Wednesday, 4 March 2009
Developmemts at Bishop Gwynne College
Things have settled down somewhat from the first weeks of our time here. We are now enmeshed in the awful business of winding up Bishop Gwynne College which has provided a family for the teaching staff, cleaners, cooks and other ancillaries for many years. Despite the fact that they have not been paid for the last three months, and they are desperate for even the basics, the idea of disbanding the college family is coming very hard. Counting all the staff on the pay-role they number thirteen - only two less than the number of students. The college has run almost like a religious community except that their salaries come to around £1800 per month which is not at all sustainable. Nevertheless, trusting in God, they have stuck at it and one can only admire them for it. Finance is therefore a major reason for suspending the college for a year. The Archbishop has ordered its re-opening in January 2010 as an "upgraded" institution. For this we will need a more qualified head of college. It may be that that person will be the only academic employee until we can increase the number of students. The vision is that eventually the college has university status - but looking at the state of things at the moment, and the lack of any kind of real sustainable funding, this will take a long time. In the meantime we will try to link in with another East African Christian University.
One of the problems of being in Juba is that accommodation for the students is so expensive. We have to buy in all the food for them as well as provide a house. Outside the town (and Juba is a big place extending over several square miles) a place could be found, but it would then be isolated from the rest of society. The object is to make the institution available for more than a few resident students. It should be a place with open-doors and much coming and going. In the short-term we will probably still be in the same building, but in the medium term we will, hopefully, have found a new site.
Our job here at the moment is not to lead from the front but to provide the support, encouragement and prayer to those whose job it has been entrusted to get on and do things. Important as this is, it can be very frustrating. And we spend a lot of time being "on time" for meetings and finding that, on average, we start 20 - 30 minutes late. Well, this is Africa! And, truth to tell, in Britain we put ourselves under a huge amount of pressure to do three things in the time an African would do one - and suffer from stress and do a job less well than we would want to.
And things take much longer here because we don't have the facilities. There is no power in the day-time so when the computer runs out of juice that's it until 7 pm. The Internet access is 15 minutes walk through baking hot streets. Not having a fridge means that shopping for meat and fish is hard work. The market is a mile away, so we eat more vegetables and fruit than anything else. But we have a house that is ours alone for much of the time, with a three ring calor gas stove. There is tapped water that runs most of the time (we keep a bucket filled for the times when it doesn't!), so we are comfortably situated and can manage on the money we have for the rest of our expenses. We do not have an electricity bill, and the heating comes gratis care of the Lord.
In fact, God is so much in evidence here. There are prayer meetings and chorus singing coming from a number of different directions. The Sudanese love their amplification, and while most of the singing is in tune, sometimes it isn't. Yet there is a huge amount of enthusiasm for worship. And people know God in a very personal way. Whatever life throws at them (and it has thrown some pretty dreadful things to these folk over generations) they turn to the Lord who looks after them. They would be amazed if anyone told them he doesn't - they have the evidence he does! They do not allow deprivation to get in the way of a relationship with God, but the same cannotr be said for materialism.
God is certainly looking after us as we acclimatize to a place rather different from Dorset. Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we do you in ours.
A typical street corner in Juba.
We appreciate that folk are wanting to know what its like for us living here in some detail so in our next blog we'll try and do more on the "human interest" things - the things we particularly enjoy, and the things we miss most! You will have to forgive us if we don't manage to upload many pictures. They take an an age on this slow system.