Ginnie Switzer is a missionary wife who lost her husband two years ago. Rex had gone into Sudan to minister and train nationals. While he was there, he contracted a deadly form of malaria.
The following is an account of Ginnie’s experiences on her first trip into Sudan since her husband’s death. Although this is lengthy article, please read; it will give you a glimpse of the dangers many missionaries face as they minister in difficult areas.
South Sudan Trip April 1-12, 2014 Ginnie Switzer
Thank you for praying for me! Prayer spans the miles and places us together at the foot of God’s throne. This account of my trip may seem long, but actually it is merely a snapshot of everything that happened.
Many of you asked for details of the trip so here goes….
My prayer is that it will encourage you, inspire you and motivate you to pray for your missionaries no matter where they are in the world.
Tuesday April 1
My flight from Addis to Gambella, Ethiopia was 1 ½ hours late leaving, nothing unusual for Ethiopian Airlines!
Upon arriving in Gambella the temperature change was dramatic. I always know it will be hot but you are never prepared for the drastic change.
I’ve been in airports all over the world, small & large but this is the first time I had seen luggage literally dumped on the tarmac. Everyone scrambled to find his or her belongings. I decided it wasn’t worth a fight so waited until the rush was over, making sure no one carried my 1 piece of luggage off with theirs!
My driver (Aki) that had brought my truck to Gambella, was waiting for me outside the airport but he did not have good news. The WFP (World Food Program) was meeting with other organizations to discuss the growing refugee problem on the border of Ethiopia & South Sudan. This meant there was not one room available for me for the night. You might be thinking, “Why didn’t you get bookings before coming?” We had tried for several weeks to do just that, but either could get no answer on the phone or the network was down, which is a common occurrence. We had no idea these meetings were taking place in Gambella. Aki knew I had a tent in the truck but had no idea where I could put it up. He had found a place for himself to stay, a rat hole, but told me I would be better off in my tent. I took his word for it!
I knew that the Gambella Bible Baptist Church would allow me to put up my tent by the church but it had been several years since I had been there. I didn’t know if I could locate it.
The way that I knew to get to the church was blocked. There had been no petrol in the town for several days. Hundreds of cars, trucks & various kinds of transportation had been lined up for days waiting for petrol to arrive. Usually you can buy petrol on the black market but even they had nothing.
We began driving & asking different ones how to get to the church. Finally we came upon a girl that knew what we were talking about. At least now we were heading the right direction. In the meantime, I had been trying to contact the person that I knew could contact the evangelist of the church, Simon Koang Kuon. After a couple of hours we made connections & were directed to the church.
The sun was going down & it would be dark soon.
If you’ve never put up a tent in the dark with others that don’t have a clue what to do, you haven’t had excitement! I finally got it up. I knew it wasn’t exactly right but thought; surely I can make it one night. The rain & wind came. I prayed. God kept it standing but it did take on water around the edges.
During the night one of the men of the church slept outside my tent on the ground. As it began to rain I told him to go to one of the huts to get out of the rain. He was reluctant to leave the door of my tent. With my insistence & the rain beating down, he was convinced. When the rain stopped, I heard him return.
Wednesday April 2
At 6 AM the sun was beginning to shine. The village was awake. I went outside & surveyed my tent situation. It had withstood the rain & wind. I wanted to let it dry some before taking it down. The church people that were in the area came to greet me. Aki had had a problem with a tire, so took the truck to get it fixed before I left for the border. I met with some of the people of the Gambella Bible Baptist Church & also Pastor James Dech of the Matar Bible Baptist Church.
I had needed to leave early as I had several stops to make before reaching the border but had another situation with the truck, which took time to resolve.
Aki didn’t want me to drive into South Sudan alone. He wanted to go with me. That had not been my agreement with him. I was not prepared to bring anyone along. I convinced him it was not in his best interest to go. He reluctantly agreed that he was not prepared for such a trip. It would be best for him to remain in Gambella & wait for my return.
After resolution of the truck issues I left town with Pastor John Choul of the Kuergong Bible Baptist Church. He had made his way on Tuesday to Gambella to ride with me to the border. It was after 10 AM & time was ticking away quickly. I needed to be in Maiwut, South Sudan before dark. It was going to be close.
