Saturday, February 21, 2015

Newsletter - SJW - South Sudan/USA, February 2015

Newsletter – SJW - South Sudan/USA Update, February 2015

I knew I would be sad. And I am, in a good way.

I had a wonderful goodbye celebration in Mundri before I departed, with more than 350 adults and even more children in attendance. It provided an opportunity for everyone to mourn, celebrate, dance, and give thanks together. Truly a blessing.

Coming back to the USA one month ago has left me with mixed emotions. I am delighted to see friends and family, but I am very much missing my life, family, and friends in South Sudan. This was all to be expected, but the sorrow remains. I loved people in South Sudan, and they loved me well. I don’t want to rush into whatever is next for me, rather I want to mourn this loss in my life, reconnect with God, and then move forward with purpose and vision.

This transition is a major one, and I know it will take time to fully adjust. A huge part of my heart is still in South Sudan, and I am trying to figure out how to love and communicate with people there, even though I am no longer physically present. I am also trying to figure out life in the USA and discern what all may be in store for me over the next few weeks, months, and years.

I am currently in Kalamazoo, MI attending a three-week renewal, growth, and retreat program. I am surrounded by missionaries, pastors, and church workers. Some with major struggles (anxiety, depression, marital issues, etc.), and some like me, trying to forge ahead in the midst of transition – leaving one culture and entering into another. Each day consists of morning academic lectures followed by counseling sessions. Intense at times, but overall good.

Throughout my travels, I would be delighted to connect with as many of you as possible. You have supported me in ways immeasurable, and I am grateful. If you ever want hear more about mission work, missionary life, South Sudan or Uganda, then I am your man!

Where I am headed?

My hope it to spend all of 2015 in various parts of the USA, but I VERY much desire to continue with long-term oversees missionary work. Lord willing, I would be delighted to start a new assignment in early 2016. I will soon begin the process of exploring various mission agencies and trying to discern what countries and what type of work would be a good fit for me. I am open to going anywhere, but I am primarily exploring locations where there are few to no Christians and/or the Gospel is not being shared. I like rural, frontier locations and pioneering work, but I am open to any suggestions!

What does this mean for current financial and prayer supporters?

I will be under World Harvest Mission/SERGE until the end of April. I had originally thought it would be March, but if you are a financial supporter and would be willing to continue your support until the end of April, this would help me in covering my travel, insurance, and unexpected costs.

The current renewal and debriefing program I am attending is good but expensive, costing $4,000 for me to attend. I do not currently have enough money in my account to cover the entire costs. Any additional support would be greatly appreciated to help cover this major expense.

World Harvest Mission/SERGE has officially transferred their website to a new domain to reflect the change in names. You can find my current information here: 

Upcoming Travel

February 28 – return to my parents’ home in Fort Recovery, OH.

March - travel to Philadelphia to the headquarters of World Harvest Mission/SERGE for a day of debriefing.

March or April – travel to Franklin, TN to visit friends for one to two weeks.

May/June/July – I am very much interested in attending a tropical medicine graduate level course. There are only a few of these courses around the globe, and their focus and timing varies. I have narrowed down my choice to the University of Minnesota (May), University of West Virginia (June-July), or Johns Hopkins (July). All three programs require ~300 hours total of either in person, online, or a combination of classes, and I would have to find housing. The price also varies between programs and will likely play a major factor in my decision to attend or not.

Depending on when I take the tropical medicine course factors into when I will start working clinically as a physician assistant. I will be pursuing locum tenens (short-term, traveling) assignments across the country. I am primarily looking for positions in the Pacific Northwest, northern California, or Alaska. Most contracts are thirteen weeks in length, and the actual assignment type various from rural, urban, Indian Health Services, VA centers, correctional facilities, etc.

