It is a long and difficult journey to South Sudan. Commercial air travel takes you from Nashville to Chicago to Nairobi to Juba to Wau and then a four-hour vehicle ride on difficult dirt roads takes you to the finish line in Lietnhom. My destination is a spot on the map small enough that you can’t find it on Google Earth, yet it is a place of great meaning and significance.
I fell in love with the people here when I first made the trip in 2006. Something was stirred in me by the combination of joy and hardship that I saw. Most people here have seen their villages burned down. Nearly all can tell you a story of a family member or close friend who has been killed by either the civil war or tribal in-fighting, both of which have taken a heavy toll on this land. And yet, there is an unmistakable joy on the faces of the people. The singing, the dancing, the heart to celebrate all that God has done for them gives me perspective on my own level of everyday gratitude.
This year’s trip saw one team serve in three different capacities. James Baak and myself spent the week working in the Pastor Leadership Training Institute (PLTI). Our time was invested in 43 young men and women who will be the next generation of church leaders in this region. We reviewed and discussed the subject of Biblical Leadership. What does the Bible have to say about leadership and how does that compare to our own experiences we have had with leaders? The topic is profound. Celestin (from ALARM) e-mailed me just prior to my departure reminding me of the importance of this topic. He said that many of the difficulties facing this young nation right now can be traced back to poor leadership. He emphasized that the future of this nation will depend on godly leaders rising from within.
The other members of our team consisted of Peter Garang Deng who along with Stephen led a group of roughly 400 children through Bible stories and Bible songs. Additionally, Sunday and Mary led a group of 60 women through a full week of teaching. We are all tired at the end of the week but our hearts are filled. We have invested in the people here. We’ve taught, we’ve listened, we’ve laughed and cried together. Through it all, we trust the Lord to produce lasting fruit from what He is doing in this land.
My personal highlight from this trip? In the center of this community there stands a beautiful building dedicated to young minds. This is my first time seeing the newly completed Hope Secondary School and it was a joy to see the students in the classrooms there. High quality teachers are guiding the students and everyone is hungry to learn. Each one of them seems to be keenly aware that education is a privilege that must be honored and that knowledge is a gift that needs to be used to help others. These 160 children know that they have been given a gift that many others wanted and have yet to receive. There is a true gratitude felt among the students and the words of thanks expressed towards Fellowship and SMARD for giving this tremendous gift to the community were enough to reduce anyone to tears. Thank you Fellowship for doing this in Lietnhom. Less under our tree and more for the world allows these children to have an education and a chance to see their nation rise up out of hardship.