Having just returned from three busy weeks in South Sudan, the task of catching all of you up on the exciting developments there is nearly overwhelming. So we will just take you along on a whirlwind tour, hitting only the highlights!
The Challenge of Getting into South Sudan
Since South Sudan is still not an official country until its separation from northern Sudan hopefully becomes legal after the scheduled 2011 national election,we could not obtain entry visas in the United States. So our journey began by flying into the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. There we began the several-day process of "buying" a visa into South Sudan.
The time there was well spent, however, as we were able to connect with John Jock, a Sudanese refugee met last year who had been converted in Ethiopia and was then preaching for the Sudanese congregation in Addis and going to medical school. Having read that there are only 10 certified nurses in all of South Sudan, a country about the size of Texas,we were eager to see if John might be convinced to return to South Sudan and work with us at the preaching school to train basic health care providers.
We were thrilled to find John still preaching and working as a registered nurse in a hospital, which means he can do virtually anything medical except surgery. With a typical generous Sudanese heart, he readily agreed to work with us at the school as soon as it is ready. What a help he will be as a healer of both bodies and souls!
Arrival at Last in Juba, South Sudan
Some months ago, The Christian Chronicle ran an article about our work in South Sudan. As a result, Joseph Lagu Balli, a Sudanese man who had been converted in South Africa to which he fled as a refuge, contacted us to see if there was a church in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. He had graduated from South Africa Bible College, a church related three-year college, and was now working for the government Office of Parliamentary Affairs in Juba.
Prior to our trip,we received glowing recommendations of Joseph; and we were eager to see if he might consider being a part of our faculty, teaching as well as preaching. Again, God was preparing the way. Joseph, an extremely intelligent and personable young man, eagerly accepted, saying that he would love to work with us.
The Quest for the Best Location
With native ministers Isaya Jackson and Andrew Ocheng already experienced and in place in South Sudan,Roger Walker Talanyi finishing his preacher training in Lubbock,Samuel Akeri
resettled and building up the Opari congregation, and these two new men,John and Joseph,the preaching school staffwas coming together nicely. However, the next step was to finalize
the location of the preaching school. So with prayer for God's wisdom, we set out into the bush in our rented Bongo van to find the verybest townfor the preaching school campus.
The Possiblity of Opari
Our first stop was in Opari, where Samuel Akeri now lives and has established a fine new congregation. He had already talked to the chief for us,who graciously offered a large parcel of
landonwhich tobuild in Opari.
Although this land had good road frontage, it was located about 1 1/2 miles outside the edge of the village,which would make it difficult for children to cometo our kindergarten. So we have some good ideas for another possible use for this piece of property, which the chief said the Opari church could have as long as they "do something with it." And our search for just the
right piece of property continued.
Next Stop Magwi
The village decision to not let us have the land in Magwi that we originally thought we owned was deemed to be irreversible. We learned that the property had never actually been officially donated. Many families now live on it, and the temporary church building that had been there is gone.
The chief did offer us another piece of land. But it was also too far outside of the village and in a swampy area susceptible to mosquitoes. While the church inMagwi will probably accept
that offer of land, it was deemed not best for the preaching school campus.
...And Now to Parajok!
Next we bounced on down the rutted dirt "highway" into Pajok,on maps known as Parajok.
This third option had been highly recommended by both Isaya and Andrew as the most logical site for the school. We arrived in time to enjoy worship with about 200 others at the largest
congregation of the Lord's church in South Sudan.
After services, the local church leaders,along with the village chief,showed us the land that had been given to the church in anticipation of locating our school there. The Parajok chief personally assured us there would be no problem with ownership of the land.
The piece of land is located a short walk from the center of the village,and the village of Parajok is centrally located to all of our South Sudanese congregations, making it ideal for the men
coming to the school. The village of Parajok is growing and already has a population of 45,000, while Magwi has about 8,000 andOpari less than 2,000.
This site of approximately 22 acres is on the main road into Uganda,only 20 miles away convenient for securing supplies.
Parajok also has one of the few year-round rivers in South Sudan, great for baptisms as well as for the inexpensive construction and transportation of building bricks.
Another advantage is that there are no doctors in the village, but a nice empty clinic sits ready and waiting. If we could secure that facility and some excess medicines from the States, John Jock would be in business. What a terrific influence this could be for the church!
After discussing Parajok with all those involved,the mission committee of the sponsoring Mt. Juliet, Tenn. congregation has decided to build the preacher training school here. Plans are
being made with a contractor to return to Sudan to begin building in late spring.
Joining Hands With Our Sudanese Brethren
Although running water, electricity and food were all sporadic on this trip and cool air and icewere nonexistent, God gave us great success! At the close of the worship service in Parajok, we enjoyed their weekly custom of joining in a long receiving line and shaking hands with every other member of the congregation. I couldn't help but think that is exactly what each of you is doing – joining hands with our Sudanese brothers to spread the Gospel in this eager and open country!