SUDAN AND ME
This is a love story. I foresee it is going to be a long one. In the future my stories may not be long though. Bear with me.
Soba-Noba was a name that I was familiar with since my early childhood. But I didn’t know that the name was proper to the ancient peoples of Sudan until later time. Among the stories I heard during my childhood some related that the Soba-Noba were, hundreds of years ago, inhabitants of Rora Mensae in Eritrea, mainly the Zein area, near the village where I was born and spent my early childhood. In the stories these people were portrayed as powerful warriors, civilized, good looking, etc. I used to like hearing their stories. History can witness that the Soba-Noba refers to the ancient peoples/kingdoms of Sudan. Their kingdoms were probably extended up to Eritrea (Gash Barka and Anseba). I was privileged to visit Soba, near Khartoum, in 2007.
Many of my relatives, including my two uncles, were living in Sudan during my childhood. My grandmother went to Sudan to see my uncles. I was very young then. I remember her telling us stories that we all liked – except that she was not happy that many Sudanese were calling her ‘Habashiya’. The tattoo of cross on her forehead was exposing that she is a ‘Habashiya’ – a woman from Ethiopia or Eritrea.
When one of my relatives came from Sudan to get married I had not started going to school. Even my older sister had not started. He brought cloths for his family members from Sudan. He also brought a big tape recorder/player, first of its type in our village. I was jealous. During his honey moon – there was no privacy for newly married couples in my community until it gets real late in the night – people would crowd in his home to enjoy the music that was coming from ‘this thing’ that came from Sudan. I liked Sudan and its things. No one in my village knew that ‘the thing’ was made in Japan. I doubt if, at that time, anyone from our village knew about Japan or Yaban (as we call it now). I couldn’t tolerate my joy when my aunt who went to see my cousin in Sudan brought me a nice shirt, trouser, and a pair of shoes. I felt I was adorned in a Sudanese way. My aunt liked me. I share the same name with my grandfather – her father that she lost when she was about two years old.
Around the school where I started my education there was a Sudanese nomadic family with their camels. Their boys were grown up. They used to enjoy playing with us – the students. They gave me an Arabic nick name which people used to call me for a number of years even after I was transferred to another school. I am not sharing the nick name with you now. It has expired. The Sudanese boys were nice. I liked them.
Later when I was in grade five another relative came from Sudan. In our community there was no one who didn’t have a number of relatives in Sudan. I asked him to teach me Arabic. He was glad to teach me spoken Arabic. He could only speak it, not write. I still remember some of the words and phrases he taught me. He was not easily available. Yet the brief exposure with him made me to like Sudan more. No one had ever told me about the Sudanese generosity the way he did. [After two decades I proved his words while I was in Omdurman. It was true. Sudanese are generous]. That year I tried to continue learning Arabic from the kids in my village who were going to the Islamic school that they called Khalwa. They were using a wooden tablet to write on using locally made ink. I learned how to make the ink, but unlike them I didn’t use it. I used my pen to write on paper. Some times I would want to hold their tablet and they would insist that I have to make ablution. My parents didn’t knew but I admit that on few occasions I did ablution with sand, and was allowed to touch their tablets. I still remember reciting few of the Arabic scripts they chanted. My grandfather – my dad’s uncle – was glad to see such a desire in me. He was a Moslem. He thought I was making early steps towards Islam the way he did years ago. This exposure was also brief. During my school years I was going wherever the Franciscan priests would assign me for my schooling. I was a tithe to the church, as some of my family members were saying. We were ten (eight children plus our parents). Sudan seemed the source of Arabic to my young knowledge. To me learning Arabic was relating with Sudan and Islam also. There was a time when I contemplated of becoming a Moslem. My grandfather who left my dad and aunt as orphans had for a short time become a Moslem and divorced his Christian wife – my grandmother. Almost all his kinsmen had changed to Islam by then. He didn’t have children. Later he changed his mind and restored his marriage. When he went to my grandmother’s parents’ house after dropping his new faith he couldn’t say much but the following words in his father-in-law’s presence. [He was an oral poet. Unlike my dad he didn’t suppress his talent of poetry].
Pacific daughter of Rora
Pacific daughter of Rora
Her leg is not a wanderer
Her mouth not a fight monger
It was only kismet that made me a loser.
