Sharing the latest news about Hope and Resurrection Secondary

Suzanne Hicks and Panda speaking about Hope and Resurrection Secondary
I am excerpting some of the latest Hope for Humanity newsletter. There
is good news to tell.
Please read Suzanne Hicks first-person account
written from South Sudan where she is visiting as Executive Director of
Hope for Humanity to support the school’s re-opening after the tragic loss of two of its teachers in May.

From Suzanne:

Hope and Resurrection Secondary School will open it doors again in
just a week to continue caring for the academic, spiritual, and
emotional development of the future leaders of South Sudan because of your faithful partnerships with us. Thank you for your “extra” and “extraordinary” outreach to this mission during this tragedy.  It is because of the “extra” that we will be able to continue this work.


I arrived safely in the township of Rumbek on Friday, June 21 after three days of traveling and fell into the arms of our South Sudanese friends.
Their smiling faces were a comfort to a weary soul, and joy filled my
heart as we embraced once again.  In spite of my attempt to keep my visit quiet until the arrangements could be made for our Uganda teachers to join HRSS’s Principal Anthony Wal, Administrator Awut Agok, and me;
students from HRSS saw me as soon as I arrived in Rumbek and
immediately wanted to know when the school would reopen. 

My Facebook Messenger began to fill with messages and Awut’s phone began to ring as students sought to inquire and confirm that I was here.


Suzanne continues to share a conversation with a primary student
named Panda, and the conversation testifies to what Hope and
Resurrection Secondary means to the people from the communities

that it serves:

Panda comes and sits near me, but not too close.  She is waiting for an invitation She then gets very serious with me and while looking down as if something is very wrong, she tells me that she and the other primary school students have been very worried. They want to know why their teachers at
HRSS (Hope and Resurrection Secondary have gone before they were able
to come to the school.

Awut explains to me that it isn’t just HRSS students that have been concerned that the school would not reopen, but the whole township of Rumbek is
concerned including the young children.  HRSS is a very rare gem in this area.  Every child’s dream is to one day be a student there.  They work hard
on their primary school lessons in hopes that they can one day attend
HRSS. 

My arrival serves as a sign of hope that not all is lost in-spite-of the great loss we are feeling at the passing of our beloved teachers, Charles and Willis.
 
http://hopeforhumanityinc.org
Hope for Humanity, Inc., P.O. Box 29117, Richmond, VA 23242

Sad but not defeated

I write with the shocking news that on May 26, Charles Kule Mitsagharu and Willis Binsiima, Ugandan math teachers at Hope and Resurrection Secondary in South Sudan were shot and killed as they were traveling between Rumbek and the school.  This violent act was a case of mistaken identity. The men who committed the murders were seeking two men from Kenya as an act of revenge.  Headmaster Anthony Madang Wal was traveling with them, but his life was spared.  It occurred far from Hope and Resurrection Secondary and was not related to the school in any way. The deaths of two good and loyal teachers in such a violent way have caused pain, anger, and grief on both sides of the world.

Upon hearing of the news, some students considered going into the bush to find the men who had murdered their teachers.  Fortunately, they didn’t do that.  Instead, they marched from Atiaba to Rumbek, a distance of thirty miles.  They carried signs, and when they got to Rumbek, they went to government offices to demand justice.  They were met on the road by priests and staff members of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek.  This organization has partnered with Hope for Humanity in several ways in the past.  When the priests could not dissuade the students from marching, they joined them in their march.  Once in Rumbek, the priests sheltered the students and teachers in the Catholic Diocese compound and provided counsel and care for them.

When Suzanne Hicks told me about the march, I responded with concern that they would not be safe and feared for their well-being.  But then Suzanne said, “Mary, they responded by doing what they have been taught at Hope and Resurrection.”  I saw in an instant that Suzanne was right. The students believe in peace and that disagreements are not settled by guns and revenge.  They do not trust that the government is strong enough to catch and punish the guilty men who shot their teachers, but they are demanding that justice be done through peaceful demonstrations and with their words.

This sad event reveals the progress and change that has gone on in the eleven years since Jim and I had to close the school early because of an ambush and killing of people of one clan by people of another clan.  The citizens have found their voices, especially the students of Hope and Resurrection Secondary.  Everything is out in the open for others to know.  The event has been shared on social media, and worldwide there is a cry for change that does not foster violent acts as the solution to conflicts.

