Monday, October 29, 2007

2007 Mission to Raja-Boro, Sudan

It was one of the most complex and faith-stretching experiences I have ever been involved with. It was a mission to serve Darfur refugees in Jesus’ name. One of the greatest challenges was defining where and how the mission could and would take place. Another was coordinating the planning, funding and communications with 22 men from 5 countries, some of whom we didn’t have direct connection with until hours before departure on the mission from Kenya.

While some of our team were gathering in Nairobi from Bangkok, St. Petersburg, Lusaka, Zambia and Accra, Ghana, others were leaving from Arizona, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. We all gathered in Nairobi to finalize our documentation to enter South Sudan. On July 17, our team began the journey north in two shifts to arrive on consecutive days at our destination in south-western Sudan where we had heard there were refugees needing help. But we had no ‘hard’ information about the place (other than that the runway was short and the rains were heavy) and no communication with anyone in the area. I felt like we were ‘flying blind.’ So we had a contingency plan to do a quick survey before landing and be prepared to take off for another location if there was a hostile reception in Raja.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people were praying for ‘people of peace’ (Luke 10, Matt. 10) to receive us when we landed. The first group to land were met by the leaders of the town and the county and immediately taken to the offices of the Commissioner of the Raja County. They were introduced, welcomed and assigned a place to camp on the edge of the town of Raja: the compound of the Red Crescent. The ‘green light’ was given the second half of the team to fly in the next day. I was on that second flight and was surprised when I was met by Edward, the acting Commissioner of Raja County who said, “Are you Sam?” When I said yes, he said, “Please your transport is over here.” He immediately bundled us all into two pickups and took us to the county offices. It was hard to believe the warm reception, the cooperativeness, the offers of help, the desire to understand our mission, the provision of bedding and transportation put at our disposal ... all of this, without any advance notice that we were coming!! It was a huge encouragement to all of us. At the same time, it was disappointing that the refugee camp was 63 miles away and by some reports inaccessible by road. We saw serving Darfur refugees as a primary purpose of the mission. How could we possible get there? The first few days in Raja were spent setting up camp, organizing ourselves into teams for different tasks, getting to know the town of Raja, prayer-walking through its streets(?), surveying and serving in local medical facilities and, very importantly, meeting and beginning to build relationships with a stream of people who came by our camp to greet us and find out what our mission was. We also interviewed local U. N. officials, other aid missions, the police, army and local government departments to find how get to and serve in the refugee camp. It was decided that we would need to send out a scouting team to the area to check out the condition of the road and living conditions in the camp.

We sent out our ‘Caleb Corps,’ a team of young men, guides and police guards who made the arduous 5-hour trip to the camp by motorcycle over a rugged forest track through rain and marshes. Their mission was to make a brief survey of the needs in the camp and to determine the feasibility of the larger team getting there and doing something to help the 'internally displaced people' there. The corps arrived there late in the afternoon and checked out conditions and needs in the camp. They surveyed what they thought we could do and what it would take for a larger crew to get there. Because the security situation was unclear, this team of scouts was under orders to return the same day. So the any set off on their return journey about 4:30 p.m. already close to exhaustion from exposure to the tropical sun and physical exertion. They dragged into Raja a little after 9 that night completely worn out but optimistic about what our mission could do.
That weekend we began to plan in earnest for a mission to Boro-Medina. The hospital, the police and the Islamic school in Raja each offered to loan us a vehicle to get to Boro. Our friend, Isaac Suliman, the chief of police arranged an armed guard to accompany us. Our part was to provide fuel for the vehicles and food for the drivers and guards as well as all the supplies we would need.
On the Monday, after many delays and much indecision, we set off for Boro-Medina. It was an arduous four-and-a-half-hour drive. We arrived a couple up hours before dark and immediately went to work setting up camp. Some slept in the camp director's office area, others had tents in the yard.
The next morning Dr. Mike Smith and Glenn Berkey left camp early to set up and organize a medical clinic. Other members of our team served as assistants, interpreters and maintained order in the lines of people. That day more than 500 hundred patients were interviewed, examined and treated. Some of the common diseases were typhoid, tuberculosis and other respiratory ailments and a number of cases of epilepsy. Others of our team did prayer-walks throughout the camp, prayed for mothers and their children. We found that there were few men in the camp. Surveys were made of the local school, available housing, water supplies, airstrip, medical facilities, roads and availability of food. We had previously made arrangements with local World Food Program directors in Raja to help with distributing food supplies to hungry people in the camp. The WFP had a large tent in Boro that was locked. There were food supplies in the tent, but no arrived during our time in Boro to unlock the tent and make food available to the people of the camp. We actually spent on parts of three days at Boro.

The Journey...

In my view, the most important story of our journey was the many small and great acts God did in response to prayers of so many of our friends who were in regular intercession for the mission. As an example, one small act of God that blessed me in a big way was the woman from Gibraltar who sat next to me on our flight from London to Nairobi. As we walked up the jetway in Nairobi, she pulled me aside and asked me to accept a $100 bill for our Sudan mission. Wow! A complete stranger (angel?).

For me personally, the greatest struggle was inside of me; my personal struggle to truly trust God in all this. I had never taken on the responsibility of leading so many (over 20 men including my two sons) from so many places, to such a remote location with so little knowledge about what was there, what the mission would be and whether we could actually even land a plane there.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Two Milestones on the Road to Rwanda

We are praising the Lord for two major milestones on our road to serving God again in Africa.

These two events took place last Thursday. First we loaded a 40 ft. container with three other families planning to serve in Rwanda. Most of the shipment was books and other supplies for the new mission in Rwanda, but it also included personal effects for the families going. It was a hot and rainy day, but we got the container loaded in about 6 hours.

