Monthly Archives: November 2013



Twice on my trips to South Sudan, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of drums. When I say middle of the night, I’m talking about 3 in the morning middle of the night. I assumed it was some sort of tribal celebration or a wedding, since those can last for a week.  When I asked in the morning, though, I found out that what I heard was the sound of an all night church service.

This really made me think. Would we ever see something like that at home? If the prospect of an all night church service was available to me, would I go?  It really struck a chord with me that whoever it was I heard was operating under a different set of priorities and a different level of commitment than myself. You stay up all night for something that’s important  to you; for something you really care about. A faith that we see as something private, that is just one of many things in our life that may or may not be important is nothing to stay up all night for. A faith that is something useful to complete your social persona is also nothing to stay up all night for.

On the other hand, a faith that goes through to the core, a faith so deep that if you didn’t have it you wouldn’t be the same person; now that’s something that would cause you to stay up all night.  So would a faith that would cause you to appeal to God to save your family, or your village, or your nation from perils that are too numerous and too terrible to list. The people I heard were praying and worshipping because they are appealing to their Dad, because He is the only one who can save them. They pray and worship because it is the first thing that comes to mind when there is a problem, not the last thing or one of many things. That’s the kind of faith I want to have, and that’s the kind of faith that gives me hope for South Sudan despite the numerous and sundry problems that exist. In second Chronicles, it says; “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This goes for us as well. Healing begins in the heart of each person, through humility and prayer, and it’s where we have a deep lesson to learn. I pray that we haven’t become so cynical that we become lost as a people.

For the South Sudanese at least, I hold hope, because I’ve seen where their hearts are.

I’ve begun going through the voluminous video clips I shot on this most recent trip. Appropriately, here is a link to some video of a worship service in Bor, South Sudan.


Check Your Shoes.

I’m reminded this evening of the old farside comic where two explorers are standing next to their tent in the jungle. One man is dumping snakes and scorpions and spiders out of his shoe. The other man is standing next to him watching, with a pair of enormous, stretched shoes. The caption goes something like, “It was then that Wilson realized that he’d forgotten to check his shoes.”
One of our guys put on his shoes this morning and couldn’t get his foot in. He thought there must be a sock bunched up in the tip. When he pulled his foot out and checked, there was an enormous toad in his shoe. Needless to say, if you spend time in South Sudan, even if it’s not for the scorpions, at least for the toads check your shoes. You might hurt them.

This little guy was in my bag in the morning.

The Weatherman Says We’re All Going To Die.

I currently have the Weather Channel website open on a separate page, and some of the headlines are as follows; “I realized I was going to die”

“One little thing can go wrong, and that can be it.”

“Caution, check your groceries.”

“Horrific croc attack for golfer.”

“There is no antidote”.

I could literally go on like that for a while simply by scrolling down the page. As Ty Tabor says in one of his songs, “We learn how to be afraid.”


I have no time for this sort of thing. The fact is that we’re in God’s hands, and He takes care of us whether we know what the danger or the problem is. Take my exit from South Sudan as an example. My last night in Bor, South Sudan, the rain began at about nine at night, and continued on almost until morning. Rain blew in the sides of the semi-open building I was in, and I had to cover my hammock with a tarp. By morning, the roads were a special kind of slick like we simply don’t get in America. Dirt roads in America are graded and built up with gravel so they’re still passable in bad weather. In South Sudan, (and most of the world for that matter) dirt roads are just places where the trees have been cut down. When it rains, they turn to the kind of mud that’s hard to walk on, much less drive.

We prayed the entire way to the airport as the vehicle literally slid completely sideways and narrowly missed going into the black-hole-like ditch, where vehicles go in, but don’t come out again. We made it to the airport, and pastor Joseph didn’t say goodbye. We turned around and the vehicle was sliding back down the road. He was concerned about just making it back.

Our plane made it into the airport, and we made it out back to the capital, Juba, with our plane splashing through mud puddles on the runway as we left.

The weather cleared, and everything was ok, but we didn’t realize for a few days just how close our escape was. We left during the only break in the weather for the next couple of weeks. Shortly after we left, the rains came back, and the Nile flooded its banks for the second time this year. That two hour window was the only one we would get, and had we missed it, I might still be there.

My point in all this. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own. Who, by worrying, can add a single day to his life?”  The fact is that people were praying for us, and the troubles facing us were taken care of despite the fact that we didn’t fully understand the problem. 2nd Timothy says,  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  So think about that the next time the weather channel tries to convince you that you might get ebola from pigeons in the park.