The Ugandan teachers returned to Uganda with the bodies of Charles and Willis.  They asked Hope for Humanity to let them stay in Uganda for the next two months and that they will return in August to finish out the school year.  Their request is being honored.  Suzanne is going to the school with a hastily put together US team and will be there until August when the teachers from Uganda return.  The goal is to keep the school functioning as best they can, and to address the emotional healing of students from this trauma.

Through photos posted on social media yesterday, I witnessed from afar the scene at the airport strip in Rumbek of the chartered plane leaving with the Ugandan teachers and the bodies of their fallen colleagues.  Crowds were there—government officials, students and former students, and people from the communities which the school serves.  The tragic loss of the lives of Charles and Willis have profoundly affected the South Sudanese people who are longing for positive change in their society.  There is a collective cry for stability and order that is being raised and can’t be denied.

Sometimes I view Hope and Resurrection Secondary as fragile because of the challenges to provide quality education in rural South Sudan.  But this sad event shows that the school is strong, and its strength lies in the excellent character of its teachers and the young people it educates.  Our students are learning that violence solves nothing, that war is not the answer, and that there are joy and depth to life from the knowledge of literature, science, and math.  That the students responded to the loss of their teachers with a march, and their determination to see it through led to the Catholic staff and priests to join them, demonstrates in action their commitment to being a part of the change that needs to occur in South Sudan.

What is ahead?  The United Nations Mission in South Sudan has been an invaluable help to the Board of Hope for Humanity in transporting the teachers and the bodies of Charles and Willis back to Uganda, and this organization will be present at the Hope and Resurrection Secondary for support during the next weeks.   The months ahead will not be easy, but we are encouraged by the interest and care of others and inspired by the students’ and teachers’ courage and determination.

We are sad but not defeated.

For more information about Hope and Resurrection Secondary go to hopeforhumanityinc.org

Through the website, there is a way to donate to the families of Charles and Willis.

Lessons from Afar now available on Amazon

 Lessons From Afar, Authored by Mary Higbee  –  List Price: $9.99

Have you ever heard God’s irresistible call? Mary Higbee did. She soon found herself in rural South Sudan where she faced the challenges of opening a secondary school and connecting with people of another culture. On the other side of the world, amid scarcity and need, the author experienced God’s generosity and a life-affirming purpose and learned about trust, vulnerability, gratitude, perseverance, and non-judgment in profound ways. Lessons from Afar is more than a memoir because the book includes a variety of questions at the end of each chapter which invites the readers to consider how the life lessons learned in Africa can be applied to the circumstances their lives.
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A PERSONAL NOTE: I describe the mission to South Sudan as the hardest and the most wonderful thing that I have ever done.  I have tried my best to capture in words both the hardest and most wonderful parts of the school year at Hope and Resurrection Secondary in Lessons from Afar.  There is much for us to learn from our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.  I hope that you will come with me to explore what they have to teach us.

Almost ready to publish…

         

Lessons from Afar is almost ready to be published. I am proofing the book now, and it will be available on Amazon in a few weeks. So that you can sample Lessons, I am sharing part of the Introduction with you.  Please take a look and let me know what you think.

 

INTRODUCTION to Lessons from Afar

 New experiences and difficult challenges often result in the development and growth of spiritual maturity. Lessons from Afar is about such experiences and challenges, and what I learned from them when my husband, Jim, and I served nine months as missionaries in Southern Sudan. In the rural village of Atiaba, we worked to open a newly built school named Hope and Resurrection Secondary.

We lived for a school year in Southern Sudan in 2008 during the small window of time between the end of a twenty-three-year long civil war and the violence and civil unrest that began in December 2013. Jim and I are among a limited number of foreign visitors that experienced the relatively peaceful and hopeful time that occurred during this period. Our stories of Southern Sudan need telling, for to judge the value of this culture by the horrific news stories of last few years is not to know the whole truth of people who love their families, want progress, and long for leadership that is not corrupt.

