Tag Archives: United States

An Update To The Situation In Bor, South Sudan

I wrote a couple days ago about the situation currently going on in South Sudan, specifically about what looks to be civil war in a power grab between South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and the ousted vice president, Riek Machar. We have been trying to keep in contact with those we know in the church in Bor. Some people managed to flee to their home villages, some we are hearing from but are in dire straits, and others we have not heard from since the first days of the violence. I am incredibly worried for these people, as they have become good friends over the last couple years.

sudan-0744smI’m amazed that any news gets out at all, but thanks to Facebook, I am still getting some updates. How they’re getting power I have absolutely no idea, but I’m thankful that they do, as it allows us to pray more specifically for what they need.

Currently the situation (as far as I understand it at this point) is as follows. Nuer Rebels have taken over Bor and are executing people. The United States and other nations have tried to evacuate their personnel from Bor, but have had difficulty after some evacuation aircraft were shot down. This is also hampering any relief effort.  The government of South Sudan has agreed not to launch an all out assault on Bor until foreigners have been evacuated. This is also making things more difficult for those who have had to flee, because they are running out of food.

A large number of the residents of Bor have fled, either to the UN compound at the edge of the city, or out into the bush. The general opinion that I’ve read from those there is that they generally don’t consider the UN base to be a safe place. From those in the bush, they are currently still safe, but are sleeping out in the open without protection from the weather or the mosquitos. Two babies were born yesterday to women on the run in the group we’re in contact with. They’re also running out of food. They’ve been eating acacia nuts and fish to survive, but the fish are becoming scarce. They’re crying out for relief.

Please keep the people of Bor in your prayers. God is in control, but we need to stand in the gap for these people. As we live here in peace during this Christmas time, please take time from the traditions and busyness of the holiday to lift up those who are suffering tremendously during this time. Pray for the wellbeing and encouragement of those we haven’t heard from.

Here is a link to a recent BBC story on the events in Bor.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25487084

Civil War in South Sudan (again), and Facebook.

This is an incredibly hard post for me to write today. I was greeted with the wrenching news a few days ago that civil war has started again in South Sudan, and ground zero for it is where our friends are in Bor. The initial indications are that the vice president, (a Nuer), who was dismissed by the president (a Dinka) back in July, has begun to air his grievance against the president with an uprising. During this uprising, the town of Bor was taken by Nuer rebels. Bor is where most of our friends are in South Sudan. If any of my South Sudanese friends have more accurate information than this, please feel free to post.

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Now, with that short background, we are praying for them with a lot of nail-biting. This is the first time that war has affected me in such a personal way. People talk about the fact that only in the past thirty years or so have people been able to find out almost immediately via news what is going on in a foreign war. But previously it was still hard to see it as real , because the disseminator of news was always a news agency, and it was still a bit impersonal. You could always tell yourself that whoever it is that you knew might not have been wherever the bad news was happening.

Facebook changed all that. No we know within hours or even minutes what is going on with people who aren’t just acquaintances, they’re friends. And we can’t tell ourselves that they’re not involved or suffering, because these are personal statements being put on Facebook, coming right from their own experiences.

On one hand it tells me specifically how to pray for them, but on the other hand it breaks my heart to see what they’re going through.  We have a very hard time in the United States relating to what’s going on in a country many of us have never heard of, so I’m going to post some of their own statements (with no names on other personal info), to make this more real.

“All the displaced people of Bor Town are in the UN compound, but the open air will not be enough for the gunshot victims.”

“Gunshots have started now, at 4 AM.”

“Bor town is scare by gunshot at block 4 this evening.they were trying to be the part of what is happening in Juba. i don’t know how is gonna be tonight oh God !!!!!!! guard the live of these innocent civilians who are the suffer of this nonsense war.”

“Keep your battery charged.  I was told by a source that commandos together with tanks were on the way to try to retake the Town of Bor. Whatsup with Bor and the rescue mission? Do u hear sounds of artillery fire from ur hide out or it’s calm in town? The Army sent ystrday is really enough to push them out. God be with you.  XXXX refused to leave the house n she said if they wanna kill her, no problem! I am dead here man.”

“Hi! Freinds. I am fine with people in the bush on our third day sleeping in the cold. Thanks for your prayers.”

“Using computer power to charge phones in the bush, the only last chance for phones to stay on.”

“For those looking relatives, stay calm, all hiding are calm yesterday and today. I can still hear sound of heavy machine guns from Bor town. I don’t have an idea of what is happening there.”

Folks, it just got a lot more real. Please pray for these people caught in the crossfire.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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All pictures can be clicked on for a larger view.

Where Time Touches Eternity

It’s wednesday, and there are only four days until I leave for South Sudan again. I’ve moved out of my malaise, and am now excited about the trip. I have part of my things packed, and will take care of the rest tomorrow.

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Don’t let fear of the future ruin both the present and your impact on eternity.

I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis this week, specifically The Screwtape Letters. There is such a tremendous amount of poignant observation of the human condition written in such a small text, and some of it is applicable to the common condition that links those in the west with those in South Sudan. That condition is how we see and respond to the past, present, and future.

