Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hauling Water

[From February 2015]

When I lived in the States, I never thought much about water. When I needed to wash my clothes I went to the washing machine, pushed a button, and the appliance began to fill with water. When I was thirsty I could put my glass up against the refrigerator door, push a button, and first ice and then water would come out. When it was time to bathe I would go into the bathroom, turn on the shower, adjust the temperature, and wash myself in water clean enough to drink.

This last month in South Sudan, however, a significant portion of my day was devoted to moving water. There is no water source on our compound, so we drive our vehicle to a well nearby to fill jerrycans for our personal use and the construction happening on our compound. We average around 1-2 jerrycans (5 – 10 gallons) per person per day for personal use, but with the construction that amount increases significantly. One day when we were pouring concrete, Christina and I calculated that we hauled around 500 gallons (100 jerrycans worth) over the course of the day.

Any time that I’m tempted to complain, I only have to look to the South Sudanese ladies around me who often walk several miles to the nearest water source and carry the 44 pound jerrycan back to their homes on their heads to supply water for their families. It’s humbling to see them move with such grace as I struggle to balance a jerrycan on my head between the vehicle and my mud hut.

Since I’ve had so much time to think about water this last month, it’s struck me how amazing it is that the Spirit of God is described like a stream of living water:

“[…] Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit […]” John 7:37-39

For those who trust in Jesus, it’s like he comes and installs a tap of clean, life-giving water within us. No walking for miles to reach the source or carrying heavy loads to receive it. His Spirit is freely available to us. I hope I never take this tremendous gift for granted!

Living Stones

 [From January 2015]

I have been reading the book of Nehemiah this month, and it has reminded me of God’s faithfulness in answering prayer. In 2011 after preaching on Nehemiah 1, my pastor challenged us to pray that God would give us a passion for a people or place similar to Nehemiah’s heart to restore the wall of Jerusalem. A news article on Ethiopia caught my attention, and for several months I prayed that God would use me to touch people in East Africa. A year later I had the opportunity to travel with Every Village to South Sudan for the first time, and almost four years later I’ve now lived in 3 different countries in East Africa!

In many ways South Sudan reminds me of the state of Israel in Nehemiah’s time – both having experienced long periods of conflict with large numbers being displaced from their homes as exiles / refugees. It gives me hope though that like the wall of Jerusalem, God can restore this war-torn nation, only this time not through the rebuilding of physical walls, but through living stones, South Sudanese who love and follow Him.

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4-5

Please join us in praying that God would bring a swift end to this conflict and a lasting peace to South Sudan. May He raise up men and women with hearts transformed by the gospel to lead their communities in reconciliation and hope.

Saying Goodbye to Ethiopia

[From December 2014]

We knew going into Ethiopia this time that it would likely be our last rotation among the Nuer people. It had been almost a year since the start of the conflict last December with no signs of Nasir reopening in the near future. From what we have heard it sounds like all of Nasir has been looted, homes have been burned, and there are no civilians living in the town. As much as our hearts long to be able to return, we also know that it won’t be the same place that we left.

I had prepared myself for this to be our last three months in Ethiopia, wrapping up relationships with our coworkers and friends, but we were surprised when we arrived in Ethiopia to find that the visa regulations had changed and we would only be able to stay for one month, until the end of December. It didn’t feel like enough time to say goodbye to people who had become like family.

When we left for Uganda in November, there was no work for the ladies who help around our compound in Ethiopia, so we asked them to plant a garden while we were gone with hopes of fresh vegetables in early 2015. They did an amazing job, and we were greeted with the sight of cornstalks taller than my head when we got back.

It was bittersweet though to watch ears of corn begin to grow and green tomatoes appear knowing that we wouldn’t be there to see them ripen. I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 3:5-7:

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

We weren’t there for the planting of our garden, and we left before the harvest came. We really only took part in a few weeks of watering. In a similar way we weren’t there when the gospel was planted among the Nuer people over 100 years ago, and I don’t believe that we’ve seen the fullness of the harvest yet, but it has been a privilege to journey with our Nuer friends this past year. I am a different person from having known them, and I pray that somehow through our interactions they felt nourished and strengthened in the love of Christ.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Community: Learning from the South Sudanese

The South Sudanese operate on a level of communal living that I’ve never experienced before.

There seems to be no need for “alone time,” and most of life is lived outside among friends and neighbors. It’s rare to go more than a day without seeing a close friend. The only reasons to be alone inside the house are if you are sleeping or sick, so we frequently get asked what’s wrong when we spend more than a few minutes inside.

In the same way that time and space are communal resources, possessions are also shared, especially among family members. If you have something that someone “wants” (and I say “wants” because there’s no Nuer word for “needs”), there’s a strong cultural expectation that you give it to them. The subtle way to ask for something is telling someone you like it. We’ve learned that compliments are not part of Nuer small talk, because we’ve unintentionally asked for some of our friends’ belongings this way.

At first the constant asking really grated against my expectations of friendship. Aside from occasional rides to the airport, I didn’t have a lot of experience with relationships where people routinely asked for things.

For a long time my first instinct was to say “no” whenever possible, telling myself I didn’t want to create dependency. But as these relationships deepened it became harder to say no, and I could tell it hurt the friendship. Also, as I read passages of Scripture on giving and sharing with those in need, I felt increasingly convicted that in most cases it wasn’t the correct response.

Having lived this past year in countries heavily reliant on outside aid, I have witnessed forms of dependency that result in a loss of dignity and feelings of helplessness, which I have no desire to replicate. Rather, what I feel the Lord calling me into is a life of interdependence that points back to him as the ultimate provider and operates out of love, not guilt.