The last time I had been on this road was with Rex; it was all dirt & took hours to traverse. This time it was paved! To me, it was like driving on a six-lane freeway!
Our first stop was Itang Bible Baptist Church, Pastor Joshua Kim Purbel. Because of the rain the night before, the road to the area of the church was mud. I found a place to leave the truck & began trudging through the mud. When I arrived, I found that the people (approx. 30) had gathered to greet me. They have no building & are meeting under the tree where I met them. They do have land to build on & are starting the process of building.
Getting back to the main road, took about 30 min. Our next stop was Pilual Bible Baptist Church, Pastor Peter Puot. It was not possible to drive the truck to the church, so once again I found a place I could leave the truck & began walking across dry, parched earth. I had no idea how far this would be. One always goes prepared with hat, water, walking stick & of course camera. We walked several kilometers in temperatures way over 100. By this time it was afternoon, which is the hottest part of the day. Two days before my arrival a wind had swept through this area. The wind literally ripped off the roof of their church. It looked like a tornado had hit it. The roof was all in one big pile on the side of the church. They were broken hearted & so was I. They are in the process of investigating how to put on another roof that will hold against the winds. Walking back to my truck I became sick. My body was trying to adjust to the extreme change in temperatures. This always seems to be a process I go through on these trips. Nothing unusual, but certainly not pleasant!
We continued our trip & arrived at the Kuergong Bible Baptist Church, Pastor John Choul, about 3 PM. I had taken 5 plastic chairs to this church & Pastor John & I had to unload the entire truck to get the chairs. We were both hot & exhausted but it had to be done. Pastor John went to his house & got water to pour over my head. This always helps! It is a known fact that if you can keep you head cool, it helps to cool off your internal body temperature. Peter Beach phoned, he & the authorities were waiting for us at the border. We were still over 2 hour’s drive away. We finally were able to get the truck re-loaded. I became sick again & had to stop for a few minutes, with more water poured over my head, before continuing the trip.
We were packed & ready to go again. We had to make a stop in the town to get a letter from the Ethiopian authorities to allow me past a checkpoint on the way to the border. This took about 35 minutes. Pastor John left me in the truck & proceeded to get the needed papers. I drew lots of attention from young & old, as a foreigner it a rare sight in this town. The people crowded around the truck & cut off any air that might have gotten to me. After some time waiting, Pastor John appeared with the necessary documents & we were off again.
Not too far down the road was the Ethiopian checkpoint. Usually it only requires a small bribe & you are allowed through. I had decided this would be my last option. Pastor John showed them the papers but they wanted the truck opened for inspection. I got out & proceeded to open the back for them. I thought before I offer a bribe, I will give them some of my precious water. As it ended up, they only wanted to show me they had power over me. My water was left in tact & no bribe was necessary! We left there on good terms with them, everyone including us, smiling & waving!
It took over 2 hours to reach the border of Ethiopia & South Sudan. As I approached the border, I had no idea what to expect. What I saw was a “sea of black”. Thousands of Nuers were gathered together. The tents began literally feet across the border. Many had fled their country, because of fear. Fear that the fighting would reach their homes. Many had left their homes because they knew food would be available in the refugee camps. Peter Beach, a man that has helped Rex & I for years, has employment with an organization that is working in this area. Peter’s job is to provide sanitation for the thousands of people. It is an impossible task! My heart was griped with the physical needs that I saw but more than the physical the spiritual need was overwhelming. Will they ever hear the truth?
We continued on a short distance. There I saw Peter & Pastor John Choul Jock, Maiwut Bible Baptist Church, waiting for me. It was so good to see their sweating faces! They had been waiting for hours on the border for us.
The “border” is a rope stretched across the road, with armed guards. Peter had a letter for me from the Military General charged with the protection of this part of South Sudan. On this man’s signature, I was allowed to cross into South Sudan. Passports or any other documents mean nothing to the Ethiopians or South Sudanese. These letters are the only documents that are recognized.
