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A letter from Nancy McGaughey in Sudan

January 30, 2011

Greetings in Christ,

Finally, our internet is up and working, albeit a tad bit slowly. But it works, and I’ll take that. So, the long-promised letter is finally getting written.

I stayed in Adol over the Christmas-New Year break. I had lots of plans: language lessons, spending time in the antenatal clinic with staff, reading, going for walks …. But what is it they say about the best-laid plans? None of mine saw fruition.

A few days before our break was to start (December 17) we received a message that Across had signed a contract with the UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to open two way stations in our state. These were for the people who had fled to Khartoum during the war (some 20-30 years ago) and now were planning to return. A way station provides them a place to stay for up to 72 hours (in theory anyway) before moving on to their own land, a settlement or with family. Quickly, two sites had to be constructed with sleeping facilities, latrines, bathing facilities, clinics, etc. for 500-plus people each. One site is in Rumbek Town (less than 40 miles from here) and the other is about 100 miles in the other direction. Now, the distance is misleading. It takes us over an hour to travel to Rumbek (the closest) and about two and a half to three hours to Nyang. The roads are sooo bumpy: there are not just potholes but craters; you spend as much time driving off the road as on it; and it is very dusty. One of the first times I made the trip I couldn’t understand how the driver could see to drive, my vision was so blurry. I took off my glasses and discovered there was a thick layer of red dust on them. I had to clean them three times before reaching our destination!

And they came — by land and air and sea (well, actually it was river). To date over 5,000 refugees have come but estimates are between 30,000 and 70,000 will come. So, I have been spending a lot of time on the road travelling to the two sites, overseeing clinics, etc.

On the plus side, the long drives offer an opportunity to get to know the staff better. One of our drivers fought during the war. He tells of walking (“footing”) to Ethiopia to obtain weapons (check the distance on your map!) and then returning the same way. He will point out various battle sites and talk of serving under the present president of Southern Sudan. One time he was telling me how Northerners could tell if you were a soldier or not if they caught you. “First,” he said, “they will look at your eyes. If you are a soldier, out in the dust day and night, your eyes will be red. Then they will look for a mark on your shoulder from the gun strap. Lastly they will look at your toes. If you are not a soldier, your toes will be spread apart. But soldiers wear boots and that makes the toes get closer together.” While the stories are told with much humor, the pain and struggle these people have endured to become free can still be felt. No wonder they approached the Referendum with such excitement.

Language: I can only say Dinka is difficult. I like the language. For instance, you do not just say “I am happy”. In Dinka it translates to something like “My heart is overflowing with sweetness”. I have some vocabulary — I can count to 10, say days of the week, most of the months (I have decided the name for December is just too difficult; my tongue just will not twist around like that, so I am going to learn to say, “The last month of the year, the month after November or the month before January.”) I can ask most of the questions for the antenatal clinic, but do not understand the answers (so what good is my asking?). I can ask people how they are, but if they are not fine, I don’t know what they are saying, and in church, I can say “Let’s pray,” “Praise the Lord,” “In Jesus’ Name” and “God bless you”. But it is difficult to carry on a conversation. After having been so fluent in Nepali, this is a struggle.

Perhaps the struggle has something to do with my age. One of my Dutch co-workers was recently in the Netherlands for a few months. She was showing pictures to her church and I happen to be in one. She wrote me that their reaction was, “That’s Nancy? We thought she was your age.” (Lianne will turn 30 next month) And the one that made me laugh most: “Can people that old live in Sudan?”

And of course, January brought the Referendum — the important vote that decided whether Southern Sudan would stay united with Northern Sudan or separate and form its own country. There was much speculation — it would not happen, it would be delayed, there would be a lot of violence … But thanks to the prayers of so many, it was conducted very peacefully. There is no doubt that they exceeded the required turnout of 60 percent of registered voters. Unofficially they had reached that by the third of seven voting days. I visited the polling station nearest us the first day as my friends went to vote. There was such joy as people stood in line (sometimes for several hours), singing and shouting as they cast their vote. While official results are still to come, July 9 will be the official day for the formation of this new country.

If the ibnternet is not too slow, I will try to attach some photos.

Thank you for your many prayers. It means so much to know that I am covered by prayer.

Blessings,

Nancy

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 54

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