Today we finished our fifth and final follow-up cluster meeting! Again, the training was a great success. We were given what I would consider a hot welcome- it was more full of energy and sincerity than anything I have experienced. When these follow-up meetings were planned, we made it clear that they were intended for the youth. In Sudan the youth is comprised of teenagers and young adults. Many of the youth are married and are already starting families. And even though these events are intended for the youth, the churches are always full of elders as well as children. It is inspiring to see the way the elders work with the youth and the children during our sessions. Because there are so many Sudanese that have never learned to read, the younger youth tend to be the ones looking up the scriptures and reading them out loud to the group. The children climb on the laps of the youth and look over their shoulders trying to follow along with the reading. The elders tend to stare out of the church just listening and thinking about what is being read. When the scriptures have been read the group turns to the elders to listen to what they have to say. Those that can write will take notes and get themselves prepared to share their findings with the group. I have rarely seen groups work so efficiently! Today I was especially pleased because the youth that were involved in the initial training really stepped up and took charge. We gave few instructions about how the training would work and the youth leaders took it upon themselves to guide their groups! Today I really experienced the fruit of our labor!
Each time we have traveled to one of the villages, the trip begins with Mark and I driving across town to the church to pick up the youth. We discovered yesterday that Mark is just one month younger than me and he is married and has three young children. He is very curious about America and much of our time is spent comparing African culture to that of America. The other week as we were driving he asked “Do you have those in America?” I stifled a laugh and tried my best to follow where he was pointing this time. You see, Mark has asked me this question several times. The first time he did he had pointed to a man who was dressed in crazy clothes and was stumbling down the street.
“You mean that man?” I asked.
“Yeah, the opium smoker” he replied.
I laughed and explained as best I could that there are people who do drugs that are illegal in America, but mostly they do it where they cannot be seen.
“Yeah, but everyone knows. You can’t hide it because you can smell it and you can tell by looking at them. Is it the same in America?” he asked.
Another time he pointed to a tukle, which is a thatch-roofed building, and asked if we have these in America. I told him that in America our roofs are different and pointed to a tin roof and said that ours are more like that.
“Even the poor people have those roofs?” he asked. “How can they afford it?”
The third time he asked me this question he was pointing to a woman who was carrying water on her head and a baby on her back. I explained that we didn’t do either of these things in America.
“How do the people in the villages carry their water if it’s not on their heads?”
“So, what about the babies? How will they carry them?” he asked.
“Well, the babies are put in a plastic seat with a handle that they can be carried in. This is how most mothers carry their babies” I explained.
“You carry your babies in bags?” he asked in complete shock.
So, as we were driving down the road and he was pointing and asking if we have that in America, I couldn’t help but laugh and try to prepare myself for what he was pointing to this time.
“Right there on the side of the road. Do you have people like that who are really old?” he questioned. I laughed out loud and told him that of course we had people who were old in America. Next he wanted to know what we did with them and where they lived. I explained nursing homes as best I could and also explained that sometimes their family will take them into their home. Then he wanted to know where the money came from to take care of them. I explained retirement savings as simply as I could. He was in awe.
“Wow!” he said. “So when you are old there is still money so that you can have food and a place to live?”
The concept was completely foreign to him, yet he quickly saw the logic to it and the value of it. He said saving like that is something he would like to try.
You see, many Sudanese are as eager to learn as Mark. Their country has been at war for a good part of the last 50 years. They have been running from bombs, taking cover from gunfire, and fleeing to other countries to save their lives. None of them have ever had any money to speak of and they certainly have not had anyone to show them the value in planning for the future. Most of them have not been able to attend school and the majority cannot read. The Sudanese live day by day. They work hard to have enough money to put food on the table today and pray for enough money to take their children to the clinic when they get sick. Many have a hard time holding onto money to pay school fees for their children because society demands they take care of anyone in need.
The people of South Sudan know that what they need is education. One of the men told me that “an education is the most effective weapon in fighting poverty, hunger, disease, and a lifetime of hardships.” I agree with him whole-heartedly.