This is where I left Pastor John Choul. Peter, Pastor John of Maiwut & myself now began our journey in South Sudan to Maiwut. I was now on dirt roads again. They had been working on the road, so that was encouraging but it was only one small “lane”. Thankfully the entire trip we did not see another vehicle.
When we reached Maiwut, my first stop was to visit the military General that is in command of this part of the country. It was on his word that I was allowed to cross the border. He assured me they had had no problems in this area & he did not expect any forthcoming. He had heard many things concerning Rex & had many questions. We spoke for about 45 minutes. God opened the door for me to speak to him of the Gospel. He listened intently. When our meeting was over, he walked me to my truck & warmly welcomed me to speak to him again. That opportunity did not present itself but the door was left open.
As the General and I were walking to my truck I saw several groups of soldiers in the compound & outside of it. Women & men prepared to defend this area of the country. Of course being seen with their commander did not hurt me at all! I told Peter & Pastor John that when you see men & women carrying AK 47’s you just “smile and wave” & that’s what we did! During my stay in the bush on my compound, several patrols came by to meet me. It became common knowledge among them that I would give them water. Water is precious & the well is several kilometers from my compound.
We proceeded further into the bush, making our way to my compound. We passed the Maiwut Bible Baptist Church on our way. This is the church that Mrs. Art Wilson built in honor of her husband, who had preached the Gospel for many years & was Rex’s first pastor. I was thankful that Rex had been able to get the building finished & dedicated before God took him Home.
Waiting at the church was Deacon John & Guandiit – my compound guard. Pastor John proceeded to walk in front of the truck, on the path that the men had cut for me to drive the truck. It was hard to see the tree stumps. He knew I needed to avoid hitting them if at all possible.
I knew this journey would be a difficult one for me. I thought I was ready to face it but I wasn’t. I was not prepared for the overwhelming emotions that swept over me. It was difficult to drive for the tears coursing down my face. We finally drove onto the large compound Rex had forged in the bush, where he would build our home. When my feet touched the ground Rex was on when he gave his life executing the ministry God had entrusted to him, it was more than I thought possible to bear.
I walked to the other side of the huts Rex had had built to be alone, but these men that were with me, Peter Beach, Pastor John, Deacon John & Guandiit, would not allow it. They were at my side & began to sing & pray. Tears wet their faces as well. They prayed & sang until the Holy Spirit enveloped us with a peace that the world does not understand. They were not ashamed, they were not embarrassed to stand with me, to grieve with me. They had lost their “Father”, their teacher, their leader. They had lost the one that humanly had brought them hope. The one that had brought the Gospel to them, the one that had taught them the Word of God, the one that was to live among them. At that moment, I realized in many ways, they had lost more than I.
The sun was going & I needed to get the truck unloaded. They had cleaned out one of the huts for me to stay in. I was skeptical but knew it would please them greatly if I lived in the hut. I was prepared to give it a try until a saw a spider larger than my hand span, run across the room. I knew I just couldn’t do it. If there were spiders, then there could/would be snakes. I was more concerned about the snakes than the spiders! I told Peter I would have to set up my tent. Of course by now, it was dark. Peter’s English is good, so with instructions from me, we began working with the tent. After we were finished, I knew it wasn’t exactly right but couldn’t see to fix it. I told the other men to put everything from the truck into the hut. That pleased them that I was going to use the hut, even if it was just to store my belongings.
I was settled in my tent for the night. Peter, Pastor John & Guandit would stay in one of the huts for the night.
Rex & I always loved the bush. There are sounds that you hear in the bush that you will hear no other place. Night birds abound. Village dogs barking; protecting the cows & goats. Hyenas screaming; on the hunt for food. There is absolutely nothing like it! I was home!
Thursday April 3
Peter had planned to stay with me the entire time. Pastor John had asked me to teach some classes for the children but the refugee problem had taken center stage. Peter’s employers had demanded he return to the border to continue supervising & working with the sanitation problems. He was really between, as the saying goes, “a rock & a hard place”. We prayed about it & it was decided he would return to the border. He would come back to Maiwut on Saturday & I would have possibly 2 classes. No worries!
