Teaching ‘Manna and Mercy’ at Renk

Reflections by Rev. Alan Storey, an ordained minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and senior pastor of Calvary Methodist Church in Gauteng Province, South Africa.

January 2008

Rev. Alan Storey & Mama Ludia“It was a huge privilege and joy to visit the theological college in Renk, Sudan for the second year running. The hospitality and care I received was generous and humbling. I taught the same course that I did the year before. It is based on the book “Manna and Mercy” by Daniel Erlander. Using the book we travel through the entire Bible in a period of five days. The students’ deep hunger to learn is profoundly evident, which makes sharing with them a pleasure. Once again there was a real interest in South Africa’s transitional history, and the students constantly drew comparisons with their own history.

After last year’s course, the students made a commitment to invite some of the local military to attend the next one. As a result three people from the military joined the 38 other participants (students, clergy and lay leaders) for the week. There was a priceless moment when we were reflecting on Jesus’s mercy for all. I asked the question if anyone could think of anyone who did not deserve the mercy of Jesus. One of the military personnel put up his hand. My heart sank, thinking that he had not grasped the point—the length and depth of Jesus’s mercy—that we had been trying to make all morning. He said: “I know who doesn’t deserve Jesus’s mercy.” Then, after a brief pause, he added with a beautiful smile on his face, “It’s me; I don’t deserve his mercy,” which we know to be the truth for all of us.

There were three aspects of what was taught that seemed to capture the imaginations of everyone:  

  • We learn from Scripture that there is no direct movement from our land of oppression to our land of promise. We have to spend time in the wilderness, which is a time of unlearning the ways of Egypt and re-learning the ways of trust in God and love of neighbor. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [in January 2005] may have delivered much of Sudan from the pain of war, but there is still a long way to go before Sudan looks anything like God’s promised future. Sudan, like South Africa, is in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where resources are scarce, where medicines run out and schools overflow. Somehow, for the people to be able to identify themselves as a nation has brought hope.
  • Reflections on the North/South split of Israel and Judah after Solomon’s reign also sparked great interest. The debates revolved around whether or not Southern Sudan should seek a permanent and autonomous split from the North and what option would witness more faithfully to the Gospel of Jesus? We did not resolve this, but the discussion was stimulating.
  • This year I took one full day to reflect upon the Revelation to John, which I did not have time to do last year. I asked on the first day for everyone to read the book of Revelation. This enabled lively discussion later in the course. The point that seemed to strike everyone was the story of Desmond Tutu during the days of Apartheid, calling on the regime to join him on “the winning side.” This is exactly what I think John was doing: reminding his audience that in the Lamb they had already won, despite the contrary evidence of the Roman-saturated soil on which they stood. The exclusionary and exploitative ways of the North of Sudan, like Rome before them, have already been defeated. There was more than one “Halleluiah!” in response to that good news.

Apart from my interaction with the students, witnessing life in a different place and through the lens of a different culture was a means of grace to me. I was challenged to witness the days punctuated with prayer by devoted Muslims. I joked to some, saying that if I were a donkey in Sudan I would prefer to be owned by a Muslim rather than a Christian because it gets to stop and have a break all the time!

In fact, on the last night of my stay while in Khartoum, I couldn’t find my waiter to pay for the meal because he was praying around the corner. O, to live life with prayer as one’s priority.