I have been traveling the roads of South Sudan for the last two weeks and what an amazing journey it has been. There is such an air of excitement as we are only 6 days away from becoming the youngest nation on earth! Two weeks ago we traveled from Yei to Juba, 160 kilometers north, which is 99 miles. It only took us 6 hours to drive those 99 miles (dirt roads). We arrived in Juba to find that we were delayed four days there until the next flight. We finally left Juba on the 24th. And then favor flooded our doorstep! We boarded a UN Mission In Sudan flight for free. Turns out that the Government of South Sudan sponsored us all the way. We were put in VIP hotels in Wau and Aweil and given a government car and driver and all meals, also with access to anywhere we wanted to go, taking pictures all the way! This just does not happen in Sudan. We met with the highest officials in the Minister of Social and Child Welfare offices in Juba, Wau and Aweil. Again, this just doesn’t happen here. The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) is very strict about cameras, if you remember my camera incident in Aweil last year, and yet we had full access everywhere we went. We even had an armed escort at one point when we went to the governor’s house for dinner, but that will come later. God showed me beyond any crazy doubt that He pours out His favor, it followed and went before us all the way, beyond anything we could imagine!
I want to add that a VIP hotel in South Sudan is comparable to a cheap motel 6 in the USA, even a little worse sometimes. No electricity during the day, barely trickling water when it is available, but the beds were comfy and the food, well, it left a bit to be desired. But we recognized favor and never complained and just kept thanking God that all this was free! Favor!
We left Juba and landed in Wau on Friday and had to stay the night and drive the three hours the next morning on dirt roads. We headed out very early to try and make it to Turalei but we couldn’t get all the players in place on time. Instead, we headed for Akuem to see all my friends and the children I used to minister to. It was crazy! My Dinka friends literally came running at me and hugging me and were so surprised that I was there and so happy to see me. The children came running across the dusty field by the SP compound calling my name, Kalowina!!!! It was such an excellent “homecoming”.
INTO THE WAR ZONE
We were supposed to go up to Turalei but we heard security reports that there was a militia attack on the city on the previous two nights in a row and so we decided to wait and see what the next day would hold. The next day, Sunday, came and we left at 0530 with 600 pieces of flatbread and a huge bag of candy! We drove for 5 hours on hard dirt roads in the back of a Landcruiser. We went through the villages of Wonyjok, Malual Bai, Akon, Gogrial, Wunrok and finally Turalei. The UN was surprised to see us there and asked us not to stay the night because the area was very insecure. And so we just stayed for a few hours before making the 5 hour journey back.
When we arrived many of the Internally Displaced People (IDP) from war torn Abyei were scattered into the bush because of the raids the two nights before. So we went around to the pockets of people we could find. We met a family of 12 or so living under a tree with no shelter. The mother told us that she lost four of her five children in the massacres of Abyei. Her surviving daughter stood next to her, both of them with such deep sadness in their eyes. I lost it and tears flowed as I felt their grief. Abyei is only 12 miles north and these people told us that the northern militias have destroyed everything, burning their homes, their crops, their towns, even killing their cattle. Devastation was everywhere. Many families have been separated from each other because of the gunfire and bombs and people running every which way and then walking all day, twelve hours, to safety, to find that their children are in another camp, up to 100 miles away.
We handed out bread to many as we moved from one pocket to another, listening to stories of the human condition in the north of South Sudan, praying with those who were grieving, praying for the sick. So many are here with nothing yet their faith in God is unshakeable. This is normal life to them. They praise God for the days they have, not crying about the days that were stolen by the enemy. These people have run all of their lives, all over South Sudan, and war has followed them around like an angry dog, yapping at their heels. Looking into these war weary eyes, I wondered how much more they could take. You can see the weight of it wearing on their shoulders like a leaden cloak, and their faces aged beyond their years. I left this place undone by their faith and stoic perseverance. Jesus I want that kind of faith and love for You, unshakeable, standing firm till the end.
STREET KIDS OF AWEIL
On the journey home from Turalei, we passed numerous trucks filled with soldiers and big guns heading for Turalei and Abyei. We returned to Aweil after 12 hours on the road and went straight to the streets of Aweil to the street kids to give bread and love away. They came running, so hungry, for food and love. They even shook our hands and told us thank you. We went to the places where they sleep and found them on market stall porches and on abandoned trains. Some were as young as 4-5 years old. They were dirty and hungry and spaced out on glue and gas filled rags in their mouths to stem the tide of their ever-present hunger for food. I saw small boys, maybe 8-9 years old, smoking cigarettes and huffing glue from an empty water bottle. It is very hard to take in. I have learned though that they really like to be hugged and so I give plenty of these out. They like the human touch and we never say no.
