Tag Archives: South Sudan

The Civil War Pastor

Patrick is an example of faithfulness in hard circumstances

Last week I blogged about remaining faithful in hard circumstances like Joseph did. This week I met a man who illustrated this so well.

South Sudan, as you know, is undergoing a civil war. Many areas are not safe and there is no end in sight. There are over 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many have fled to Uganda. Many others have fled to UNMISS camps within South Sudan. These camps provide safety from bullets but do not provide food or medicine.

Peter and I in Kampala. Thumbs Up!!!!

I got to meet with Patrick, a South Sudanese pastor. We met for dinner as he was in Kampala at a conference discussing peace in South Sudan. We dined at KFC. Why KFC? It was the only thing I knew was close by his conference.

Patrick pastors two churches in Juba and is the General Secretary of the Synod of the Sudanese Reformed Church. He has a wife and 4 children. His wife and 2 children are safe in Kenya, another child is studying in Egypt, and the last is studying in the Ukraine. He alone remains in Juba serving his church and his people.

He told me he was almost killed three times. He praises God that he was able to escape from each incident. He also told me that one church was burned down and that 27 people of that church were killed. Some of these on purpose and some in the crossfire.

The Sudanese Reformed Church denomination is small by some measures in having 16 congregations. But they are big in faithfulness.

How do they respond to the crisis? With so many in the UNMISS camps, they have started 18 small groups to minister to the people in the camps. Because of the great number of IDPs they have begun a school, with grades K-3 currently, to serve the needs of the children.

What was fascinating is his ask. He asked for someone to watch their growth and give advice. He asked for a more mature body to be a mentor to their small group. He asked for assistance in the area of leadership development. He asked for prayer. He asked for help in progressing gospel work in South Sudan. He wants to see Christ’s kingdom expand in the face of war, famine, and many other hardships. He is being faithful.

I was both encouraged and challenged. Certainly we can pray for him and his church. May God bless their efforts and extend His kingdom in South Sudan. May South Sudan know the peace of Christ.

Sudanese Reformed Church by the numbers

18Small Groups in UNMISS camps
12Ordained Pastors
16Ruling Elders

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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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Teaching Theology

Oh How I love Thee

This past week, I had the opportunity to teach a class at Westminster Theological College. Our team leader Bruce Sinclair teaches there and paved the way for this wonderful opportunity. I taught 13 students a course on New Testament (NT) Survey. We covered topics such as the NT canon, the story of the Bible, and how the NT is the realizing of God’s promises made in the Old Testament.

I do love to teach and have the hand motions to prove it.

I do love to teach and have the hand motions to prove it.

The students are from different parts of Uganda and a few were from Kenya and South Sudan. They are involved in some ministry in their home areas. They have each come to study at Westminster in order to further their understanding of God’s Word. One student told me about a prison ministry he helps organize near his home. Each one is on the front lines for our Lord Jesus Christ. They bring a variety of experiences and backgrounds to the class.

I gave quizzes, written assignments, and a final exam. To be on the other end of the exams was very strange. Part of me would rather take the exam and do the homework. But honestly, I really tried to let those assignments serve as learning tools.

My mother was a student for one day and enjoys the wonderful view from the college.

My mother was a student for one day and enjoys the wonderful view from the college.

It is said that Christianity in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep. I am finding this saying to have some truth to it. One of the biggest challenges I have seen in Uganda has been the lack of quality biblical training for pastors. Westminster serves the needs of Christ’s church in Africa very well and I get to play a small part in that.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, the main character is a runner and says that he feels the pleasure of God when he runs. One day, I came home and told Brooke that describes how I felt when I taught. Teaching is such a privilege and I praise God I get the opportunity.

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