Rowell found that English worked more easily for social banter than for teaching. “It was very challenging to teach Greek or to lecture on an epistle as complex as Hebrews. Even with an interpreter, it was hard work for us all.”
As a physician and epidemiologist, I took a completely different set of skills to Renk. A health clinic was under construction on the college grounds and will provide new resources to treat the malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia that take so many young lives. To assess the most urgent needs, I talked to anyone and everyone who could shed light on health issues. Most often, that was the women.
I also treated infants, children and their mothers, and taught seminars in public health—all in the middle of a flood-ravaged landscape. Windswept rains blown nearly horizontal quickly pooled into deep brown puddles. The slick and slimy mud sucked our boots deep into the muck, or sent our feet sliding out from under us.
Aid arrived each week. Our tukhls, safe above the flood plain, also housed international teams that set up tents and supplied food to displaced families. Engineers worked to get the water treatment plant on line, and public health and emergency room nurses taught local health advisors to watch for signs of epidemic diseases like measles and cholera.
Most days the water was not safe for drinking, cooking or washing, so we improvised. We set up barrels to catch the run-off from the corrugated zinc roofs of the cathedral and the new college chapel. But soon, the rains stopped and drought followed, baking the ground cracking dry.
Yet through flood and drought, hospitality persisted. Bishop Daniel and Bishop Hilary Garang Deng of Malakal, a neighboring diocese, joined us every evening for dinner. They talked about Sudan and its wars, and framed those stories as stories of faith. The church is not only providing infrastructure in the stead of an emerging government in the South, but is the very heart of the community.
“The scope and effectiveness of the Sudanese church’s outreach is hard for us in the United States to grasp,” said Davis, who coordinates the Visiting Teachers Program with Jo Bailey Wells, director of Duke’s Anglican Episcopal House of Studies and associate professor of the practice of Christian ministry and Bible. “Strengthening the college’s educational mission is at the same time a way of meeting the humanitarian needs of Sudan.”
Perhaps a tenet of public health outreach applies best to mission: “Listen to the people and help them achieve what they, not you, want.” For example, our hosts wanted to improve maternal and infant health by training the faithful to serve as health care educators in their respective communities. The new health clinic, which now shares common ground with the chapel and classrooms, is evidence of the imagination, faith and hope of Bishop Daniel and the Church of Sudan.