This week leading up to the elections has been so extremely busy. We have had to pull all of our crews in from the church building sites and send them home to their villages to get ready for the vote, many up to a four days journey by road. I work with two other guys and both of them have been gone leaving me to handle things here at the base. It has been a true learning experience for me. The Lord patiently teaches me deeper levels of humility, perseverance, patience, gentleness, all the fruits of the Spirit, as I handle the many situations which arise on our bases daily.
Communication can be the biggest obstacle here and it brings with it many potential pitfalls. I find myself tripping over my feet (mouth) and having to right myself because of not understanding, or not taking the time to understand, the men and women I am working with.
And so, I am learning to slow down and realize that not all of the work that “I think” needs to get done, will get done. It is more important to take the time to understand and to ensure understanding, before moving on to the next thing, otherwise I will keep revisiting the last thing. The people here never get impatient with our ignorance of their language. It is us who get impatient with them and the Lord has brought it to my attention that I am visiting their land and not vise versa. It is I who needs more patience and more humility and understanding. This is very time consuming. You cannot rush it. When a person of this culture has a problem or something important to say, it literally turns into a half hour to hour long conversation and you cannot rush it or avoid it because they want their say and what they have to say, they say it many, many times in that hour to make sure that you understand them.
The Lord shows me that I must take this time to listen to their concerns because if I don’t then I am showing them that what they have to say is not important to me. The Lord listens to my concerns over and over again. He sees my mistakes and yet He gently corrects me over and over again. He never tires of listening to me, no matter how much time I need of His understanding. Should I then not afford another person the same consideration? It reminds me of the unforgiving master who begged his huge debt to be forgiven and the king took the time to hear his concern. And yet, the man turned around and demanded that his servant pay immediately the small debt owed to him without listening to his concerns. And so, I find myself listening more than I talk, which is a good thing. I just wish I could understand what they were saying! Having to have an interpreter only makes the conversation last twice as long.
I am also learning a deeper level of the meaning God’s mercies being new every morning.
Lamentation 3:21-23 “But this I will recall and therefore have I hope and expectation: It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that I am not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.”
Almost every night this week, it has been above 100 degrees all throughout the night. We toss and we turn in our puddles of sweat and wonder when the morning will come. Sometimes, in my frustration, I lie there and I wonder however will I continue day by day to survive in this place where it never gets cool. I don’t even read for too long before bed because even my headlamp causes more heat. And we all sleep fitfully only to await the coming dawn. And yet, when I awake, tired as I am, I find myself in God’s Word, still sweating, yet gaining new strength for each day. Another man that I work with says the same thing. We cannot think about next week here or even the next night, only each day as it comes. God gives us enough mercy and grace for each day. They are NEW every single morning. It is up to us to partake of them. Hmmmm, reminds me of gathering fresh manna in the wilderness.
Every single morning I awake to work yet another day in this heat. The days have remained in the 120’s. Last night I moved my bed outside my tent and was treated to the most beautiful starry sky. I fell asleep staring at the heavens and thanking God for His love for us. I fell asleep thinking about Jacob and him saying, “Surely the lord is in this place.” I had such a great sleep, even in the 100 degree night! So, now my permanent sleeping place is outside under the starry heavens, falling asleep in wonder at His creation in the heavens knowing He watches over me as I sleep and also feeling a lot cooler outside my tent. I do sleep enclosed in a “bughut” which is like a mesquito net tent that sets on my bed.
Another daily challenge: My desktop is actually a plastic table and it is covered with a towel because I sweat so much in the day that my wrists drip while I am working sometimes. I get up and the entire back of my pant legs are drenched. I am not exaggerating. When we drive to town every day, there is so much dust and dirt that my hair has a white coating by the time I return. And this is every single day. Also my left arm is turning a very dark brown from being exposed to the returning sun on the way home.
Each morning I have to make the one hour trek at 6:30 to our nearest city to get to the meat market early enough to buy our meat. I have pretty much given up coffee because in order to have any I would have to make this fire and then wait for the water to boil and all that takes a half hour extra and so I just mix me some Tang and off I go. The drive is four wheeling almost all the way, over bumpy dirt roads, across fields, tilting precariously to one side as I go down into ravines. Every morning I drive past the cattle camps where they “smoke” the cows. Makes me laugh when I say that. The cattle herders burn something, possibly cow chips, that smolder and surround the cows with smoke to ward off sickness in their cows. The cattle are very peaceful and seem to enjoy it. Pretty crazy.
While I am in town, I cannot walk 10 feet without people of every single age, male and female, asking me for money. It never lets up and they are very persistent about it. I am getting to know the vendors that I go to each time and so they don’t make me go through the whole price haggling bit anymore so that is big grace for me.
The flies are so incredibly horrible here. They never leave you alone. When we have to visit the latrine after dark with our flashlights, we have to hang them up high because there are so many huge belligerent flies that attack our lights. So if your light is high and you are squatting low….. Sorry guys, no help for you. When I am ready to leave the latrine I grab my light and shake it like crazy as I practically run out. And if you “squat” too long, well never mind…… I can really understand how the devil is connected to flies and the whole Beelzebub deal. They are annoying pests that never let up. That’s how Satan is, he never lets up and so we have to find new ways to rid ourselves of his pestering. My next plan is to have a block of cement built with a rebar rod for a handle so we can cover the hole and smother the flies!!! Haha! Satan, you are going to be smothered by your own stench!
