For the last 11 years, I have been praying for a connection with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). It may sound like an odd prayer but I grew up in YWAM and have been involved with them for the last 25+ years. Now here in Africa, I missed my connection with them. But by all means, I am right where God wants me and couldn't be more excited for the work at hand.
During the second half of this year, several YWAM bases from Australia, America, Europe and different parts of Africa have begun to reach out, looking at different outreach possibilities. It was exciting to connect with different bases leaders and think about what we could do together, but slowly, one by one, all the plans seemed to fall through, until the last team cancelled. It was simply too difficult and too expensive for many, and I couldn’t blame them. The people we work with are hard to reach for many reasons.
While Jess was in Germany for her brother's wedding, I got a call out of the blue. One of the YWAM teams plans had all fallen through and they were wondering if there were any opportunities for us to host an outreach? My heart jumped, but as much as I wanted them to join us, I had to give them a very clear warning.
"The places I would like to take you, are very remote with no chance of an evacuation, the people are unreached, they would have to walk long distances on foot, there was a strong likelihood of getting sick with an illness like malaria and no hospitals or doctors available. The nation's security is not at all stable and I am getting regular reports of highway robbery, kidnapping and killings. In fact, not even a day after our team had passed through the border a few months ago, an Immigration officer was executed, shot 14 times in the chest!!!
They would have to work hard in the heat of the day just to survive, fetching firewood, getting water, cooking food and keeping on top of personal hygiene. Then following these chores, they would require the energy to preach, teach, evangelise with enthusiasm."
I would be asking a lot of them. I felt like was offering an amazing opportunity for them, but were they on the same page?
They gave me the response I was hoping for, right then and there.
"We are an ‘extreme places discipleship training school (DTS)’ this is exactly the type of outreach we have been looking for. We have brought tents, water filters, hiking shoes and are ready to work”
I gave the team the GPS coordinates on where to meet me, way out in the middle of the South Sudanese bush. Getting to the station was no mean feat, as it involved chartering an aeroplane, a first for the team, I believe. Then when we had successfully linked up, we went through the teams kit and did a brief orientation on our work with SLM in this region, cultural taboos and what we expected of them.
The basic idea was that I would help facilitate them, the first few weeks and get them settled, then from there, let them run by themselves for the remainder of their outreach for a total of 3 months in South Sudan.
Our first challenge was to get out to a region about 100km from our mission station. We had chosen this location since we had just started working here a few months previously. We had planted several discipleship groups and church fellowships, and since then, the new believers had begun to receive a lot of persecution. We wanted the YWAM team to meet with them and encourage them in this challenging time, as well as experience DMM first-hand with new believers.
We only had one car to fit all 14 of us, plus luggage plus food cooking utensils, and all the other bits and bobs we needed for a week or 2 away from the base. 🧳🥘🍱 🛻 🥾🏕 🔥
It was going to be a squeeze.
A taste of things to come....
As soon as we arrived at the village (n.b. some 4x4 skills were required.) We jumped straight into action.
One team was tasked to dig a toilet, and provide some privacy for our stay...
Another team was sent off to find water, we were told it was about 10 minutes away but we didn’t see that team for another 3 hours !!!
Another team was tasked with preparing a kitchen area to cook, and to get started on our dinner, as we would all be famished after the long drive and chorus.
The final team on creating camp, putting up tents erecting a DIY shade, where we could hide from the heat of the day.
Hanging out at camp
It’s important to note that while you might feel you are there to be preaching and teaching. The reality is that the everyday chores will take up almost all of your time. For instance, the nearest water source was about 5km away and took the team 2-3 hours to collect the 120l of water we needed in 4-6 jerry cans. What’s more, we needed to do this twice a day!!! Once collected it needed to be filtered, into everyone's water bottles and the rest stored for cooking and cleaning. To stay hydrated we needed an estimated 4-6l per person per day. That's a lot of water for you to carry in a jerry can!
The cooking team had a single ‘jiko’ (portable clay fire pit) to cook on, this required a constant feed of charcoal and or wood, which in turn had to be collected beforehand.
I hope I am starting to paint a picture of the amount of work that goes into simply surviving a single day before you can even think about doing anything else.... The wonderful thing about the DMM method is you can use this time to interact with the local Toposa people, as they are also going about their daily chores. Our team served and loved them by pumping water for them at the well, spending time with them, teaching them songs and dances as well as learning language and milling sorghum with a rock.
Camp side sing along 🎶
One of the team members was a paramedic and spent some of his time visiting and treating the sick and injured. On one particular day, this included having to treat a little girl who was stung by a scorpion! He was instructed to use a car battery with a hand crank to shock the poison. This was the traditional method, something I still need to check upon. (I doubt its efficacy, very much)
The other thing to note is the Toposas' working hours is very different to ours. Due to the extreme heat and lack of air conditioning, people tend to wake up very early, around 4 am. So it was not uncommon for children to come out and play and stare at us as we slept. (as a side note, they would also often follow me to the toilet and watch with interest !!! Another first for me, I believe....) The people would also go to bed extremely late, often chatting away till 1 or 2 in the morning. This meant that they would often sleep or doze through most of the day.
