The last thing you want to see is a fierce mob gathering outside the church armed with clubs, bull whips, automatic rifles, and spears ready to do you harm. Well, there they were, making demands and threatening the new believers....
We are in South Sudan just a few hundred meters from the mission station we have helped to build up these last few years. We are among the Toposa who are semi-nomadic pastoral people. Meaning they are in their home village for about 6 months in a year then during the dry season the men and boys leave the villages to find grazing for their cattle. They move from grassland to grassland for the next 6 months in huge groups called cattle camps, leaving the women at home to tend to the villages and young children. Depending on which season you go to the villages here, they can feel like an empty ghost towns or a bustling vibrant markets.
It's because of this semi-nomadic way of living that the gospel has really taken root in the villages. Primarily among the women and young girls and is spreading rapidly among some of the young men who are constantly moving from village to village. Unforutaly it also means that when the men come home after 6 months of sleeping under the stars, minding the cattle, fighting off animals and enemies, raiding other people's cattle and so on, they expect to find home the way they left it.
Culturally this means they expect to come home to a time of feasting and wild parties that go late into the night. These parties are fueled by alcohol and drugs, and men scheme and plan to bed as many women as they can. There is a polygamous culture here, but there is also a promiscuous and adulterous culture, these parties are where a lot of this happens.
This culture, like all human cultures, is not compatible with God's kingdom culture, in fact, God asks us to minister in the opposite spirit, the gospel of the kingdom brings a message of hope and the call to discipleship. A call to discipleship is a call to change. This is what happens when you meet the creator and are filled with the Holy Spirit. You can't remain in your old culture. You become transformed and take on a new culture. One that God originally destined for us in his goodness.
Many of these Toposa men find when they come home the women no longer want to fool around, no longer want to get drunk and be abused, they don't want to be involved in witchcraft or drug fulled orgies, and they don't want to become wife number 6 or 7 or 'just another donkey' as the men so often joke. When the men come home and find the women have changed, it infuriates them and makes them want to beat the women back into submission, back into their 'good old ways'
And this brings us back to the start of this story. The young men outside the church were armed and angry, they wanted their women back.
The YWAM team, Felix and our village host family.
At about this time a team from YWAM South Africa wanted to come and visit us for a portion of their outreach. To be honest, it wasn't a good time, it was the rainy season and I had no idea if we could get in or out with the vehicles. Days before we had just gone in to rescue our truck that we had to abandon on a previous outreach. Once it starts raining the roads are simply unpassable, and if you try to force your way you might make it, but you will pay for it in spare parts and wear and tear. A wave of persecution had also recently broken out, and. it might be risky.....
But that is the human mind at work.
Of course, it would be great for the team to come and experience real pioneer missions. Of course, it wasn't going to be easy. On the front lines, it never is. There are one hundred and one reasons why not to go; the weather, the roads, the safety the language barriers, lack of food, lack of water, lack of accommodation, lack of transportation, persecution, the risk to life, the risk to health, I could go on and on, but you get the point. In the bible, God told us to go, and he told us it won't be easy, in fact, he tells us it will be hard and many times we won't be thanked or even liked by the people we go to.
What does this mean to me? It means it's time to pull up my socks, time to roll up my sleeves and follow wherever He leads, this team felt they were to come so who am I to say no?
Straight away I knew we were in for a challenge. We had hardly travelled 2km from our base before I knew we couldn't make it any further. The roads were wet and muddy and we hadn't even reached the bad bits yet, let alone the swamp we had to cross. The vehicle was giving me problems and I knew it wouldn't make it, or it would be expensive to make it. We had no translators in a land that spoke no English, the translator, Eliha, whom I had arranged to help us out never even got the message and was several days away with no communication. There was another missionary who could translate, Felix. I felt we could get a hold of him but it would be tough. He was over 120km down this very road that we couldn't pass in the car, but I had peace that the Lord had something else planned for the team and I that was different to what I had planned, I felt He was closing the road in front of us....
