How do you prepare for a week living with people whom you have never met before and share no common language with, in a culture totally alien to your own? The answer is, you don’t. You swallow hard, clutch your bright green Bible and step out in faith, trusting God to do what he does.
Jacob and I arrived at Lucy’s compound mid-morning, complete with a mattress and a bag containing some essential items; clothes, water bottle, Bible, notebook, camera and frisbee. Jacob soon left me to fend for myself and I was swiftly invited to come and sit under a tree for a Laarim vocabulary lesson. There was no discernible concept of information overload – this was my fifth day in the Boya Hills and I was being educated about different types of grass. A maize meal with vegetables then arrived and strangely enough, the terms for ‘spoon’ and ‘scooping to the mouth,’ are two of the only words I remembered from that first day’s bombardment (my parents would not be surprised). After I had brought great joy and laughter by falling off my ‘chair’ (tree branch) whilst eating, it was time for afternoon naps. I then spent the rest of the afternoon enduring an even more rigorous break down of Laarim terminology from the children than I had done from the older men earlier on! After a final bout of naming parts of the body, I turned in for bed, wondering how I would cope with a whole week of exhausting days like this ahead of me…
South Sudan became the world’s newest country on 9 July 2011. It was the outcome of the 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war. The majority of the population adhere to Christianity. Only 18% call themselves Muslim unlike Sudan, which is 97%.
Today I headed back to the camp to let my colleagues know I had survived day one, freshen up, and have a coffee with a dangerously high sugar content. After returning to Lucy’s, it was frisbee time, which was soon to become a staple for the children’s daily diet. After becoming worn out (me more so than the children), I got out the camera, which was even more popular than the frisbee! Later that evening, after more vocab sessions, I was served a portion of rice that would have satisfied Godzilla, and would still have left enough for King Kong to have rice pudding. I made a mental note to learn how to explain about portion sizes. It was a tiring day again and once more I felt low as I prepared for bed. There was nothing familiar around me and I found myself simply wanting to be home, or at least at the camp where I could talk to people.
“It is about relationship, spending time with people and hearing the heart of each person as they search, knowingly or not, for Jesus.”
Waking up on Wednesday morning was hard, knowing I had another five days of constant unfamiliar language, zero privacy and feeling ever more frustrated with my inability to communicate beyond basic level. Going back to camp that morning Jacob encouraged me to stay a bit longer and rest. So that is what I did, and later that morning Jacob and I returned together to explain that I was but a man, and did not need meals for giant, fictional, cinematic creatures. That afternoon things improved. It was still frisbee, camera and language, but my attitude was somehow different. I spent many hours with the children, not understanding much, but not letting that bother me; I was learning how to smile and laugh cross-culturally! Settling down to sleep that night I felt a lot happier; I had needed God’s help and he had provided it as he always does when we ask him.
The rest of the week
After this point the next few days are a mix of memories for me. I adjusted more and more to the flow of life amongst the Laarim and learned more and more to see the heart of Jesus for these people, how he loves them and how he is at work in me to give me that same love. Was this whole household transformed to follow Jesus by my spending a week with them? No. Did I lay foundations for relationships which can be built upon as I live and learn amongst these people for the next two years? Yes. This is the nature of daily ministry in this place. It is about relationship, spending time with people and hearing the heart of each person as they search, knowingly or not, for Jesus. The kind of patience this ministry calls for is not something that the Western culture of immediate result is skilled at cultivating, but God is teaching me daily to wait on him and be satisfied that he is at work.