I realized the next day that beautiful birds were nesting in the hut with my belongings. I made it clear that in the morning the door was to be opened so they could leave & at night it was to be opened again so they could return. These birds became known as “my babies”. Everyone learned quickly of my love for birds & began to notice & enjoyed them as well
Pastor John had arranged for 2 girls to work for me. Rex had left large plastic barrels to store things in that we didn’t want to take back & forth to Addis. The day before I arrived Nabol & Nyaliap had emptied 2 of the barrels, washed them & began filling them with precious water. They had to walk several kilometers each way to bring the water to my compound. These were just teenagers. Later in the week I tried to lift one of the containers they had carried on their heads filled with water & I could not budge it off of the floor, using both hands!
Each morning the girls arrived early & started the fire to boil water for my tea. My clothes were washed, water brought if needed, general cleanup of the area was done & anything else that I requested all before 11 AM. This included pouring water over my head when they thought I was getting hot! They left & returned at 4:30 PM to cook my dinner. Nothing is done during the hottest part of the day unless it is an emergency.
Friday April 4
During the night a rain & windstorm came through. I didn’t know if my tent would withstand the pounding. I had nowhere to go if it caved in on me. God was my confidence. At 6 AM I went outside to find that the wind had blown down two large sections of the compound fence.
No problem! The men began looking through the bush for the best trees to cut & started the process of fixing the fence. I had decided that I needed to move my tent to another place to hopefully protect it from the winds. However, there was no one to help me move it at that time. Pastor John told me when they finished with the fence they would help me move the tent. OK that will work. Later that afternoon another wind came through & blew over my water filter that was full of water. It broke in many, many pieces. When making these trips you ALWAYS freeze as much water as you have room to bring. I had filled 2 chests with frozen, flavored water. I took only 4 bottles of plain water because I was going to filter the water I needed for cooking etc. Now with my filter broken, I had no water to cook with. Have you ever tried to brush your teeth with lemonade-flavored water? Not nice! Later that day we did get my tent moved & I felt it was in a better place for the next wind that was to come.
The tire that needed attention in Gambella had now gone completely flat. The girls & I decided we would change it. Nybol climbed on top of the truck & pitched the tire off like it was a feather. I know how to change a tire. The problem was the tire had gone too flat & the jack wouldn’t fit under it. I began to dig a hole where the jack would go so that it would fit in the space. That done, I proceeded to try to loosen the lug nuts. I have NO idea who put them on but even me jumping on the lug wrench wouldn’t budge them. By this time it was way over 100 degrees & too hot to try anymore!
As Nybol was bringing the chairs around the hut, she saw a snake crawl into one of the huts. She was going in after it when I stopped her. I didn’t want anyone getting bit because of me. I told the girls to leave & positioned myself where I could see the door of the hut. I wanted to know if/when the snake came out! Guandiit had left a little bit earlier & now Deacon John came through the walk gate. I proceeded to tell him about the snake. This is the hut in which they were sleeping! He banged on the door & the tin inside to get the snake to move but it didn’t. Deacon John decided the snake was asleep & would come out later but didn’t seem too concerned.
Much later Guandiit came & the story was told to him. He went in, hit things & eventually saw the snake. He said it was “little”. No one seemed to be bothered anymore & 3 men slept in the hut that night on the floor! I stopped asking about the snake, they didn’t think it was a problem. Why was I concerned?
Saturday April 5
This morning when I opened my tent, the zipper broke. This is a serious problem. You must keep your tent closed in the day to keep out spiders & snakes. You must keep it zipped at night to keep out spiders, snakes & mosquitoes. Trying to take out of your tent every morning everything you will need for the day is almost impossible. I tried. Therefore, I literally prayed it zipped every time. I knew my Heavenly Father knew far more than I the necessity of this zipper & as in everything else, He was more than sufficient!
Each day either early in the AM or just before the sun set I took a bush walk. Today I decided to walk to the water source. I knew it was a long way but thought I could make it & get back before it got too hot. Armed with my water, camera, hat & walking stick I started out. It was a beautiful morning, the birds were on the trail & people were busy about their early morning activities. I stopped at several compounds & did a little PR. Most people wanted me to take their picture. I always show them the picture after it is taken & everyone has a good laugh at themselves. By this time everyone in the area knew I was there & considered me one of the community. That is a good feeling!
