On Sunday the new Province of Sudan will be inaugurated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Khartoum. This brings the total of autonomous provinces in the Anglican Communion to 39.

The Diocese of Leeds has had a partnership link with Sudan for nearly forty years, and Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo was over with us in Leeds in March/April this year. That’s why I am going.

The reason for the creation of the new Province is this. The Episcopal Church of Sudan covered the whole of the original country. When South Sudan separated just a few years ago (2011), the single Church eventually created an internal province for Sudan. What is happening on Sunday is the natural (and necessary) consequence of the creation of separate countries.

Given Sudan’s drive to have one nation, one faith and one language – Sudan, Islam and Arabic – and to guard its own integrity over against the seceded South Sudan, relations between church and state might actually become clearer and better: a church for Sudan.

More anon. We leave Heathrow soon.

Advertisements

I don't have much time these days for doing the blog. All I manage to put up is scripts or journalism. I recently did a paper at a theological conference, but 5,000 words is too many for this medium.

Tomorrow I head off to Tanzania to visit one of our Anglican partnership links: three dioceses in the north. So, here's a quick blast on a theme.

Most Church of England dioceses have links with dioceses around the world (or the Anglican Communion for these purposes). My diocese comprises three historic English dioceses and each had long-established links: Bradford with Sudan and Southwestern Virginia (USA), Wakefield with Tanzania and Skara (Sweden), Ripon & Leeds with Sri Lanka.

All the richness and complexity of the Anglican Communion is there. In Sudan the church faces dreadful pressure because African Christians (as opposed to Arabic Muslims) are being persecuted and squeezed. The reasons are complicated, but the separation of South Sudan from Sudan (and consequent vindictiveness) has led to a ratcheting up of the pressure. Look back to the posts I wrote when visiting Sudan in January 2013.)

Tanzania faces political and economic difficulties, and bears the marks of many of the problems of Africa. It is also beautiful. The church is divided in one of the dioceses we shall be visiting.

I visited Sri Lanka (see posts here) in October 2014, learning a huge amount about the politics and tribal tensions that lay beneath the decades-long civil war. I also witnessed the unique contribution being made by the Anglican Church in promoting and working for reconciliation between scarred peoples. Rebuilding broken communities lies at the heart of the church's witness.

Southwestern Virginia is a beautiful part of America where the church gets stuck into witnessing within its particular culture. The relationship with South Sudan is about to be brought to a conclusion. The diocese is currently enjoying its annual Council. I have visited twice – the second time for the consecration of the new bishop Mark Bourlakas. (I sat next to Michael Curry, now the Presiding Bishop, during the service. When the choir sang Parry's 'I was glad' I pointed out that it had been written for a coronation in England – and thought the Americans had fought hard to get away from this stuff. Michael turned to me and said: “We won the War of Independence, but you won the culture wars.” Excellent.)

I visited Skara briefly in 2014 to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury and my diocese at the 1000th anniversary of the diocese. I also managed to do a speech made up of a considerable number of Abba lyrics. They laughed.

In my diocese we cover major cities, post-industrial towns, deeply rural communities. All of life is here.

In other words, bring this lot together and all the complexities of the modern world are there. Christians struggling with persecution and pressure, those at the heart of a beautiful country that has moved from colonialism to civil war and beyond. Scandinavia, the United States and England represent a spread of modern western liberal democracies where the church takes a number of different forms and is having to face challenges different from those in, for example, Africa.

What often surprises me is how surprised others are when they hear about the reality of being a Christian in England and the west. They see the Church of England and English society as it was seventy years ago.

Last week I had Skype conversations with the Bishop of Colombo (Sri Lanka), the Archbishop of Khartoum and the Bishop of Southwestern Virginia. In the next couple of days I will meet the Tanzanians. I have had email correspondence with the Bishop of Skara. Why? Because these links are more than simply institutional connections; we are friends and brothers, able to be honest and open with each other.

So, why write this now? Well, mainly because I am planning to bring the bishops together in 2017 to live, pray, talk and learn together.

This is what the Anglican Communion is all about. And it is never boring.

