I just sent this to some of my supporters.
Last year at this time, I was sitting in a lecture hall at Yale Divinity School listening to a lecture about persecution and martyrdom in the early church. Yesterday, I sat with a class of 15 Sudanese first-year seminarians and heard almost the same lecture in their introductory church history class. Perpetua, Polycarp, Diocletian, and Donatism, among much else, were all discussed, as they were last year in my class. There are some things that divide Christians from each other. But it is lectures like these that remind me how much we share.
I arrived in Juba, Sudan yesterday afternoon, where temperatures are an “unseasonably cool” 25-Celsius with a lovely 82-per cent humidity. I’m spending the next three weeks at Bishop Gwynne Theological College, the rapidly-growing seminary of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. Classes began two weeks ago. Last year, there were 14 students. This year, there are 48. My goal for this time is to experience what seminary life is like in a different part of the Anglican Communion, share in the learning experience, and listen to the stories of my fellow Anglican seminarians.
As the experience in the classroom indicates, there is much that is familiar to me. Last night at dinner, we sat around and talked about familiar topics – the future of the church, the relevance of the Gospel to the contemporary world, our families. (Happily, I have yet to hear a single person talk about vestments!) We said prayers that were familiar to me.
But when Sudanese talk about the future of the church, they can talk about a rapidly-growing church that is creating new dioceses as fast as it can to keep up with the growth. When they talk about the relevance of the Gospel, they talk about a situation of precarious peace after decades of civil war and oppression that many of them remember clearly. When they talk about their families, they talk about wives and children left at home so they can travel hundreds of kilometers in difficult conditions to study here.
Even as they confront difficulties that would confound me, these students are eager to learn about me and where I come from – what classes do I take at my school? am I married? what are my fellow students like? I’ve asked them when they introduce themselves to tell me their diocese and I tell them mine. Many dioceses here have short names – Bor, Yei, Wau. “Western Massachusetts” doesn’t come tripping off a Sudanese tongue quite so easily.
Christ prayed for unity among his followers. My prayer is that my time in Juba would be one very small but concrete instance of that unity in the worldwide Body of Christ. What a gift it has already been simply to sit and talk with people who seem so different to you and me and realize both how similar they are and how much we have to learn from each other.
I hope you’ll follow along with me on this trip. I’ll send another e-mail or two and post more stories and pictures to https://jessezink.wordpress.com. There’s already a post there with some more reflections on my first day in Juba.
Your man in Sudan,
Yale/Berkeley Divinity Schools, M.Div. 2012