Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Fort Recovery, Ohio
Volume 3, Issue 2
March 31, 2008
…reflections on brief encounters…
God is good. I know that to be true. He has provided abundantly for me and hopefully for you. I am thankful for the experiences I’ve had, and hopefully those yet to come. I never imagined I would be where I am, yet through it all, I sense God’s guidance and direction. I have been meaning to write about my Sudan experience for some time, and will so now.
I traveled to Mundri, Sudan for three days in late February with World Harvest long-term missionary Michael Masso. Here is my account:
Hot, dry, desolate. No way could I ever live here – or at least that was my initial impression, but that quickly changed. The land was brown, wilted from the abandonment of rain over several weeks and the desert like heat at the peak of the dry season. The physical beauty was lacking, the land was flat and bare, but the people were amazing. The Episcopal Church of Mundri accommodated beyond our every need – tour guides, storytellers, food providers, etc. The town was small and remote, but the people were tall and welcoming. The locals of Mundri spoke much better English than those in Bundibugyo, Uganda. As I was walking about by myself one afternoon I spoke with several children, from very young to those in their early 20’s. The kids were delightful and their stories incredible. One such story that I continue to think about is that of the boy pictured above:
I approached two young men that were dancing on the dry, barren land as the sun faded, colors changing from yellow to orange to the blackness of night. They were listening to their small radio, as the played their favorite gospel music tape over and over. I could tell the music was some type of religious music, and so I approached the boys about asking about their choice of music and obvious dancing skills. Over the next several minutes I joined in the dancing and “praising of God.” The younger of the two boys, 18, was the worship leader and children’s choir director of the local Episcopal Church. He told me his favorite thing to do was listen to and make music that worships and honors God. As I continued to ask him questions he told me more of his incredible journey for a man so young in age.
When he was 12 years old he was sitting in school one day, a local primary school with dirt floors and crumbling brick walls, when gruff, demanding soldiers entered the room and ordered him simply to follow them or be killed. They handed him a gun that day and told him he was no longer a boy, but now a soldier. Over the next several weeks to months, he was forced to become a “boy-soldier”. He was forced to use his gun, on people, killing innocent victims or become one himself. He was forced to watch people be killed, forced to walk for miles on end through the bush of Sudan, forced to leave his family never-knowing if he would see them again. Forced to abandon the life of a child and live the life of a soldier.
Eventually the young boy escaped from the military entourage and fled through the night. Over the next several weeks he literally fled by foot, alone, without food or water, seeking refuge that he did not know if he would ever find. Miraculously, he eventually found his way to a refugee camp in Kenya, his salvation of sorts.
This young boy later learned that his entire family had been killed, apparently disposable byproducts of the ongoing civil war that has devastated the country, killing ~2,000,000 people and forcing ~4,000,000 to flee from their homes. The world he had known as a boy was now gone, never to return. Yet here he was, in front of me on the now dark, barren night, singing and dancing with all his might. Why? Why would this young man, several years after being kidnapped and forced to kill, be singing, dancing, and worshipping God? Many in his situation would surely curse the day they were born, blaspheme God and all his followers, but not him. Not this joyful young man standing before me now, swaying with the beat of the beautiful gospel sound resounding from the small radio that was balanced gingerly from the large, smooth log resting next to us on this fading day. Rarely have I beheld such a beautiful, simple, yet incredibly meaningful sight.
This boy explained that his exuberating joy is because Jesus saved him and spared him - saved from mortal death thus far and filled with eternal life. Grateful for his life, and aware of his mortality, but still an unending love and commitment to Jesus Christ.
All told, there about 20,000 young boys that fled across southern Sudan in a similar matter. Many died of starvation, dehydration, eaten by lions or hyenas, and loss of all hope. There are many books and websites that have published the stories of these young men, including the book I am currently reading, WHAT is the WHAT by Dave Eggers, detailing the long journey of Valentino Achak Deng.
In reflection on my brief visit to Sudan, my trip to Mundri was a wonderful experience in which I am extremely grateful to have had. Though the land was far from my idea of picturesque physical beauty, the people were beyond beautiful – an eagerness and desire to learn and rebuild, a quiet confidant hope no doubt forged through years of persecution and war, and a willingness to engage without isolation or suffocation (as compared to Bundibugyo, Uganda where people yell “Muzungu” all day long and children flock to see the white man).
In my desire to return to Africa I am torn between Uganda and Sudan. Though the physical beauty of Uganda far outweighs that of Sudan, but I admit I have only seem limited parts of southern Sudan and only at the peak of dry season, the people of Sudan are very inviting and would no doubt have many more miraculous stories to tell. The perceived need in Sudan seems greater to me than Uganda, though both countries are still trying to rebuild from devastating conflicts. As I continue to process my recent adventure in Uganda and what my future may hold in store, I am left reflecting on what one missionary wisely told me - “In doing God’s work we must continually ask ourselves where can I be most useful”.