During the second half of 2022, for professional reasons, I was deployed on a field mission in Sudan (Africa) for three months.
(North) Sudan is an Islamic country, where most people is grounded in Muslim beliefs and traditions, speak Arabic, wear the jalabiya, and whose diverse daily practices are quite different than the ones we have in the western world.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
For most disciples of Christ a key concern when moving abroad is finding a church community where we can gather with other believers, worship, hear biblical messages, pray collectively, etc.
A key lesson from my experience is that even when our material food changes, the spiritual one does not. Even though I did not find a fellowship in Sudan, and no conventional resources I usually find at church in my home country, God provided ways to overcome those challenging circumstances.
- Before moving to Sudan, I got eight vaccines, to be protected against endogenous diseases (cholera, dengue, malaria, etc.), so I know God takes care of us, not only in the spiritual realm, but in the material world, as well.
- Being engaged in a project to construct a hospital, most of my colleagues were medical professionals, so my health was specially surveilled almost on a daily basis (something I do not even get at my home country).
- God´s word is embedded in our mind, heart and body, no matter where we are. Deuteronomy 6:8-9: 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. No matter where I am, I can still grab my bible and study it.
- We can pray, regardless of where we are. I was constantly reminded of this, because Muslims pray five times a day. I was astonished to witness my colleagues down their knees praying in the office—that they are allowed to do that. There is also a collective prayer at the mosque, and the praying from the Imam (the leader) is heard around because there are megaphones and loudspeakers. I was awakened every day by the pre-dawn prayer (fajr). As Christians we can learn from this: discipline, devotion, and submission to God.
- My Muslim colleagues fasted. They fast because they seek spiritual sensitiveness, and as a kind of sacrifice before God. This was also a reminder to me as a Christian to seek spiritual awareness.
- I also witnessed gestures of honor and submission to God, as for instance raising their hands in a time of grief. At the time I was there, a colleague lost his sister.
- To offer up. You can figure out the incommensurable needs that prevail in Africa. God calls us to have mercy in the face of diverse material needs. In Sudan I was reminded on this every single day. Mathew 25: 35-40 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me……. 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
- My Muslim colleagues were dressed with modesty. They do not drink alcohol, and have a contactless interaction between women and men. Of course, I am not saying that we must follow their practices, but I wish to highlight the way God uses these circumstances to take care of me as his beloved child. In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul, uses three Greek words to help Christians understand what godly dress involves. Their choice of clothing was to be kosmios, aidos, and sophrosune — respectable, modest, and self-controlled. It also challenges us — both men and women — to joyfully embrace the concept of modesty, and to consider it a beautiful (rather than a restrictive) virtue.
- Galatians 6:10: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. At the time I was in Sudan, I lived with people from about twenty countries: India, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Brazil, etc. There were so many religious backgrounds and languages! After 3 months some of them have become friends to me, as a consequence of doing good to my colleagues, regardless of their beliefs.