I do not have a watch that I can wear in the bush. I always used a cheap watch that wouldn’t matter what happened to it. I failed to get one the last time I was in the US. I learned to watch the sun & before long could guess quite close to the correct time – on the hour.
I knew by the sun & the heat that I had gone as far as was advisable. I still had not reached the water & I had a long way to go on the return trip. I met a man along the trail & was able with my small vocabulary of Nuer to find out that the water was still a long way off. I turned around to go back to my compound. I guessed that I had gone over 2 kilometers when I decided to turn back. I couldn’t imagine carrying water those distances. I was having problems with my water bottle & camera!
Peter was scheduled to arrive today so I looked over the lessons I was going to teach. Pastor John came to tell me that he had not heard from Peter. There is no cell reception in South Sudan at this time. There is no way to communicate except by word of mouth & runner.
About 1 PM every day a group of boys came to my compound to play ball. I had an old WILSON ball that they used. It was so bad that we had to pump it up every 15 minutes. They didn’t care. My compound is the only place in many kilometers that there is room to run & play ball. One day I had over 30 juniors, teens & young adults that came to play for hours. Today was not an exception.
I have two large Baobab trees on my property. Baobab trees are found in the savannas of Africa & India mostly around the equator. They grow to exceed 25 Meters tall with a girth of 28 Meters & live 1000’s of years. They are leafless for 9 months of the year. The bark is used for cloth & rope, the leaves for condiments & medicines. The fruit “Monkey bread” is eaten. It has even been known that the trunks have been carved out for people to live in. It has been said that they look like the tree has been plucked up & stuffed back in the ground upside down. It is an interesting read on the INTERNET!
One is on the compound. Rex had planned to build the house so we would be able to see the tree outside our screened windows. There are no limbs on this tree until the very top. One day one of the boys kicked the ball into the limbs of this tree. There was no way to climb the tree, & these boys climb all the time! A discussion ensued as to how they were going to get this ball. It was decided that rocks were the answer. They all began looking for rocks & began throwing them at the ball. Honestly, I didn’t they had a chance but I was wrong. After about 5 minutes of rocks hurling through the air, a couple of the rocks made contact & the ball came falling from the tree. The game continued!
They boys found out that I liked Paw Paw (papaya). Every day when they came to play ball they came bearing fresh Papaya that they had picked. Yummy! I always insisted I share with them.
By dark, no one had heard from Peter so I knew something had kept him from coming to Maiwut.
Sunday April 6
I began my walk to Maiwut Bible Baptist Church, about 30 minutes before they would begin. Pastor John met me on the trail. The congregation has been cut by more than ½ since the problems began in the country. Many fled for fear the fighting would reach their homes.
Peter arrived during the service so Pastor John asked me to address the people. Peter had been unable to find a way to make the trip to Maiwut the day before. His employers had insisted he not leave when he needed to leave.
A new baby had been born in the congregation. As per tradition the father names the baby then the church gives it a name as well. The church named the baby Samuel. I was able to give them a new baby hat that had been knitted by ladies at Suncoast Baptist Church in Fla. Pictures were taken & everyone was pleased.
It was decided that another guard was needed for the property, as one guard could not take care of my compound & his own compound as well. I hired another one of the men in the church to fill the position. Actually, the men of the church discussed it & decided who would get the job! Everyone agreed so Deacon John was hired. He began work that day! This way they can take turns on Sunday going to church.
The next topic of discussion was the tire on my truck. I told them that I knew how to change the tire, if they would help me. 8 men of the church followed me back to my compound & we began the process of tire changing. You need to realize none of these men know how to drive, none of them know anything about fixing anything mechanical. I told them to wait, I was going to change clothes & then we could get started. Peter said, “You tell us what to do & we will do it”. I agreed but needed to get under the truck in order to show them where & how to place the jack. A picture of this would have been fantastic but the only one that knows how to take a picture (me) was under the truck, so you will just have to use your imagination!