My dad and my aunt were born to the restored marriage. I think this story helped me to tame my contemplations.
I presume that some of you who are reading this do not have ample time to read a long story. Excuse me, but I have warned that it might be a long article. Anyway let me shorten the love story – ‘the story of how a passion for Sudan might have developed in me’. There were several happenings after the above mentioned ones that attracted me towards Sudan such as friends and colleagues who lived in Sudan, Sudanese neighbors at home, Sudanese music, etc. In the past I had been talking about how God brought me to work with Him in Soudan. But I felt He also would want me to share how he was putting things together to give me the passion for Soudan. That is why I opted to share the stories from the early days in my life – the stories of my love with Sudan. I liked many things from Sudan including my dad’s favorite ‘Tamar Kassala’ – the Kassala Dates. But let me tell you the truth. I was not only attracted towards Sudan. In the mid 2000s I was also pushed towards it. I will not tell you why and how. I have promised to shorten the story. But I would like to tell you that God used all these to give me a heart for Sudan.
In South Sudan: sharing the word of God and Bishop Isaac Dhieu translating.
I was finally able to see Sudan and the Sudanese as much as I could, and interestingly I immediately became avid reader of some of the Sudanese newspapers and acquainted myself with Sudan. Awhile I was in Khartoum I was able to do some ministry among fellow Eritreans and Ethiopians. But I was feeling that I should minister with the Sudanese too. Specifically I felt of going to southern Sudan – though my heart was and is for the whole of Sudan. But I didn’t know how. I only knew that God knows. I prayed about this among several competing desires. When I left Khartoum God continued to build my passion for Sudan in different ways. Since 2007 I never followed the news about any other country the way I did about Sudan. There was something drawing me to Sudan. Thus God finally calmed down the waves of competing desires in me and guided me to join World Gospel Mission (WGM) in South Sudan since September 2011. This was one of great experiences of God’s guidance in my life. Praise God!
You may know much about South Sudan. Can I just share few facts? The name Sudan (aka Soudan) comes from the Arabic word for Black. Sudan is home for Black Africans and people of Arab descent. Until recently I knew that Sudan was the largest country in Africa. I don’t know which country has that title now.
The war between the government of Sudan and the people of southern Sudan marked one of Africa’s longest civil wars. As a result in 9 July 2011 Sudan split into two independent countries. The dominantly Moslem and Arab north that had been fighting with the Christian and animistic south maintained the name Sudan. It is now a Sudan without its former southern states – a country on its own. On the other hand southern Sudan got its independence from the north on the above stated date and now is an independent country under the name South Sudan. The newest country in the world! It snatched Eritrea’s title.
South Sudan is still a big country (five times the size of Eritrea) with a total population of 8.26 million. Kenya, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo are its neighbors to the south, while Ethiopia is its neighbor from the East. Central African Republic lies to the west and Sudan to the north. The capital city of South Sudan is Juba but the government is believed to be working to relocate the capital to a new place called Ramciel. This may take several years. The South was unbelievably disadvantaged in the past several decades if not centuries, and illiteracy, poverty, lack of access to basic needs, etc, etc are high raised flags until now.
This was an exceptionally cold day.
This is how I travelled to Juba in September.
Safe water is scarce. This pond near my village is multi-purposed.
Hey, if you want to know more facts about South Sudan I recommend checking http://www.goss.org
Wait, I need to tell you about my people. Add Blin, Tigrigna, Tigre, Beja all together. My genes have contributions from all these tribes, and may be from more others that I didn’t know. What is my tribe? May be I should call it ‘BTTB’ for convenience. I am in South Sudan where a tribe is very important. If in Rome I have to walk like the Romans; then BTTB is my tribe. BTTB and other Eritrean peoples are my people. But here I am not going to tell you about these. I am going to tell you about “People of the People” or “Men among Men”: The Muonyjang. That is how my people call themselves. Non-Muonyjangs commonly call them Dinka. Dr John Garang de Mabior was a Muonyjang. President Salva Kiir Mayardit is a Muonyjang. Dinkas are black and tall native Africans. They are the real Soudan. Some Dinka have told me that even Khartoum is a Dinka name. It is. May be Khartoum once belonged to Dinka, some think. In Dinka language Kar means branch of a river, and Tuom means join together. When you put these two words together you have ‘Kartuom.’ Do you know what happens in Khartoum? The great rivers: the White Nile and the Blue Nile join together – to roar as one. There are etymologists among the Dinka as in my BTTB tribe. So, Kartuom (which later developed to Khartoum) is in Dinka not in Arabic.
