1.22.2011

From sweltering heat to 5-7 inches of snow...

Yo,

Hope things are treating you well, wherever you are. It has now been one week since all of us (minus Jason) have returned to Amerika, and we are happy to be home but our hearts and minds remain in Sudan, and I 'spect they will until we return.

Jason remains in Adjumani and Nimule, where you can live like a king for 10 bucks a day getting fat on Nile Perch and Novida Soda pop. Keep the situation with the vehicle in prayer. There were a couple exciting developments that took place right as we were leaving Nairobi. One of the front desk guys informed us he has a brother located in Mombasa who works as both a "handler" and a broker for the Mombasa port. Therefore, Jason has a place to stay there that's safe 'n cheap, and we are going to literally save HUNDREDS on getting the vehicle off the boat and through customs. We are thankful to Timothy for helping us, despite his disgust at Jason's Snake Hunting Exploits.

Other than that, not much going on. We're all back at work and getting accustomed to Central Standard Time. I'd love it if I could make it past 8 PM so I could catch an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Knowing my luck, the first time I do catch one, it will be one of those lame ones that focuses on Counselor Troi. Sorry if that offends any of you Troi fans- but I find her unnecessary as a character.

Let's get off of one soapbox and onto another. While traveling, I was reading a book I had purchased before coming called "Under a Sickle Moon" by Peregrine Hodson. He is a reporter who embedded himself with a group of mujahideen during the war between the former USSR and Afghanistan in the 80s. Books like this always capture me because I find intense experiences fascinating. I hope none of our travels ever get like this, but there's always that possibility I guess.

Anyway, to what I'm getting at: on all of my former trips, I am usually ready to come home. I can handle the squat latrines, heat, different food and constant demands on attention and focus for a couple of weeks but as the time to come home draws near; I become whiny, selfish, and can't wait to get back, get over the jet lag, and get back in the swing of work. I admit it. Sometimes, when you are in the middle of your trips, you wonder just what it is that you look forward to when you are back home constantly thinking about it. "Am I just a glutton for punishment?" I ask myself.

Then sometimes shame kicks in. "How dare you even think about a project at work back home when you've got these people who can't even get a meal every day? What is the matter with you?" The war of spirit and flesh that we're never free from until we are just spirit.

I found an interesting passage in "Under a Sickle Moon" that applied to this very thing. The author had been with a group of people rebelling against Soviet forces in their own country; constantly getting bombed, hunted, without food, sick with malaria, etc. Now I don't claim to have gone through anything remotely like this, but I still felt I understood the passage:

"Observers from another world, we had passed among the people, seen their suffering and heard their prayers, received their kindness and momentarily known the turbulence of war. But all the while we had been wearing an invisible armour: the knowledge of another life to which we could eventually return."

On every other trip I've taken, I can say that I had this exact outlook. I felt kind of bad about it, but the one reassurance I had that kept me from freaking out at seeing all of the poverty and destitution was that I could come home where everything's safe, clean and there's always plenty to eat.

When I read this, it was like getting punched in the face. Something has changed this time, and I'm not so sure that I'm going to don this "armor" any longer. I don't know exactly what that means, but I think it starts with seeing what else I can give to these people. Maybe someday, it will mean spending more time over there, if God makes a way.

I challenge you all to think and pray more and see if God is leading you to do more and help those who aren't as fortunate. I'm not talking about giving money, but giving yourself. Your time, talents and treasure to those who need it. And I'm not even necessarily talking about this mission that we're doing. There are needs everywhere.

"But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" -1 John 3:17

1.14.2011

No clever title for this one :)

1.12.11 written from Nairobi


We are back at the Methodist Guesthouse where our journey in Africa began. There have been some significant updates that we need to bring you up to speed on.

We recently found out that the ship the Land Rover is on has been delayed in Jerusalem as it was randomly picked for a customs search. Unfortunately, this means that the vehicle is not going to be here by the "original re-scheduled" of January 14th. This also means that I, Randy, will not be able to be here to pick up the vehicle with Jason. However, Jason will be remaining here to retrieve the vehicle and complete the mission of getting it to Sudan.

