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Leopard for lunch or a Leopard's lunch?

Updated: May 29

Our mission began with a vision to bring light and hope to some of the most remote and underserved areas in South Sudan. We set out to build two multi-purpose training centres—one in Lotimor, a strategic gateway to multiple tribes and people groups, including the Daasanach, Nyangatom, Suri, and Murle. These tribes have very limited access to the Gospel, education, healthcare, and essential services. These centres would provide much-needed access to education, healthcare, and discipleship.

The Journey Begins

As our convoy set off from the mission station, the anticipation in the air was palpable. We were about to embark on a journey through some of the most beautiful and challenging landscapes Africa has to offer. Rolling out onto the dusty road, we were greeted by an expanse of untouched wilderness, where vast thorn tree forests stretched endlessly under a sapphire sky.

The beauty of the land was mesmerizing. Towering mountains and rock formations rose majestically in the distance, their peaks bathed in golden sunlight. The landscape, any adventurer's dream, a place where every turn revealed a new, stunning vista. But this beauty was coupled with the harsh reality of our path. The roads were a test of both our vehicles and our resolve.

When dry, the roads were rough and rocky, forcing us to navigate treacherous rock beds. Each sharp bolder threatened to pierce our tyres or scrape our undercarriage, and many did! Often, we had to stop, jump out, and move boulders or stack stones to create a passable path. The team worked like a well-oiled machine, each member knowing their role in this delicate dance with the landscape.

When the rains came, the roads transformed into quagmires of sticky, clinging mud. Without winches on our vehicles, we found ourselves bogged down, sometimes for days. We became adept at cutting down trees to create makeshift bridges and new paths around the worst sections. River washouts created massive ruts, some three or four meters deep. Navigating these required precise teamwork and nerves of steel. Many times, our vehicles hung precariously, with the rear tyres spinning helplessly in the air, saved only by a timely push or pull from another vehicle.

Nights were spent under the brilliant African stars, camping on the roadside. The cool night air was filled with the sounds of the wilderness, and occasionally, the distant hum of animal herders moving their cattle under the cover of darkness. The tranquillity of these moments was a stark contrast to the trials of the day, a reminder of the raw and unfiltered beauty of creation.

The trailer has overturned !!!

Challenges were relentless. One day, our trailer hit a patch of soft mud and flipped over, breaking the tow bar and air pipes. It took all day to unload the 10 tons of equipment, right the trailer using a winch and pulley of a tree, and reload it. From that point on, the trailer's weakened tow bar broke every few hours, necessitating constant re-welding. The air pipes, too, were damaged, bursting every few days.

Hey isn't that one of our wheels flying past us ???

One of the trailers lost two of its four wheels, Silas and I looked at each other I stopped and a tyre flew past our window into some bushes ahead. "Hey that isnt ours is it we said to each other.... " We had to create counterbalances to get it home, the unsupported leaf springs acting more like a plough than a trailer, burying themselves into the road. Eventually, we came to the point where we had to leave it behind and pray it wouldn’t be stolen. Miraculously, a passing UN truck—the only vehicle we'd seen in days—offered to carry the trailer and its contents for a steep fee. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

When Snakes Drop In for a Visit

Late one night, Mwangi, wet with sweat and caked in mud, hacked at a thick mess of thorns to secure a winch to the protected base. The air was thick with the scent of damp earth and the distant calls of nocturnal creatures. As he cut through the dense bush, a massive snake, disturbed by his efforts, tumbled from the treetop and landed on him, its scales glinting menacingly in the moonlight. Mwangi's heart pounded fiercely as he stumbled back, the unexpected encounter sending a jolt of pure terror through his veins. His fear of snakes intensified his discomfort in South Sudan, making each trip a daunting challenge. This place seems to have a unique challenge and test for each one of us.

Josh, we have run out of water!

However, one of the most harrowing moments came when we ran out of water while stuck in a bog. It was a situation that brought us face-to-face with our vulnerability. We were miles from any reliable water source, and the oppressive heat was relentless. Our supplies dwindled until we were forced to confront a grim reality: we needed to find water, and fast.