Setting up tents in the village
I didn't fancy a 250km round trip walk so our only other way to get Felix would be on a motorbike. I was secretly hoping to jump on a bike and have a real fun adventure picking him up. There's something in me that just loves a good old bike ride. But as I was making plans I looked over at the young YWAM team and thought why not give them a chance to go, what a memory it would be and I can do this any time. I asked one of the guys, Awie, if he wanted to go, and you should have seen his face light up. On-bike he could pass where we could not by car, take shortcuts and manually lift the bike out of any muddy swamps if need be. I didn't know where Felix was exactly, no one did, but I was confident they would find him and bring him home. We went to bed that night wondering how far Awie had gotten. He had no tent or bedding, no food and little water. We prayed he would make it back in one piece.
And he did, many many hours later.
I made a plan with Mark the leader of the mission station, SLM and the work we are involved in out in South Sudan. We decided to go right into the centre of the persecution. To encourage the local believers. Incidentally, this is the same village Peter and I broke down in all those years ago and were able to baptize the new believers, now this was the second time God was intervening in our plans to go here.... I wonder what He was up to.
Not long after we arrived and set up our tents, camp table and chairs we were approached by an older man who seemed to want to talk with us. When he found out who we were and what we were planning he asked the team to pray for Him. After the team did so he asked them to pray for his wife who was also sick, then his children, then his cattle and lastly his crops. He explained that he had recently run into a lot of bad luck and that he, his wife, and his children were all unwell, his animals were sick and his land had stopped being productive, as we talked he said all this seems to have started when he banned the Christians from meeting and organised all the young men to go and attack any Christian that dared to meet together at night or at church.
I listened from a distance in amazement as this man told the team that he was in fact the chief of this whole area and that he was responsible for orchestrating the persecution against the new believers and the church. He put a ban on any church or Christian from meeting. Anyone that dared to meet would be beaten and have hot coals from fires thrown over them, and that had indeed been the case for many months. Believers feared to meet, the once nightly fireside meetings had all but stopped and you could tell they were really struggling. I was wondering how he felt about us being there to share the gospel and encourage believers...
After hearing his story and praying for him the team shared the gospel and lead him to the Lord. AMAZING. He was repenting and there were several more rounds of prayer. The team had put the audio bible in his language as well as the Jesus film on a small micro sd card, they gave it to him as a gift and we spent some time explaining how it all works on his phone. He was over the moon with happiness. As he stood up to leave he said. "I will call a meeting tonight to put and end to the persecution, I was the one who instigaetd it and now I am the one to end it. I now know what the gospel is and its a message is and it is a good message my people must hear". That night he called a meeting for all the youth, and men and forbid them from harming or intimidating the Christians anymore.
Felix teaches the Chief how to use the audio bible.
This is a miracle.
The chief, the one who was responsible for the persecution, just happened to stumble into our tents, he connected the suffering of his family, and livestock with his persecution against God's children. He connected these dots on his own, or more likely he was experiencing the loving conviction from the Holy Spirit, a conviction that has drawn the chief into a relationship with the one he was trying to persecute, and now because of God's great love, we will be celebrating God's majesty with him for all eternity. There is a sermon in here somewhere I am sure, but for now suffice it to say, we in our natural state seem to be enemies of God and his Kingdom, but the Holy Spirt is working in hearts and minds drawing people to himself, we as missionaries have a very simple and small role to play and that is just to say, YES to the call of God.
This is an amazing story of how God used this team of young people that just said yes. I want you to know that there is still a lot of persecution in other villages and areas for the same reason. In fact just as I was leaving I passed a church where this very thing was happening, and the following week the YWAM team was preaching in a church when they were interrupted by men removing women from the service to beat them for attending, I am sure it must have been a very difficult thing for the team to witness and be in the centre of, traumatic, let alone be the one being beaten. Should we ask them to come back next week? .... It's hard to work out what our response should be in the face of all this, but we trust in the Lord and we try our best to say yes when He calls us to go.
The YWAM teams' church service was interrupted by men removing some of the women….
I hope this story blesses you and encourages you as you read it.
Blessings from us all in Africa.