The last time I woke to the sound of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer was in 1999 in Jakarta, Indonesia. In one sense it emphasises the strangeness of a place when not only the landscape/townscape are unfamiliar, but the noises impose themselves onto an already-sensitised consciousness.
Yesterday morning we were taken off to visit the Shukai Bible Training Institute where ordinands and lay Christians study in basic conditions. The people we met were fantastic, loving, committed and generous. We visited two classes and, following introductions, I was asked to speak to them.
In the first class I tried to encourage the ordinands that theology should re-shape our mind – equipping us to see God, the world and ourselves differently. I unpacked Mark 1 and went on to compare England with Sudan as far as mission might be concerned. Questions followed.
In the second – larger – class I took a different tack. Starting with Abram and Sarai, I opened up the uncertainty involved in being asked to leave the place of comfort and familiarity and set off for somewhere you don't know. In fact, the destination was always unknown; it was only the call to trust that God is faithful that gave any security at all. Obviously, there was more to it than what I have written here, but it led on to questions – the first of which expressed incredulity that people in England might not love God!
What struck me most, however, was that discussion of 'issues' (be they political, economic or religious) was never as interesting as people simply telling their story. Or interpreter was a young man who has experienced much in life, including dreadful bereavement; but, he spoke with us with humour, generosity and warmth, telling us about his life. I always feel inadequate in places like this – more to learn than teach… and a little embarrassed to be asked to say things.
As I learn more about the history, politics and cultures of Sudan it should not come as a surprise that face to face conversations transcend difference. I can't imagine being an Arabic-speaking Sudanese; but, meeting them allows me a glimpse into how people 'not like me' see God, the world and us. It is an immense privilege to have the opportunity and time (everything is slow here…) to stop and look and listen and think.
Tomorrow? More people, more new experiences, more stories, more learning.