A few years ago I had a column in the newspapers distributed by Scripps on Florida's Treasure Coast. I've not been able to ever find them online, but I found this reprint on a Christian newsgroup today. I was happy at the time to be a missionary on the field with the opportunity to tell my story from the African bush. Not too many people get that chance. I had to upload the text from a Sat phone from a place that ad no running water or electricity.
Since 1983, the year I graduated from high school, more than 17 million people have been killed in Sudan's civil war.
The mostly Christian South Sudanese are one of the most persecuted peoples in the world. Their brutal treatment and the violation of their human rights has only recently become common knowledge.
It is a heart-breaking situation that has left this African people isolated from the world community. Every day, people starve to death and are sold into slavery. Entire families are abducted or displaced, and news of it hardly reaches our ears.
The United Nations wants to provide famine relief for war-torn South Sudan, but U.N. guidelines will only allow the organization to distribute food and medicine through the Sudanese government. Since the Sudanese government considers the people of the south rebellious slaves, it rarely allows relief to reach the people who so desperately need it.
Humanitarian aid still reaches the south, but it must be done, for the most part, by missionary and humanitarian relief organizations. These groups deliver food, medical care, clothing and encouragement.
Operations are risky and expensive. They are handled with the same stealth, planning and precision that military special operations use when they launch secret missions. The government treats these missions of mercy as they would mercenary activity. The Sudanese government has even bombed hospitals in South Sudan operated by Samaritan's Purse, a Christian aid group.
Far Reaching Ministries
One unique organization has emerged to provide ministry and training to the people of South Sudan. Far Reaching Ministries, lead by Wes Bentley, 45, of Temecula, Calif., provides Bible and pastoral training to chaplains in the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army.
In a Bible college setting, candidates from churches throughout Sudan are sent to train for a year at the Chaplains Training School. New projects are launched regularly from the South Sudan ministry base. In Uganda, FRM ministers to orphans of the Sudanese war, provides medical care, and distributes clothing and blankets.
First missionary journey
When I first heard of FRM almost three years ago, I was not interested in overseas church work. But the moment I learned about the work that FRM was doing in South Sudan, something changed inside my heart. Somehow I knew that this was something to which I would dedicate my life.
On my first trip to Africa, I was met in Northern Uganda by a South Sudanese security team. The lead man was a Dinka tribesman named Peter Akech. Peter is my age and has been a fighting man since he was a teen-ager. His skin is so black that it has almost a purple hue. Etched into the skin on his forehead are tribal markings; two parallel V-shaped scars.
His team of six to eight soldiers drove us into South Sudan. The children in the Sudanese village chased the Toyota Landcruiser that brought me. I stepped out, and they crowded around me. They are fascinated by my white skin, hairy arms, and blue eyes.
Most of these children have never seen their reflection in a mirror. The chance that they will ever see a photograph of themselves is low. I take pictures of them with a digital camera and show them their pictures in the camera's viewer.
The women are strong, hard-working, and elegantly courteous. The men are friendly and love fellowship. They greet me warmly with a hearty handshake and a bright smile. When I teach in their churches, they soak up Bible teaching like a sponge.
The only thing these people possess is each others' friendship. I find myself praying constantly for these people. I pray that I would embrace friendship as naturally as they do. My heart breaks for their material poverty and desperate living conditions, but I am jealous of the community and ease they share. They lift one another's spirits even though they live in one of the world's worst danger zones.
On my third trip over, a friend who works in the ministry said something I thought was totally crazy. He said, "Bryon, the guys here really love you, and its obvious you are at ease around them. You and your family should move here and work with the Sudanese."
I had a long list of objections. But I knew that if the Lord was in this, He would overcome every obstacle I thought existed.
I began to see the Lord work through my conversations and circumstances. When I asked my wife, Susan, to pray about the direction the Lord appeared to be leading, she said, "I knew this was going to happen."
My son, Aaron, almost 14 at the time, said, "Sounds great, when do we leave?"
Charity, my daughter, would handle things differently. A 15-year-old daughter tends to be a little volatile when you tell her she will be moving someplace where Seventeen magazine won't forward her subscription.
Truthfully, Charity had been ready for something like this. She later told us she had been studying the book of Jonah in our church's youth group. Jonah's story inspired her to write a prayer in her journal. She told the Lord she always wanted to be willing to respond to God's call, no matter how difficult.
My house sold in record time. Family and friends rallied around us as our vision for ministry came into focus. Churches all over Florida jumped on board with us. In 90 days, all of the material possessions accumulated during 16 years of marriage were reduced to about eight boxes.
Our financial and medical needs were provided for.
The Lord confirmed His will and provided for us above and beyond all I could have thought possible. God taught me that He was leading and He would provide the faith, the resources, and the circumstances to fulfill His call.
Our introduction to Third World living has included several days without running water, frequent loss of electricity, and sleeping in mosquito netting.
We've eaten goat meat and fish heads. Some things we will adjust to quickly and others will take a little more time. But we will adjust. We are all aware that it is the Lord who has brought us here and that He has planned only good things for us. We are excited that He is preparing us for new ministry to people we are waiting to meet.
For more information about Far Reaching Ministries, or to contact the Mondoks, call (909) 677-4474 or e-mail frmoffice@.... © 2002 - The E.W. Scripps Co.