My missionary experiences do not always make pretty stories. As ready and committed as I believed I was when Jim and I boarded the plane for Africa, I often stumbled as I tried to live out the mission to help begin a secondary school. Through my stumbling, I learned to think and live in ways that were not about my comfort and convenience but were about how to develop the resilience to fall and, with God’s help, to get up again.

In Lessons from Afar, I relate my stories through the lenses of the many life lessons that awaited me in Southern Sudan. These life lessons were not new to me. They had been with me in all kinds of circumstances, yet I had not always integrated what I learned into my life in a lasting way. Living and working in a culture that was not my own made the lessons about trust, vulnerability, humility, perseverance, and non-judgment immediate and necessary for my emotional and spiritual well-being.

I invite you to accompany me as I recount my experiences in Southern Sudan in Lessons from Afar. I look forward to introducing you to some of the students of the first class of Hope and Resurrection Secondary and letting you glimpse the culture of the newest country in the world. This invitation includes the opportunity to pursue your own spiritual understanding by reflecting on the events of your life and Scripture passages.

On the other side of the world, amid scarcity and need, I experienced God’s generosity and a life-affirming purpose for me. Which brings us to the question that is at the center of this book: Can the lessons taught to me by God and the Dinka people of Southern Sudan be brought home to the United States for a life that is more abundant and generous? Please join me in seeking answers to that question.

 

 

 

Trying to get it right…

Some of the first teaching staff of Hope and Resurrection Secondary - 2008
Some of the first teaching staff of Hope and Resurrection Secondary – 2008

Reflecting on my first experience as a missioner in South Sudan–I fondly call those first days “missionary boot camp.” Things were not going well and it was frustrating and confusing. On the eve of our seventh trip to Africa, I look back to my first experience.  It is not pretty, but I learned a lot from my frustrations and doubts and recalling the learning curve of the past somehow prepares me for this upcoming trip.

 

I recall one morning sitting under a lone neem tree with meager shade in the dusty compound where we were staying in Rumbek while waiting for the truck to arrive from Uganda with all the supplies to open Hope and Resurrection Secondary School  The act of writing a journal entry is vivid. I was not with Jim on the errands because two days of walking around Rumbek had caused a large blister on my left foot.The only shoes that I could wear were Jim’s size eleven flip flops, and I wondered if I was relegated to these large flip flops for the next nine months.

 

I wrote slowly because I wanted to fill up some of the time that was passing so slowly.I recalled teaching my American seventh grade students what a hero’s quest was through the reading of Robert Nye’s version of Beowulf, and revisiting the plots of movies like Star Wars and Indiana Jones.That hot morning when nothing seemed to be going as planned, it occured to me that I was experiencing the ancient literary story pattern of a hero’s quest. The points of a hero’s quest that could be applied to my situation were the great obstacles that had to be encountered and conquered, and the knowledge that the final test to be met was not an external one, but an internal struggle for truth.

This is some of what I wrote that day:

 

Has the plot emerged for you now?A missionary couple comes to Southern Sudan to help start a secondary school.They are sincere but naïve. Their faith is as strong as it can be for people who have not had to come through any great tests.They bring talents developed over a lifetime and an earnest desire to be of help.Yet nothing prepares them for the combination of the heat and poverty and a way of doing things that seem inefficient.Any sense of empowerment that was felt in the United States is at loose ends in Africa.Life slows down to almost a standstill and very little is accomplished in a day.The task of opening a secondary school looms large.Unlike a fictional hero’s quest, Mary and James do not have a treasure map or key or magic potion.They do have guides if they will stop and listen.They will have rest if they claim the quiet days rather than fight them.Is there room for God in this fantasy?Remember the lessons are to plan loosely, count on nothing until it actually happens, and be prepared for surprises.God, of course, is in the surprises.

 

As I got to the end of my entry I raced to finish the thought—God is in the surprises.I was relieved by my own ending, almost as if it was a totally new thought for me, which it wasn’t. If the realization of my need to turn my concerns over to God had not sunk in, then a glance down at my left foot with the blister the size of a nickel and the too big flip flops served to remind me that this mission in this place at this time had challenges to which I could not anticipate or understand.

 

That journal entry foreshadowed what was ahead for me in the next months–not the hero part of the quest for I never felt like a hero.  What was foreshadowed were the divine suprises in the form of the sweet good things that redeemed all the difficulties.  The memory I share today is a touchstone for me.  It reminds me that my most important preparation for this trip to Kenya is to be ready to be awed by the richness of another culture and to be open to recognize the surprises that will unfold on this journey.

