A short story to get us started...
During the war, Julius would travel from village to village to share the Gospel. As it was not safe to travel by day he would travel at night, without a torch or any kind of light. Avoiding all paths and roads so as to avoid being shot, he would make his way by starlight. Even the moon gave to much light and could alert the militia to his location. On one such night when it was pitch black, he set off for a village about 8 hours away.
At about 11 pm, while pushing his way through the undergrowth he stepped on something as thick as a man's leg, instantly a wave of dread swept over him as he realised what it was, a snake, immediately there was a rush of pain as the snake whipped around and bit him in his thigh. He didn’t know what snake it was, poisonous or not, but this was not time to stand around and find out! He pushed on to get to the next village as fast as he could, but slowly the pain began to spread. As the poison ran through his body, his heart spreading it all over, he began to lose consciousness. to be continued...
Off we go again !!!
Following on from my last adventure - read all about it here. I had 2 or 3 days to recover and celebrate Valour’s 3rd birthday, catch up with some friends, what a change in scenery!
Quick, I threw everything in the washing machine, letting it dry for an afternoon before repacking for South Sudan!
I had recently made contact with a man named John Finkbeiner who had just started an organisation in Kenya (The Ebony Grove Associates - TEGA), he was very keen to get his team of Kenyans as much exposure to the mission field and unreached peoples as possible. He asked if I would be interested in facilitating his team to our base in South Sudan, where our brother Mark is running things. John had decided to charter an AIM aircraft, and ask some doctors and nurses to accompany us to run a medical outreach. We at GFI had a bible school student coming out to do an internship with us for a few months, and I thought this would be a great opportunity for him as well. The only catch was this poor guy had just landed the night before from cold snowy Germany which was at -10°C, and S Sudan was well over 40°C on his first day in Africa. (In the past, this drastic temperature change had not fared well for our foreign visitors.) Oh well, I hope he was up to it...
I prayed about it and felt the Lord tell me to go. It was a great opportunity for the bible school student, and for me to be apart of a medical outreach as well as to spend some more time at our base in South Sudan and encouraging our team there.
As a side note - check out this video we made back in 2019 highlighting the need for such an outreach and our hope to do one soon, its so great to look back at these things especially when we are able to for fill our hopes and plans.
Travelling by chartered aircraft was pure luxury compared to the week of driving it took me last time! In just over an hour we were at the border, and so much had changed in the last year I could hardly believe it! The Chinese had built a major highway from Eldoret right up-to the border. Then over no man's land and all the way to Juba the road had been graded, so not tarmac but still rather nice. I was told this highway now connected right through to Cairo in Egypt! So a journey that once was a huge adventure, requiring mega 4wd skills was now a walk in the park. It’s amazing how fast things change and develop. South Sudan had implemented its new MTN cell network and we now had a cell signal at our base. (You did have to stand on top of a truck to get one bar of signal but it was better than nothing!)
As we pulled unto our mission station I could hardly recognise it! Mark's wife Lorne, had taken a farming course in Kenya called 'farming Gods way' and was putting that knowledge to good work. The once dry dusty sand bowl was now teaming with life, the fence was lined with sugar cane, the houses were surrounded by papaya, banana and guava trees, watermelons and other vegetables were filling the raised beds. Outside the house were plastic tables and chairs shaded by two bougainvillaea trees. This place was an Oasis, I could hardly believe the speed at which these trees had grown!
The last time I had been here there was no electricity within 100 km, but now Mark and Julius had some solar panels on their roofs that were connected to some car batteries, giving enough power to provide light at night and even a small, satellite TV! I remember how difficult it first was to stay here without a roof over our heads or access to water, it felt like everything was out to get you from the burning hot sun to the snakes and scorpions that liked to slither around our tents. What a difference! Our guest house was still under construction but built well enough for each of us to share a room. We slept 3 people per room, laying a simple mat on the floor with a sleeping bag and our bag as a pillow. I shared the room with the team's doctor and TEGAS media guy, Josh.
After a rough night sleep and bucket bath to remove the previous day's dust, we made an early start for a nearby village, this so happened to be the village Peter and I got stuck in on a previous adventure - you can read about all the drama here and also how God did something really special in that situation.
The jungle Dr (in the making)
We set up some tables under a tree, the doctor and nurses put on some lab coats and we didn’t have to wait long. After 5 minutes we had more than 50 young children running around and a crowd of people fighting to see the doctor first. Many of the men and young boys had AK47 rifles, others carried machetes or spears, kids had bows and arrows ( and trust me these were not the toy kind). Many of the people did not wear clothes or wore very few. (I am wrestling with how to show photos and videos of these people, and how to sensor it all for our lovey western audiences.)
A prince in a leopard skin 🐆
In the crowd, I came across a woman who was carrying her baby in a pack made from a leopard skin and later another from another skin that I couldn’t recognise, possibly a cheetah?! I joked and told them that their babies must be the sons of kings to have such a luxurious baby carrier and they laughed. Their husbands had recently killed them for breaking into their village and stealing some goats.
