Tag Archives: Ben

Running to Hope

Have you ever been in stop and go traffic without another car on the road? I now have. We were driving in the Kiryandongo refugee camp and Pastor James Bab would tell me to stop.

A small house in the  refugee camp

A small house in the refugee camp

He saw someone walking and he wanted to greet them. So a short drive was made longer, but also much more pleasant.

Three guys from our Mission to the World (MTW) team, Ben Church, Bert Williams, and I, went to visit the South Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda and the work Pastor James is doing there. We know Pastor James because he has studied at Westminster Theological College where MTW helps teach.

James Bab and the visiting contingent give a thumbs up on a wonderful visit

James Bab and the visiting contingent give a thumbs up on a wonderful visit

James Bab is a Presbyterian pastor who runs a school that trains pastors in South Sudan. I met him last December when He came to Uganda to attend the Westminster graduation of some fellow South Sudanese brothers. This encounter led to a meeting and an accepting of an invitation to preach at the church he planted in Kampala.

Fleeing From Fighting
Just before he was to return to South Sudan and his family, fighting broke out in South Sudan on December 15th. There were reports of a coup attempt against the president (some dispute this claim). Regardless of the precipitation of the fighting, it is clear that battle lines are now drawn along ethnic lines.

According to the stories told to us one ethnic group, the Dinkas (the tribe of the president of South Sudan), are seeking to kill another ethnic group, the Nuer. The people in Kiryandongo are mostly Nuer. They fear for their friends and family still in South Sudan and are trying to make the best of their new home.

Every day, more people come into the camp with more stories of the suffering and persecution of the Nuer. One of the most recent arrivals, Helen, got to share her story with us.

Helen is Nuer and lived in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. As soon as the fighting broke out her home became its own refugee center. She had 15+ people in the house hiding. But soon even her home wasn’t safe. She had to flee and hide in another house. When the murderous soldiers came, they wanted to demolish that house with a tank like they had done several others. They were trying to eliminate the assets of Nuer as well as eliminate any hiding places. Fortunately, someone told them it was the house of another soldier’s in-laws. So they let it stand.

Eventually she was able to flee to the compound guarded by the UN in Juba. There are UN soldiers who protect those inside. Helen was relatively safe in the compound but many are suffering inside the compound. However, there is little food, water, shelter, medicine, and other necessities available. Some murderous soldiers on the outside of the camp climb a tower and shoot into the compound and sometimes hit people.

****Warning – some of the things in the next paragraph are terrible, graphic, and not for the faint of heart

Helen’s story is tragic. But she relayed the happenings of others to us as well. Some Nuer found by the murderous soldiers were made to do unimaginable things and had unimaginable things done to them. The soldiers raped many women and even gang raped some into a coma. In a sick and twisted perversion, some sons were forced to ‘know’ their mothers. Some women were made to eat the raw flesh of some who were already dead.

****Graphic content over

These stories still make me pause and regroup. They are unsettling. But it makes their requests of us all the more amazing. More on these requests below.

These events certainly show the depravity of mankind and depths that sin will take us. Never before had I heard stories like this so fresh and real. Never before have I realized just how much we need a Savior. We need a Savior who not only hates sin but provides salvation from it. We need Jesus.

In February, I went to Rwanda and took the opportunity to visit the Genocide Memorial there. The stories between the two events are strikingly similar. Just a few days ago people were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. I am afraid that in 20 years the same will be done for South Sudan if actions are not taken soon.

Inside the Camp
After stopping at the entrance to the camp to greet the camp director, we proceeded into the camp. There is one main road that is dirt. There are a few other roads that branch from it including smaller footpaths.

Food collection day in the camp.

Food collection day in the camp.

In mid-December 2013 there were 150 or so refugees in the camp. Less than 4 months later there are over 20,000. At first glance you might not realize this is a place that houses 20,000+ refugees. I was expecting something more densely populated. But granted, I have never been to one before. However, the drive down the road is pleasant with wonderful vistas of the mountains in the distance and greenery all around. There are huts and houses on occasion. They are rarely close to others. You can tell for sure if a house belong to a refugee because they will have tarp roofs or walls.