The second milestone was more important to us personally. For some weeks we have been agonizing over whether to sell our house or make it available to missionaries on furlough on a month to month rental basis. We thought we could leave our house furnished and our furniture in place. Through prayer and advice from others we decided that was not a workable idea, so we put the house on the market. Quite honestly this was a big struggle for me: to liquidate everything again for the fourth time in forty years and to again be homeless. Knowing also that we are in a real estate slump we anticipated that we would likely take a huge loss on the sale or worse yet, get on the plane for Rwanda with an empty, unrented, unsold house on our hands.

A week ago Wednesday night we asked the prayer group we are a part of to pray for a miracle as the house went on the market; to pray for a buyer who wanted the house as much as we needed to sell it. God blessed these prayers and the step of faith! Again this Wednesday night our friends were praying with us for our house to sell. The next day, the fifth day the house was on the market we got two offers for the house, one for the full asking price and the other for $1000 less.

We accepted the latter offer because it is a cash offer and the buyer agreed to delay the closing day until August 13, two weeks after I return from a mission to South Sudan. That will give us time to pack and move out. How gracious and kind our Father is!! Please praise God with us!!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Remembering William Siang'andu

Nancy and I have been joining many others in mourning the loss of William Siang'andu to malaria. William came from humble beginnings and supported his family as a bricklayer and builder. He was educated through the 10th grade and later studied at Manzini Bible School in Swaziland where his potential and vision for ministry in the kingdom was nourished.
 William and Eness traveled with us over lake and land last summer for five weeks from Zambia through Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Their purpose on the journey was to learn all they could about how to care for orphans which has become a huge need in much of Africa as a result of war, genocide, AIDS and other diseases. It was a great joy to us to see their vision for ministry grow as a result of their experiences on that journey.
Only weeks ago, William had accepted a position on the staff of Mapepe Bible School where he would have the opportunity to influence many for missions in Zambia and beyond. He fell ill to malaria as he has so many times in the past, before Eness and his children had actually joined him at Mapepe.
I am left to wonder what can be done about one the scourges of Africa: Malaria. How can we continue to prepare soldiers for the battle and then see them fall before they reach their potential to a debilitating disease that is so hard to eradicate, but so easy to control?
For now, we want to say that we join with many others in the family of God in expressing our deepest sympathies in what is a loss for all of us, but especially for Eness and their children. May we not forget to hold up our sister Eness' hands during her time of grieving. Our prayer is that she may somehow be able to carry on with their dream of caring for orphans in the nurture of the Lord, and that God will provide for her in this important ministry.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Doing Something about Darfur

A few weeks ago I woke up in the morning with Darfur on my mind. I had recently read a news story that George Clooney had said that the United States ought to do something to ‘Save Darfur.’ Well, I agree, but think about it. Does the United States have any interest in Sudan? Not really. Maybe to prevent some terrorism or to get some oil. But Christians ought to care enough about the genocide going on there to care and to do something.
Let me go back a few years... to 1994. I was teaching at the Nairobi Great Commission School and hell was happening in Rwanda. I went to interdenominational meetings to discuss how we should respond to the horror in Rwanda. Ken Bolden and I talked with our faculty about what we ought to do. Should we shut down the school and take our students to Rwanda or Tanzania and help in the refugee camps? Well, in the end we did nothing. I have regretted that decision for a long time.
And now there is genocide in Darfur. There are Arab Muslims killing, raping and burning the villages of Muslims who are black. Can Christians stand by and do nothing about this? How am I going to feel 12 years from now if we do nothing? Of course, it's not about me or how I feel. It is about the NAME ... the Name we wear. What would Jesus do?
I proposed going into the area with multiple small teams prepared and accompanied by experienced spiritual mentors late this summer. The purpose would be two-fold: 1) to serve the suffering by demonstrating Jesus' compassion, and 2) to learn and teach what it means for African and western Christians to work together in a context of suffering, servanthood, submission and simplicity with Spirit-led lives. These teams would arrive at different times overlapping with others, would devote a minimum of 10 days in the area, be prepared for unpredictable circumstances and rough conditions, and would work under the supervision and planning of local leaders. More to come ...

Monday, January 29, 2007

I Choose to Suffer

On January 16th, the Jinja, Uganda mission team experienced a tragic loss when Adam Langford and Moses Kimeze, died as a result of a vehicle accident. They and their driver were hauling coffee beans from Mt. Elgon for the redemptive business at the Source Café, when the vehicle lost
control and rolled 50 meters down a steep slope before hitting a tree. Witnesses arrived at the truck moments later and found Adam's body near the vehicle-he most likely died instantly in the crash. Moses, a young church leader and director of the Source Café, died a few hours later in a nearby hospital. We covet and seek your prayers in this overwhelming loss. Pray that God’s presence will be among Adam’s family, friends, and team in their grief and as they travel to be together. Pray that God’s presence and provision will be with Moses’ family and the many people his life touched, but especially his wife Irene and three children – Rachel, Tyler, and Zach.

"... we need more people who are willing to enter into the suffering of others whether they can help or not. I ... choose to suffer for the sake of others." - from Adam Langford’s last blog entry.

Adam’s body was returned to the United States accompanied by the whole Jinja mission team. Meanwhile, former Jinja missionaries, John Barton and Mark Moore flew to Uganda to comfort Moses’ family and to attend his funeral with the Christians there.
I was among those blessed to attend Adam’s funeral in Oklahoma, to meet the family and to celebrate a life well-lived. It was obvious that Adam had made a difference in people’s lives wherever he lived. My thought now is, “Where are the young men like Adam and Moses, men of integrity and passion, who will step up and take their places? Who will live lives of service with a readiness to suffer for others, so that our friends may not have died in vain?” Moses and Adam made their choice. What will you choose?