Taking Good Equipment



In one of my recent posts, I talked about the trouble I had getting my camera equipment into South Sudan. With the kind of trouble I had, and the fact that my carry-on bag weighed 32 pounds, you might wonder why I carry so much photo gear. I think the answer is in the picture above. There are times when I become tired of my own work. Then there are times when I look at a picture I’ve taken and just have to sit back and say, “Wow!”  The above picture was one of those times. The fact is, I would never have been able to create the picture above had I only had my small camera with me. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have been able to create it had I not brought a totally unnecessary lens with me. I shot it with my canon 135 mm f-2 lens. It falls within the focal length range of the lenses I already had with me, but with the f-2 available, I was able to get that razor thin depth of field I love so much. And it made lugging the extra pounds around for two weeks totally worth it.

First World Problems

I straying from my journals today, and posting a link to a great, (but short) video I saw a while back. Clean water is a huge problem in South Sudan, and waterborne illness is rampant. You can go in and preach the gospel, but if you do nothing to alleviate the physical suffering, you do the former without love. As James said; What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Put more simply, faith is as faith does.

So with that, here is the video, to cleanse the palate and bring a little perspective.


Two Car Accidents and a Baptism in the Nile

Today I was involved in two separate car accidents in South Sudan. Most of us are bruised and sore, especially on the knees and shins. Also, there’s damage to the vehicle. The only thing is, each of the accidents lasted two and a half hours and we were the only vehicle involved. What we hit was the Juba-Bor road. The rainy season has just ended, and the road can no longer be considered a road. As they say; in America your drive on the right side of the road, in Britain on the left, and in Africa you drive on the good side of the road. This of course doesn’t apply to South Sudan, where there is no good side of the road. Each way to the village we went to was only 30 or 35 miles, but took 2 1/2 hours to travel. Going the 140 miles all the way to Juba currently takes 2 days.

The Juba-Bor road

The good thing is that the reason for this transportational fiasco was that we were going to a Baptism at a year old church that meets under an acacia tree in a village along the Nile. It doesn’t get any better than that. Imagine yourself in the time of Christ, in the land of Cush, along the same Nile River where Moses floated in a basket. Now realize that except for the odd T-shirt or other western clothing, and the fact that the well has a hand pump instead of a bucket, NOTHING has changed since that time.

The event was as amazing as I thought it would be. A line of people walked from the church down to the river, singing as they went. It was just like the scene in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou“, only it was all Africans singing in Dinka. The villagers continued to sing the whole time as they stood along the shore, and the music was beautiful. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world.  Afterward, the chief greeted us and thanked us for being there, and expressed his appreciation for our participation in their village. I was here a year and a half ago, and I sensed a lot of skepticism at the time that we would actually continue to be involved as we said we would. I think there was some appreciation that we had followed though and continued to build relationships in this village.

In the end, the bruises and soreness were worth it. This is a beautiful day I will always remember.



All pictures can be clicked on for a larger view.


Sukomowiki and owlowalla. These are two of the foods I really enjoy when I’m in South Sudan that I can’t identify exactly with western ingredients, and I just wanted to write them down before I forgot their names again. We had both today.
Back to the point of todays blog. Yesterday honestly had me on edge and worried. Not for my safety, and not even for my gear. Its insured. But I come to South Sudan so that I can tell others the story of what’s going on here. Without full memory cards, I can’t do that. I can’t bring understanding about what life and faith are like here without media. I have been given a gift, and I want to be able to use it. Wrongly I assume that if I’m not able to do that I have nothing to contribute.
Which brings me to trust.
Our team leader brought his 18 year old daughter on this trip. It’s the first time we’ve brought a woman with us, and it’s her first trip to Africa. To say the least, she’s jumping in with both feet. Our team leader also wrote a blog, and in it, there is a picture of his daughter on the Tarmac, leaving on our final plane into South Sudan, and she is just elated. It’s really a joy to see.
Why is she elated? Well, part of it is that she really doesn’t understand what it’s going to be like, and she just has unadulterated excitement about what lies ahead. But most people are filled with dread about the unknown. Why isn’t she worried?
She isn’t worried because she’s with her Dad, and she trusts him. Simple as that.
So that got me thinking. Aren’t I with my Dad too? No, not my father. I mean, he’s a great man, but he’s 88 years old and wouldn’t be much use here. No, I’m talking one better than that. My Father in heaven is with me on this whole trip, and that’s all I need.
I’m quoting from memory here, so forgive me if it’s not perfect but Jesus said, “if a man asks his father for bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will he give him a scorpion? If men, being evil, care for their children in this way, how much more will your Father in heaven care for you if you ask Him?”
So I have peace about this again, and today was a good day. I was able to get some great shots and video, and even some candid interview from a man who led some of the lost boys of Sudan.


The First Day in Juba

Today’s blog is being posted out of order, since I couldn’t post it at the time the events were happening.  Tomorrows blog will be the one that was written immediately after it.

