Saturday, October 18, 2014

Preparing to go.



I’ve been dreading writing this.

Putting words to my current situation somehow makes it all seem so final. I am well and blessed beyond measure, but my time in South Sudan is rapidly coming to an end, and I am just so very sad to think about leaving a place and people that have become such an integral part of me.

My five-year term with World Harvest Mission/SERGE ended in September, but I asked for and was granted extension to stay in South Sudan until the end of 2014. I’ve been planning this departure for well over a year now, and in many ways I think I have been mourning the thought, let alone the reality, of what leaving South Sudan will look like and feel like for me.

It’s probably most missionary’s goal or dream that he will love his host culture and the people he is serving, but for many that is not always the way things turn out. I’ve been blessed to acculturate to some degree of success within my host culture, and I’ve come to love and be loved by so many of the people in my community.

A missionary once told me that she did not think it was possible to have as deep of relationships with people from another culture as compared to someone from your own cultural background. At the time, I found that to be an odd statement, especially from someone living cross-culturally. The more I have thought about the statement over the past few years, the more strongly I have come to disagree. I think the bonds of Jesus and Christian brotherhood and sisterhood are much stronger than those of national origin, or even familial origin in some cases. However, I do think that our mind set significantly impacts the level to which we are eager and willing to engage when in a cross-cultural setting.

When I moved to South Sudan I tried to set my assumptions aside and not always compare everything to American culture. I was willing to engage in cultural activities as long as they were not against Biblical values. Hence I bathed in the rivers, fished in the streams, learned how to hunt with a bow, ate everything placed in front of me, walked everywhere I went, practiced the language as much as I could, dug my own garden, and tried new experiences of all kinds. I made numerous mistakes along the way, and I didn’t love everything I experienced, but it was all part of me learning to appreciate the culture and customs of the people, and in the process developing deep friendships of mutual encouragement, challenge, and respect. Those relationships opened up doors for me to share God with people; to tell others of Jesus and the great story of grace and redemption that we were written into.

When I left America in 2009, I knew I would be back periodically to see my friends and family in the USA. I also knew communication via telephone and internet would be available, though to a lesser degree, but still allowing me to keep in touch to some extent. So it was with excitement and eagerness that I left the USA and embarked on my foreign missionary career. I had no idea what lay in front of me at that time, but I trusted in the One that I was following.

Fast forward to October 2014, as I think about my final two months in South Sudan. I know that when I leave I will not be back anytime soon (though I hope to come visit in a few years, Lord willing), and I know most people here do not have internet and many are without phones. So it is with deep sadness that I anticipate leaving. I still trust in the One I am following, but somehow I have let fear creep into my soul. Fear that my friends and family in Mundri, South Sudan will not be taken care of, fear that all-out war may be coming, fear that some will turn away from new-found faith, fear that some will die and I will not be there to mourn with their families, fear that no one will be around to encourage and challenge the people I love, fear that many here will die before ever really trusting in God and his precious son Jesus Christ.

I need and desire to turn my fears over to God, trusting that he will shoulder the burden, and trusting that He loves me and the people of South Sudan more than I could possibly imagine.

I’m going to be a hot mess when I leave South Sudan.

I will leave with a longing to return, a longing to see my South Sudanese friends and family again here on this earth, a longing for their hearts be changed and lives surrendered to God, a longing to sit with local people one more time, a longing to hug them once more and tell them how much I love and appreciate them.

I’m going to be a human soul filled to the brim with recounted blessings when I leave South Sudan.

I will leave knowing that I have changed – my thoughts, my feelings, my very personhood, knowing that my life is so much richer, deeper, and fuller because of the past five years, knowing that suffering is not something to shy away from but seek God in the midst of, knowing that I have friends and family in a place so very far away, knowing that my heart has somehow grown, and knowing that I am blessed beyond compare by a Lord that has given me the amazing, precious gift of five years spent in South Sudan.

I have received far more than I have lost. I have gained far more than I have given.

I am blessed.

-sjw






Sunday, March 30, 2014

There is within me a strong desire...



There is within me a strong desire to see the Gospel spread, for people to know, to feel, to experience the radical transforming love and power of God, a life-changing and life-giving mercy and grace that surely passes all understanding.

It is only with and through the inner working of the Holy Spirit that our eyes are open to what the Lord has called us to do and gives us faith to press on.