The Lord gave me a scripture this morning, which confirmed everything about this trip and my future in Aweil. 1 Corinthians 16:9 A great door for effective work has opened for me, and there are many who oppose me. We were traveling with two people from the government who weren’t very easy to be with and it took every ounce of patience I had and even my reserve to be with them for a week, day in and day out. God’s grace is so amazing! Everywhere we went, there was such an opportunity for ministry and stopping for the one or the many. There is no way you could be where we were and not see something to be done or someone to touch and love. A very great door stood open for us and we entered in to the effective work that awaited us. And those who were on the other side of that door stood with arms wide open. Simply amazing how easy it is to walk through.
The next day we went to visit an IDP village right here in Aweil. There are refugees from Darfur, at least a couple thousand. We visited one of our Iris pastors who lives there in a simple grass woven hut. There are hundreds of these simple huts all around us. These are the ones from Darfur who have also fled from the northern militias, running for their very lives as the bombs fall. As we sat and visited, we saw a man’s hut and business go up in a huge flame, just a hundred yards from us! We could even feel the heat of it. In 5 minutes, all was lost, everything he had, gone. No 911 call, no fire truck, no fire insurance, just a pile of ashes. Again, he starts again, how many times is it this time? Spending his life on the run from war and poverty and destruction. He didn’t lament or complain or resign himself to the ashes. He quietly started to pick through what little could be salvaged and he kept going. Oh the heart carries so much weight when you really think about these lives that are constantly chased by war and famine and flame.
We walked through the market each day and talked with the street kids and fed them and loved them, drawing crowds each time, because people couldn’t believe that foreigners would stop so much to care for their children. The desk clerk at our hotel told us as much. He said that the people of the city were asking, “Who are these foreigners who would love our children like this?” Love has come to Aweil. Love has come to touch those no one will touch. The children come to us and offer their hands of friendship and talk to us and smile as we love them and hang on us and let us ruffle their heads and squeeze their hands and hug their necks. They are amazed that people would touch them at all, in all their filth. These are the ones who have become my children. They know I will return in three months time and it makes them happy.
REFUGEES FROM KHARTOUM
We found another IDP village of 8,000 Sudanese returnees from Khartoum right on the edge of Aweil. We went and walked the dirt paths and greeted women all over the market. I saw a small boy holding a tiny girl whose spine bones were poking out of sagging wrinkled skin. Her arms were the size of the small neck of a coke bottle. We asked the boy to take us to his mother. We arrived at a small clean and organized grass hut. She told us that the girl has not eaten much since August when they fled Khartoum. The child was probably about four but weighed only about 15 pounds at the most. She was literally waiting to die from starvation. The mother has no money for a doctor. We told her that we would go and buy the baby the formula milk that her baby girl needs. We prayed with her and asked if she knew about Jesus. She didn’t. She and the other wife of the same husband received Jesus as Savior. We then went and bought baby formula highly enriched with everything and told her that her girl will live and not die.
So I now have my first milk program child! I left enough money with our pastor for three months of milk, which is about $230 USD. I also have three pastors in Aweil now and one is looking for a compound for me when I return in October. I now have a street church because we found an old theater and held our first evangelism service for the street kids there and handed out bread and peanuts. Many raised their hands for Jesus. And so Iris Aweil has been planted and I will soon take up residence with many more programs in mind! A great door for effective work has opened for me!
DINNER WITH THE GOVERNOR
We also had a meeting with the Governor of Bahr El Ghazal. This is very huge. At the end of our meeting, he invited us to his country house for a private dinner! He sent his personal car fully equipped with an armed bodyguard and off we went for a 1.3 hour drive to his small and simple country tukel for dinner. He is the kindest man and he showed us where President Salva Kir stayed on his plot of land during the war. He even showed us his father’s beautiful grave. It was such a personal side of him and he shared his testimony with us and we were just amazed at his honesty and simple faith in God. He said that he has everything he needs, food, shelter, family. Everything he does, it is for God because God has done so much for him. He gave us his personal email and basically the keys to the city of Aweil. If that is not an open door, I couldn’t possibly know of a better one for me!