So, to Tanzania…

 

The last time I was stopped at a police roadblock was in Zimbabwe in 2007. In fact we were stopped at a number of them, mostly while we were en route to Victoria Falls. This morning we were stopped in the dark just outside Khartoum while driving to visit the new Diocese of Wad Medani. Our passports were taken while another bloke with a big red stick poked his head through the car window, saw the white man and asked where we were from. “England” elicited a frown and a sucking of teeth – after which he said, “Football?” I wondered if giving the wrong answer might make our plight worse. “Liverpool,” I said with a smile. He looked at me and said: “You'll never walk alone.”

That's globalisation for you!

Further on in the two-and-a-half hour journey and I got another lesson in how not to jump to conclusions… or misreadings.

The road runs alongside the Blue Nile and either side of it runs a sort of 'ribbon development' in the making (as well millions of plastic bags and bottles, accompanied by an exotic range of animal carcasses at various stages of decay). What I thought I was looking at as we drove (hairily, at 60mph, as if we were playing dodgems) was strings of derelict buildings surrounded by low and deserted compound walls. Another bit of unfinished or neglected infrastructure? Or evidence of communities now abandoned because of conflict or expulsions?

Neither, in fact. These were buildings and walls in process of being constructed. What I saw as falling down was actually being built up. My prejudices – of which I am not proud – were confounded yet again. And it made me wonder how many other such judgements I make that reality might embarrass. All I did was ask the Bishop of Khartoum (our host) and he, unaware of my thinking, just told me people find it cheaper to buy land and gradually build houses outside the city. I didn't know how to read what I saw.

Having cleared that up – and resolving to ask before judging – we received wonderful and generous hospitality at the Cathedral in Wad Medani. This diocese was established only a couple of years ago, carved out of Khartoum which was imply too big. It is still enormous. And it still covers territory that is currently subject to war – creating enormous numbers of displaced people. All the clergy, including the Diocesan Bishop, are volunteers – they are setting the whole thing up from scratch and, already poor, have next to nothing.

But, what they do have is faith in God, a strong commitment to serve the people of that area, and a refusal to give in to any easy option. They are remarkable. Why is it always the church that runs (for example) literacy projects and creates community for people who don't belong to them? It seems that wherever you go in the world, the church is there, using its often meagre resources for the betterment of their people.

At the moment this diocese depends on links with dioceses like mine even to produce a modicum of working capital. They are explicit about wanting to be self-sufficient, but need to get the resources (for example, build shops and a guest house on their land in order to raise a little revenue to then be able to fund clergy and further sustainable projects).

If you know anyone rich who wants to see some cash go to very impressive people in a tough part of the world, point them in my direction.

And now for a meeting with the bishops of Sudan – excluding the Bishop of Kadugli who is now based in the South and cannot return to his own diocese because of the war going on there. More anon.

(Oh… and I have just re-read Joachim Gauck's little book on Freiheit: Ein Plädoyer – basically, we need to know how to use freedom for and not just enjoy freedom from – before moving on to Walter Brueggemann's The Practice of Prophetic Imagination. It's all fun, fun, fun…)

 

The last time I was stopped at a police roadblock was in Zimbabwe in 2007. In fact we were stopped at a number of them, mostly while we were en route to Victoria Falls. This morning we were stopped in the dark just outside Khartoum while driving to visit the new Diocese of Wad Medani. Our passports were taken while another bloke with a big red stick poked his head through the car window, saw the white man and asked where we were from. “England” elicited a frown and a sucking of teeth – after which he said, “Football?” I wondered if giving the wrong answer might make our plight worse. “Liverpool,” I said with a smile. He looked at me and said: “You'll never walk alone.”

That's globalisation for you!

Further on in the two-and-a-half hour journey and I got another lesson in how not to jump to conclusions… or misreadings.

The road runs alongside the Blue Nile and either side of it runs a sort of 'ribbon development' in the making (as well millions of plastic bags and bottles, accompanied by an exotic range of animal carcasses at various stages of decay). What I thought I was looking at as we drove (hairily, at 60mph, as if we were playing dodgems) was strings of derelict buildings surrounded by low and deserted compound walls. Another bit of unfinished or neglected infrastructure? Or evidence of communities now abandoned because of conflict or expulsions?