Please join me in praying for:

-       -Rest, renewal, and growth as I transition from South Sudan to the USA.
-       -Wisdom as I consider various tropical medicine programs, locum tenens work as a physician assistant, and return to long-term missionary work.
-       -Peace, as South Sudan is very unstable, and war and fighting continue on.
-       -Deep rootedness in God as I feel unsettled during this transition. I am prone to think I am bothering people as I travel from house to house, asking for a place to sleep, taking other peoples’ time, and as I try to express my needs, hopes, and desires. I would love to fully dwell in the freedom that Christ provides.
-       -John Kaya, the young man I lived with in South Sudan. He is about to start high school, and I am no longer there to help him figure things out or provide food and shelter for him. It’s difficult to be an older brother and help him with his problems when I am not physically there. 

Keep in touch!

I recently updated my blog site with a multiple-part series about living in a place of war. I’ll continue to update as I can, and soon I’ll be posting some fictional stories that are based on real events in my life. 

I have a slew of photos to post on Facebook. When I post them, I’ll try to include commentary on cultural insight and events. I’ll soon be posting photos from my goodbye celebration, including numerous photos that kids from South Sudan took using my digital camera. You can see more here:

Thank you for journeying along.
A life full of blessing. A life trying to live for the Lord.

-Scott J. Will

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Living in a place of war...part 9. Final thoughts.

Living in a place of war...part 9. Final thoughts.

South Sudan was birthed in 2011. Such HOPE, that warm, beautiful day in July. It was truly one of the most amazing and inspiring days of my life. I was witness to the birth of a new nation. Tribes came together to rejoice over similarities, to forget about differences. To dream, to dance, to live with purpose.


As stories ran, and twirled, and evolved all over town, it was clear that the man that died was a direct casualty of what appeared an ordered assassination coming from the top down. A government official shot at point blank by other government workers. Four others were wounded in the escapade.

As I moved around Mundri that day, it was obvious, yet again, that fear, with its snarling and menacing smile, had gripped the community.

(Fear, in my opinion, is at the basis of much of humanity’s actions. We, as Americans, try to shield ourselves from every possible fear we can. We buy car insurance, home insurance, life insurance, pet insurance, medical insurance, etc. Those may be good things, but at the root of them is the fear of something bad happening.)

The fighting changed the patterns of movement in the community. Stores closed early, no one moved at night, some people fled to the bush in fear of more fighting. As much as I longed form normalcy in what was to be my last week in South Sudan, it was not to be so. I had planned a celebration for the community on January 3, 2015, it was now December 29, 2014 – the day after the fighting. I had hoped to provide a communal way of me saying goodbye and thank you, as my term in South Sudan, with imminent departure, was to be on January 6 , 2015. A celebration with food, and dancing, and speeches, and even killing an entire cow! Now, I feared that it would have to be cancelled because of the fighting and insecurity. My local friends wisely said, “Wait and see”, when I asked if I should cancel my planned celebration.

The next few days saw very minimal sporadic gunfire, mostly a night. Everyone still on edge, but trying to move forward. Trying to rekindle the hope that was ignited on July 9, 2011. Trying, but faltering along the way. Yet somehow never entirely losing hope, even if it was just a flicker that remained. It never died. And I pray it never will.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Living in a place of war...part 8.

Living in a place of war...part 8.

As the early morning light of dawn creaked its way through the crevice under my door, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, darkness gone and light has come. A huge sense of relief.

Brown was the first one to move as he made his way to the door. As Thomas and I peered on, Brown slowly, methodically pulled back the door, not daring to reveal more than a centimeter at a time, with each progression allowing another ray of hope to enter into the room.

Then we heard gunshots, again. BUT, this time they were very far away and there were only two of them. Nothing out of the normal in Mundri, South Sudan. NOTHING even close in comparison to what we heard less than twelve hours earlier.

As Brown scanned the scene outside and Thomas and I looked on, Brown decided to head to his own home, which is only ten feet from mine. It was apparent that a few people were moving on the main street in front of my home, but sparse in number.

Often times life in Mundri does not really get going until 9:00 am or so. People in Mundri are not wake-up-at-the-butt-crack-of-dawn type of people. I love that about the culture. In five years I’ve only had to set an alarm for an early morning wake-up twice. So the seen outside my door was not unusual, especially since it was only 6:25 am. Sure enough, as expected, closer to 7:15 am more people were moving about. No doubt everyone was trying to gather information and assess the casualties. “WHAT HAPPENED?” could likely be heard all over town.