Then he instructed his driver to drive us back to Wau the next day in his personal car. We left Wau on Friday in a Pakistani MI17 UN helicopter and flew to Juba, totally in awe that God would shine on us so big, taking us home in a helicopter! God has shown me at every turn on this trip how to trust in His total provision. Just a month ago I was thinking to myself, “How am I to get to Aweil? Where will I stay? Where will I get a car while I am there even just for this visit? You can’t just rent a car here in Sudan. You have to rent the driver also. All this is just too expensive for me. How am I to do all this?”. These were my thoughts and concerns and I had no answers but I told God that I know He wants me to go and He will make a way because I sure didn’t see it.
Not only did we get a free flight, but we got a free car and driver and hotel and food and a meeting with all the right people! My gosh, I could never in a million years have done this. I am telling you truly, He does give us abundantly above and beyond what we could even think or imagine. And He truly does place us before governors and kings as a witness to Him and gives us the words to say! I have seen these scriptures come alive for me and I am just a regular girl from a foreign country sitting in the dirt with children. I just follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
And so I make plans for my move to Aweil in three months time, no provision in my bank account for all that I have in mind to do, but God…… But God……! I am truly excited to see what He will do and where this will go. And I am not alone because I have three pastors already there and a new friend who I met at Samaritans Purse while I was there this week.
I write this as I sit in Juba waiting to go to Yei in the morning. I saw a lady walking on the streets of Juba today and she had a very large bundle of bamboo on her head, carrying a heavy load. She was an old woman, her skin wrinkled in the Sudan sun. Behind her was a younger woman with a small bundle on her head. She was following the old woman while holding onto a stick that the old woman was holding at the other end. The younger woman, probably her daughter, was blind. The two of them walked on as traffic snarled angrily about them, not giving way to their plight. No one cared, no one slowed down, they walked on, the older leading the younger, a look of stoic determination on her face, the older one. I could not imagine how much she loves her daughter, her friend, and I was undone as I watched the blind one walk the same steps as her mother. And I thought, wow, what would be my excuse? Let us follow Jesus the way this one followed her mother, carrying the lighter load and Him the heavier, allowing Him to lead us and trusting in His steps. He loves us, oh how He loves us……..
Today we left Juba at 6:30 a.m. headed down the dusty road to Yei. In Sudan there are no road signs or mile markers or even any pavement. You just get on a dirt road and go until you get to where you are going. Much of the land is uninhabited and so you can drive for miles never seeing another human or hut. But the Juba Yei road has many huts and villages along the way. After about an hour and a half we got the feeling that we had somehow taken the wrong road because we were heading to Congo. We could tell by the mountain formations. We kept going. The further we went, the more sure we were that we were not on the right road.
The Juba Yei road ALWAYS has public cars and busses going and coming, a sure sign you are on the correct road. We saw only one in 6 hours! We then prayed that God would just transport us to the correct road. The entire journey, we did not recognize a single piece of landscape. We even commented on how beautiful everything was and this must be Congo or the road going to it. We were never afraid or even concerned. We just kept driving, never passing a single village we were familiar with. We saw mountain formations we recognized, but we were on the wrong side of them. It was crazy. Burt we knew to just keep driving, we would somehow get there.
At five and a half hours we came upon the Yei River bridge leading into our town and were dumbstruck. The only way to get to this bridge is to pass the airport, which is on the Juba Yei road, which we go to all the time and so we know it. And also to pass miles of SPLA army barracks, which are impossible to miss. We NEVER passed these. Also, we never went through any of the usual road blocks. We even commented how there weren’t any. We never made a single turn off of the main road all the way from Juba, yet we ended up in Yei on the Juba Yei road, never having passed these two huge landmarks or any public busses! There isn’t even a road that turns on to this main road! We even remarked how we never even passed the trash dump just outside of Juba and never traveled any bumpy roads.
It was the smoothest and most beautiful road we had ever been on in Sudan yet the Juba Yei road is so bad that it takes its toll on the driver, and it isn’t that beautiful. Believe what you want but we KNOW that the only explanation for all this was that we were transported like Philip was to the Ethiopian in the Bible. Nothing else makes any sense. But God! My crazy insane life, but so much fun! Haha!!!! Jesus is alive and so much fun! Love and blessings from South Sudan, or Congo, or wherever I am! Carolyn