Although I'm greatly disappointed, I know that it's all for a specific reason that it won't be getting delivered when we thought it would happen. There's so many variables and so many things that could go awry; so, just as we did from the very beginning, we're looking to God and trusting that He's got this thing under control. No problem.

On an updates-related note, we began our morning on 1.12 by meeting with Mayom Tulba Malual, advisor to the governor of Lakes State for Economic Affairs. We discussed our mission in Sudan and we were pledged further assistance and amenities on further trips, which we are DEFINITELY looking forward to.

We hung out and had some lunch next to the airstrip and got on the plane for Lokichokkio. Once we were in Loki, the fun began as we sorted our way through the chaotic mess to get our bags checked, get harrassed by the people wanting to see our yellow fever cards, having us get ready to board the plane and then discovering that they over-booked the flight. Jason offered to stay a night in luxurious Lokichokkio until the next flight provided they put him up and give him round-trip credit for another trip to and from Rumbek. They didn't decline, but pretty soon they said we'd be boarding at 5:30 "because the temperature was too hot for the amount of people on the plane....."

Anyway, nothing interesting going on. Ate some food when we got here to the Methodist. Spent 1.13 AM drinking some coffee and looking for a place to buy some trinkets. It's hard to come by cool stuff here. Every place you go has the exact same stuff that you would see at Third Planet back home- save for the patchouli stink (just kidding- I kinda like patchouli).

During the afternoon of 1.13, we met with the boys here. We had sodas, some food, talked with them about their goals and their schooling, and then we had a meeting with them and Uncle Awan, who they were getting to meet for the first time. Getting to see these guys is so awesome each and every time. I got some good video that I will upload when I have the luxury of time back in the states.

Last night, we went to Carnivore. Anyone who comes to Nairobi needs to experience this place. Basically, you get a hot skillet put in front of you, and guys walk around the restaurant with huge swords full of skewered, roasted meet. In one sitting, we dined on beef, chicken, lamb chop/sausage/roast, camel, crocodile, pork ribs, ostrich, and you have the option of eating "ox balls." I skipped that but some of the other guys tried that... yeah.

Right now it's about 1 PM in Nairobi on 1.14, and we are eating some Samosas and drinking soda, waiting for the evening to roll around so we can  fly home. Tim, Charlie, Mike and Aim will all be flying home through Amsterdam. I am flying solo through Brussells. I don't have any shoes right now, just some flip flops and socks, so keep my feet in prayer.

Looking forward to being back home, but we need to ultimately stress that this is not the end of the mission or the end of the blog. Once the vehicle is delivered, we will begin planning for the next trip to start the process of prepping the land for the agriculture project. Wells will be drilled on the property. The gospel continues to go to the people and lives are transformed. Raising these people out of the dust continues. Jason and I will continue to update. See you on the flipside.

Randy, Jason and the guys

1.11.2011

we're still here.... don't listen to the news.


It's Tuesday morning, and there have been many things going on. What will follow are just random experiences that come to mind without much reference to my notes. I really need to stress to everyone back home that the news is of course going to report on anything they can that will generate ratings. It is very peaceful and calm, and small scuffles are to be expected in this type of event. We are fine.

1.10- written from Abiachuk

Referendum

It's the day after the referendum and we're still here. No attacks, no bombings, no riots, no nothing. Just massive throngs of Southerners voting for independence. From the ground- we can tell you that NO ONE is voting for unity. Is it really any surprise? We managed to make it down and take some pictures and film of people placing their votes, but it was only so long before our presence was too much of a distraction and we took off. It's generally best practice to stay on the good side of the guys with the AK-47s.


black ink marks the fingers of those who have voted

sign outside the polling center in Abiachuk


Jason and I went to get a soda at a local pub, and when we returned, we found that Kong N'gor Deng Kong N'gor (KONGOR DING KONGOR. Yes, that's his name) had arrived at the school complex where we were staying. Kongor is the former Cueibet County Commissioner and the first government official to take Tim, Jason and Tiffany around Cueibet county on their inaugural 2007 visit. He had been removed from his post after some clashes that took place in Cueibet town in February of 2007, even though it was no fault of his own. Now, he is the Director of Education for Lakes State. Tim was getting an exclusive interview with his insights on the referendum and the coming independence for Southern Sudan. We will have that available to view soon after we get back to the States.