When refugees arrive at the camp they have to register. Then they are assigned a plot of land, given 5 poles and a tarp and bused to their new place of residence. The poles and tarp help build homes. Some refugees have opted to build mud brick homes as time and resources allow. They can also get a concrete slab and 4 logs given to them so a pit latrine can be constructed. Also there are days when food is delivered and they can go collect rice, beans, and various other food supplies.

Apart from tarp roofs and walls occasionally, the setting is very much like an African village. The scenery is quite pleasant. But the people are still in turmoil. They are grieving their family and country and they are trying to make a life in the camp.

Meeting with the Survivors

Ben and Bert listen to James and company talk about the plans for the church and its building.

Ben and Bert listen to James and company talk about the plans for the church and its building.

Pastor James first took us to see a building with only wood poles framing in place. They are working on constructing a church building. Currently they share meeting space with the local Catholic church.

We were then whisked over to that shared meeting space to have a gathering. The choir was present with their robes neatly adorned. They welcomed with a song in Nuer and followed that up with another. I didn’t understand a word but I certainly enjoyed it.

James introduced us to the people and shared a few words. Then the people gathered shared their stories with us. Helen was the first to go. The others verified her stories and told their own.

At the end I Have Decided was sung in Nuer and I sang in English. We then joined hands, Americans and Nuer, in prayer to our Heavenly Father. It was a sweet time of fellowship with a dark and heavy subject. Yet everyone there was worshipping God and giving Him glory.

The choir welcomes us with a song

The choir welcomes us with a song

It really is a testimony to me that they would have seen and experienced firsthand and still want to praise God. They have a real joy and peace that so many are longing for in this world. They have a lot to teach us, especially Westerners, on how to rejoice in suffering.

The Requests
After the stories were shared two requests were made. Several people stood to reiterate the requests and to share more about them. What they wanted was money to help get more people out of Juba and into Uganda. Specifically they want to get the widows, orphans, and sick out so they can come to the camp to receive some of the things not found in the UN compound there in Juba.

Funding to finish construction on the church building was the second request. They want to finish construction on a space for the Presbyterians to have a place to worship and offer space to the community. The current meeting space is also used by the Catholics and they use the space the majority of the time. Even the Catholics there were wanted this. It seemed to make sense.

Putting these two requests together remind me of God’s command in the book of Exodus. There, the Pharaoh is told by the Lord to let His people go so that they may go worship Him. That is what these dear brothers and sisters in Christ want. They want their people to be freed from the violence in Juba to come and worship God in Uganda. These refugees are being faithful in the midst of suffering. Praise God for their message and their testimony to God’s mercy and goodness. They are running to hope. The only hope found in Jesus Christ.

Thumbs up to praising the Lord!

Thumbs up to praising the Lord!

A family's compound in the camp.

A family’s compound in the camp.

We give a thumbs to up an encouraging meeting

We give a thumbs to up an encouraging meeting

Note the tarp covering of the house

Note the tarp covering of the house

The space where we met with the refugees.

The space where we met with the refugees.

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On the Road Again

I must say I was not looking forward to another long drive. But I was looking forward to getting home and seeing my family more. So Ben and I started for Kampala at 6:15am Kigali time. We got home at 7:15pm Kampala time. But you should know by now, I know I certainly do, that Kampala is 1 hour ahead of Kigali. So we spent 13 hours of clock time minus 1 hour of time zone difference on the road. For the mathematically challenged, that is 12 hours of driving.

Ben and I saw lots of grass and trees. It really is beautiful but also very sparsely populated. But this means you get to see 3 monkeys like we did. No, Ben and I were not 2 of the monkeys. We had a border crossing, stopped at a museum for a short break and enjoyed the wonderful vistas, and even stopped at the equator for a break. It was a long and grueling trip, but WE MADE IT HOME. Praise God! We enjoyed our trip and were blessed by what God is doing in Rwanda.

