This week has seen me back in the classroom, teaching on the intensive course at the Nile Theological College in Juba. The aim is to teach a semester-long course in just three weeks. At one level the class feels very familiar, the usual mix of personalities and abilities. At another it is unlike any class I have ever taught before.
The difference is found in the number of students who have come through deep experiences of suffering and loss. The scale of human suffering in South Sudan is hard to comprehend. When the 9/11 tragedy took place in New York, Haruun Ruun, Secretary of the Council of Churches in Sudan, reflected: ‘Three thousand dead? That means we’ve had 9/11 every two weeks for the last eighteen years.” These numbers are beyond imagination but the reality comes home to me when I listen to the life-stories of my students.
The Nile Theological College was previously located in the town of Malakal, which is home to quite a number of the students. It had to move after Malakal was devasted by the fighting that erupted in the crisis of 2013-14. The population fled, many of the buildings were destroyed, some that were still standing became dens of lions. What is it like to live through such an experience? I try to imagine what it would be like if Edinburgh were completely destroyed and I had to start from scratch to re-establish a theological college in London.
Then I am amazed by the achievement of Nile Theological College in securing premises, re-assembling the human community of the College, and reviving the educational programmes. Not only that but it operates with a strong sense of purpose and ambition – looking to equip future leaders who can play their part in bringing healing to a wounded people, building peace in the life of the nation and enabling the church to be a sign of hope. What a privilege to share for a little while in the life and work of such an inspiring community.