As soon as Brown left, Thomas looked at me, his face instantly revealing that he too had not slept at all, and then said, “Oh my god, Brown snores so loud. Like an angry lion. You should never let him stay here again! Make him sleep outside next time!”

After I finished laughing at Thomas, I made several phone calls to people all over Mundri, trying to assess what happened. As has become normal in South Sudan over the past year, rumors FLY when gunshots are fired. First this story. Then that story. Then another story that is somehow related to the first two but the details are different. And then another story that the teller of the tale is sure is the real story, but it does not compute with the three previous stories I’ve heard. Welcome to life in a country at war. Rumors. Rumors. EVERYWHERE. It is almost impossible to know exactly what happened, when it happened, how it happened.

I quickly learned in the early morning after the night of fighting that yes, indeed, the fighting was very close to my house – as in my house was probably one of the closest houses to the epicenter. A man was dead. His body was STILL lying on the ground, 75 meters from my house. Bullet wounds, blood splattered, the crimson stains soaking into the red dust of the land – a dust that has been sprinkled too often with the blood of men, women, boys, girls, young and old. This is a place that has known war, intimately. The twenty-two years of civil war that ended in 2005 have not been forgotten, the blood of the two million killed during the fighting calls out from the ground, crying for justice. be continued...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Living in a place of war...part 7.

Living in a place of war...part 7.

Malaria is a horrific disease that kills close to one million people every year worldwide. Malaria is endemic in many parts of the world, including Mundri, South Sudan. I have seen thousands of cases of malaria, and unfortunately have seen so many kids die of malaria that I no longer keep count. When I was in South Sudan I daily took a medication as prophylaxis to keep malaria away. Seeing as the door to my house was always open when I was home to allow some airflow and to welcome visitors, I often had numerous mosquitoes in my house. But oh the many joys and benefits of sleeping under a mosquito net – at least every night but on this particular night as I crawled along on the floor trying to locate the dirty purple yoga mat, reflecting on the scorpions and spiders, listening to Brown snore, and hearing the constant buzz of mosquitoes in my ear and feeling them biting me.

(Sitting here in a coffee shop, drinking a caramel latte, I have absolutely nothing to complain about!)

I eventually found the yoga mat and slowly slid it underneath me. Even a few centimeters of softness are heavenly after lying on firm concrete for hours! Though my backside found some respite, there was no sleep for me that night.

As I prayed for the morning light to come, for physical and spiritual darkness to retreat amidst the coming sun, for peace to reign, that somehow no one would have been killed amidst the gunfire, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by how blessed I am. Sometimes the most dramatic and unexpected situations cause me to reflect and recognize how privileged a life I have led. Yes, gunshots were fired. No, I had no idea why. But yes, I still had much to be thankful for. The two other people lying on my floor, and almost every South Sudanese person, had experienced the atrocities of war -the catastrophic rippling effects of instability, the fear of not knowing where the gunshots are coming from or to whom they are directed, the stress of trying to decide if you should stay or if you should flee.

I do not know why God allowed me to be born in the USA while others are literally born into a time and place of war. I do not know why God allowed me to be born in the USA with all its opportunities and ‘reach-for-the-stars’ mentality while others in various countries across this vast globe are literally fighting to survive from day to day. I have many choices, and the resources to thrive. Too many people have no choice, they seek to survive. be continued...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Living in a place of war...part 6.

Living in a place of war...part 6.