More things that are a part of my daily life: My tent is right next to the back fence, about 10 yards from it, and the kids constantly say, “Kawaja you give me ball”. Every day they wait until I am going to get my shower stuff in the evening and there they are yelling through the fence. So yesterday I started singing to them through my tent that I had no ball, only love to give away. They just laugh at that and enjoy it. So now they come to hear me sing! Haha, God has a great sense of humor. There are two boys, James and Santino who are my translators basically, and so I am trying to teach them to quit asking for things. To just enjoy each other and unexpected gifts will come in their own time.
There is NOOOOO place I can go to be alone. There is a path that is along the outside of the fence near my tent and I wonder if people stop and stare at me while I am reading by flashlight at night or something because I hear them walking and then it is quiet and so I think they do. Talk about a creepy feeling! I am really learning how to live inside my invisible bubble and shut the outside world out even in the midst of it when I need to. Some days it is most difficult and frustrating.
As I go to the city to shop, I enter the city and I pass a field I call squatters field. It is a huge field where ladies and kids walk across the road to go publicly squat in this field to do a “long call” (poop). They just squat and watch the world go by. It’s just crazy to think about isn’t it? There are so many sights that are so normal to me now that I don’t even give it a second glance anymore. I drive over this one river where grown men and women bathe naked in full view of everyone. I don’t even give it a passing glance anymore, seriously, because it is so normal here.
In the market, I see the same ladies every day, hung over and tired, begging for money from me. They are wrinkled and withered and old looking. I would venture to guess them to be in their thirties yet they look sixty. I offer them bread or a piece of fruit and some just wave it away. They just want the money for another drink, one lady looking at me in frustration and even anger as her baby literally hangs like a limp ragdoll on her hip, head lolled back in exhaustion from being carted around all day and night in this heat. I see her every day this way. I had to almost force her to give her baby the juice I just bought for it. My heart breaks and I feel helpless because I am helpless. I want to grab the baby and run and cradle it to my breast in protection from its own mother. One day, I think to myself. One day I want to save these children. One day, one day at a time, I wait.
The little boy who hangs out at our compound, I told you about him last week, well I decided I wanted to go and meet his mother and learn his true story and so I took him by the hand and off we went. I was led to this pitiful little structure with plastic tarp walls and a dirt floor and one pot for cooking and an old worn out jerry can for water. She was so skinny and she immediately rolled out a nice sitting mat for me and we sat and talked, with the help of a neighbor boy, James, who speaks English. All the way to her house, other ladies and children would beg for money or food from me. This lady never once asked me for a single thing. She just kept touching her boy’s new clothes and shoes and telling me, “God bless you”.
I learned that her husband had died and she was all alone caring for her three boys. We visited just a short while and I left to come back home. That night I asked my boss if I could take our leftover meat to her the next morning. We always have to be careful with this or we will have lines of people at our gates night and day expecting the same. He said yes. So, Saturday morning I went very early and I found no one home. And so I left the food and as I was walking back, here she comes with her three boys from the all night prayer service. She was dressed simply and I saw such beauty in her thin dark and angular face. She is a Christian lady and I don’t think she drinks like I was told. And now when we meet, we hug each other. She is so frail in my embrace. I am now trying to find a way to build her a better hut with good walls.
I am also being given a new level of understanding of the scripture,
Isaiah 43:18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
When I look back on my “former” life of comfort and ease compared to here, I don’t ever dwell on it. I rarely “go there” to the place of physical comfort because I have found a new place of comfort and security in the desert, in the wasteland of Sudan. God always wants to do a new thing. He wants us to “See it and perceive it”. He always makes a way for me to walk on the path of grace through this dry and weary land. In the morning when I rise, I feel the wellness of my soul. I feel the peace that surpasses all understanding in my natural mind.
Today, it is the first day of elections, and things are already going bad. Just six miles down the road the village chief is missing and his police officers have been arrested. They did nothing wrong except they are supporting the “wrong” candidate and so a “coup like” atmosphere has already begun. We have packed our emergency bags and they are on standby right now as I sit here. We have been listening to worship music all morning as we sit together writing emails and such. And do you know that we are all in “perfect” peace? How crazy is that? That is God’s perfect peace that is beyond human understanding. We just know that He cares for us and will not let our foot slip.
I see the new things He does everyday and we perceive He is doing a new thing here in Sudan. I let go of the things I found comfort in and I take my refuge and comfort only in the Lord. He acts on our behalf and He is always mighty to save. If we don’t believe this then we are not ever safe. I sleep outside at night with only a thin layer of mesquito net between me and the world. I sleep like a baby with a belly full of milk. It is only my complete faith in my God that allows me to do this. In the USA I would have layers of locks on my doors and an alarm set in my house before I could sleep comfortably. My what a change the Lord has done in me.