Dinka make about 25% of the total population of South Sudan, and they live mainly in Upper Nile and Bahr El Gazal areas of South Sudan. They have several dialects, but generally understand each other. Even though my work is not limited with Dinka, it has mainly brought me into contact with Dinka Agar and Dinka Rek: two sub-tribes from Dinka. The Dinka Agar live in Lakes State where I stay most of my time. The capital of the state is called Rumbek. I am now trying to learn the Dinka language and their culture. I hope to share about their culture in the future – from the student’s point of view.
I feel that God had been molding me according to His pattern in the past one year since I joined WGM – he had ever been molding me regardless of my failure to imitate him. I understand that one needs to be transformed to facilitate real transformation. In line with this I can testify that a multi-dimensional transformation took place in my life in the past one year. That is God and I working together. We are co-workers. We enjoy being together, working together, celebrating together. Not far from each other, bond to oneness, open to each other. That is Us. Beyond me, We work to see transformed lives in South Sudan and beyond. My passion was revitalized when God made me part of a small but growing team at WGM: The Mango Ministries (MM). Mangoes grow very well in South Sudan. Currently I am growing four mangoes among other fruit trees. Mango Ministries is not all about planting, growing or eating mangoes, even though we also promote all these. Promote even eating mangoes. I am waiting for March – the pick mango season – to eat plenty. In MM we want to facilitate putting down deep roots – in the lives of people, bear fruit, and multiply the harvest for the glory of God and the benefit of his people.
Our MM team (from left our Country Coordinator Joy Phillips, Tim Conway, Me and Sophie, Whitney Smith, Joanna Coppedge and Elsie, Billy Coppedge and Lucy, CT and Chloe). CT is from WGM Uganda.
During Community Health Evangelism (CHE) training in Tonj.
Since I joined WGM’s MM our team was privileged to do great jobs in medical consultancies, church leadership empowerment, and transformational community development. One of our recent activities was training of 71 South Sudanese pastors in Simply the Story (STS) – an oral bible teaching approach. In the years ahead of us we believe to continue as God’s co-workers in all our activity areas including facilitating a Wholistic Transformation. You can become God’s co-worker with MM and me in South Sudan. Remember, in God’s field it is allowed to work here and there. You may be having more than one job, some times working part time. In God’s field you can work in and with many fields. So you and I can become co-workers in the field that MM is assigned by God to work with God for God. If you want to be part of MM I would be glad to share with you how you could get involved. You can let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. But I can’t fail to mention to you one of the ways that you can be MM’s co-worker. It is by ‘Prayer’. If you commit yourself to be MM’s co-worker in prayer God would use your prayers to accomplish great things through you, MM.
MM member Billy Coppedge teaching STS in Dhiuakuei.
Our Latest CHE training (on 1st November 2012)
Finally this article is coming to an ending. You may know that if the spring is open it is not easy for me to stop it. I really don’t know when the spring opens, but I love it when it is open. I become me.
Before I lift my fingers off the keyboard you would like me to introduce my wife and daughters. Won’t you? Helen had some attractions to Sudan too, and was also pushed to it in the mid 2000s. She worked there for two years. She is my dear wife, devotedly taking care of our daughters, diligently praying for her husband and the ministry he is involved in. She is a MM co-worker in her prayers and encouragement. Fasika, our first born has so far learned two Dinka songs. She loves Dinka songs like her daddy. Shamna, our second born loves all the three people (with their attractions to Soudan).
Helen and our daughters.
We had excitedly welcomed Hanan, our third born daughter on November 6, but God who is her creator and our creator allowed her to be with us only for four days. This was a difficult experience for us, but God gave us His grace in abundance and we trustfully echoed Paul’s doxology:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen!” (Romans 11: 33 NIV)
Thank you for reading. God bless you!