By Laura Krone
The South Sudanese operate on a level of communal living that I’ve never experienced before.
There seems to be no need for “alone time,” and most of life is lived outside among friends and neighbors. It’s rare to go more than a day without seeing a close friend. The only reasons to be alone inside the house are if you are sleeping or sick, so we frequently get asked what’s wrong when we spend more than a few minutes inside.
In the same way that time and space are communal resources, possessions are also shared, especially among family members. If you have something that someone “wants” (and I say “wants” because there’s no Nuer word for “needs”), there’s a strong cultural expectation that you give it to them. The subtle way to ask for something is telling someone you like it. We’ve learned that compliments are not part of Nuer small talk, because we’ve unintentionally asked for some of our friends’ belongings this way.
At first the constant asking really grated against my expectations of friendship. Aside from occasional rides to the airport, I didn’t have a lot of experience with relationships where people routinely asked for things.
For a long time my first instinct was to say “no” whenever possible, telling myself I didn’t want to create dependency. But as these relationships deepened it became harder to say no, and I could tell it hurt the friendship. Also, as I read passages of Scripture on giving and sharing with those in need, I felt increasingly convicted that in most cases it wasn’t the correct response.
Having lived this past year in countries heavily reliant on outside aid, I have witnessed forms of dependency that result in a loss of dignity and feelings of helplessness, which I have no desire to replicate. Rather, what I feel the Lord calling me into is a life of interdependence that points back to him as the ultimate provider and operates out of love, not guilt.
I still struggle to hold my possessions with an open hand and constantly have to pray for wisdom to know when and how to give, but the Lord is slowly changing my perspective to see giving as an opportunity for blessing instead of a burden. I am thankful to my South Sudanese friends for helping me understand more of what it means to live in Biblical community.