As I prepare to return to South Sudan in 36 hours, I am reflecting on the above words that I wrote a few months ago. As the combination of jet-lag lingers with the slight fatigue and dehydration of recently donating blood, I am feeling a bit at odds with myself. It is only 8 pm and my body wants to sleep, but based on the three previous nights I know I’ll likely wake up at three am. (This is not aided by the recent March Madness games that have corresponded with the three am time frame in Uganda and drew my attention to frequently update the scores in anticipation of the outcome, and which produced victories in my favor that subsequently propelled me into first place in my extended family pool of fifty people.)

I just received a call from Kaya, the young South Sudanese man I have been sharing my house with since 2012. He is excited about my coming, and his voice makes me even more excited to return. He lamented that he has not had tea with powdered milk since I left, a luxury that was a daily occurrence at my house when I was present. He also wanted to inform me to expect to see a skinny man when I arrive, as the lack of my cooking and purchasing of foods over the past four months has reluctantly thinned him down. I in return made him well aware to expect the opposite with me, as the American diet has resulted in a 17-pound weight gain on my part. He laughed, and countered with the observation that rainy season is coming soon, so I will be digging and lose it all again.

Kaya also told me that the fence behind my house fell down, so we’ll need to repair that when I return; no doubt one of many small things that have changed over the past four months. And honestly, I don’t know what to expect when I return. Yes, I expect hugs, and laughter, and shouts of joy, but I’m sure some things have changed. Some people have been more affected than others by the current fighting in South Sudan, some friends have produced more children, and some have lost more children. Life carries on in my absence, as it does in all of our lives. So as I think about returning, I am pressed to consider the things are that eternal.

Life as a missionary is not always a grand exuberant adventure, but rather a series of small daily decisions to open my life to others and to consciously wrestle with what it means to be a disciple of God. To fight evil by doing good, to act as hands and feet of our Father, to intentionally love on people, and not just pretend to love them, but to really love them as I try to figure out what that really means - these are the things that carry me through. These are the things that I cling to as I seek the face of God. These are the things that give me hope and fill me with passion.

So let me say it again:

There is within me a strong desire to see the Gospel spread, for people to know, to feel, to experience the radical transforming love and power of God, a life-changing and life-giving mercy and grace that surely passes all understanding.

It is only with and through the inner working of the Holy Spirit that our eyes are open to what the Lord has called us to do and gives us faith to press on.


I pray in all circumstances that my faith is greater than me fear, and that this same faith continually propels me forward in pursuit with reckless abandonment of a mighty Savior.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A little taste of African text...


Here I am, back in Uganda. After several flights, delays, little sleep, and several movies watched on the planes, I am back in Africa. Despite feeling extremely tired and worn from jet-lag, I am happy to be back.

I applied for my visa yesterday morning at the South Sudan embassy in Kampala, and because of recent changes I was told I would not receive my visa before my flight to Mundri, South Sudan on Tuesday, April 1. After much pleading on my part, the workers at the embassy eventually agreed to try to have my visa ready by 3 pm Monday. Let us hope and pray!

In honor of being back in Africa, I wanted to post some text messages I've received over the past four months. I've received many (100s!), so I will post starting with some of the ones I received since being back in Africa over the past 36 hours, and then a sample of some of the ones I first received after leaving Africa in November, 2013. I'll post some of the other months of messages in a future posting.

Enjoy the deciphering process! They are typed exactly as they were written.

03/27/2014
From: NM

Thank God my bro u r welcome, i am happy that u r safe from ur long journey though u stil have some distance to travel but not much now fill at home bro this Africa again. Majira n e

3/27/2014
From: LU

Nice nice we've been long waiting! God willingly  we shall see one another.wormlywelcome. Lm k& fmly u.byee sebo

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11/19/2013
FROM: JKCGB

this is john commando i love you and a i appreciate you

11/24/2013
FROM: AM

dear scott miss u for long time hw u and yr family its not enough for us com by sms plse could we schedule time to com by skype. u ll get on

11/25/2013
FROM: GU

Greatly missed here just to remind u that marriage is part of human life though it needs personal decisions,choice n preparedness ve agreat day here abt 8,00pm! Gb kabwohe

11/25/2013
FROM: BL

Hello! Brother I greeting to you in our Lord Jesus charist! I hope you are well. Missing you 2 and all my Friends in USA. Iam now in malakal, the place

11/26/2013
FROM: RD

Thank you brother scott j I got your message GOD bless them for prayer for me and my family now MUNDRI is very hot say my hello to your family and your Fridays see you coming year soon RD LAOVE ALL OF YOU

