Archdeacon Dell's Observations
Bishop Rob has asked me to contribute a few notes to the blog about our experience here at the conference. So here are a few assorted observations.
On an early morning of my first day I walked down to the thatched roof pier picnic platform. I seemed a bit eerie that the boardwalk was watched over by a uniformed security guard, just as it had seemed so unlike Saskatchewan when the evening before, there had been 3 guards at the front gate and the undercarriage of our taxi cab had been inspected with a mirror to check for explosive devices before we had been allowed into the hotel compound. Out on the picnic pier I struck up a conversation with an East Indian man who works at the hotel. When he found I was here for a church conference he was quick to identify himself as a Christian. When he found out I had arrived from Canada via Dubai he said it was while he had been working in Dubai (of all places) that he had become a more deliberate follower of Jesus. When he volunteered that he had two sisters working and living in Calgary I told him my wife’s family was from Calgary, and so went the connections. The strangeness of this place to me was suddenly made less so because the Lord seemed to have provided someone with some simple common connections. Small world!
There are representatives here from 5 African Dioceses (would have been 7 is the Burundi folks had been able to make it). Each one has their own enriching stories and needful situations. Rob mentioned in his post: Bishop Francis from the Diocese of Rokon in South Sudan. He was able to find safe accommodation for his family in the midst of the civil war and finish his theological education because of the support of Canadians who were contributed a scholarship toward his ministry and education. I suppose a civil war might have motivated many of us to leave off training for ministry. But men like Francis seemed to know that in when the infrastructures for communication, transportation and education are all broken down by war and ongoing conflicts, the people would need the encouragement of spiritual community and development leaders more than ever. And although the independence of South Sudan is was declared and recognized in 2011, fighting continues fuelled in part by the efforts of factions to control oil producing areas.
There is little money to pay even bishops and archdeacons who have to support their families by farming or other such means. One of the main concerns of the archdeacons I spoke with were to get schools operating again as soon as possible because otherwise a whole generation is going without the most basic education. Nevertheless their faith in Jesus is steady and they seem keenly aware of God’s grace and providence in the midst of it all. I was told that the preaching and evangelism is not left to the clergy but that the mother’s union (like an ACW with a focus on community transformation) as well as the youth groups are all active in sharing their faith.
It was gratifying to see some of my Canadian colleagues getting the picture of how even a little help and encouragement from Canadian companions can do and mean so much. But we are apt to remain naïve unless we admit in turn how much we need their companionship to model the commitment and passion that we need to address our own spiritual poverty. As with most cross cultural endeavours, growing to understand one another will take continuing concentrated effort and willingness to risk making mistakes. Nevertheless I expect that we will learn to walk together much the way all children do …by falling down. But I think our heavenly Father is pleased to watch over his children as we do learn to walk together.