Growing up my dad was a snorer. As in shake-the-whole-house-oh-my-god-how-can-anbody-snore-that-loud type of snorer. One time when I was about thirteen years old, I traveled across the great state of Ohio with my parents to watch my two oldest brothers play in the Catholic Youth Organization state basketball tournament. They played several games over a two-day span. Because of this, my parents and I spent the night in a hotel after the first day. Now, I had been on several vacations with parents and family previously, as every year we travelled to Canada with lots of my relatives, but we always stayed in not-so-nice cabins. And I would often sleep with cousins my age in one of their families’ cabins. On this particular night, for possibly the fist time ever, I was in a hotel in a single room with my parents. Though I knew my dad snored loudly, this particular night testified to that fact. Once my dad fell asleep and started snoring, I knew there was no way I would ever fall asleep. My whole life I’ve been a light sleeper, and somehow God thought it just to place me in a family with a father that tries to bring the whole house down every night with his snoring prowess.

So what could I do? I like sleep, but my dad’s snoring was impossible to dismiss. I swear my bed was shaking. I tried turning over. I tried covering my ears with a pillow. I tried headphones. I tried piling every single blanket and pillow on top of my head. Useless. All useless.

So I did what anyone would do in my situation, facing trouble and uncertainty, I looked around and assessed my situation. If I stayed in that bed, next to the bed where my parents were sleeping, where my dad was trying to recreate the sounds associated with the atomic bomb with each successive snore, I would never get any rest. I had no choice. If I wanted to get some sleep, I would have to do something drastic. And so I did.

I thought about sleeping outside the room, in the hotel hallway. Somehow the thought of me laying there, trying to sleep, as other hotel guests passed by was not too appealing. The only other option was the bathroom. THANK GOODNESS there was a bathtub inside. So I turned on the bathroom fan, turned on the water in the sink to full blast, threw all my blankets and pillows in the bathtub, squished my body into the tub, and somehow managed to fall asleep. I do remember it was a bit odd in the morning trying to explain to my parents why I slept in the bathtub, and apparently the faucet to the bathtub had a small leak because my blankets and body were quite damp in the morning.

I am happy to say that my dad, many years later, WAY too many years later, eventually was diagnosed with sleep apnea and was given a machine to help him sleep better. It also corrected his snoring.

So as I was laying there in the pitch dark on the concrete, dusty floor of my house with a kitchen towel below my butt, the gunshots finally spaced out by the hour, I had to chuckle inside as I heard my friend Brown snoring away. His snoring immediately reminded me of my father. I do confess that his snoring also made me a bit nervous. Any human being within a five-meter radius of my house was likely to hear him snoring inside!

Brown is an interesting fellow. He has lived a life most Americans could never fathom. He was forced to flee his birth country because of fighting, many years prior to me meeting him in 2009. His family all scattered to various places in the midst of the chaos. He ended up footing to a neighboring country in East Africa, where he tried to gain refugee asylum status. He was in that country for several years, and he even managed to start a very small trading business. Because of business opportunities and the politics of being a refugee in a foreign country where people are not always welcoming of outsiders, he relocated to Sudan, which later became South Sudan. His work ethic and divine fortune opened up opportunities for him to pursue employment as a small shopkeeper and trader of goods. He has done well for himself.  He has not seen his family members in many, many years, and in many ways he has had to forge his own path in life with little to no help from others. He is a survivor that unfortunately knows the sound of guns and the horror of war all too well. And on this particular night, he was sound asleep, his nares roaring like a lion.

I debated on whether or not to wake him up, or at least try to get him to roll over. I decided to let him snore. He has lived a rough life, and on this particular night, seeing as how there was no bathtub nearby, I resigned myself to let him sleep as I relinquished mine. But I was determined to at least get off the concrete floor, knowing full well that sleep was not coming to me anytime soon.

Laying in the dark, listening to the rhythmic snores of Brown, with the occasional interruption when he changed position, I remembered my old yoga mat. YES! Perfect for a makeshift mat when forced to lie on the concrete floor because of gunfire in front of your house! The particular yoga mat I had, which was not actually mine, but thanks to former teammates that had left it behind, had somehow made its way to my house. This is a phenomenon I have often seen in the realm of missionary life. One missionary’s left over or unwanted items become another missionary’s coveted treasures!