Imagine seeing all these beautiful faces at 4 in the morning, or at the loo....
The YWAM team said this was one of the hardest adjustments, as it felt lazy to be ‘mongging’ 😴 out all day whilst they ought to be working. But as some of them tried to work through the day, they soon found heat exhaustion overtook them and they did not have the energy they needed to converse with the locals, late into the night.
Despite this new way of life the team excelled. Working around their daily duties, they ran Discovery Bible Studies (DBS) with groups of 10-15 in the mornings and in the evenings visited different fire-side fellowships 🔥 sharing their testimonies and acting out bible stories. They did a great job and I was so proud of them.
The plan was to be based out of one village then hike to others to share and fellowship with them. However, the reality on the ground proved rather different. Most of the villages did not have access to water and we could not carry all our packs + water for 1 or 2 days. As well as the water, we could not carry all the food, pots pans and jiko we would need for 15 people to each village. Our workaround was to carry out day-hikes, leaving early in the morning and getting back at night.
Acting out bible stories
One of the villages, demanded we stay the night, so we did, and they were kind enough to organise the water we needed in advance. You have no idea how much you need water till you don’t have it, especially in a place like South Sudan!
At this particular village, the people had written a new worship song in their language, we had no idea what the words were but loved the actions, which involved dancing around the fire with spears in a very aggressive manner (those of us without spears had to use imaginary ones....) Later, I asked for a translation of the song and was told the lyrics were
🎵 Jesus you are the stick I will use to beat the devil 🎵
I must say it made me smile.
Dancing the night away
One day, as we were hiking back from a village, I looked up and saw the sky on the horizon was black. This was an ominous sign. The rough roads were not useable in the rainy season. A single rain could render a road unusable for a week, even for a capable 4x4. Another problem was that if it rained to the north, the rivers could flood and prevent us from crossing.... Right, I had to make a fast decision.
I gathered the team together and said; "I know we planned to be here another week but that rain looks like trouble. I want us fully packed in the next 30 min so we can get back to the base before we get stuck." Some of the team thought I must be kidding, but as soon they saw me collapse my tent, they knew it was no joke.
29 minutes later ...
We set off on the 100km trip back to base and it wasn't long before we saw signs that it had been raining, the car began to slide, the wheels slowly gave less and less traction. At one point we slid into a ditch, I kicked in the 4wd and we were able to get out, then we slid into another ditch and then another. Finally, we slid into one that 4wd couldn’t get us out of… I wish we had 'lockers' or a set of 'max tracks'…. The team jumped out and began digging out the tyres and looking for rocks. Finally, we were out again, I was beginning to sweat, we still had a long way to go….
It wasn't long before I came to a slow stop, as I looked out in front of me there was what looked like a river 200 meters of deep wet sticky mud… there was no way I was getting across it….. but I had to try.
I took a run up and went at it.
Go go go go goooooooooooo !!!!!!
We were moving !!! until we weren't.
This was going to be a big problem.
Huston we have a problem...
I tried my best to organise the team to dig out the mud, collect rocks and branches, to try to push and pull the car. After several hours we hadn’t moved an inch and it was now midnight.
I had to make some tough decisions. It wasn't safe to be out here. No one would get any rest, there was nowhere to pitch a tent in this wet bog of a road, there was only one option. The team would have to walk back to the mission station. I had no idea how far it was but knew they could and d have to do it. As soon as I broke the news and the team, they leapt to action, taking backpacks of the roof, they began the hike into the muddy darkness. It was strange watching them walk off into the darkness, soon the silence enveloped me and I was fast asleep, snuggled up on the driver's seat. I later found out they reached the base at around 3-4 am, praise the Lord, many things could have gone wrong but they all went right.
To cut a long story short we got out, after hours of trial and error Julius and I made it back to camp, and boy oh boy did I need a shower. Seeing the rain clouds still on the horizon I decided to give the team a brief and then get on my way, back to Kenya before I got stuck again.
In need of a deep clean...
All in all, this was an amazing opportunity for the team, and I thoroughly enjoyed hosting and facilitating them at our mission station in South Sudan.
But for any future teams, I would give the same warning. Are you prepared to count the cost, serving on the front lines and even visiting these places is no joke. You could be asked to pay a high price, even your life may be asked of you, are you prepared?
When I challenge myself with these questions my heart responds without hesitation, the price to reach the last the least and lost is always worth it. We are building eternal relationships, making new friends that we will have for all eternity. The work we are doing has an eternal value. Jesus gave me everything how could I not offer him everything I have in return?
The A team...
PS guess what this is...