Jason and DeChol- a.k.a. "Machine Gun."

the man, the myth.... Kong N'gor Deng Kong N'gor


Kong N'gor has a personal guard with him at all times- a man by the name of Dechol (DEE CHOLE). On their first trip, they told me about this man. They had given him the nickname of "machine gun." I had seen his picture; the guy looks like he eats nails for breakfast. However, when I met him, he was all smiles. He's a very soft-spoken guy but you can tell he's seen some horrific stuff. He's always with Kong N'gor, AK in hand. We gave him a watch and he was very appreciative. Had to get our picture with him too.

Leadership Training

Friday and Saturday we spent a few hours each day doing leadership training for the young leaders here at Chumnyiel Fellowship Lighthouse Church. There are about 25 men and women whom pastor Samuel Maciek has selected who have shown faithfulness to the group in various ways; whether it be working for the group and helping others, serving the church faithfully, displaying admirable character or a desire to learn God's word and let it transform their lives in a greater capacity.

Tim sharing with the group at Sunday church

Charlie sharing on Sunday

Tim explaining some of the materials to the leaders


Many people have certain misconceptions about Christian Missionary work, some of which are completely justified. Sometimes it appears that Christian missionaries are trying to export their American or European culture to another place, and sometimes that is what you see. But what I have come to learn is that Jesus has his own culture. The bible is full of principles that apply to all people, and can be taught completely separate from pews, stained-glass, huge sound systems and powerpoint presentations.

I am thankful to say that in Sudan, this is the case. For example: from the very beginning, this church has created their own songs, in their own language, that glorify God. I have made it my special mission this time to use a field recorder I borrowed from my friend Cameron (thx Cam-Dogg) to make some great recordings of the songs they have created. Often times, an ordinary member of the church will create a song themselves about their spiritual experiences with God that the entire group will sing. It's a breath of fresh air and I think it's something that the church in America could learn from- we all need to loosen up a bit and get wild when we get together. We have much to be happy about!!

A New Friend


Yours truly- with Bohemoth.


Saturday, we were given a bull by Joseph Maker, a police chief in the area who has known Awan for a long time. One of the young leaders, John, was driven to Cueibet town and picked up the bull, and walked it back to Abiachuk. We decided that this bull would live, and paired with another bull, they would pull the plows when we finally are able to cultivate the soil for agriculture in Chumnyiel. Mike gave the bull a name: Bohemoth. At first he was a bit stand-offish in his new surroundings, but now he roams the ground like a huge white dog. They had him tied up Sunday night for several hours until I felt bad for him being stuck in the same place for so long, so I let him go. He immediately went and tried to eat the food that the ladies were cooking- it was the source of much entertainment. He moos- but it doesn't sound like a cow. It sounds Chewbacca-esque. Maybe the sound of Chewbacca going through puberty (sorry if that's a bit disturbing)?

African Life

We've been existing on beans and rice, and letting our friends here eat all of the good stuff (goat, chicken, beef). It has been like a nice week-long vacation for them. The beans and rice are delicious as we have some cayenne pepper to put on them. Yesterday we made Ramen noodles with canned chicken for everyone. Aim had some spicy-Thai ramen noodles that were pretty hot. More entertainment as we watched the youngsters down them and then run for water.

John Maker, one of the boys in Nairobi that we are putting through school, has been with us here in Abiachuk. He took us to the home where he, Daniel Chier and Alfred Dum all grew up (see previous article about the boys). It is a few miles back off of the main road and then about a mile-long walk into the bush. They are millet-farmers. As we walked through the bush we contemplated how we were viewing a place that was almost frozen in time. No running water, no electricity, no heat, a/c. Every day you walk to the borehole to get your water for the day. You walk 20 feet outside of your clearing to work and harvest the millet. At the end of the day, you crush some up and make some bread out of it- day in, day out.

