Sunday morning in South Sudan (September 16, 2012) started with a bit of unsettling news. Of course, to get the full effect, you will have to remember back to the post about Saturday and the shooting in the town where we were. We had a few text messages from the US first thing on Sunday regarding "a situation" in Khartoum. We talked with Jeffrey's about what was going on and what we had heard and he promised us that we were very secure in South Sudan since it was now a sovereign nation and their military is strong and will defend the country with all of it's abilities. With this information, we continued with our plan for the day.....all the while planning to call our families in the states after we had the opportunity to worship with the local churches and come back to the compound where we were staying.
So, we went to church!! That's the whole reason that we went, right? To worship the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters in South Sudan and maybe to encourage them along the way and hopefully help them with some general community health information, too. Don and I went to O'Karri for morning worship services where Archbishop (Paul) interpreted for us. Don preached on Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." Of course, he used this passage to lead into talking about the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ where, by the grace and mercy of Christ, through faith, we have salvation. I made a sweet new friend at church - she came right up to my chair and stood right beside me until I asked Archbishop if it was OK if I picked her up (this is her sweet face right here). She actually fell asleep in my lap during the service and Robert, the former pastor, had her mother come and get her from me since she was asleep. After worship, we went to the pastor's office tukul for some lunch and conversation time. Robert said that he remembered me from having been there to worship with the members of this local church at O'Karri when we were there in 2011!! What a great memory and a great ability to show what we feel....that the key to short-term missions is to be able to strengthen the local church and long-term missionaries during their work!! Melissa and Heidi were able to join us here for a little time of catching up. We had told Archbishop to help us remember to tell Melissa that Jack brought her something from her friends in Birmingham. Well, with a bit of a language barrier (his English is actually VERY good), he told her "a man from America has a package for you." I so wish I could've gotten her expression on camera because it was HILARIOUS!!! She didn't miss a beat, though, and just asked, "what is the man's name?". I explained a little to her about what it was and that it was from her friends back home. For lunch, we had Lina, bread and meat. We asked Coffee and Repent what it is made of and, in true fashion of most non-native English speakers, they both replied, "food." I think that they have been taking lessons from Archbishop!! haha!
We went back to the compound and had a few minutes of "down time" and then all took turns calling our family back home to learn more about what was going on in the US. I was able to talk with EJ and try to find out a little more about what was going on as reported on the news back home. At that time, there was reporting of something about a YouTube clip made by an Egyptian Christian in the US and there were some more details about this video that I just can't really remember anymore. He told me more details about what had happened in Libya and that the US Ambassador was killed and that protests had now spread to Egypt where the US Embassy was attacked and burned. Then, apparently, it had spread to Yemen and then to Sudan where "they" attacked and burned the German embassy and breached the US embassy and, at the time we talked, all reports said that US Marines were on their way to secure the embassy in Khartoum. Then, something spread to Tunisia and there was something about celebrating September 11, but again, I don't remember the details as much anymore. It was also being reported that Sudan had been flying planes over the 2 northern-most provinces of South Sudan and that, this time, South Sudan had promised to retaliate. There was also something mentioned about challenges with Kenya over the oil fields. The state department had issued a formal travel warning to all people on 10 September, apparently, that all travel to South Sudan by Americans must be deferred and that the US Embassy can't promise protection in areas outside of Juba....we hadn't gotten that memo!!
Needless to say, I was a bit shaken!! To give you perspective on the distance between the the town where we were (Mundri, South Sudan) to Khartoum is about 700-800 miles, which is about the distance from Birmingham to Washington, D.C. I remember talking to my mom and explaining to her that we were pretty far away from all of the activities, like about as far as Alabama is from New York. I'm not sure if I was trying to make her feel better or comfort myself a little more. Debby asked if we felt threatened and needed assistance to get us out more quickly than our original plan (we had planned to stay until Thursday) and my immediate answer was "YES, PLEASE!!" I will completely admit that I was ready to come home.....or at least get back to Uganda for a few days - this had already been a VERY trying trip in many levels with the rain and now this. As I have had months to process all of this, the scripture that absolutely explains where I was is found in Matthew 17:19-20:
"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we note cast it out?' He said to them, 'Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.'"
I'll freely admit today that I didn't have the faith to amount to even a grain of mustard seed. All I could think about was the fact that Lord may have plans to take me home to Him from South Sudan. And, while I know that He is sovereign and His plans are far better than anything I can think or imagine, this was NOT the plan that I wanted Him to have for my life. At the end of the day, He called me to 1 John 4:13-21:
"By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."
