Activity here slows down infrequently, but when it does I tend to find myself confronted by a couple glaringly obvious truths:
1. We live in Sudan.
2. Life in Sudan is quite different from life in America.
And usually those two truths beg the question: What on earth are we doing here? If I have enough time before the frenzy of activity resumes, I spend an awful lot of time pondering that question. People's decisions and actions are propelled forward by their beliefs, values, and ideals, whether consciously or subconsciously. I think it's safe to assume that a person who moves across the globe is acting consciously, but some days I have a very hard time pinning down exactly what were the beliefs, values, and ideals that brought me here.
Should the time before I'm swept up in the needs, desires, and whims of 60 children really stretch on, I usually find myself thinking about St. Benedict - not the present Pope who I find pretty creepy and who isn’t a saint (sorry to any devoutly Catholic friends I might have), but the Italian monk who started monasteries all over Europe during the Dark Ages.
A quick historical refresher: after the fall of the western Roman Empire in 476AD, most of Europe devolved into chaos due to the absence of any coordinating central power that had enough authority to ensure order. It was a time of regular warfare, high poverty, appalling lack of education, and, for most Europeans, general misery.
Benedict's rather revolutionary idea of the time was, "what if authority could be used not to force people into a certain course of action but to mobilize people to improve their own lives and communities?" So was born the Benedictine monastery - usually a few acres of low quality land that Benedict and his order worked over diligently until it became useful for producing food and raising animals for both food and clothing. On the same grounds the Benedictines built a church, a school, a community meeting hall, a library, and a guesthouse for the weary traveler who managed to survive the widespread banditry on just about every road.
The monastery was more than self-sufficient; in most cases it produced an abundance of food and materials that could then be used to enrich the larger community.
Benedict was a guy who looked beyond the prevailing survival mentality of his time and tried to imagine how the world was meant to be. Then he set about trying to transform his world to more closely resemble the ideal that he held in his heart, what he thought the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about should look like.
It is no accident that I find myself thinking a lot about St. Benedict, I suppose. I think about him when I look at the soil Sarah is preparing for planting and the skeleton of a structure that is slowly becoming a chicken coop. I think about him when I walk through the village not too far from our home in the middle of a school day and see scores of school age children who aren't enrolled in school. I think of him when the women's savings group meets on the veranda of one of the buildings on our compound.
I feel both uncertain about and uncomfortable with the proposition that I should be one of the people who seek to affect transformation in this community. I don't know what it says about me that I moved across the world to help transform one community and left behind another that was also in need of transformation. Here I find myself, though, and as Sarah and I delve deeper and deeper into our new community, I find that my heart bonds to it more and more. And the needs here are great, so I end up asking myself a lot, "do I believe in something worthwhile and valuable, not just for me, not just for people like me, but for all people?"
And then a bleeding kid interrupts me with eyes imploring me to dress his wounds.