11/28/2013
FROM: JKCGB

Hi scott will is john commando from mundri I greatings all of your families there in uas hi scott i miss you for long time also you dont whant to call tahnks for reading i love and i appreciate you dont for get my name is called 5o cent and john cena

11/28/2013
FROM: SG

thank you scot i got your message for two times now.i had already established net ball with a lot of players but our problem we had only one ball that you gave what can be done thanks stephen g martin


11/28/2013
FROM: W

Thank very much for the love that God cares for those who believe in him may this day will be the day of blessing for every on iam thankful for that day and my great thanks for all the family thanks a lot…..# w M

11/29/2013
FROM: JCM

hello ! mush greeting to you and all your family. We need you to comebalck angrl to south sudan. GOD bless USA and ss all over the WOULD. Thankful by CAMK %

11/29/2013
FROM: CNBGO

Thank you very much for remembering me during this thanksgiving moment in  U.S.A. as your dear friend.May the Almighty God Bless and potect you in all

11/29/2013
FROM: RD

HI brother thank you you meet with stward send my greetings to your Fridays when you come back to MUNDRI coming year you bring me good watch from U S A I prayer for you RD LOVE YOU

11/29/2013
FROM: JKCGB

Hi scott will this is john kaya.i seen our pawpaws tree was eaten by goats. also i have eat the pawpaw but two days  ago when i was at school some one taken the pawpaw. If i found person who was taken the pawpaw i will kick but has you told me if the some one makes bad thing to you. you havd forgive to him has jesus forgive us. thanks for reading.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Constant


I often feel a bit angsty right before I travel back to Africa. The whirlwind of goodbyes and the joyfully anticipated onslaught of hellos and ‘what did you bring me from America?’. It always starts a day or two before I leave. I turn on the task-focused mentality as I pack up all my stuff, weigh it over and over again, adding a few ounces here and subtracting a few ounces of stuff over there, checking all my lists, and constantly worrying that I am forgetting something of importance. I know the routine well. I don’t particularly like it, but I know how it goes.

My natural tendency as I near departure is to become too task focused that I forget to spend time with God. I forget to stop and say thank you. I forget to say ‘help’ when I am in the midst of the angst. I forget to acknowledge that the reason I am going back to Africa is because God has created a place for me there, and he has equipped me for the job.

The constant transitions of this life I have chosen are wearing me down. Or maybe they are helping me to re-center each time? When faced with much uncertainty and few constants to cling to, God has a sneaky way of reminding me that he is constant. I can always rely on him, and I do find solace in that. Even if South Sudan has always been unstable in my eyes and is even more so now as fighting carries on in parts of the country, even if I don’t know how long I am returning for, even if I don’t know what is next, even if I am returning without teammates, even if.… anything, God remains constant.

So let the angst try to ambush me yet again and let the uncertainty rain down. My God is certain, and even in my emotional ups and downs, goodbyes and hellos, comings and going, he remains constant.

Monday, March 17, 2014

5 Minute Talk...


Minster, OH – St. Augustine Parish
March 15, 2014
5 minute talk during mass


Hi. My name is Scott Will and I bring you MANY greetings from my friends and family in South Sudan. I’m a 1997 graduate of Fort Recovery HS, and I went to Wright State University in Dayton. I worked for a few years and then went to graduate school at Arcadia University near Philadelphia and received a masters degree in medicine and a masters degree in public health, and then became licensed as a physician assistant. It was during my last year of graduate school that I first had the chance to visit Uganda, and Africa has been a significant part of my life ever since.

In 2008 I felt God calling me to long term mission work, and I’ve been with World Harvest Mission since 2009 first serving in Uganda and then moving to Sudan in 2010, which then became South Sudan, in 2011.

South Sudan is the newest and one of the poorest countries in the world, a place with no electricity, few paved roads, a dismal education system, and a struggling health care system where one out of every ten women die during child birth, and 25% of children die before the age of five. But it is also a place of hope, as people desire to improve their lives after 22 years of civil war. There have definitely been struggles, but it has been a joy and honor to serve there, and live life with the people there. I work at the local government run health center, where I primarily see children, all in a dialect of Arabic, I facilitate a sports program for the community, I have an agricultural demonstration garden, I lead a weekly Bible study, I preach every few weeks, and I do a lot of hospitality. My home is in the very center of town, and I live with a young South Sudanese man, John Kaya, so people are constantly in and out of my house, which is great by me. I am passionate about mentorship and discipleship, and love building relationships with people. My favorite thing to do is visit local people within their own mud and grass thatch roofed homes, and just sit with them on a mat on the ground and listen as they share their struggles, hopes, and dreams, and as I share my journey with them, I am able to tell them of the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ.

