|Mission to Sudan|
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it." Proverbs 3:5-6, 27
We have been in the field for 5 months and are now in our 6th month of ministry on this Africa Overland Mission. We have completed our ministry in South Sudan. We have travelled more than 20,000km and have had many great opportunities to minister to soldiers who protect South Sudan's northern borders, train and equip army chaplains, and conduct seminars with pastors, Evangelists, and lay leaders. We have conducted a total of 335 services, outreaches and other meetings so far, of which 150 were in South Sudan.
We had a very interesting border crossing as we crossed into South Sudan. The first thing which becomes very obvious is the fact that everybody drives on the wrong side of the road - they drive on the right-hand side of the road in South Sudan! Secondly, the customs officials were the most thorough that I have ever witnessed in all my travels in Africa. They off-loaded and opened almost every single box, trunk, and bag that we had in our rig. They wanted to see every book, CD, and DVD - even going to the extent of inserting the discs into their computers to investigate the content. After the Customs officials were satisfied that we were not carrying any contraband, the officer in charge of the border post came out and insisted that we be allowed to proceed without any further delays or inconveniences, because "you can see that they are Christian missionaries." He pointed to the Christian flag that we had mounted on the front of our vehicle. We were congratulated for the work that we were doing as missionaries. All taxes were waivered and we were sent on our way with their blessing.
God has been very good to us so far. Thank you for your fervent prayers for us. God has taken us through some very scary situations, tough challenges, severe breakdowns, and He has given us multiplied effective ministry opportunities.
Desperate Prayer Request
Our last update to you ended with us urging you to pray for our protection, as we were about to travel through some pretty dangerous areas. Now that we have travelled through these treacherous gauntlets I can, with gratitude, report on how God has answered your fervent prayers.
The Treacherous Gauntlet
Our research had informed us that we were on the verge of entering a very dangerous leg of our journey and that is why we had requested your urgent prayers. Whilst in Lokichogio our concerns were confirmed as local missionaries told us of the terror that lay ahead of us.
Dangerous Area ONE
There were three particularly dangerous areas through which we would need to drive. The first was a 45km section of very rough road still inside Kenya between Lokichogio and the border town of Nadapal. This is an area where bandits take advantage of slow-moving vehicles, shooting at and robbing the occupants.
We were strongly advised to take armed escorts with us in the vehicle as we travelled from Lokichogio to Nadapal, which we did. As we drove slowly over the bumpy road our armed escorts with their automatic rifles loaded and ready, their alert eyes searching the shrubbery told us how bad the problem actually was. "Yesterday someone was killed over there" one of them said. "Do you see those ditches there? That's where they normally lie in ambush" said the other "I have seen many dead people here". Broken windshield glass and debris lay on the ground as testimony to the terror of which we were told. We were glad to have the armed guards with us and were somewhat relieved when we arrived without incident at the border post of Nadapal.
Dangerous Area TWO
The second area we were warned about was an area in South Sudan between Kapoeta and Torit called 'Camp 15'. This is an area where armed rebels led by a man called Yau Yau, from the Murle tribe, have recently been causing havoc. The SPLA soldiers have been trying to drive them northwards towards Ethiopia. We were warned emphatically of the dangers of this area.
Breakdown in the 'Red' Zone
After entering into South Sudan we had two punctures before we reached Kapoeta. After having our tyres repaired in Kapoeta we cautiously proceeded towards the notorious 'Camp 15'. After sunset while it was still dusk, as we approached 'Camp 15' I started hearing a scratching noise coming from one of the rear wheels. Surrounded by drunks and suspicious-looking locals, armed with AK-47s, I stopped to inspect the noise at a nearby village (which turned out to be 'Camp 15'). We soon attracted a crowd of inquisitive on-lookers who were giving us the 'stare', so I decided to proceed to a safer area even though my inspection had informed me that the trailer's wheel-bearing had disintegrated. We drove on slowly, nursing the increasingly noisy bearing, for another 30km until we found a safer place to stop for the night and erect our tents.
Searching for Spares
It took us more than four days to repair the damage caused by the inferior bearing. A replacement axle had to be purchased - and there was none to be found in the 'red' zone. I searched through Torit and Juba for three days before I found a suitable (but ruthlessly over-priced) axle. Then I still had to modify the wheel-nuts and acquire all the necessary fittings. All this time, Daniel was left alone looking after our trailer in the 'red' zone and I was anxious to get him out of there.
When we finally got back to the trailer after sunset, I was relieved to find that all was still OK. We started immediately to change the axles. There were some drunken men arguing with each other nearby as we worked. Most men in this area carry an automatic rifle and these men were no exception. Whilst we were hurriedly trying to complete the repair work, these drunkards started shooting at each other! Some of the bullets came real close to us as we heard them striking tin cans nearby. We quickly took cover behind the vehicle until things quieted down and then cautiously came out from our cover and completed the repairs as fast as we could. We breathed a sigh of relief and gave thanks to God as we drove out from there, heading towards Torit just before 22h00.
