We are back home, and it’s wonderful to be here! Really! We are confident that God has a reason for us being here.
Let me tell you about the state of things that we have come back to. In the last post I told you about Jill’s birthday, and our email prayer letter update (going out this first week of March) tells about the three birthdays that we celebrated that same week.
The state of the world’s newest nation
Again, the question: What is happening in South Sudan? The story is different in different places.
In the north of the country there is unspeakable destruction of homes, villages, and whole towns are being annhilated by heavy artillary fighting. Unknown thousands have died and an estimated 900,000 people have been displaced. Reports of atrocities and war crimes are frequently heard.
Here in Eastern Equatoria State, it appears to be “business as usual”: people are going about their work, students are in school, food and other supplies are regularly coming into the market. The hot and dry season is intensely upon us, in rural areas they are burning the grass and filling the atmosphere with smoke and little pieces of black cinder grass stems that filter into everything. People are talking about getting ready for the rain season in another month or two.
Intentional burning of grass.
But there is growing discontent and expressions of great pain in the conversations on the streets. People are fearful about the ongoing war between the two main ethnic communities in the north of the country. The peace that they fought for for decades has eluded us again.
One young man came back from the war and he said he resigned from the army. “I will fight for the independence of my country, but I will not fight to kill my own fellow countrymen.” That seems to be a common sentiment among many.
The nation’s development and economic growth is again at a standstill, even being reversed. A month ago a pastor spoke to us in despair that there is nothing to do but wait for the old to die off and then we start from scratch to build a nation. That same pastor said this week, “We cannot keep silent, we must speak up against the evil that is running rampant and unchecked. We must proclaim God’s Word.”
February 18 to 20
Our email prayer letter gives more detail about our visit to the TIMO team in Ohilang. The team has recently come to work among the Lopit tribe, a groups of some 70,000 people. They do farming and keep livestock and are still largely unreached. Their homesteads are firmly built into the sides of the hills that are sometimes quite steep, and the women carry 5 or 6 gallons of water on their heads up the steep hills in plastic jerry cans, buckets, or large open pots.
Putting the roof on a house.
The first TIMO team there started 9 years ago with Joshua and Justina Musuva as members of that team. After their two year commitment, the Musuvas stayed on and continued to learn about and love the Lopit people. Now they are on a second TIMO team, this time leading it, with 6 members in addition to themselves. Two couples, Robert and Carol Bett from Kenya, Guilherme and Marina Stutz from Brazil, and two single women, Marlene van Tonder from New Zealand, and Ashley Burkhardsmeier from USA.
Now they are deep into language and culture learning, each family and the two single women in their own semi-permanent houses (cement floor, mud and stick walls, and sheet metal roof) that are scattered around Ohilang in the foothills of the Lopit mountain. They are all within 30 minutes walk of the team leaders’ house.
Climbing the mountain to visit the homesteads.
What is our role in the present circumstances?
We as expatriate workers are visitors in someone else’s land, but we are also workers of the Kingdom of God in a world that is hopelessly in trouble. I was sharing with some fellow pastors a couple days ago. We reminded ourselves that we are faced with a huge, immovable mountain.
The world cannot move it. United Nations (of which there is a very large presence in this country), African Union, the US government, European Union, and all the pressure of the international community does not have the power to bring the needed changes. But the people of God in this nation and God’s people around the world, have the weapon of prayer. If we join together we can move this mountain.
We as the AIM team in South Sudan are here with differing activities and ministry objectives. Our overall purpose is to extend the Kingdom of God, and our specific AIM purpose is to work toward “Christ-centered churches among all African peoples”. We are increasingly working side by side with our Sudanese brothers and sisters to see individuals, families, villages, towns, and whole tribes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the midst of all of our official job description activities, we are daily touching the lives of many people every day:
- We have a time of prayer and Bible reading every morning at tea time with whoever is on the compound and with the two local people who work for us everyday. Joseph, our gate keeper and groundsman, is a middle-aged man who is hungry to know the Word but has not yet made a profession of faith in Christ. And Pasca, a single mother who has a Catholic background and who seems to be trying to figure out how God and “church” are connected.
- On Sundays we go to different local churches to encourage their growth.
- On Monday afternoons Andrea has a Bible club with some local children.
- On Thursdays Jordan has a ministry of discipling a couple young men.
- Everyday some of us (mostly the ladies) are in the market, buying daily food supplies and sharing their faith with the food sellers and shop owners.
- Almost everyday we meet various church members or pastors and share how the Lord is at work in our lives.
- From time to time (quite frequently, it seems) there is a funeral event where we gather with others to share the grief of their loss. It’s a place where a wide range of people are together, believers and unbelievers, spiritually mature and spiritual infants. It’s an opportunity to proclaim the gospel, because a pastor is usually invited to speak to the crowd. It seems many deaths would be avoidable, if there were better understanding of health and sanitation, better medical care, better infrastructure and security, and better governance. Today Jill is with a family who lost a young man who was a recent army recruit who was quickly sent to the front line to fight, and he was killed.
Why are we here?
This question hit me when I saw the TIMO team in Ohilang among the Lopit people. A group of 8 young people – talented, intelligent, deeply in love with Jesus, seriously committed to obeying the Great Commission, and intensely focused on making a difference in a remote tribe that nobody knows or cares about.
But they are known and loved by the God of Creation who made those people in his own image. This team is there to make a difference. We are asking God for a movement of Lopit people to become worshipers of God and followers of Jesus Christ, disciples who go out and make more disciples, and that there will be local Bodies of Christ scattered throughout the villages of the Lopit mountains.
Here in Torit we are asking God to awaken the church. We would like to see God’s people reaching out to the lost, not only to make disciples right where they are in this town, but to get involved with fellow members of the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission to the nations (tribes) of South Sudan. We would like to see church members do more than just attend a church service every week, some of whom are even trained pastors. There are many small struggling churches around the edges of town that need encouragement and teaching, and there are countless rural villages and small towns not very far from Torit where there are no churches at all.
Till next time…