Saturday, we had the pleasure of meeting a man who is apparently over 120 years old. He told Jason that he would have a baby boy sometime soon, and after he shook our hands, he starting sputtering spittle all over the both of us. I knew this may happen- the Dinkas consider this a form of an elder imparting his or her blessing onto a guest. I wish I had it on tape.

1.11 Written from Rumbek

We're here at the Rumbek Business Complex, where we initially corresponded to you from once we reached Rumbek. I won't lie- after living in a tent for over a week eating beans and rice, using squat latrines and driving miles to pump our water each day, it's nice to be in a western-style place with a bathroom, shower, quasi-air conditioning and chicken with french fries. And COFFEE. How sweet it is to drink coffee. We had been out for days and the local tea leaf just wasn't cutting it.


Mmmmmm..... coffee......

We woke up this morning after a particularly difficult night. Not only was it brutally cold with our shortage of blankets, but Bohemoth had decided to try to eat our laundry that was soaking. We were all scared awake by the sound of Awan screaming at the cow who had tried to get into his room. After the commotion died down and we were trying to sleep in the tent again, the cow began to headbutt the walls of the tent where Aim and I were sleeping. He is basically a huge lapdog with horns.


sometimes, you just gotta spell it out.

Jason, Aim and I went to pump some water at the borehole outside of town. The borehole in town had run out of water because of draught, so everyone flocked to the "country" borehole. Apparently people can become pretty feisty over waiting in line to pump their water, as there were now security guards posted at the borehole.

Pumping water can be quite the mundane, tedious task. Luckily, we enjoy entertaining the locals. I have many instances of Jason singing to the women as he pumps their water. In particular, Jason created a song in the style and cadence of the local fare about former Commissioner Kong N'gor. Every time he sings it, people go nuts. The song details all of the places and tribes that Kong N'gor presided over. It goes like this:

Kong N'gor Deng Kong N'gor

Abiriu, Mayath
Kong N'gor Deng Kong N'gor
Panadut, Panowar
Kong N'gor Deng Kong N'gor
Chyit Chok, Tiap Tiap
Kong N'gor Deng Kong N'gor
Duong Payam, DORR!

I have posted a video below of this so you can all join in on the laughter (or maybe not- it may just be funny to us). The locals have really taken a liking to us. I think my favorite thing to do is greet random people as we learn more of the Dinka language. John Maker informed us as we were walking around town that the locals were raving about the white guys in town and how they greeting everyone. People here have become so hospitable, welcoming us with open arms.

After we pumped water, it was time to clean up the camp and get ready to say our good-byes. We were happy to be able to leave clothes, food, first aid stuff and toys with Samuel and Deborah to distribute to the church. We took some time to worship and pray together and we realized that as soon as we get home, it will be time to plan for the next trip and the next phase of development- the agriculture. More to come on that.

We made our way to Rumbek and secured a couple of rooms to stay in tonight. After dining on some chicken and chips, Awan mysteriously secured a government vehicle to take us to the new Governor of Lake State's office. We arrived, but discovered he had departed to Yirol. We then set out to meet with Martin Gruetters, the former architecht-turned-interim-program-manager of Diakonie emergency aid, or Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, the German Humanitarian Agency that funds and staffs the different stations that have treated illnesses and offered midwifery services for the population of Cueibet County. As I previously mentioned, this is also the organization that runs the camp where we have stayed in Cueibet each time we have come here.

Diakonie's contract for running the camp ended in December, however there have been some complications with the organization that is to take over for running the health care program. They are in need of indigenous local staff to assist with management and logistics, and we seek to have Awan placed in one of these positions full time here in Sudan. More to come on this.

So it's been a busy day. No new entertaining or funny stuff to report on. I thought we were going to have something good when a traffic cop flagged us down, angry at our government driver who drove past a road block. Unfortunately, he just angrily waved us on. No shouting matches, nothing.