With one vehicle still mobile, we scouted the area and found a muddy river. The water was thick and brown, swirling with sediment and who knew what else. We had no choice but to use it. The risk of diseases like dysentery, typhoid, or worse loomed large in our minds, but dehydration was an immediate and deadly threat. We had no filters—only our wits and prayers.

As we filled our containers with the muddy water, a heavy silence fell over us. The decision to drink this water was not made lightly. Each of us knew the potential consequences. The first sip of muddy chai was a moment of collective dread and reluctant acceptance. We looked into each other's eyes, the sugar masking the earthy taste of mud, our expressions mirroring a mixture of fear and determination.

Every sip was a gamble. We drank slowly, and cautiously, each swallow accompanied by a prayer for health and safety. This water, vital yet dangerous, sustained us for three to four agonizing days until we were free from the mud’s grasp. Those days felt like an eternity, every stomach ache or uneasy feeling sparking fear of disease.

Snake Charmer or Bullet Dodger: The Ultimate Choice in Adventure!

The gunshots shattered the stillness of the night. We were isolated, far from help, and the reality of our vulnerability hit hard. The crack of each shot echoed through the darkness, sending waves of fear through our camp. We huddled together, hearts pounding, unsure of what was happening or what might come next. In the oppressive silence that followed each shot, we strained to listen for any sign of immediate danger.

One of our team members, in a moment of pure instinct and panic, dove under a car to seek cover. It was a tense and frightening scene, each of us frozen in place, our minds racing with worst-case scenarios. The darkness seemed to close in around us, every shadow a potential threat.

Then, breaking the tension, another team member couldn't resist making a sarcastic comment: "So, you'd rather sleep with the snakes than get shot, hey?" The absurdity of the situation hit us all at once. Silas, who had dived under the car, jumped back out just as someone else was climbing out of the vehicle. In the chaos, their feet tangled, and they both ended up in a heap on the ground.

The unexpected sight of our teammates sprawled out, scrambling on the floor led to a round of laughter erupting from around the camp, a cathartic release from the anxiety that had gripped us. In that moment, the tension dissolved, and we were reminded of our humanity, and our ability to find humour even in the darkest times.

Our Mission Beyond Construction

A few days after the unsettling night of gunshots, our journey took a sobering turn. As we traversed the rugged terrain, we encountered an old man, his face etched with deep lines of sorrow and distress. His tale was one of tragedy and loss, a narrative that echoed the anguish of many in these remote lands.

The old man recounted a story of how his wife and children had been stolen or killed, his animals slaughtered, and his land plundered. At first, we were sceptical, dismissing his words as a desperate plea for sympathy or assistance. Yet, as we delved deeper into the communities we encountered, we realized the grim reality behind his words.

To our horror, we learned later that his account was not an isolated incident but part of a larger tragedy that had unfolded on the same night we heard the gunfire. It was one of the largest raids in recent history, orchestrated by the Murle people—a brutal act of violence that left a trail of devastation in its wake.

Reports painted a grim picture: 16,000 heads of cattle looted, 3,000 goats and sheep taken, and a staggering toll of human lives lost and families torn apart. Thirty-two people perished, and twenty-two more were left wounded. Ninety women and children were abducted, to become slaves or child bearers of the Murle people, probably never to return home.

The survivors, numbering 168 households and totalling over 6,500 individuals, faced a desperate plight, their livelihoods destroyed, and their communities shattered. In the face of such overwhelming suffering, our hearts weighed heavy with empathy. We knew that our mission extended beyond the physical construction of buildings—it was a call to stand in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed, to be a voice for the voiceless.

As we continued our journey, the old man's words echoed in our minds, a stark reminder of the injustices that plagued these lands. We carried his story with us, a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. And though our path was fraught with challenges, we remained steadfast in our commitment to bring hope and healing to those who needed it most.

Leopard for lunch or a Leopard's lunch?