The hole that I had started previously had to be dug deeper. Then the lug nuts had to be loosened. I was trying to explain the easier way to do it than with your hands. I put the wrench on the nut & one of the men sat down on the ground & with his bare hands turned the nuts. Before in Addis when I was practicing I was able to loosen them with my foot but this I could not do the day I tried. I don’t know if they had been tightened by a machine or not but they were unmovable. This man did it with his arms. I was impressed. Of course, all of the men cut down trees like it is nothing so they have the physical ability to do amazing things with just brute strength. After the tire was changed, they were preparing to tighten the nuts. I cautioned them not to make them too tight or no one would be able to get them off. They laughed & laughed! They all learned on that Sunday afternoon how to change a tire. The information may be helpful to them someday.
I told Peter about my water filter breaking. He said there was market several kilometers away & that SOMETIMES they have bottled water. He said he and Pastor John would walk there. If they had bottled water he would get some for me. I told him that since the truck is fixed, I will take you. They said no. They didn’t want me to be out in the heat, so off they went.
It was evening when my water appeared. Peter had found someone that was going to the border so he got a ride & would be back on Thursday. I was to leave on Friday morning.
Monday April 7
Pastor John came to tell me he was going to see the General to get the letter allowing me to leave South Sudan & enter Ethiopia. After making that trip he was unable to get the letter, as the General was not on the compound. He would need to try another day.
Pastor James Chot of the Fugnido 12 Bible Baptist Church, arrived. He had made the trip across the border in order to see me. His people had built their building but needed a roof before the rains began. Fugnido is a refugee camp that has been in place for over 20 years. This is home for these people & they choose not to leave. However, they have no access to the materials needed for a roof. They are allowed out of the camp but if they go in & out too much, they have problems. I admit I don’t understand all of this situation, but we have 2 churches in this huge camp. I was there one time with Rex. It is really unbelievable the amount of people in this place.
Today a herd of cattle came onto the compound. I told Guandiit, not to worry. I was to be sorry for that statement. My laundry was on the line. One huge bull, with large, Texas style horns, decided he would eat my clothes. It was afternoon & quite hot. Deacon John was asleep in his chair. He heard me screaming & saw me running but didn’t know what was going on. He chased me, to find me running after this bull trying to get back my clothes. One of the boys playing ball, began to chase the bull & eventually the animal dropped my clothes. We were all laughing before it was over. I’m sure there were a lot of laughs that night at “Maandiit” – this is what the boys called me, it means “grandmother”.
Tuesday April 8
These days passed with what became normal happenings.
Early before light, ladies would pass on the trail going to cut thatch for their homes. About 3 PM they would once again pass my compound with their loads on their heads. They always stopped & greeted me. Laughing at how I thought it was fantastic what they could do, when for them, it was as normal as breathing was for me. They even wanted me to take a picture of them, which I happily did.
Most people that passed yelled to me a greeting & loved that I could answer them.
I had taken only a few women’s clothing to give away. I only had so much of my own clothes that I could get rid of. The need is great among the women but until now the only clothes I had to give were Rex’s.
One of the teen girls from the church came one day & asked for clothes. She was wearing rags. I dug through what was left & found a blue/black dress that buttoned all the way down the front with a tie in the back. Most of my clothes will only work for the teen girls. I’m short & these ladies are VERY tall. This girl was so happy that she had tears in her eyes. I thought, Lord, how much we take for granted. Most of these women are in rags & I have nothing left to give.
This day the girl was back with some other girls just to see me. I noticed that she had on the “dress” that I had given her but the top had been cut off & she was wearing what was left as a skirt. I was puzzled & decided to try to find out why they had cut off the top. I didn’t understand. She proceeded to tell me with a few words of Nuer & signs, that the day I gave her the dress, she had taken it home & washed it. She hung it on the line to dry. A large bull had pulled it off the line & eaten it! She said she cried & cried. They had to cut off the top of the dress where it had been eaten to make a skirt she could wear. I cried with her. Imagine buying a new dress, planning to wear it the next day & something happening that basically destroyed it. How devastated would you be? I had nothing left to give her.
I wondered if it was the same bull that had tried to eat my clothes! Probably so! That bull must have some sort of mental problem, eating clothes?
I was told that before Rex began putting up our fence there were no villages in that area. After he began work on our compound, 2 large villages sprung up around us. To me, they are a long distance from my compound but to these people who walk everywhere, it is not far.
