Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Pensacola, A Very Middle Eastern City

We had no idea when we left home this morning that when we got to the school, all the parking spaces would be full and it would be almost impossible to find a seat in the auditorium. It was only 8:45 in the morning, and it was only the Pre-K 3’s who would be performing.

 

We had forgotten – Pensacola is like the Middle East. Family first, and time off for a Christmas Pageant – well, of course!

Pensacola is not like Seattle, or any of the larger cities. While spread out, it is only around 50,000 people, and the worst traffic is never that bad, not if you’ve driven in Amman, or Seattle, or Qatar, or Kuwait. You may not have to stop while the shepherd and his sheep cross the road, but you can get to downtown Pensacola from almost any part of the city in under 15 minutes.

 

The parking spaces were GONE. The auditorium was PACKED. Friends were greeting friends, all dressed in the reds and greens of Christmas time.

 

And then the children marched in, and it was barely controlled bedlam as these young stars spotted parents and grandparents and yelled “Grandpa! Here I am!” and angels and sheep and shepherds and wise men all were carefully lined up to sing their songs and tell us the Christmas Story as only 3-years-old can. Oh, it was not to be missed!

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We love it that Pensacola is not a city with a lot of rushing about; people have time to go see their children in the school Christmas pageant, that the teachers take the time to herd these cats so that they can sing the songs, do the motions, and probably, if asked, give a rough outline of what happened on that first Christmas.

It’s all a matter of priorities. Pensacola, like our homes in the Middle East, places a high value on family activities, family time, and a balance of work and family where family time has a cherished place.

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December 17, 2013 Posted by | Advent, Christmas, Community, Cultural, Events, ExPat Life, Jordan, Kuwait, Middle East, Pensacola, Qatar, Values | | 3 Comments

David, and Where is Yambio, South Sudan?

A year ago, we had an extraordinary experience. We often entertain delegates visiting from other countries, and this time we had three African journalists, and, strictly by chance, they all turned out to be Christian. Most of our gatherings are strictly ecumenical, but these were joyful, praying Christians, and the evening took a turn we never anticipated.

 

“So how did you find Jesus?” one woman asked David, from the newest country in the world, South Sudan. Inside, I was shocked, and when I am shocked, my tendency is to laugh, I don’t know why, it is just the way I am wired. Every culture is so different. In the South, people might ask that of one another, particularly if you worship in a fundamental sect, but our sect is more formal, and to inquire into another’s spiritual life can be perceived as intrusive.

 

David, however, was not taken aback. “It’s a long story,” he said, and we all settled into comfortable chairs to listen better. It was Christmas, the decorations were up, the lights all twinkling and we had eaten. A good time for a story.

It was a long story. It started with a little boy in a happy family, who one day was told to run! Run! Run into the forest and hide! The riders were coming! His family grabbed a very few things and ran.

 

His family ran for years. His family ran into forests, across borders, into dry arid spaces. Sometimes some of the children would get separated from their parents for a while, but they would keep asking, and eventually meet up again, only to face separation again. Their whole lives were running, from the Janjaween, from border police, from robbers.

 

At one point, he and a brother stayed in a church, and a priest taught them about Jesus. Simple stories, simple songs, and he drew letters and numbers in the dirt – that was his early schooling. It was a haven of peace for him.

 

Many years later, the family was reunited in their village in the new country of South Sudan. Miraculously, every member of his family survived, indeed, most of his village survived. They had maintained lines of communication through all those years of running and separation, and were so thankful. Most of all, now, they were thankful – they had a church in their village. David had learned to love learning, and had completed his education and had found a wonderful job.

 

“I don’t know the book like you do,” he told us, “I only know it like a little child sitting at the feet of that priest, but I am learning.”

 

I can’t help but think that David knows more than he thinks. David holds his belief in Jesus like a child, simple and direct. His testimony is powerful and unforgettable. I am in awe, even a year later, of his story and testimony.

 

Today the church prays for the diocese of Yambio, in the South Sudan:

 

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December 17, 2013 Posted by | Advent, Adventure, Africa, Biography, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Sudan | 2 Comments