I’m going to quote some of C.S. Lewis’s work, paraphrasing where needed so as to not have to explain the entire work to those who have not read it.

“The Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which God has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him), or with the Present- either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks in the present pleasure.”

“The human nature, however, makes all our passions point toward the Future, and inflames hope and fear. Also, thoughts of the future turn our minds to unrealities. In a word, the Future is, or all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time- for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence nearly all the schemes and vices of men are rooted in the Future, on the very core of temporality.”

So what does all this mean for us, and what am I talking about anyway?  So I think about the future. So what?

I used to be in the financial services business, and one thing that I was taught that helped me understand why people do what they do is this: “People are primarily driven by fear and greed.”  Now there may be different recipes for this two ingredient pie depending on your taste, but the effect is the same. People tend to make poor decisions based on those two things, either by the wanton lust to satisfy their temporal desires, or by the fear of what might happen tomorrow (or twenty years from now), if I don’t gather everything within arms reach, whether I’m entitled to it or not.

In America we work at a job we don’t want to do for an employer we don’t like for financial security and comfort in retirement, when our bodies are mostly used up, (ironically on the afore mentioned job). It’s what makes the CEO think he’s worth 380 times the salary of his average employee. Get what I can now, because tomorrow will certainly have more trouble.

If on the other hand, we lived more simply, had less financial fear, and did what we actually enjoyed, our lives would be much richer, and we’d be far happier. The old adage is “Work at what you really enjoy, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” We insist we don’t have the time or resources to do either the things we ought to do, or the things even that we want to do. We go to meetings for the sake of going to meetings, or to impress someone who in the lens of eternity we have no obligation or business trying to impress. We live our lives in desperation and fear, not because the present is bad, but because the future might be if we don’t continue the relentless schedule we’ve placed ourselves on.

In South Sudan it’s the same thing, only the flavor is different. They gather what they don’t need and steal their neighbor’s cattle not because they don’t have food today, but because they might not have it in the morning if they don’t steal those cattle.

Out of riches and abject poverty, the result is the same, and the human heart is the same. The ancient text of Proverbs 30 tells us that this is nothing new, and centers our attitude back to where it should be.

Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.

This is counter to human nature, and it is only by the Spirit of God that this conclusion moves past the academic and into the core of our own spirit.

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Juba, South Sudan is like an old-west town, full of people striving for the future.

This wasn’t in the brochure.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St Augustine.

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Sometimes you need to see things with a new pair of eyes. Close your eyes and if you’re in your home, think about where you are. Can you describe everything in the room? Chances are you can’t. Not because you don’t see the things in that room everyday, but because you are so familiar with your setting that you look right through the inessential items. You’re so familiar that you no longer notice. It’s the same with life, and why travel is so essential. For me at least, it is impossible to evaluate the importance or unimportance of the things I do, the thoughts I have,  and the logic of the things I put my resources into on a daily basis without stepping outside of it once in a while. It is impossible to understand that the tiny body of water you’re standing next to is an estuary of a might ocean without climbing to the top of the mountain and seeing the big picture. It’s the same with life.

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Children watch as thousands of cattle pass north of Bor, South Sudan.

Without leaving the comfort of home and traveling, you are never far enough away to understand yourself, your society, or the value or lack of value in your cultural morays. I would go even farther and say that if you travel, and only stick to well guided tours designed to give the feeling that you’ve traveled while at the same time denying you the discomfort  of non-western living, you’re doing yourself a disservice. If you must have a guide, and many people should for safety reasons, at least find a local guide, or better yet, stay with a local family that may or may not speak English. There are ways to do this.  Even better than that is to get involved with a missions organization or an NGO. You will not only enrich your own experience, but you can help someone else at the same time.

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Children float by on bags of empty bottles in the Nile River in Juba, South Sudan.

I remember getting off a cruise ship one time in Barbados, and a photographer was standing there next to one of the locals. He held up his camera and said “Rasta man?” I could not stand there and have my picture taken with the “Rasta man” because I felt it was degrading to have his culture so reduced to the point where the only contact people have is when they get off the ship and stand there next to him.  Wouldn’t it be better to get pictures next to the Rasta men because you involved yourself with them, and you’ve got pictures because you made new friends?

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Star trails over the town of Bor, South Sudan.

Most of my favorite travel pictures were taken in places where no tour group will ever go. Many of them were taken because I was in the right place at the right time. Many came after a day of very difficult and sometimes dangerous travel. But I’ve made friends along the way, and in 19 days now I will be going back to South Sudan to see some of them. So throw out the brochures. Go learn a new language if you like. But leave the tour group behind if you can.

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A charcoal merchant with beautiful scarification somewhere in the middle of nowhere, South Sudan.

 

Foolishness

I pray for the sight to see
I pray for the earth to shift
I pray for the light to be
I pray my saviour

Under the aegis of the living God, I trust and love with certainty,
Under the aegis of a loving God, I live and breathe eternity.