Up until this point, I didn’t know these animals were roaming wild in the area. It put a smile on my face, as I so love that these animals are still roaming free and wild in some parts of the world and are not confined to cages in zoos or national parks to be photographed by tourists every day in the safety of their trucks with tour guides calling them “wild”. I'm not sure why but it was important to me and is just one of those things that makes me happy.
While the doctors and nurses started to see patients, the bible school student, Amiel and others organised the children to take de-worming medicine, the children getting tablets and the babies getting a liquid solution that we had to coax them into taking. It was evident that after hours and hours of work that there is a lot that needs to be done here. Talking to the medical team it seems HIV is prevalent, infant mortality rates are very high, a lot of education and development still needs to take root in this region. It was great to see these doctors and nurses come alive and jump right into action.
You might think being Kenyans they are used to these situations but you would be mistaken. Eldoret and Nairobi are modern cities, not too dissimilar to ones you might be used to with shopping malls, cinemas and fast-food restaurants. Travelling to such a remote and unreached place like this was as much a culture shock for them as it would be you or I. Despite the colour of their skin, the local Toposa people came and poked and prodded them just as much as they did me, inspecting their foreign clothes and sunglasses.
Talking to the team later I found out that their biggest culture shock was working out how to interact with people that didn’t wear any clothes and were stark naked, something they initially found very awkward, but soon got used to.
Another little insight I gained was over dinner one night, was this, the men and women in this area live very separate lives with the women doing all the work, caring for the family and home, while the men lay under trees and generally do nothing. This making up a village. The part I didn't know was, when a man goes of to get another wife he would often say - "I am off to get another 'donkey'." This being the word view they hold about there wives and women in general. My prayer is this will be yet another issue the transformational truth of the Gospel will soon change.
Back to the main plot
While the medical outreach was taking place I wandered off into the village to meet with the elders and leaders of the church, I met up with Mark and we spent some time listening to the people as well as encouraging them in their faith, their growth and informing them that people all over the world were praying for them. I think sharing the fact that despite being very physically disconnected, they were part of the wider body of Christ, a body who cares for and loves them, a body that is praying for them and supporting them through people like us. This touched them very deeply, I could see the wonder on their faces as I explained how I had travelled all over the world telling believers about the Toposa, it demonstrated a kind of love that I think they felt intensely. So please keep praying for the Toposa and their neighbouring tribes who are all completely unreached and unengaged with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Day after day we repeated these activities in different villages, caring for the sick and needy, listening to peoples needs and hurts and encouraging the new discipleship group leaders, some of whom had walked over 80km just to meet us and receive a word of encouragement for us and for their group!!!
Can you image walking 80km, just to take a word of encouragement back to your church?
Wow, we in the western church are getting bloated! I Love the hunger, and wish more of it for my self, my family and our ministry.
Why not come out yourself ?
If you would like to come out for an outreach like this. If you can help people medically in any way, if you can help their animals, or teach them to care for their animals. If you know anything about farming or agriculture, if you are a teacher or health worker. If you are a mechanic and can run a workshop on how to fix motorbikes or maintain cars or cycles. If you are a business person or accountant and can show people how to run a basic business and how to account for it. If you would like to come and bring a word of encouragement to the church here and encourage them forward in their faith I would love to host and facilitate you. If you would like your church to get some exposure to missions and get a heart for the unreached, do get in touch to see if we can work something out. Our base with its guesthouse can now facilitate this kind of outreach relatively smoothly. It will bless, the people, our team, and your life no end.
It can be my simple challenge to you, come and see what God is doing here.
In the evenings we would sit around the fire drinking tea and listen to Julius amazing stories. Julius is one of our missionaries living in South Sudan. I would love to take the time to write up some of his stories for you to read, believe me, your faith will be challenged and you will benefit from the stories no end. In fact, if you are an author or know of an author get in touch as I think his stories would be well worth your time and make for a fantastic read!
The snake bite story continued.......
His legs slowly gave up their strength and it wasn't long before he was on all fours, trying to crawl his way to the next village some 4-6 hours away. All night he battled his way in and out of continuousness fighting for his life, crawling on his belly praying all the way. If he was to give up or give in to the unconsciousness, no one would find his body and he would be a dead man. He had to keep pressing on.
Then around 4 am his strength gave out and he was done, he opened his eyes one last time and saw the flicker of a flame, a man had woken up early and was making a fire outside his home, Julius cried out and the man heard him, he rushed over and attend to Julius. While caring for him he gave him a local herbal remedy for the snake bite, food, water and rest. Once he was strong enough to be on his way again, he set off to get to the village he had originally set out for.
What a price to pay, to have the privilege to share the gospel with those that have never heard it, what a demonstration of Christ's love. Amazingly this was not an isolated incident nor a one-off, every time we meet I hear new and amazing stories that take my breath away, I consider it an honour and privileged to call Julius, my friend.