Of course there are pictures below. Be sure to check out the last picture.

I give a thumbs up to that view!

I give a thumbs up to that view!

I told you the vistas were wonderful.  God knows what He is doing.

I told you the vistas were wonderful. God knows what He is doing.

It's just a good picture of Ben

It’s just a good picture of Ben

We are hemispheres apart.

We are hemispheres apart.

The family gives a thumbs up to my return.

The family gives a thumbs up to my return.

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Good and Evil

This morning came early but the breakfast helped get me out of bed. Ben, Gordon, and I shared the meal. We then went to meet with a dynamic Rwandan, Albert.

Albert lost his parents in the genocide that occurred in 1994 here in Rwanda. He fled to Kenya and came back shortly after the fighting stopped. Sometime later he started working with MOUCECORE. This is a Christian organization started to help the reconciliation between the Hutus and the Tutsis through the context of the church. This group has done amazing things and continues to help the church here in Rwanda fulfill her mission. They also happen to have a guest house which is where we are staying.

Albert also has started his own small ministry called One Pig for a Change. He was out meeting people in churches as part of his work with MOUCECORE. He asked two ladies from different areas how their lives could be better. They both said that if they had a small pig they could raise it, breed it, and then start making an income from that. He asked how much a small pig cost and they said $12.

He went home wondering how he could help. He even told his wife he wondered if they were Christians because they were not helping others. So he started thinking and planning. He went around sharing his heart and vision with fellow Rwandans. Many found his vision compelling and gave money. He raised enough money to buy not just 2 pigs for those two ladies but 8 pigs for more.

He has since given the pigs out and seen the people flourish. Part of the arrangement is for the receivers of the pigs to give half of the litter away to others like them and to keep half. If this continues many more pigs will be given to those who need income. For the mathematically challenged this is exponential growth. Thus, the Lord is multiplying Albert’s work as well as the blessings for these people.
Albert has an amazing heart for Christ. His energy is contagious. He is very astute and understands the Lord calls His people to serve Him in wonderful ways. I only hope we can visit with Albert again if and when we come back to Rwanda.

So far we have met with about 4 Africans during our trip. Each one of them mentioned the genocide. Each of the Rwandans had some story of loss and suffering from that terrible time. I had heard about this wicked event and have seen Hotel Rwanda. Being here and hearing the stories makes it all the more real. However, nothing could prepare me for our trip to the Memorial after lunch.

After lunch, Ben and I went to the Genocide Memorial here in Kigali. The exterior is very serene with lush plants and beautiful landscaping. The inside is heavy and tells the story of the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. There are two basic groups in Rwanda, the Hutus and the Tutsis. While they used to be socio-economic indicators, the Belgian colonizers turned it into a racial distinction. The Hutus were the poorer of the two and made up the majority of the population.

Tensions built and some Hutu extremists preached a message of hate and called for the elimination of the Tutsis. Things came to a head in April 1994 when the president of Rwanda, a Hutu, had his plane shot down. Less than an hour later road blocks were up and Hutus were brutally, mindlessly, and terrifyingly killing any Tutsis they could find.

In the Memorial there are many pictures which can make a grown man weep over the evil and the terrible loss of life. The stories also show some of the wicked ways the atrocities were carried out. All told 1,000,000 people were killed in 3 months. These are numbers never seen before or since. I left the memorial in silence and with a heavy heart.

The country is still recovering from this nightmare. There is a lot of work for the church to do. Pray God would bring reconciliation and healing.

Tomorrow we leave early to go back to Uganda. Please pray for safe travel. We have about 10+ hours of driving ahead. I am looking forward to getting back to see Brooke, Sarah, and Sam. I have missed them. But I praise God for this trip to Rwanda, the encouragement I have received from these brothers in Christ, and getting to see the amazing things God is doing.

Below are some pictures.

