One word: Sudan. Two words: United States. Not much of a difference if you ask me.
Some may feel that it’s crazy for me to assert that Sudan, an underdeveloped country in Sub-Saharan Africa, is strikingly similar to the U.S., a robust industrialized nation quite influential on the geopolitical landscape. But through closer examination, this seemingly absurd claim becomes inherently clear.
Far too often, many individuals living in societies such as the U.S. characterize places like Sudan as distant worlds, only accessible through the hyperbolic depictions of “Tinseltown.” And if not vis-à-vis Hollywood, it is most frequently described within the poverty-stricken context of a post-colonial reality. This is unfortunate because, as I must admit, people around the world are akin to one another more than they are different. Hopefully, a detailed look at my experience thus far will help to shed light on this.
Prior to arriving in Sudan, all of the IRD interns, traveling to various regions around the globe, were oriented to IRD and its influential work in nearly 40 countries. During orientation we learned how IRD’s mantra of “Improving Lives, Building Livelihoods” is translated from theory to practice, transforming underdeveloped regions from places of dependency to communities of self-sufficiency. But little did I know, a transformation of a different kind would take place inside of me.
A fellow intern and I arrived in Juba, Sudan, which would serve as the base for our internship and also my personal place of residence for the next seven weeks. As we exited the plane, it seemed as if I had stepped into another world. I immediately said to myself, “what in the world did I sign myself up for?” After bumbling through “airport security” we stepped outside of the airport in search of our IRD liaison, only to be bombarded by 15 Sudanese men who only knew one English word, and that was “Taxi!” Again, I asked myself, “Quentin, what did you sign yourself up for?” After a brief wait, we located Mohammed Ibrahim, IRD Sudan’s Procurement and Logistics Officer, and made our way to the compound. Journeying to the compound, the scene around me, at first glance, seemed so surreal. As you would expect, for a third time I asked myself, “Quentin Samuels, what did you sign yourself up for?!”
But after a number of days in Juba, adjusting to the environment, food, and cultural idiosyncrasies, I was finally able to answer the probing question. I signed myself up for a life-changing experience and a lifelong lesson in the beauty found in uncovering the common, intangible threads woven through the fabric of humanity. What I discovered was that the people who live in Sudan are just like me…human. Though their lives are not replete with the Western world’s notions of what one needs in order to constitute an adequate standard of living, remarkably the people here experience a tremendous amount of joy. Subtle things like hearing the laughter of the neighbor’s child as his mother entertains him on a Sunday afternoon. Or how about the feeling of being engulfed in the brewing excitement of the impending 2010 World Cup in South Africa? People here in Sudan have taught me the power of finding beauty in a place that many around the world have written off as being irreparably broken.
Serendipitously, we have also arrived at another definition of ministry. Ministry is the capacity for one to see and act on God’s beauty in someone, somewhere, or something that appears broken. Ministry doesn’t have to be dogmatically religious, but simply a cup of cold water to quench the world’s thirst—a definition also much aligned with the work of IRD and the academic and ministerial preparation that Candler provides its students.
This trip reassures me that some of the greatest forms of ministry happen outside of the four walls of the church and some of the most dedicated “ministers” rarely step foot in a sanctuary. Let’s be clear, this is not an indictment of those who serve in the local church, but it is a challenge against deeply embedded philosophies suggesting that God’s work is somehow minimized if it’s not exercised in a church edifice. God’s power and work are visible everywhere! The 7000 miles that I traveled to get here is both literal and symbolic. God had to take me all the way around the world just to teach me that the experience of joy comes in all forms. We just have to seek it out, albeit 7000 miles away or right next door.