I am returning to South Sudan on March 25, and I ask you for your prayers. In December fighting broke out country wide in South Sudan and has lasted ever since. Thousands of people have died and nearly 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Many missionaries and foreigners have been evacuated, but I am choosing to return, to encourage the people there that have become my friends and family.  Please pray for the people of South Sudan and for me, that my faith would be greater than my fear. I have given up a lot of things in my life, including many of the American comforts, but I have gained so much more in return. My life is much more than me just trying to be a good person, it is about trying to glorify God and have enough faith to follow God to wherever and whatever he calls me to do.

Thank you for choosing World Harvest Mission and the work God is doing in South Sudan as your 2014 Lenten Mission project. Your donations will help to provide live saving medicines to children at Mundri Health Center, continue to build character, hope, and commitment through sports programming, and provide Bibles for individuals that have never owned a book in their lives.

Thank you and God bless. Shukran Ketiir, Araboya mbaa Miri.

2 Timothy 1:8-9: So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don't be ashamed of me, either, even though I'm in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from the beginning of time - to show us his grace through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Back To Africa!



After 4 months stateside, 5 formal presentations, 6 remaining presentations, 11 states visited, 12 airports seen, 14 flights taken, over 6600+ miles traveled, 100s of people visited, and uncountable mochas drunk, I am returning to Africa on March 25! Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

It has been a great time in the USA, but it has been overshadowed by ongoing conflict that erupted in South Sudan in mid-December. Please pray with me for South Sudan - the government, the various political parties, the ethnic tensions, and my local community in Mundri. And please pray that I will have a deep faith and peace that passes all understanding in all circumstances.

Western Equatoria State, where I live, has remained relatively stable during the wide spread conflict and as long as things do not get worse country wide, I am planning to be in Mundri for an indefinite period of time. I hope to write more about that soon.

I've been journaling infrequently over the past four months in the states, but hope to do a lot more in the months to come. I've recently done some creative fictional writing based on real life experiences and first hand stories, and I may post some of that in the future as well.

Thank you for your support and coveted prayers. I am not super human, but merely a man that is deeply flawed that serves a super human God.

"What a great honor it is to serve in a place such as this."

-sjw

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Drifting thoughts on this Christmas Eve...


Amidst chaos, fighting, and fleeing a tiny baby was born. Persecution was set, a family sought refuge, and hope was restored. It happened in a lowly manager, a place few would have thought. A moment in time that changed forever time.

Amidst chaos, fighting, and fleeing a new country, recently born, is on the verge of large scale fighting. What became a people united in seeking refuge from war and fighting, is on the precipice once again. People in masses are seeking refuge, many fearing of what may come.

It is now, on this eve before Christmas, when I remember the Christ Child. Small, helpless, a new life began. I think of his meek beginning, but also his sorrowful end – but not really the end, but only the illusion that he was gone. And then, the raising from the dead, a new beginning, a doorway to Paradise opened, this world forever changed.

It is now, on this eve before Christmas, when I remember this newest of countries, South Sudan, struggling as most new things do, to be united, to grow, to prosper. I think of its painful past, and I pray for a hopeful future. I long for current troubles to pass, for the fighting and instability and corruption to end, for the innocent and afraid to have their hope restored.

A baby in a manager that became a man that preached and healed, a risen King that loves, that longs to be known, that seeks after the lost. It is within this King that my hope comes from. It is to this King that I pray over and over again, asking for peace, for protection for my family and friends, for a country and a peoples to know love, and grace, and mercy, and forgiveness, and truth.

I am one, but I am the son of the King. I have to believe that the King cares for all his creation, and into his hands I lift up my brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, coworkers and kinsmen in South Sudan - asking for peace this Christmas in a place marred by violence and a disruptive past.

I am thankful for Christmas, and I will try to be merry, but my heart is heavy as I scan the news, and I call friends from afar asking for details and updates, as I long to be present here but my heart in many ways is still there.

God does not promise our days to always be merry and bright, but that is still my prayer for South Sudan on this Christmas Eve night.

Thankful for you, and wishing you a very merry Christmas,

-SJW