The guy who negotiated the deal with our vehicle came to pick it up, and after being told that the brakes were out, he came back to us complaining that there were no brakes (?!). He also wanted 50 bucks more for being the negotiator, which Jason flatly denied and told him to go to the owner of the vehicle. Again- nothing entertaining to report. Pretty mellow day all in all.

We just dined on fish, rice and potatoes and are consuming gratuitous amounts of coffee in preparation for bedtime. Tomorrow, we will seek to meet with the new Governor of Lakes State and then head to the Rumbek airstrip to fly through Lokichokkio through Kenya. We might have something funny to report then, but I'm actually praying against it. That's another story for another time.

Peace out,
Randy and the guyz




1.06.2011

Long day!

Where to even begin? Yesterday started with us waking up to the chorus of roosters, strange birds making siren noises and shouted discourse in Dinka that we have all come to know and love. We dragged ourselves out of bed, and after a nice cup of coffee (thank you Starbuck's on 119th/Renner), we push-started the Land Cruiser and were on our way to meet Father Giovanni.


The Padre is 70 years old and has been in Africa for 47 years in Kenya and Uganda. Within the last dozen or so years he made his way to Sudan, and it has been his home. He does many different humanitarian type projects for the Catholic church including vocational training, building, and drilling wells- the primary reason we are making our visit. Most people who drill boreholes out here only go deep enough to hit water. However, the Padre has determined that you have to go at least 60 meters to get clean, drinkable water that is not going to cause any problems.

We were going to have the borehold drilled this last year, but various complications kept it from happening. Now, his entire crew has returned to Italy because of worries about instability during the referendum. However, as he put it: "I cannot leave. My people need me here when they are suffering more than when they are well." He is an inspiration to us all. We made arrangements to have the borehole drilled when his engineers return after the vote- possibly February or March.

We took some time to see the Father's compound- it is absolutely beautiful. Huge mango trees cover an outdoor church. Young Dinka kids running around learning how to cook, build, sew, etc. One thing I did notice was the proximity to the large white mountain "Kur Majak," where we had an incident last year. See my youtube channel for the video...

After parting with the Father, we made our way to Lang Dit (LONG DEET), the birthplace of Awan Ater. We were instructed to go to the bridge over the river Bar-Gel and wait. Soon, the county commissioner and a truckload of SPLA arrived armed to the teeth. I won't lie- it was kinda neat.

We then headed for Lang Dit. Before we could even make it to town, a huge crowd of people stopped us, singing in the street. We got out of our vehicles and they were singing, dancing and screaming praises for Awan- "Awan has come home!" The next hour saw much dancing and several bulls lost their life- I will spare you the pictures here.

We finally gathered under a huge fig tree and were treated to more dancing and a 7-Up. We probably shook a few hundred hands and then we were ushered again to our vehicles to make our way to Malou-Pac (maLON-page), the hometown of some of Awan's family. There, it was all business as we were greeted by the Paramount chief over the entire area and some of his sub-chiefs, and the villagers addressed their concerns.

Chiefly among the concerns in this area are:

  • Water: there is only one borehole drilled for a population of over 5,000 people.

  • Hospitals: there is no medical help. The chief shared with us that his son died in his arms just over one week ago as they were trying to get him to the hospital in Cueibet.

  • Education: there is only a primary school in the area. There is only one secondary school in Rumbek, and it is over-populated.

We heard their concerns and moved back to Lang Dit, where we ate and then had a similar meeting that went well into the evening. They had identical concerns, and gave Tim and Awan an opportunity to address the people there. This area is one of the areas in which our work here will eventually move to through Samuel Maciek.

The people know that we alone cannot make the difference for them. Just as was told them when Jason, Tim and Tiffany came here first in 2007. We told them we don't have the ability to solve their problems, but God does. "Seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness, and all you need will be added to you" were the words that Jesus told the poor in the gospel of Matthew, and that is what Tim echoed to them. He went over the history of our church and our working with Awan and the local Sudanese in KC, and how the work had to begin with them. We challenged them to seek God on what they could contribute rather than waiting for the government to help them, because they could be waiting for a LONG time.