Then there was the night with the leopard. We had just settled down after a gruelling day. The camp was quiet, each of us in our thin, fragile tents, many sleeping out in the open without a tent, we slept like babies. In the morning I stuck my head out into the brilliant sunlight when I looked at the soft ground and saw the unmistakable pug marks of a large cat. The realization that this powerful predator had been mere feet from where I slept sent a shiver down my spine. I think it was safe to say it gave the whole team the heebie-jeebies.

Another day, we encountered two men carrying a freshly skinned leopard. The sight of the leopard's lifeless skin, a stark contrast to the living, breathing creature we feared the night before, brought home the raw and wild reality of the world we were moving through. They told us they had shot the beast the previous night, and eaten its meat for dinner. They were taking its skin to market. It was a haunting reminder of the intersection of survival and beauty in this land.

We can't go any further

With the steering system of the truck irreparably broken, we faced a gut-wrenching decision: to abandon our vehicle in the heart of the wilderness and 'fail' the mission or to sit and slowly starve as we ran out of supplies. It was a choice borne of necessity, as our supplies dwindled and the harsh reality of our predicament settled upon us. Leaving behind the truck, laden with over 10 tons of invaluable material, was a leap of faith tinged with uncertainty. Yet, with heavy hearts, we entrusted everything to God and to a local village, praying for its safety as we embarked on the arduous journey back to Kenya.  It was a bitter pill to swallow, a humbling acknowledgement of our limitations in the vast expanse of the wilderness.

Mission success

Armed with fresh supplies and spare parts from Kenya, we returned to the wilderness a week later, finding our equipment miraculously intact, and preserved by the villagers. This moment reignited our hope and resolve, propelling us forward with renewed determination. As we conquered the final 15 kilometres to Lotimor. Mission success! At last, over 3 weeks of struggle, we had made it!

The warm greetings from the local people upon our arrival in Lotimor were laced with bitterness. It soon unfolded that they were not willing to assist us in building their own building. After enduring the hardships of the journey and the challenges of navigating through the wilderness, their demand for payment for even the simplest tasks like fetching water from the well or collecting sand and stones to mix with the cement felt like a stab to the heart. It was emotionally devastating, a stark contrast to the gratitude and camaraderie we had hoped for. The realization struck hard: despite our efforts, the community's lack of ownership and gratitude mirrored the challenges of years of war, NGO work, cultural barriers, and I'm not sure what. It was a painful reminder that without their involvement, our mission faced an uphill battle towards sustainability and transformation.

Navigating through what felt like a sea of ingratitude, we grappled with the challenge of loving and serving amidst the overwhelming need surrounding us. Providence led us to delve into the timeless story of the Good Samaritan during our journey, sparking discussions about who our true neighbour was in a nation teeming with suffering and desperation. In Luke 6:35, we found solace and guidance, as these passages urged us to love our enemies, do good to those who mistreated us, and give without expecting anything in return. They were a guiding light. I felt the need for repentance in my own heart, to release bitterness and continue forward in love. Much like the Samaritan who showed compassion to the wounded Jew regardless of their circumstances. I felt called to extend the same unconditional love to those who may not appreciate or reciprocate it. In the face of this, I felt renewed purpose: to reach the unreachable, and love the unlovable, regardless of the response, maybe a silly use of words because Christ teaches me that there are no unreachable or unlovable, that there is no 'great suggestion' from Christ only a Great Commission. A commission every follower of Jesus is bound by and will be accountable for one day. Love knows no bounds, and service knows no limits.

We're not done yet

The first building is now complete, and we are yet to start on the second. The truck remains broken down, awaiting a solution, our mission continues. We ask for your prayers and support to finish this mission. It has cost more than you can imagine, but the rewards, immeasurable. We are on a mission to transform distant communities, planting seeds of hope and faith that will grow and flourish in the hearts of these lost tribes, and with your help, we can continue to make a difference.

There is so much more to write and say and this just scratches the surface, but do check out our highlighted stories section on Instagram to see videos of all these challenges, like, comment and subscribe to our social media platforms to keep us front of mind in prayer, and of course, a thank you to HIP for helping to sponsor this project, SLM for being our co-labours in the field, Mechai International for helping us with the buildings, MAF for helping us get permission to fly in spare parts with our plane and to everyone else who was with us in prayer.


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