Wednesday April 9
Pastor John went again to the General’s compound & was able to get the letter from him that was needed, allowing me to leave South Sudan & asking that I be allowed to enter back into Ethiopia.
The letter was dated April 11.
Thursday April 10
I had begun packing away things that I was not taking back to Addis & trying to get a head start on the packing for the next day, when I was scheduled to leave. I knew it would take a lot of time for me to get everything taken down & packed in the truck. Men would be there to help me on Friday, but would only be able to work with me on my instructions. There wasn’t much for the girls to do as I had run out of laundry soap & was putting things away. They did some work, helped me wash my hair & then I told them to leave & return later in the afternoon when it was cooler. They seemed happy with this because it was getting very hot earlier than usual.
I began to notice men running down the trail with their spears. This was not a normal happening. I noticed the boys had not come to play, there were no women around nor were there children anywhere.
Something was going on.
Deacon John & I were sitting under the tree trying to stay cool when one of the younger men of the church came by with his spear. He told us the fighting was not too far away & he was going to see what was going on. If it was nothing, he would be back. By this time Guandiit had arrived. Deacon John, Guandiit & myself tried to dissuade this man from taking this action. This man is impulsive & tends not to think before he acts. They could not change his mind & off he went. I never saw him again. This was about 1:45 PM. Around 2:15 PM, Pastor John & several men of the church came onto the compound. They began to tell me what had happened. An Ethiopian construction crew had been attacked & one man killed. The men that did this belonged to a tribe that fought for the government. The fighting was now 2 kilometers from my compound. They asked me to consider leaving. Where was I to go? The border was hours away. The border guards did not know what was happening & would not let me cross the border as my letter was for the 11th & this was the 10th. It would be dark before I could reach the border, then where was I to go? The men that were attacked had been on the road so that didn’t seem the wise place to be. There were no answers.
Pastor John told me, “this is our country we will fight to protect our families”. Could I blame him?
Pastor John was the spokesman for the group, but they had all agreed upon what was to be said before arriving at my compound. We discussed many things. They spoke of Rex & his love & devotion to the Nuer people. I told them that before Rex left on the last trip he had told me he prayed God would let us die with the Nuers. God answered his prayer.
I asked them if we could pray about this before a decision was made. God knew what was going to happen & He would guide us as to our decision. They agreed with smiles. After some time, Pastor John prayed. After he prayed, he told me the decision what I was to do, was mine to make. They would not decide for me but whatever I decided they would back me completely. These are their feelings in my words. He said, God will direct our decision! He was so right.
As I sat there through it all, on a hot afternoon in South Sudan, I was asking God to show me what to do. What was the best thing for them? As an American I could be caught in a hostage situation. If they were harboring an American they could suffer the consequences. So many thoughts ran through my mind.
God reminded me of a passage of scripture that Rex loved. I heard him preach it many times & never tired of hearing the life’s truth behind this scripture.
Eccl. 11:1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Eccl. 11:2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
Eccl. 11:3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
Eccl. 11:4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
Eccl. 11:5 As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
Eccl. 11:6 In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
Eccl. 11:7 Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun:
Eccl. 11:8 But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.
Eccl. 11:9 Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
Eccl. 11:10 Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.
God called to my mind verse 4 specifically. Eccl. 11:4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
If we serve God according to circumstances we will never do anything for Him. As we look to our Bibles, the majority of time the circumstances were against God’s people. Decisions were made according to “what does God want me to do” The surrounding circumstances did not determine the decisions.
I expressed to the men that I fully understand & comprehended what they were saying, what was at stake. I understood bullets & what they could do.
I told them that God had given me peace to stay right where I was & my time was in His hands NOT the soldiers.
After this was translated, I saw relief & smiles come across each face. This is what they had determined but wanted it to be my decision.
Pastor John then said, “We will speak of this no more”! That was that!
They began going about their business & at that time it was preparing their guns & spears. Many men came by the compound, stopping to chat about the situation & forming plans. There was no tension, no further discussion with me. Some of the boys came & played. These were sons of the men that were there. That night there was much laughing & fellowship. There was the realization that our times are in our Father’s hands. It always is, but when faith takes hold it becomes reality.
