falling asleep doing the head bob/jerking awake thing...or when it’s really really really hot and it seems there’s no air moving at all inside the mud and thatch building.

But today, I understood every word.

Jess is in from Ug to visit, and Scott was preaching about sex at the english service at the Cathedral so I went with Jess and Bethany to support Scott in speaking boldly about  something the Moru church is reluctant to talk about.  He did a GREAT job.  He presented what God calls us to in love for us and about what he calls us not to do out of love for us, and about the forgiveness and grace and mercy God offers to us.  Balanced, clear, simple, truth.

But the unexpected bonus was that at the english service, the liturgy is the same as at my church, but it’s in ENGLISH (shocking, I know).  And it was a Communion sunday, so i got to hear what is actually said in the Communion liturgy (including the Ten Commandments).  But there’s so much RICHNESS in the liturgy and this time, I could understand EVERY word...well, *almost* every word...after the visitors introduced themselves the leader said, “we warmly and hardly welcome you...” I looked confusedly over to the prayer book Jess was holding for us to share...not hardly but HEARTILY :)

But other than pronunciation issues, the richness of the liturgy really encouraged my heart today.  So much that I stole one of the prayer books (it doesn’t have a cover, so I have no idea what it’s actually called) - shhh, bad missionary...I promise, I’ll return it by next week!  But I wanted to be sure to go back over what was said:

Particularly fitting for today’s sermon topic:

“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen”

and after each of the Ten Commandments the people say:
“Amen, Lord have mercy upon us, and make our hearts to obey your law.”

and then the Sh’ma - a harken back to my semester in Jerusalem and the important role of these words in synagogue liturgy and messianic congregations:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength...”

and in the preparation for the Lord’s Table:

“We do not presume to come to this your Table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies: We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your Table.  But you are the same Lord, whose nature is always to have mercy.  Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ and to drink His Blood, that we may evermore live in Him and He is us. Amen.”

and the hope we claim:

“Christ has died.  Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

and the richness continues page after page...

I wonder if it’s so rich to me because it’s so new...I had a conversation with a friend in the US about communion and his insistence on the “best” way to do it...he thought the “best” way was the way I’ve done it all my life...but for me, sometimes that way has lost it’s meaning or poignancy because of it’s regularity and habit in my life.  For me, the most meaningful way to do it is the way most other people grew up doing it...because it’s new and fresh to me and it makes me think about things more to do things in a new way.  For that reason, this whole missionary life is so very rich.  We are ever doing things in a new way...having to think about what we think of, or how we feel about, these new ways and why...

Today was one of those new ways.  The old liturgy was “new” to me, found in translation into my own tongue, whereas before it was lost on my deaf-to-Moru ears.  Rich. Wealth IS mine.