Tuesday, we went to Wirroh. It was a LONG, HOT day!! On the way to Wirroh, it was a REALLY rough road to get there!! There was a bulldozer clearing space in the road at Lui for cars to pass. Repent translated for us again today and had many ladies attend. Many of the ladies were taking their children to the clinic in the village to get their immunizations. Sarah Moses was there on Tuesday and I was able to find out the name of her baby, who should be about 2-3 years old at this point. The baby's name is Josephina Karama. During our teaching time, there were constantly mom's nursing babies - I tried to get a picture of the group without getting a nursing mother in the picture and it was almost impossible!! We found out that the most recent mosquito net distribution had been in 2011 and not everyone has mosquito nets still. We were told that in families with 6-7 children, they may receive 2 mosquito nets and are told to have the children share beds so that they can remain covered. They were given to pregnant women and children under 5 were the first to receive. On the way back to Mundri, Repent told me today that he had learned from me not to throw his trash on the ground, but to keep it and put it in his pocket until he was somewhere that he could throw it in a wastebasket - he had seen me placing my opened wrappers in my backpack until we arrived back at the compound and then placing them in the wastebasket. :0) He said the way that they do it now is not good for their country to keep it clean. Then, we encountered a petrol truck overturned in Lui - literally on it's side (we were told not to take pictures because the Army was there). There were soldiers from the Army out at the camp guarding the truck and the area around it to keep order and prevent the petro from being stolen.
On Wednesday, which was our last full day in South Sudan, we went to Matta/Witto. While there, we talked with the ladies and while we were teaching the malaria information, they seemed to already know it quite well!! Then, we told them the gospel story and there were many who didn't know that we are all born with sin and that grace is free - we can't work for or earn it. When we asked why they would follow Jesus, they only said that we follow Jesus because he died on a cross. We also pointed them to scriptures of the virgin birth, the fact that Christ lived a sinless life, He faced all temptations that every human faces, and after He was crucified, He was resurrected from the dead and is at the right hand of God, the Father! At the end of the day, before we left, we asked them to tell us 1 thing that they learned on this day that they didn't know before. This was a fantastic day!!!! Now, for the venture back to Mundri, our ever-trusty IAS (International Aid Services) truck was STUCK in Lui!!!! And, by stuck, I mean STUCK!!! Augustin had done such a great job in keeping us from getting stuck and today had been no exception....he was trying his best to get us back to the conference center quickly and went around the area where he knew he would get stuck.....and it didn't work like he had planned. We were stuck for several hours!! We had to walk from the car to the Lui hospital (it wasn't really too far) with Coffee and we sat inside the fence of the hospital for a few hours while we waited on our friends from World Harvest to come and pull us out of the mud (or, if they weren't able to pull us out, they could at least get us back to the compound so that we could at least sleep). At this point in the trip, I remember thinking that all I could really process was that I wanted to cry....but I knew that wouldn't do any good for anything, so I didn't. There was still a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the state of events that had happened throughout N Africa during the week we had been gone and we had no access to any type of media or even reliable text messaging to know what had happened in the previous few days. All I could think was that we were SO CLOSE to going home......and now we are stuck....like 20 miles from our compound!!!! Talk about feeling completely helpless and having no clue what to do other than pray and trust our ministry partners who took great care to ensure our safety at all times. Our friends from World Harvest were able to come and pull out the IAS truck.....with the only wench that they were aware of in this part of the country!! This convinced me that a southern farm-boy would probably survive quite well in South Sudan!!
Needless to say, we made it back to the states just fine and here I sit, 1 year and 3 months later finally finishing the stories from my perspective. For a few updates since that time, I'll bullet point those for you:
- December 7, 2013 - EJ graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary!
- EJ proposed to me on Christmas day, 2012!! I said, "YES!!"
- January 7, 2013 - the University of Alabama won back-to-back National Championships!!! ROLL TIDE!!!! OK, so this had nothing to do with me, personally, other than I got to cheer for them during the game! :)
- January 8, 2013 - we had our first leadership meeting for the year (at work) where we found out that not all of the changes for the year were related to me changing my last name and getting married!!
- June 2013 - we adopted a puppy!! Her name is Bear and we can't imagine what life would be like without her at this point.
- July/August 2013 - I took my first actual vacation in about 3-ish years......that is, my first time off of work to rest and relax rather than go on a short-term mission trip
- September 7, 2013 - EJ and I were married!!! We were very grateful to celebrate with parties with friends and family during July and August leading up to our wedding day as well!
- September 9-14 - I took my second actual vacation in about 3-ish years (and my first actual vacation out of the US) as my new husband and I went to Bermuda on our honeymoon!!!
- December 15, 2013 - there is uprising and fighting again in South Sudan - please be in prayer for them that God would accomplish His purposes among them!!
- December 25, 2013 - EJ and I celebrated our first Christmas as a married couple!!
- January 1, 2014 - We rung in the New Year with special friends and celebrated the birthday of a best friend......and I FINALLY got all of this written so that I can concentrate on finishing Thank You notes this weekend!! YAY!!!!
Happy 2014!! I can't wait to see what adventures the Lord has in store for the years to come!