This particular yoga mat, well worn with holes scattered throughout, was perfect as a floor mat in front of my sink. So in the deep darkness of the night, as the gunshots were becoming farther and farther apart in time, I inched my way over to my sink. As I was feeling all around trying to find the mat in the darkness, it occurred to me that several times I had seen scorpions on this very floor. And at any given time you could sit anywhere in this room and count AT LEAST twenty spiders without having to look for them. Well, tonight we were one. And oh the mosquitoes! be continued...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Living in a place of war...part 5.

Living in a place of war...part 5.

I felt a strong desire to assure Thomas, my teenaged friend lying on the floor amidst the gunfire that night, that I was there beside him. Though I could not talk for fear of being heard by the gunmen outside, and the intensity and volume of the gunfire, I reached across what seemed a vast chasm in the blackness of the night and touched Thomas’s foot, the closest body part to me. I squeezed his lower leg, and whispered in as faint a sound as I could make, “I’m here. Are you ok? We are going to be ok. I love you and appreciate you.”

It was not unusual for me to tell my friends in South Sudan that I loved them and appreciated them. Every night, as Kaya (the young South Sudanese man I have been living with for over two years that very much is a younger brother to me) and I lay in our respective beds, after having just finished our nightly prayers (we alternated turns, sometimes me praying by English or Arabic, then the next night him praying by English or Moru), I told him I loved him and I appreciated him. I would sometimes follow-up that with, “Don’t forget. Did you hear me? Even when I am gone or long dead, don’t forget. I love you and appreciate you.” I think it sometimes embarrassed Kaya when I would say that to him while other people were also sleeping at my house, but I think he liked it, or at least I hope so. I know I always meant it.

“I’m ok, “ Thomas replied. “I love you too.”

As the gunfire slowly dissipated, my discomfort gradually increased. Lying on the dirty, dusty, dry-season concrete floor, sleep was nowhere to be found. I shifted from one side to the other, bent my legs up and then put them back down, and thought about how much I like pillows and sorely missed mine at that moment. In Moru lifestyle, pillows are a luxury. Most families don’t own any, and if they do, they are likely small, hardened pieces of foam that most people in the West would surely not recognize as a pillow. I was accustomed to not having a pillow each time I would sleep at a friend’s home, but I was not accustomed to having no mattress or at least mat to sleep on.

In an effort to aid my aching tail-bone, I remembered the small dish towel I used next to my kitchen sink, the one I bought previously in Uganda, painted with apples. Most people have no idea what apples are in South Sudan, but somehow when I saw that towel in Uganda, it reminded me of my mom and grandmother, how they used to have kitchen towels everywhere and inevitably one of them always had apples on it. I suppose that was a Midwestern thing. Had I grown up in Florida, maybe all the kitchen towels would have been covered in oranges?

So in the darkness, as gunshots still sporadically fired, I crawled the few feet over to where I presumed the dish towel was hanging, but it was complete darkness, so it took several attempts to actually locate the towel. Once finally secured, I positioned the towel, all rolled up and folded in a small ball, just under my backside. Relief. At least for a bit. And that was about the same time the snoring started. be continued...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Living in a place of war...part 4.

Living in a place of war...part 4.

When I returned to South Sudan in mid-July, tensions were still high, but noticeably lower than when I left. I was much relieved. And though tensions continued to escalate and fall the remainder of 2014, they never reached the same level as they were in June and July. I think because of the cyclical pattern of tensions rising and falling, I didn’t truly expect the gunfight that was now happening less than a 100 meters from my front door on December 28, 2014.

As soon as I heard the POP_POP_POP_POP_POP_POP_POP, I grabbed Thomas as he fell to the ground ducking into my house. I immediately clicked off the lights and told Thomas to stay on the ground. Then I started to close my window shutters when I heard a knock on my door.

CRAP! WHO IS THAT!!! I thought. Who is his right mind would be knocking on my door in the middle of a gun fight happening in front of my house!?!?!