I looked at the calendar today and it’s only twenty days until I leave for South Sudan. To be quite honest, I have a bit of nervousness about going, as I usually do. The lyrics above are from the album Fathom, by Moral. It’s really an excellent album for those inclined toward industrial music. For those who think Christian music is all about easy listening, I would say that sometimes worship is a battle cry, and not a hymn. I love how complex spiritual concepts are distilled into pure, simple phrases.

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As Americans, we are lulled into a false sense of security  and apathy about things within the spiritual realm. Just as a nation at war can tell itself there is nothing bad going on if the war is taking place on foreign soil, so the church tells itself there is no spiritual warfare because we’ve told ourselves there is no fight. I can tell you that there is, and the only reason we don’t see it is because we choose not to engage. A nation that chooses not to fight is not a nation at war, it is a subjugated nation.  And the people that are the most enslaved are the ones who are enslaved but choose not to recognize it.

I have the same kind of nervousness when going into South Sudan as I used to at the start of a race when I used to race mountain bikes. I imagine it’s what soldiers must feel just before they’re deployed, though I don’t know that. The fact is that there is an entire other world just below the surface. One side fights for the spiritual freedom that comes when we deny ourselves and follow God, the other side fights for our consumption. One fights for self, the other for selflessness. One fights for disease and starvation, war and destruction, the other for completeness and eternal life.  South Sudan is on the front line of this fight. It’s on the border between the middle east and Africa, on the border between Christianity and Islam, on the border between slavery and independence, between war and peace, between Christianity and animism, between oppression and freedom, between death and life. There’s so much at stake it’s hard to fathom.

 

I had a conversation recently with a friend who is under the common impression that if you’re nice to people, they will be nice to you. His words were, “Be honest, when you go over there to help people, you wouldn’t expect to be attacked.”  I had to correct him, that on the contrary, that’s always a possibility, and I would be naive to think otherwise.  The physical and spiritual forces that have sway in the land profit from war and chaos. You might go to help people, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants you there. There might be people who hate the ones you’re helping, and consequently hate you. In any chaotic situation, there will be those who profit monetarily from the situation. They don’t want you there either. Furthermore, just because someone his been oppressed does not make them angelic. If that were true, every nation lifted from oppression would suddenly thrive.

So why go, if in fact no good deed goes unpunished? That’s a complicated question, and one that is not going to make sense to a lot of people, Christians included. Paul talks about “God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world.” This is entirely true. If in fact all we see is what’s right in front of us, then no, it makes no sense. If there is no God, or if we choose not to follow Him, then self-preservation and self-glorification is the highest possible goal, though still not an attainable one.  If on the other hand, God has set eternity within our bones, or as Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end,” then I live in obedience to Christ. And I would rather live in obedience to Christ, even if he sends me to South Sudan, than to live in disobedience and stay home where it’s “safe”.

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A pastor in South Sudan weeps as he prays that he would become the man God wants him to be.

 

Introduction to my South Sudan Blog.

The purpose of this particular blog is threefold.  The first reason is out of pragmatism, (facebook is a lousy interface for uploading pictures from an ipad when you’re overseas, as it always seems to crash before a picture can be uploaded.) Secondly,  to keep me on track and keep my mind focused before, during, and after my next trip into South Sudan. Finally this blog is to keep people up to date on my trips and the events that have happened and are happening. I have tried in the past to post some of this information on my photography blog, but I’m afraid the subject matter was becoming too disparate and had too much of a life of it’s own to continue putting it on that blog.

I will try to be as honest as possible with these blogs, except when honesty might endanger someone. In this case I will simply say nothing online rather than tell something untruthful.  For those who don’t understand the previous statement, I would honestly and strongly recommend a trip sometime to the non-western world, where a lot of the assumptions we have about “the way things are” will almost certainly be severely challenged. Furthermore, unless you stick to western hotels and manage to somehow insulate yourself from the state of the people, you will almost certainly learn a lot about yourself.

For those who don’t know me. I am a professional photographer. I deal mainly with wedding photography as a profession, but I also do some journalism, and have had some success at it. I’ve had images in numerous newspapers and national publications, and have even had an image on the cover of the Washington Post. I also regularly have content in a few local publications; Beaufort Lifestyles Magazine, Hilton Head Monthly, and the Beaufort Gazette. Needless to say, I will be putting photography into this blog as much as possible, because that is where my passion lies.

I am not going to rattle on all night about this, and I’ll keep this first blog short and introductory. Tomorrow I’ll talk a little bit about the preparation to go to South Sudan, and also a little bit about what we hope to accomplish there.  For now though, I’ll finish with a few pictures from previous trips.

A boy looks in the window of a polling place.
A boy looks in the window of a polling place shortly before the referendum for independence from North Sudan in December 2010.
An old Dinka woman in the village of Liliir, South Sudan.
An old Dinka woman in the village of Liliir, South Sudan.
A woman carries water in the village of Panwel South Sudan.
A woman carries water in the village of Panwel South Sudan. The people in this village had complained about needing a clinic because they were sick, while the whole time there was foot traffic hauling drinking water from the Nile. A well has since been put in, and I hope to see a decrease in waterborne disease on my next trip.