Church with a view
After storytime with Julius, we would go to the fireside fellowships where the Toposa church would meet every night to worship, sing, dance and share stories. They would meet from 9 pm through till 1 or 2 am every night!
I am sure I can learn far more from them and their way of church then they can from me...
On the 4th day I walked over to check in on some of the projects our GFI team was working on. As we were staying in the guesthouse the team had to pause the work on the guesthouse and turn there focus on building the large fellowship building, this was a large shade that would provide a meeting place for the community, a place to run seminars and training as well as a place to meet on Sundays as a church, a community centre of sorts. A school was also being put up next to this centre where our team would be teaching years 1-4.
While chatting with the team I began to feel a headache develop. I decided to drink some water and walk back to the base. I felt that the sun was getting to me and man was it hot. I looked at my Garmin to check the temperature. 47°C. Wow no wonder I had a headache, I crashed in bed and woke up 4 or 5 hours later and did not feel well at all.
Classic sunstroke I thought, let's hide from the sun, get lots of water and rest and I will be right as rain in no time.
In fact I was getting worse, following a terrible night with fevers, shivering, aches pains and stiffness I thought I better see if I can get a malaria test, these symptoms was ticking all the boxes, and I had been out sleeping under the stars without a mosquito net for about 3 weeks now.
Fortunately one of the doctors on the team had access to a rapid test, they took some blood and almost instantly the test came back as +. I had malaria and I was way out in the middle of nowhere, this was not going to be fun...
Providentially, Becki had given our construction team a comprehensive medical box to keep on base, inside was a powerful malaria treatment. I thanked God for her thorough preparation and foresight. I was so glad I had access to this medicine as I knew my situation was urgent and if I didn’t get the right medicine fast, it could very easily mean my death, and I didn’t feel this was the appropriate time for that.
For those of you who don’t know, malaria can affect you in different ways, some cases and be very mild and others can be very strong leading to coma, and death. That night my temperature went through the roof and there was nothing I could do about it, some of the team found me and dragged my mattress outside under the stars, they laid a towel over me and a second over my head then took a jug and poured water all over me till the towels were drenched. After an hour or so I seemed to be cooling down a bit. From that point of I had the worst night of my life.
How to build a cloud...
I was fighting hallucinations, moving in and out of delirium, my mind was out of focus and confused, I was battling Chinese armies in the 1300s and trying to build rain clouds, I was fighting my sleeping bag and sweating everywhere, I desperately needed the toilet many times throughout the night and don’t think I made it outside half the number of times I needed to. At one point when I did make it out, I shone my torch and saw my urine was dark red….. hmm ... not a good sign.
Luckily, the doctor saw I was not in a good state and was not getting better, he made a call to see if I could be evacuated the next morning. Fortunately, the AIM flight was free, I just had to make the 4-hour drive to the airstrip and get through the border, past the covid-19 temperature checks ….. well, one problem at a time.
We got to the border in no time, I put my head under a tap and washed my hands and arms with cold water to try and cool down, to fool the temperature checks. They checked my temperature on my wrist. 33°C. Well, I'm glad that thermometer wasn’t working, I sure didn't feel 33°C. I saw there was a lady after me who registered a temp of 40°C - she was taken to one side to a Covid quarantine centre. Man, I just got out of that, I would not like to be stuck for any length of time in a covid quarantine centre in the middle of nowhere in South Sudan. Fhew...
Home sweet home
The flight back home was everything I could have asked for and more, an hour or so later I was snuggled up in bed with Jessie to take care of me, she later told me she was rather worried, my lips had gone an odd shade of blue and I had lost a good 6kg in the last 4 days, not ideal. But with the medicine doing its job and a bit of rest, I am out of bed and making a strong recovery. Praise the Lord.
Imagine if this would have been last year I would have had to battle a terrible 4wd road followed by 3 to 4 days of hard driving to get back home! Praise God for the Chinese and their road-building skills and for the Wright brothers and the invention of flight also AIM!
This week our GFI team is heading back out for another outreach, in a world full of lockdowns and restrictions, praise the Lord that we can go out and tell people about Jesus freely! I would love to be out there with them, but I just need to negotiate the wisdom of it all with my lovely wife and children, lets see if it happens…
Is it worth it?
During this time I had to wrestle with my mind and imagination. I have been reading a YWAM series on missionaries then and now, I was thinking back to some of these pioneer workers who had given their lives and their families lives to missions and often lost them from malaria. I thank the Lord for how far modern medicine has come, but I am also reminded of the cost of missions. How we are not here for a fun adventure as so many clueless people seem to put it. There is a reason why these people are unreached. The location is very difficult to get to, the political climate is very unstable and unsafe, the physical climate is harsh and challenging for us foreigners to adjust to and things as small as mosquitoes can cause huge setbacks.
I ask "is it worth it?" Then deep in my heart, I hear the answer 100 times YES and AMEN, for the King and for His Glory we gladly spend our life. For His fame.
Well, ride easy now, do good to your neighbour and remember God is only a prayer away.
Much love Josh and Family
Heres a quick video pulling together footage before I get sick.