“Joseph!! Joseph!! Joseph!! (Joseph is the name that many local people call me). LET ME IN!!! I forgot my keys!!!” It was my next-door neighbor, Brown, whose tukul (small, one-room house with grass thatched roof) is only 15 feet from my front door. In the haste to get away from the bullets, he fled full-speed away from his shop on the roadside near the fighting and v-lined it home, only he left his house keys in his shop! Hence he is pounding on my door like a mad man to let him come inside!

And so I opened the door. And then we all immediately fell to the ground as more gunfire continued. Then I fiddled to lock the door again, crouching as low as possible to avoid gunfire, trying to position myself away from any possible stray bullets coming my way. And as the simple latch and lock system on my door would not slide into place, again I thought, CRAP! Have I never locked my door from the inside before? Come on, please slide into place you stupid lock, just like every other lock I’ve seen in South Sudan, that no longer lines up exactly right and now will not close! And then it closed.

WHAT THE CRAP IS GOING ON!!! Whoever is shooting those bullets, they’ve got some big-ass guns! That ain’t no AK-47s out there!!!

As I lay on the dirty, dusty, dry season concrete floor of my house, and granted I only have two rooms in my house, one for sleeping and one for everything else, and at the time I happened to be in the everything else room when the gunfire started, I thought, “Huh, never been in this position before,” laying on the concrete floor, not daring to make a single whisper in fear that the gunmen were nearby.

The ongoing gunfire lasted about 45 minutes, and then there was roughly 45 minutes of sporadic gunfire, and then throughout the night and into the morning there was random gunfire.

I suppose you don’t know how you will react in such a situation until you are in such a situation. As I was lying on the concrete floor, my tailbone aching as I wished I were in my other room – the room with the mattresses, I could feel my heart beat. I can always feel my heart beat. Ever since my teenage years, I can feel my heart beat. Not always, but when I am still, I can feel each thump, count each beat, measure each rhythm. At that particular moment, gunshots blasting, uncertainty surrounding, darkness around, my heartbeat was no faster than normal. My breathing was steady and to my surprise, my heartbeat was not accelerated.

I suppose I have known for some time, or at least I have surmised, that my body lacks the fight or flight mentality, or maybe it is just significantly delayed beyond what I believe it should be. There was a moment, possibly I was eight or nine years old at the time, when I was charged by a large, black bull. I was helping my father lure this elusive animal back into its cage after its midday escape – our cows were ALWAYS finding ways to get out of their pens. This particular cow was one of my least favorite animals of all time. I knew him well, and he knew me well. He was always mean to the other cows, so bossy and arrogant, or so my eight or nine-year-old at the time self thought. As we, my father and I, were chasing him through our barn with sticks in hand, he suddenly stopped running and turned directly toward me. He then lowered his head, kicked his back legs, and charged straight at me, all 1000+ pounds of him. I can still see it perfectly, ‘Blacky’ as I called him, heading straight toward me in a rage of furry.

I recall my dad yelling something to me, along the sorts of, “Get the ****out of the way!!!” That still sounds like something he would say. But for whatever reason, I was frozen in space and time. I did not move. I saw the bull coming, and I knew he was likely going to plow me over, but my body did not move. Then the hurling, black mass of cow skidded to a halt a few feet in front of me, and then ran off into his cage by his own volition. I still have no idea why he stopped. As my dad continued to curse, alternating at me and Blacky, I think, if had you checked my heart rate at the time, it was likely normal. It was only minutes after the incident that I think I felt my heart thump rapidly along inside my chest. Several such incidences of fight or flight moments have occurred over the years, and many times my responses have been the same. Not anxious, nor fearful, not ready to fight immediately, but not running either. Somehow stuck in a moment of time. I think this same response is what helped me to think clearly and calmly when I worked in the main emergency department after graduation from physician assistant school. A gunshot wound in this patient, an active myocardial infarction in that patient, a bleeding laceration in that guy. All series cases awaiting immediate response, but all needing someone to make sense of the situation, evaluate and respond, while trying to calm the chaos or work amidst the chaos. I think a similar response was happening inside of me as I, Thomas, and Brown lay in stillness as a chaotic world around us was unraveling. be continued...