Much appreciation to all of you who allowed me to re-visit an earlier time,

Mary

Kenya, here we come…

On May 20th Jim and I leave for Kenya to conduct teacher training workshops.   The plans for this trip have had a few hiccups along the way because this time we are working with three different Anglican bishops in three dioceses.  As a result, working out the scheduling and details were a bit more challenging.  Our friend, Sue Dauer, of Salem, Oregon, is going with us.  In 2011 Sue and I discovered that we work well together as co-presenters, so her company adds to the trip.  We have received much help from Mission Personnel staff of the Episcopal Church.

Image
My tailored dress made in Kenya in 2012

To what do we look forward?  Seeing three places in Kenya which are new to us.  Meeting the teachers who will be attending the workshops.  Getting to know the three bishops and their staffs who have already been gracious to us via email.

Last year at this time, we were getting ready to return to Hope and Resurrection Secondary School in South Sudan.  The visit to them was good, which made it all the more difficult to comprehend the violence of civil war in that nation beginning on December 15.  There was a time when the Board of Hope for Humanity wondered if the school could even be opened for 2014.

BUT Hope and Resurrection Secondary School is open for this school year with an enrollment of 188 students—81 of which are girls!  All of the seniors of last year’s graduating class passed the government exit exam for the third year in a row.  The top performing student in the WHOLE nation of South Sudan on the government exit exam was a student from—YES—Hope and Resurrection Secondary School.

What is the lesson in all this? For me it is not to easily get discouraged and to be ready to stay committed for the long haul.  It is about thinking of mission in terms of what it means to each person to whom you reach out and help.  The school continuing even at a time of insecurity for the nation as a whole, encourages me to be bold in my personal choices and gives me hope.  Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Matthew 6:33.

I will post when I have something in which you might be interested.  Please join me on this trip.

Mary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Collage of Memories–2013 Trip to South Sudan

25% of the student population is girls--a lot for South Sudan
25% of the student population is girls–a lot for South Sudan

Our trip was cut short because the airline that travels from Nairobi to Rumbek twice a week decided without prior notice to eliminate half of its flights.  This made us change our plans–relunctantly and with disappointment.   Determined to accomplish all that we had planned, our days at Hope and Resurrection Secondary School were filled to overflowing. There were some of the highlights…

Being greeted by former student, Joseph.
Being greeted by former student, Joseph.

• Visiting with friends and former students: Jim and I were visited by our former students, and one even traveled from Juba to see us. In the five years that we have been away, the students have grown to be adults–taller, articulate and getting on with their lives. Only one young woman has found a sponsor and is attending a university in Nairobi. The others dream that they can go to a university some day, and in the meanwhile, they teach in primary schools and work for NGOs. On Sunday morning, we found them leading Sunday school classes and the singing. The pride and affection that Jim and I feel for these young men and women is genuine, and that they return the affection is dear to us.

Teachers of Hope and Resurrection and US Team
Teachers of Hope and Resurrection and US Team

Working with the teachers: The first two days were spent in the teacher workshop. It was a great way for me to get to know the staff, and I appreciated how open they were to the new ideas that I shared. Most popular were strategies for teaching vocabulary words and students working in groups and in pairs. Throughout the visit, the teachers and I continued to dialogue about ways to adapt the strategies covered in the workshop.

Getting to know the students: Names, faces, conversations—all a part of the week at Hope and Resurrection Secondary.

Teaching English: Anthony, the headmaster, asked me if I would take the EInstruction the old fashioned way--black board and chalknglish teacher’s classes because he was not well. With only a few minutes to prep, off I went to Senior 3 (junior class) to teach idioms. Things like “a chip off the old block” and “a wet blanket” got a lot of attention, but my black board drawing of “burying the hatchet” elicited the most laughter. Next was Senior 2 (sophomore class), and for this I chose a piece from their literature book about the importance of myths. At the end of the period, the students clapped for me which I didn’t expect, but liked very much.