I still struggle to hold my possessions with an open hand and constantly have to pray for wisdom to know when and how to give, but the Lord is slowly changing my perspective to see giving as an opportunity for blessing instead of a burden. I am thankful to my South Sudanese friends for helping me understand more of what it means to live in Biblical community.

Two Jerrycans

In the grand scheme of things, our life in Ethiopia is pretty cushy, both when compared to the living conditions of the majority of human history as well as our neighbors. There are still times though when I compare it to certain aspects of life in America and find myself feeling discontent.

One day in particular the power and water had been out for longer than usual; our electronics were dead and our last barrel of water was almost empty. For several days I had had one of the intestinal infections that frequently plague our team, and I really just wanted to be somewhere with indoor plumbing.

That night as I lay covered in sweat I kept thinking: does God really love me if he called me to live in a place like this? My dad always loved and cared for our family so well, and I can’t picture him moving us to a place where it gets up to 130°F with no air conditioning, no running water, and constant sickness – not without a good reason. So either God loves me less than my dad, or he does have a really good reason.

The Lord reminded me of John 10 – how he has other sheep that are lost, whom he desires to bring into his flock. And as Jesus freely and lovingly laid down his life that we could be reconciled to the Father, so he invites us also to enter into difficulties that others would know that love too.

I think the Lord also desires to set me free from the lie that circumstances are somehow a measure of his love. I want to be able to walk joyfully through any struggle, believing Romans 8: that nothing can separate us from the love of God. How powerful would it be if instead of longing for difficulties to end, I could learn to worship in the midst of them?

I am continually humbled by how the Lord provides for our needs. The next day our friend Nyaret brought us one of her two jerry cans of water, which held us over until the city turned on the water the following day and we were able to refill our barrels. Her act of love blessed us beyond just the gift of water.

God is so faithful, and I can confidently say, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014


In Nasir we were spoiled to have a Doctors Without Borders hospital a short distance away. Although there was only one occasion when one of us needed treatment, we felt blessed to have access to good medical care in such a remote place.

The town where we are currently staying in Ethiopia is another story. While in many ways it is significantly more developed than Nasir, the choices for medical care are limited.

The local clinics, staffed by persons with basic medical training, take the shotgun approach. It seems that everyone who walks in with a fever has malaria, typhoid, and anemia. People walk out with bags of malaria medicine, antibiotics, iron supplements, and pain pills with little to no instruction on how to administer them. The Nuer name for these places, Duel Waal or “House of Drugs,” seems appropriate. It’s not surprising that drug resistance is rampant.

The local hospital is slightly better. You may get to see a doctor, and there’s less chance of being given a false positive for malaria or typhoid. But you have to make sure to bring your own food, water, sheets, and a friend to follow your paperwork through the convoluted, overworked bureaucratic system.

Faced with limited options for physical remedies, the spiritual route becomes more appealing. But there are only two choices: the power of God through Jesus Christ or the power of Satan through the witchdoctors (which is out of the scope of this post).

The Bible is filled with stories of healing and instructions to the church to pray for the sick. With so many of our friends suffering from various illnesses (most of which are not malaria, typhoid, or anemia), we are committed to lifting them up in prayer, believing that God’s healing power is the best option.

I can’t say that I understand how God heals. It seems like sometimes it’s flat out miraculous while other times he uses the natural systems he designed to bring it about. So far I haven’t seen anything “radical,” like the lame walking or the blind receiving sight, but then again, maybe I have been too afraid to pray these kinds of prayers.

I do believe that it’s God’s heart to heal and restore, and it’s my hope that those around us would experience physical healing as well as the equally awesome power of God’s love and forgiveness.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Search for Nyibol

When we arrived in Ethiopia back in March, the first thing we did was begin searching for our friends from Nasir. We would stop individuals on the street, asking if they had any news from South Sudan. We were able to reconnect with most of our friends, but had been unable to reach Nyaret and Nyibol, the two ladies who served us so faithfully in Nasir.

Although sickness had prevented us from traveling before we left for Uganda in June, this past Saturday we decided to make the trip out to Matar, a town about an hour from the South Sudan border where we had heard Nyibol was staying. Early in the morning we loaded up in a Land Cruiser and set out to try and find Nyibol.


After four bumpy hours we made it to Matar and began to canvass the town, stopping people to ask if they knew her. We heard vague responses that she had been there a few weeks ago, but no one knew where she was now. Then, out of nowhere, we ran into her son, who told us she was in the refugee camp near Nyinyang, about 30 minutes away.

Although us kuwayni (foreigners) did not have approval to enter the camp, some of the group went with Nyibol's son to find her while we waited under a tree outside the entrance. (We were so blessed to have her son with us, because there’s no way we would have found her amidst the 40,000 people living in the camp.) Finally we saw the car coming back and there was Nyibol!

It was a sweet reunion, and there were many rounds of “Male, male migoa, male midit” before we all got back into the car to return to Gambella. On the drive back, Nyibol told us some of her story. Back in March she suffered a gunshot wound and had been transported to a MSF hospital in South Sudan. After she was discharged, she walked for 10 days back to Nasir before finding her way to the refugee camp in Ethiopia.

Perhaps the craziest part is that as we were driving, we got a text from Jared that Nyaret, who we thought was in South Sudan, had just shown up in Gambella!

This morning we met together with Nyaret and Nyibol. We praised God for the amazing way that he reunited us after months of praying to see each other again. We believe that only the Lord could have led us to Nyibol and brought Nyaret to Gambella, all in one day.