As the conflict continues in South Sudan and almost 200,000 people are displaced from their homes, today I remember a journey to the front lines of conflict in 2011. Please remember with me. And pray.
TURALEI, SOUTH SUDAN :: June 25, 2011
We arrived Awiel on Saturday morning prepared to set out immediately for the border with Abyei. A small dusty blink of a town home to the tens of thousands fleeing the destruction of their worlds was our destination. In the middle of trying to arrange transport and purchase fuel, word comes that marauding militias from northern areas had pillaged the area two nights in a row. We could not proceed. We decided the next morning we would rise before the sun, take off at first light and return by sun down. It was a 5 hour journey over barely there roads one way.
The next morning, we shook sleep from our eyes before light peeked over the horizon. We purchased two huge grain sacks filled with warm fresh bread and off we set. Villages of Wonyjok, Malual Bai, Akon, Gogrial, and then Wunrok pass by as we drove through landscapes dotted with palm trees where cattle shared the road.
We stopped for a security report at the WFP base in Wunrok. All was calm in the day the report comes. On we go. Nearing the border with the north, we approached Turalei. Temporary shelters lined the road and filled the open spaces. We pulled into the dusty center of the market and I flagged down a UN vehicle with two very bewildered westerners and an Asian driver.
Concern crossed their faces. “You aren’t planning to stay the night?” they worriedly asked. “What organization are you with? It is very unstable here.” I was passed a card to call in emergency. They obviously were not planning on staying long.
We find out that thousands of refugees fled just that morning deeper into the bush to escape the threat of attacks. We wound our way through some grass mat huts in a field until we happened on a family under a mango tree. Joy filled my heart at being there despite the real safety risks. I really have never done tame well.
Mama Lina (in the green with her arm around me) came up and enveloped me her arms. Her eyes glistening. Her children laughing. Sitting on a grass mat, the only thing left from their former home in Abyei, they opened their hearts and stories to us. You would think they were simply having a picnic. I was undone by their welcome.
They narrated their last weeks. Bombs started to fall and militias with guns blazing came in setting fire to all in their path. The story was being repeated again. The tragedy again. The ethnic cleansing of a region violently engulfing the people as their world exploded all around them and they ran. For hours they ran. Not knowing if children were safe or loved ones were alive. Running for their very lives with nothing.
These were somehow the lucky ones. They did not become separated in the chaos. I will never forget this mama gazing deep into my heart, moist eyes shining and she who ran from bombs living with her children under a mango tree with no protection from marauding militias, this one, SHE grabbed me close and held me long.
She leaned low and whispered His faithfulness. He will care for you. Don’t worry about your leg. He will never leave you. He will always be there. Remember, we are never alone.
I choked back tears. I seriously wanted to pull up a grass mat under the next mango tree and become their neighbor. I will never forget how Jesus looked at me through Mama Lina’s eyes. I am stunned again today at the generosity, the compassion and the riches of those we call poor. I left part of my heart under their tree. I still long for the day I can go back and find it. It has been an honor to walk with my South Sudanese brothers and sisters and call their land home for seven years. They having nothing, have everything that matters. I am still learning from that.
Read about how the base I started in Yei just gave 90% of their supplies to serve refugees fleeing the present day conflict to their north. It is a real life glimpse into what revival really looks like, what radical trust means and what living in God’s love is all about. It is such joy to watch them continue to flourish and grow.
Would you like to be a part of the miracle that is unfolding in Yei? Here’s how you can sow into what God is doing. Thank you so much for standing with those I love in prayer and for your continued generosity toward the peoples of South Sudan.