Ben, Gordon, and I giving a thumbs up

Ben, Gordon, and I giving a thumbs up

Ben, Albert, and I giving a thumbs up

Ben, Albert, and I giving a thumbs up

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Wait for It…Wait for It

My brother used to say (and probably still says knowing his cheesy liners) that patience is a virtue…..of which I do not possess.   Today has taught me the value of patience.   Waiting patiently for food, meetings, and the Lord to work has been part of my learning today.

Let’s Eat Already

When we (Ben, Gordon, and I) checked into our guest house yesterday, the staff asked what time we wanted breakfast.  We told them 8:30am.  So this morning we wake up, take a shower, brush our teeth, and get ready for the day.  We head down for breakfast promptly at 8:30am.  But it is a long time coming.  We sit and wait.  It is a good thing Vianney joined us for breakfast for then we had more time with this sweet brother in Christ.  There were 5 of us at the table but only 2 cups for coffee/tea and only 2 small plates.  For the mathematically challenged, there are 3 people without cups or plates.  So we asked for more silverware and the server brought out 1 fork.  Things were getting a little crazy.  Can’t she see the discrepancy in the cup/plate to people ratio? Food was very slow in coming.  But it came and we enjoyed it. I even had my kids’ favorite, bread with butter and honey.  I now know why they enjoy it so much.  It was rather tasty.  I had 4 slices of bread like this (I know what you are thinking and you are probably right but I was hungry and it was really good).

The waiting was a little frustrating but the company was good as well as the food.  At the end of the meal I looked at the time and saw that we needed to leave soon so we could get Vianney to the bus terminal so he could catch a ride back.  We had a meeting at 11am to get to after dropping Vianney off at the terminal.  I announced we needed to leave because it was now 9:50 am (see the breakfast did take a while).  Vianney looked at me funny and checked the time.  He announced that in fact it was 8:50am.  I showed him my phone and assured him it was 9:50am.  Feeling confident he would relent, he then told me that Kigali was 1 hour behind Kampala.  Oops.  No wonder the server looked at us funny when we arrived.  No wonder the food was not ready for us.  So I learned to be patient because I might be in the wrong.

Let’s Meet Already

Knowing that the time was different we were not 1 hour early for our 11am meeting with Gerald Sseruwagi.  Instead of 1 hour early we were 1 hour late.  We did not know where the meeting place was exactly.  So we were to meet someone at a location we knew of and he would show us the rest of the way.  Only it took an hour for us to connect with him.  He was there but missed us and so went back.  We were just about to head back to the guest house when he finally was able to catch up with us.  It was frustrating but we made it.  Albeit one hour late.  The meeting was wonderful.  See below.  But I learned that sometimes the wait, senseless or not, is worth it. I just hope Gerald’s wait was worth it to him.

Our meeting was with Gerald Sseruwagi who is a Ugandan living in Rwanda.  So yes, we did leave Uganda to come to Rwanda to meet with a Uganda.  Go figure.

Gerald has an amazing story.  He became a Christian as a young boy.  His animistic father kicked him out of the house.  So he was living on the street with no home.  Some PCA missionaries started loving on him and caring for him.

Let’s Greet Already

Let me tell you more about what God has done in Gerald’s life.  Today he is the rector of a theological college in Rwanda.  He is shaping young lives and bettering the theological climate in the midst of a theological famine among pastors in Rwanda specifically and Africa in general.  Gerald has a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and a PhD.  This is not common at all.  God has taken an unwanted boy to teach others that they are wanted by God.  A boy who was not wanted by his father was wanted by God the Father.  God can take the lowest and use them for His kingdom.

During the meeting it came out that Gordon had been in Uganda in 1981 and had visited the missionaries loving on Gerald.  They may have even met but it has been 33 years ago so the details are foggy.  And let me tell you, I can’t remember 33 years ago (granted I was 2 years old then).  But here Gordon sits and sees the fruit of the work he visited 33 years ago.  What a blessing.