Juba, South Sudan, seen from the air.

I’m writing this in advance, knowing I won’t have Internet for quite a while. I landed in Juba this afternoon, and immediately knew that taking pictures, while already becoming more difficult the last time I came, would be even more tenuous.
We had tried to make arrangements to have proper paperwork for taking pictures in the country, but were told that since I was going for missionary work and not as a journalist, I didn’t need papers so long as I didn’t take pictures of bridges, the military,etc. (see the post on staying out of trouble.) Well, evidently that info was not correct. I should have been told, “you might have a really hard time entering the country if you have a really big camera.”
Fortunately, someone was there from the aid organization we were with who was a South Sudanese citizen who could vouch for me that I was with a church group and not a news organization. I was able to bring my camera into the country, but I’m going to have to be very careful when I use it.  Consequently my small camera is getting a lot of use, and I’m glad I upgraded before I came on this trip. Nevertheless, I’m feeling a bit discouraged right now, but still glad I was able to get my camera into the country.  Not sure what I would have done otherwise. I’m also unsure as to whether the customs agent was looking for a bribe, but I’m frankly ignorant on this kind of thing.
We took a small plane into our base location today out of Juba. It was about a forty minute flight, and it was a first for me, as I’ve always gone by road before. This, I found out, was very fortunate. The wet season isn’t quite over, and what is normally four hours by road now takes two days. One thing I will tell you, is if you have the chance to fly somewhere as opposed to driving, take it. It’s far safer, and won’t leave you completely beat up afterward.

The Terrifying Sound of Silence

Just a short post as I sweat here in my hammock. As I lay here in complete darkness, but hearing music in the background, I’m reminded again of an observation made on my first visit and only confirmed since then. The South Sudanese hate silence. They listen to music all night. When they’re in a car they crank the stereo up until it distorts. You can be standing in a group of people having a conversation, and one of them will start blasting a song from their cell phone. It’s as if they think as long as there’s music or noise, things are ok. That bad things only happen during the night, when things are silent and dark, and terrible things come out of the darkness and silence. When it’s dark and silent, that’s when the attacks come, when children and cattle are stolen. It’s when the snakes crawl into your bed for warmth. It’s as if as long as there’s noise, things are alright. It’s like children who are afraid of monsters, only here the monsters are real. There’s been a lot of talk here about insecurity, about the attacks that come from cattle raiders, and the fact that they’re not far away.  70 people were killed here just last week in cattle raids, and people go to bed afraid. And so I think of that as I lay here in my hammock, wishing for silence.

sitting at the table in the darkness in South Sudan. Click to see larger view

Trip advisor, South Sudan style.

Last night in Juba none of us got any sleep. Everyone’s exhausted. I’ve had an hour and a half of sleep in the past 48. So the team decided to not stay in the church tonight but spend one night at a hotel. I frankly would rather have slept in the church. I have slept very well there before, and probably would have tonight.
Nevertheless we’re here at the hotel and I’m good with that.
Now, my review.
We trekked through thick mud to get to the front door. The floor is mostly torn up linoleum with exposed subfloor. My door has been kicked in on at least one occasion. There are spiders all along the ceiling. The bathroom walls are covered in mildew, the sink drains onto the floor, there’s a large live beetle floating in the toilet, and the shower is what’s called a widow maker. If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically like hooking up a waffle iron in the shower head to heat the water as it comes out. Touch it, or any other part of the metal pipes while your taking a shower and you get shocked. Sometimes if there’s a steady enough stream you can even get a shock straight through the water. Also, I had to use a piece of torn linoleum to plug the sink so I could wash some clothes. There’s thumping music coming from outside.

The pluses: There’s working air conditioning. This is a huge plus. There’s a tv, though I haven’t checked if anything comes in yet. The bed is flat, and I don’t see any holes in the mosquito net. There’s running water, and a western toilet complete with seat, (also huge pluses). The door lock has been repaired and I don’t have to sleep with a shank tonight.
You would probably assume by now that I’m complaining and demand the immediate beheading of the manager. But you’d be wrong, because I know something you don’t. This is Africa, of TIF, if you haven’t heard the term used. More specifically, this is South Sudan. This is not the west. There are simply certain ways that things are here, and there’s no use getting upset about them. If I can sleep here tonight, be cool, and not catch some horrible disease, that’s great and I wouldn’t ask for more. In fact, I’d probably stay in a place like this again. Heck, I’ve stayed in worse. (I’m not kidding).
So I summary, if you saw on trip advisor under comments, “the bed was flat”, you might not stay there. But this is not trip advisor,and this is not the west. TIA.
Oh, by the way. I checked the tv, and there is only one prong left on the plug. So no, it doesn’t work.