Neither, in fact. These were buildings and walls in process of being constructed. What I saw as falling down was actually being built up. My prejudices – of which I am not proud – were confounded yet again. And it made me wonder how many other such judgements I make that reality might embarrass. All I did was ask the Bishop of Khartoum (our host) and he, unaware of my thinking, just told me people find it cheaper to buy land and gradually build houses outside the city. I didn't know how to read what I saw.

Having cleared that up – and resolving to ask before judging – we received wonderful and generous hospitality at the Cathedral in Wad Medani. This diocese was established only a couple of years ago, carved out of Khartoum which was imply too big. It is still enormous. And it still covers territory that is currently subject to war – creating enormous numbers of displaced people. All the clergy, including the Diocesan Bishop, are volunteers – they are setting the whole thing up from scratch and, already poor, have next to nothing.

But, what they do have is faith in God, a strong commitment to serve the people of that area, and a refusal to give in to any easy option. They are remarkable. Why is it always the church that runs (for example) literacy projects and creates community for people who don't belong to them? It seems that wherever you go in the world, the church is there, using its often meagre resources for the betterment of their people.

At the moment this diocese depends on links with dioceses like mine even to produce a modicum of working capital. They are explicit about wanting to be self-sufficient, but need to get the resources (for example, build shops and a guest house on their land in order to raise a little revenue to then be able to fund clergy and further sustainable projects).

If you know anyone rich who wants to see some cash go to very impressive people in a tough part of the world, point them in my direction.

And now for a meeting with the bishops of Sudan – excluding the Bishop of Kadugli who is now based in the South and cannot return to his own diocese because of the war going on there. More anon.

(Oh… and I have just re-read Joachim Gauck's little book on Freiheit: Ein Plädoyer – basically, we need to know how to use freedom for and not just enjoy freedom from – before moving on to Walter Brueggemann's The Practice of Prophetic Imagination. It's all fun, fun, fun…)

 

It might seem an odd choice of reading material on a trip to Sudan, but I have just finished Simon Jenkins' A Short History of England. Excellent stuff – a romp through the kings and queens and politicians of England since before England existed. The book cover also calls it 'The complete story of our nation in a single volume'. Er… I think there might be a slight discrepancy between 'a short history' and 'complete story'! Anyway, it is a great quick read and fills a gap.

The reading also offers a little relief from the insistent questions surrounding and arising from almost everything else we are doing and everywhere else we are going here in Khartoum. Yesterday we were taken to visit the Abu Rof Clinic in a poor area of Omdurman. The Administrator showed us round and the ordered goodness of the place was evident at every turn. This clinic, run by the church, reaches people not being reached by anyone else. They do basic health education, lab tests, nutrition advice and resourcing, counselling and other medical and pastoral care. The scope is remarkable.

The main ailments among children here are TB, skin diseases and digestive problems, mainly caused by malnutrition, poor hygiene and poor understanding of health basics. Adults are increasingly showing up with HIV as well as similar illnesses to the children. Women are taught about birth control (not using contraceptives). The most surprising discovery of the visit so far was the moringa tree – the leaves provide amazing amounts of vitamins and minerals and can be dried, crushed and sprinkled on other foods. Brilliant! So, the clinic not only grows its own, but it also enables people to have their own to grow so they have an endless supply of nutritional elements at no cost.

However, the visit was also poignant. Two Swiss nurses have been told to leave the country and the second leaves tonight. After 24 years he in this clinic, this seems an almost absurd move that can only harm the people whom the government (presumably) wants to help in terms of health care. This sort of expulsion is not uncommon and other stories can be told later.