While hearing these stories of Gerald God pressed two things in my mind.  1) I need to take the long view as a missionary.  The work those faithful men and women did 33 years ago is now showing wonderful fruit.  God moves but not necessarily with the microwave speed I might want.  So I need to adjust my expectations on the timing of the fruit. 2) God can work in amazing ways.  God can use people who might be unwanted by society.  He can use those we deem ‘low’ for His kingdom purposes.  This is good news for someone like me.

Let’s Seat Already

It’s late and I am running out of clever headers.  But we did have a seat with Michelle.  He had to wait on us to come meet him.  But I hope he thought it was worth it.  He is a Rwandan friend of Gordon.  He is a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda that occurred in 1994.  He came back after the fighting and helped with a church plant in caring for orphans.  He has helped participate in bringing reconciliation between the tribes in Rwanda.  He is an amazing man with an amazing story.  I learned that listening to the stories of seemingly common people can be gateways into the workings of an amazing God.

Today was a full day but a very rewarding day.  We have been thoroughly blessed to meet with these wonderful men of God.  While I might not have much patience, I hope I can learn to have the patience to see God do half of the things these men are doing in me and through me.

Below are some pictures from today (and from yesterday too).

Ben, Michelle, and I give a big thumbs up

Ben, Michelle, and I give a big thumbs up

Beautiful view of the moon from our room

Beautiful view of the moon from our room

Ben, Gerald, and I give it a big thumbs up

Ben, Gerald, and I give it a big thumbs up

You can tell why they call Rwanda the land of 1,000 hills.

You can tell why they call Rwanda the land of 1,000 hills.

God has really made Uganda beautiful!!!

God has really made Uganda beautiful!!!

Vianney, Ben, and I give a hearty thumbs up to God's amazing work!

Vianney, Ben, and I give a hearty thumbs up to God’s amazing work!

Ben in Kigali.  By the way this is the usual reaction we get in Africa :)

Ben in Kigali. By the way this is the usual reaction we get in Africa 🙂

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The Long Way Down

Today, my teammate Ben Church and I traveled to Rwanda. We brought with us Gordon Woolard who works for MTW and has been to Rwanda several times and knows people here we can meet. We came to Rwanda to meet various saints and just to get to know them and so Gordon is the perfect travelling partner.

We left at 4:30am from Kampala, Uganda to drive all the way to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. We arrived in Kigali at 4:30pm. So for the mathematically challenged that is 12 hours of travel. We only went down the wrong road twice. We traveled about 520 km in those 12 hours including our detours. We did stop for about 30 minutes to eat lunch and about an hour at the border between Uganda and Rwanda. We almost didn’t make it in because they needed to see proof that I owned my car. That documentation is in process and so I did not have it on me. But thanks to the internet it was able to be emailed to the right people.

When we got into town, Ben and I drove to a shopping center to get phone service and to find and ATM. The ATM was scary because I read the receipt as saying we only had $150 left in our account. That really did cause me to panic some. But I checked online and we have what I thought we should have had.

We also met up with Vianney who is a Rwandan pastor who came to Kigali to meet with us. We took him and Gordon to dinner where Vianney shared about his ministry in western Rwanda (side note: we had Indian food…in Rwanda. Needless to say we hurried home after dinner). He works as a pastor at a church and runs a pastor training center. This latter work is very important because he says 99% of the pastors in his area have no formal training.

He told us that part of what he does is to take teaching materials in English and translate them into the local language so the pastors can have them. Most pastors only speak the local language. This means they have little access to quality theological materials. He shared that what he has seen God do through the pastor training is to really equip them to properly handle the Word of God.

Visiting with fellow believers and hearing what God is doing in another part of Africa is a huge blessing. It makes this long day well worth it. We are spent, but it is a good spent. We got here safely and have a few more days to visit and hear more about God’s mighty work in Rwanda.

Here are some pictures from our day of travel and meeting with Vianney. Please pray for continued safety and for more good meetings.

What a wonderful view we have from our guest house

What a wonderful view we have from our guest house

Vast tea fields greeted us in Rwanda

Vast tea fields greeted us in Rwanda

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