Girls' dorm to be completed in about four more months
Girls’ dorm to be completed in about four more months

Seeing the girls’ dorm being built: Having a dorm for the girls has been a dream almost from the beginning, so to see it being realized was thrilling. The Ugandan engineer overseeing the construction decided that the mud bricks which are widely used in the area would not provide permanence. With the help of the teachers and local workers a rustic kiln was built so that the mud bricks could be fired. The teachers also pitched in to dig the trenches for the foundation. The girls are very excited at the prospect of living in the school compound.

Hearing the stories of Hope and Resurrection graduates: The headmasters, Anthony and Cleous, had news of how our graduates are doing. The competition for jobs is so great that employers give exams to determine the top candidates, and so far Hope and Resurrection graduates have been the top scorers and therefore earned the jobs. Anthony expressed this in this way: “They say when people see that our students are sitting for the job exams they just run away.”

Jim and Anthony

Jim’s gift:  In 2008 as we were leaving the school, Jim took two small pieces of mahogany that were left over from the construction of the teachers’ quarters.  Before this 2013 trip, Jim made crosses from this wood.  He presented a cross to each of  the staff as a parting gift, saying that he was returning something that he had taken to its rightful place.

Founder of the school, Jennifer Ernst with headmasters Cleous and Anthony and engineer Steven
Founder of the school, Jennifer Ernst with headmasters Cleous and Anthony and engineer Steven

In closing:  It was a very sweet time, and I count this trip as a gift that brought Jim and me full circle. I appreciate the companionship of Brad Renuart and Jennifer Ernst on this trip–good and positive partnerships with passionate people who care for the school.

Brad Renuart tutoring teachers on how to use new grading software
Brad Renuart tutoring teachers on how to use new grading software

To learn more about the school go to www.hopeforhumanityinc.org

I am thankful for your interest and prayers,

Mary

Renewing a past friendship with Elizabeth who cooks for the teachers
Renewing a past friendship with Elizabeth who cooks for the teachers

Leaving for South Sudan–the Count Down

Hellena Smiling
Hellena is pleased to be a student.

This week I have felt about five years old and like I was waiting for Christmas to arrive.  May 12th we leave for South Sudan, and I am excited.  What sets this trip apart from the other trips to Africa is the sense of a homecoming that comes from returning to people and a place that we know well.  It has been five years since Jim and I spent the first school year of Hope and Resurrection Secondary School in the village of Atiaba, South Sudan.  What was started five years ago has flourished.

There is a poem that I remember from a college lit class called Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens.  The first few lines say:

I placed a jar in Tennessee,

And round it was, upon a hill.

It made the slovenly wilderness

Surround that hill.

 

The wilderness rose up to it,

And sprawled around, no longer wild

 

The poem inspires me to see a humble jar placed in the midst of a dense tangle of waving grass and thorny bushes in a landscape that rolls up and down as far as the eye can see.  In contrast to the wilderness, the  jar provides a reference point; a center from which direction and distance can be measured.

Hope and Resurrection Secondary School
Bikes or coming “on footing” is how students arrive at school

Hope and Resurrection Secondary School is like the jar.  In the midst of illiteracy and lack of resources—a wilderness of poverty—the school has provided a reference point of success and progress for the communities it serves.  The young people of the first two graduating classes are some of the best educated citizens in South Sudan.  They have gone on to work for nonprofit organizations, their government, and as teachers and medical personnel.

Hope and Resurrection Secondary School is co-educational and over twenty-five percent of its student population is girls.  This is remarkable in a country where only two percent of secondary age girls attend school.  The idea of gender equality that has been promoted at the school has provided its students with attitudes of mutual respect between female and male students that is new for their culture.  Preparing girls through education to play positive, active roles in their families, communities and country is a stabilizing influence for the world’s newest nation.

I am super ready for the teacher seminars that I will conduct with the staff of Hope and Resurrection.  I am prepared so that when one of many possible things happen—a violent thunder storm so loud that you can’t hear someone talk because of the rain beating on the metal roof, car trouble which leaves you stranded, a poisonous snake in the latrine—just regular day to day occurrences in South Sudan—I can go on without missing too many beats.  As planned and organized as I am, I have left ample room to be surprised and to sit under the beautiful massive mahogany tree at the center of the school compound and listen to my Dinka friends tell me their stories.

I invite you to keep me company on this trip.

Mary