Dangerous Area THREE
The third area we were warned about was on the last stretch between Juba and Torit. This is an area where bandits and robbers stop vehicles by shooting at them and then rob the occupants. There were reports that within the previous three weeks 19 people had been killed by bandits on this road alone.
Incidentally, in order to obtain spares from Juba, we had to drive through this area two times before finally crossing in again the third time towing our trailer.
As we cautiously drove through this 'ambush alley', we saw evidences of other vehicles that had been recently shot-up and still lay derelict in the middle of the road. Soon after a mini-bus (which was approaching from the opposite direction) had passed us, we heard gunfire and as I looked in my rear-view mirror, I could see that the mini-bus had been stopped and the passengers were franticly disembarking from the vehicle. We gave thanks to God as we realised that we had passed through that ambush unharmed!
Juba at Last!
We were very happy to have arrived in Juba and our anxious host was just as happy to receive us. We had the privilege of conducting a two-day Great Commission Seminar where almost 200 people attended.
Moru Printing Project
We headed for Yei where we met with the diligent staff of Sudan Literature Centre and discussed the progress of new Moru Hymn Book which Frontline Fellowship is in the process of printing as a gift to Moruland. We were very happy to see some progress, but much more needs to be done before it is ready to print. The only Moru Hymn Book in the area are the very well worn copies from the edition Dr. Peter Hammond delivered to the Churches in Equatoria in 1996.
The roads in South Sudan are mostly very rough with potholes often so large that huge trucks and lorries get stuck in them. On our way to Rumbek, we encountered some severe mechanical failures that forced us to turn back to Mundri in order to take dominion over these problems and start the repair process.
Repairs and Opportunities
The trailer's chassis was cracked right through in two places and the vehicle's prop-shaft centre-bearing (carrier-bearing) was on its way out and was starting to make a terrible noise. This forced us to return to Juba to have the necessary repairs done. Once again, Daniel stayed with the trailer and had a very effective time of ministry at various schools and a Bible college in Mundri while Renee and I were away in Juba forcing our way to the top of these mechanical challenges that were trying to bog us down.
As you can imagine, these numerous, unexpected mechanical challenges cost us a lot more than we had initially budgeted for and were threatening to cut our Mission short in South Sudan, because our limited financial resources were almost depleted. God graciously supplied our need through the hands of generous sponsors who deposited funds into our bank account and we were able to do the necessary repairs and continue on our Mission as planned.
We were very blessed to have been able to conduct Chaplains Training for more than 40 SPLA Chaplains in the Division HQ. Some of the Chaplains who participated were those who had been trained by Dr. Peter Hammond in 1996, and they still had their Chaplains Handbooks and Chaplains Prayerbooks! We also had the privilege of preaching to the entire Division at the general parade. This was certainly the highlight of our time in South Sudan.
Newest Country in Africa
South Sudan is the newest country in the world and we were privileged to be able to celebrate Independence Day here with the South Sudanese people as they celebrated their second year of freedom from the Arab North.
State of Insecurity
South Sudan has 10 states of which 9 have insecurity issues; Only Western Equatoria is considered to be without security problems. We have conducted ministry in states of Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria, Lakes, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Western Equatoria. We praise God for protecting us as we travelled through this country in turmoil.
One of the many highlights of this Mission has been the great opportunity that we have had to minister to the soldiers, officers, and chaplains of the South Sudan Military. This was obviously one of the main focuses and goals of this Africa Overland Mission. We have been delighted to distribute Bibles, Leadership books, Discipleship books, Gospel literature, screen the Jesus film, and conduct Great Commission Seminars among the soldiers and chaplains at 5 military bases.
Seeds Bearing Fruit
One of the chaplains that had arranged our ministry among the soldiers at the brigade headquarters at the frontline, was one of the first four chaplains that had been trained by Frontline Fellowship during the war, in 1996. He is most certainly a dynamic and productive man who has made a great impact for the Kingdom of God in the area where he is responsible. He has planted 6 churches and has trained many others to preach the Gospel and has sent them out as evangelists in the frontline. It was good to see the fruit of the work that had begun 17 years ago.
Fertile Western Equatoria
Driving through the lush rainforests of Western Equatoria was indeed a magnificently exhilarating experience. Even though South Sudan has not received much rainfall this rainy season, the extravagant green growth is brilliantly obvious which makes this former fact hard to believe. This state is certainly a fertile land, but in more ways than just one. The rich vegetation which envelops the churches and parishes seems to be a relative indication as to the spiritual hunger and fervour which the Christians of Western Equatoria have.
Productive Ministry Opportunities
We have been privileged to have conducted effective ministry in schools, churches, military barracks, on radio, and productive Great Commission Seminars, in Yambio, Maridi, Farakasika, Bahr Olo, Mundri, and Lui. The seminars were lavishly well attended, the church services were abundantly packed, and the schools were eagerly excited and desperately attentive, as we shared with them. These folk of Western Equatoria certainly have an appetite for the things of God.
Thank you to each and every one of you who remember to pray for us and who contribute of your limited and valuable financial resources to make our Mission possible. We would not be able to do this without generous supporters like you who give of your time and money.
May God continue to be your joy and strength.
In His service - and loving it!
Michael and Renee Watson