I might be wrong, but it seems that (particularly) the vote to create the new state of Southern Sudan has led the government of Sudan to make southerners accept the consequences of their vote: you wanted your own country; now go and live in it. So southerners are being asked to go south. This is, in one sense, entirely understandable (if not entirely defensible) in terms of making people accept responsibility for the choices they have made. Foreigners with connections to the churches are also being told to leave. The overall drive seems to be to create a single country with a single culture and a single religion – and this process is, of course, enhanced by the drive to have a single language, Arabic. Hence the problem with the marginalization of the Nuba (Africans) and the continuing attrition in the Nuba Mountains.

First impressions should never lead to final conclusions. However, the picture is beginning to build and I am understanding more each day of why things are developing the way they are. I will need to think it through once we have returned and then see where the dust settles.

Today we have a meeting with the British Ambassador before heading into the suuk for yet another new experience. Given that I loathe any form of shopping anywhere, this might have to be seen as a 'cultural experience'.

 

It is pretty pointless doing some naive political analysis when visiting some of the poorest schools in the world, containing some of the poorest children in the world. Analysis of causes does nothing to help the children standing in front of you at that moment.

This morning we visited the diocesan offices in Khartoum-Omdurman before being taken off to visit three schools. The first was a Catholic primary school in a former shanty town on the outskirts of the city. 480 children occupy an area little larger than the size of a football pitch penalty area. Arranged in 7 or 8 classes – and ranging in age from 7 to 18 – we went into tiny classrooms of up to 70 children. The only furniture apart from a blackboard was the metal benches on which the children sat squashed against each other.

How is anyone supposed to learn anything in conditions like this?

As we left each class the children sang for us. There was big optimism, but how well placed it is is a mystery. What was remarkable about the school was the commitment of the staff. Most of these children have been both displaced and traumatised by war – first in Darfur, later (and currently) in the Nuba Mountains. The staff includes graduates, who might get better-paid jobs elsewhere, giving up a year or two to volunteer to teach and care for these children. “They cannot give up on their own people…”

We moved on to another church-run primary school and its associated secondary school, now suffering because so many students have been forced to move to Southern Sudan. We heard an impassioned plea from a headmistress that we should pray for them and do what we could to make their plight known. No self-pity – just realism and hope and a determination to see this through.

Back at the diocesan offices we met women who organise and lead literacy courses for adults, mainly through the Mothers Union. These were impressive and determined women who taught us more about the predicament of being African rather than Arab in Sudan – especially in relation to jobs, security and dignity. I will say more on my return to England, once I have thought it through. What is clear, though, is that diocesan links such as that between Bradford and Sudan (and, in my earlier role, between Southwark and Zimbabwe) are hugely important – they build relationship, keep stories alive, make sure that no one is alone.

Like the convergence of the Blue and White Nile (see the photo), we flow together from different directions, but cannot then be separated as we move forwards together into an unknown world.

It also to be noted, however, that we have met nothing other than courtesy and welcome out on the streets, in the shops, and so on.

The learning continues.

 

We arrived in Khartoum an hour late and got to the guesthouse where we are staying at 5am. So Sunday was spent asleep until we were collected and taken to the Cathedral where I was preaching at the 6pm Communion service.

There were probably 40 people in the Cathedral. Over dinner with the Bishop of Khartoum later, he explained how, following the separation of Southern Sudan from Sudan in 2011, the expulsion of people of Southern Sudanese origin has impacted not only on the church, but also on the country as a whole. I was a little surprised to discover that even people in their fifties and sixties, born and bred in the north, have also been expelled because their parents or grandparents originally came from the South.

The decision to push southerners out seems to have arisen from pique that they voted for separation and declined unity with the North. “You have your own country now” might be an understandable emotional response, but it won't help an economy thrive. The displacement is huge and the longer-term consequences as yet unknown.

First impressions of Sudan are limited. It is hot – not a bad thing to get some sun a couple of days after my doctor told me my vitamin D count is very low – and the pace is slow. The only other African country I can claim any familiarity with is Zimbabwe – so, now I understand the superficial difference between African Africa and Arabic Africa.

Today we will be visiting a Christian training institute and having lunch with the Principal. The temperature is due to reach 31C today and 38C later in the week. And we are missing the snow in England!

And below is the view from where I am sitting. Yes, I should have sat somewhere else…