No one had heard from Peter. Unknown to us Peter could not find a ride & had begun walking to Maiwut, which would take over 6 hrs. On his way, the truck passed him that had been attacked. They begged him to go with them across the border to Ethiopia. He was going the wrong way! He told them NO, he must go on. This was when Peter learned of the problem. He told me, “ I had to get to you”. He did arrive later that evening. He had not eaten all day. Some of the men were gone to get food to bring back to my compound. I was able to give Peter food & water. They were all glad to see him when they got back. I don’t know how many slept on my compound that night. As was my norm, when it started to get dark I went to my tent. As I prayed that night, God reminded me of many scriptures. Whatever He was going to do it would be for my good & His Glory. As in Ps 109:27 David said, “ That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, LORD, hast done it. “ To these Nuer men, it wasn’t a question of IF the fighting would reach us, it was the question of WHEN.
God reminded me of the story in 2 Kings 6:16-17 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
17 And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
I’m convinced in our lives that God has to “open the door” so to speak for harm to come to his children. We see this over & over in God’s Word.
At 10 PM I heard 2 gun shots in the distance, that was all. The remainder of the night had only the “normal” sounds of the bush.
Friday April 11
The next morning, they were all smiles. God took care of us! Yes, He did. He protected not only us, but all of this community. My last communication with Peter was yesterday (April 24). He told me all is quiet in Maiwut. No fighting EVER came. They know it was God’s doing!
We began the process of packing up. We were on the road by 9 AM. Of course it took about an hour to get to the road that would lead to the border.
As we passed through Pagak we saw the Pagak Bible Baptist Church, Pastor Peter Gatkuoth. We did not stop as the pastor was away. We stopped at Peter’s home to leave some books I had brought for him. His mother was not there as she had taken the cattle to the river. While at his home 2 trucks full of troops came by & asked “Who is this woman?” Peter told them, “She is a Maiwut woman”. That was all they needed to hear. I was considered one of the community.
We made the journey to the border without incident of any kind. We had no problem with the Ethiopian soldiers getting back across the border. Of course, someone wanted a ride & as PR we have agreed. It never hurts to help the police when you can! We let this man out at the next town.
As we were passing one of the camps, Peter told me “This is where Rebekka (his wife) & family ( 5 children) are living”. He then screamed at me to stop. There was Rebekka along the road waiting to see him. She had not been able to get any communication to him. Their 2 month old son, Mal, was very sick & she needed to get him to the Dr. I already had 2 men & all of their things in the cab but they squeezed Rebekka, Mal & another son into the truck & we were off again. I knew the baby was very sick. I had some ideas of what the problem could be but he definitely needed to see a Dr.
We finally arrived in Gambella. Peter didn’t want to leave me until Aki arrived but I told him he must go & get Mal to the clinic. Aki did arrive & took me to the place I would be staying the night. After all the NGO’s left, there were hotel rooms available. Later that night Peter came to my hotel. He told me that Rebekka had Malaria, Mal had malaria & his other son had Typhoid & Typhus. He also told me that he had Malaria. I realized then that he had walked over 6 hours to get to Maiwut while fighting the malaria. He could have easily died on the road. God protected him as well!
I left the next afternoon, Saturday April 12, to fly back to Addis.
Each day spent in the bush God did so many things for me that time or space won’t allow to share. God had protected me from rain, wind, snakes, spiders, huge ants & many other animals. He had protected the truck and Aki, my driver in Ethiopia. He had provided petrol when there was none. He had protected me & the entire community of Maiwut from government troops. Every step of the way He had gone before me.
As a child of the King there is nothing better than being in the place He has for you. There is no safer place for the child of God than in His perfect will. This doesn’t mean that things don’t happen; it means He is with you & knows the end from the beginning. Nothing is allowed to touch you until it goes through His hands first. Seek His will; He will give you peace that you can’t explain. When you know what to do, do it, no matter what comes. In the end, no matter what happens, you will know you were where He wanted you & doing His will in your life. That is all you need.
Serving God is an adventure. There is nothing in this world like it!