"I challenge you to seek God and give," said Tim, "and when I come back, if you have done so and He hasn't given back to you, you can call me a liar."

It was dark when we left Lang Dit. Our vehicle is draining brake fluid and only one headlight works. Luckily it's impossible to go over 10 mph with the way the roads are, so it's really no worry. Right now Jason is heading to Cueibet to get some brake fluid and we will go back to Abiachuk to our compound to begin teaching Samuel's church leaders.

It is likely we will not be able to update before Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. For the next few days, we will be in training for the young leaders of the church, teaching about evangelism and challenges of church leadership. Sunday is the big day, and we will be going with some of the locals as they vote to become their own independent nation!

It is a very exciting time for Sudan right now, and once again, we are stoked to be here. If AT ALL possible, I will update after Sunday. Please keep us and Sudan in prayer.

l8r
Randy and the rag-tag group of guys from Olathe who somehow got to be a part of this thing


Samuel, Awan, Randy, Padre Giovanni and Mike

Tim and Awan on Giovanni's property. Kur Majak is in the distance

I just had to get a picture of this guy with the .50 cal strapped on

Walking to Lang Dit with the SPLA

The sacrificial thing where the last bull lost its life....

The chiefs in Lang Dit

Aim, Charlie, Tim and Mike at the talk in Lang Dit


1.05.2011

A nice big chunk of an update...

Hey everybody- since I haven't had good internet access, I haven't been able to post updates for the last 3-4 days, but I still wrote them in the hopes that we would get it! So here we are- here's a couple of entries for you:

January 1- written from Rumbek, S. Sudan

Howdy all- bear with me on this post. There's a lot of ins and outs, but some remarkable things have happened today!


We got up this morning well rested from staying in an air-conditioned room. I had Al-Jazeera piped through on the television and fell asleep to it. Right now there is apparently a huge flood in Australia as well as a church in Egypt was bombed and a bunch of people were killed. Last time we came we were in Sudan and heard about the earth quake in Haiti. There's always a weird surreal feeling when you hear about this stuff and you aren't safe at home.

Juba feels like it might as well be Baghdad- there are a lot of Arabic people there as well as every sign is in Arabic, and the primary language spoken there is a form of Arabic (called "Juba Arabic"); so it is a unique experience. The thing that strikes me is that the Dinkas, Mahdis, Acholis and other tribal types seem to blend in with and get along with the Arab people there beyond the vested interest in commerce that they have in common. With all of the talk having to do with the referendum and the southerners wanting separation, I thought the place would be fraught with tension. However, it's a pretty nice place and I'm sure we'll come through there again (apart from when we go back drive the Land Rover through there).

We were highly impressed with our new friend Johnson Malek. He strikes us as the type who will go far and be involved in highly important affairs someday. He showed up to the guest house with a walkie-talkie as he is still in the SPLA in some capacity. He showed us great kindness and has a real heart for his people back in Cueibet.

So we were dropped at the bus park where we arrived yesterday and got onto our Land Cruiser transport. We opted out of taking another coach bus because we knew this trip was going to be long and extra dusty. Besides, it didn't cost much more. Our driver was a Ugandan guy coming from Kampala. There were four other passengers on the bus- I sat in the front and Jason and the rest crammed in the back two rows. I felt bad but they told me to sit there, so who was I to argue? There was a girl from Coast Province (Mombasa) in Kenya so we got to talking to her over the course of the day.

First of all- the different checkpoints you have to go through in each town are ridiculous. It's a given that you are going to kick some cash to the traffic cop or soldier manning the place, which drives me nuts. However, there were a couple times where the guy came up to the car and just waved us through after he saw Jason and I- we told the other people in the vehicle that it was Khawaja (Juba Arabic for white person) magic. It didn't take long for them to warm up to us- especially Jason. I spent most of the time listening to music and thinking about how long the trip was taking. One of the funniest times during the trip was when we pulled up to the checkpoint as you enter Rumbek and the guy blew his whistle as we were driving by so we stopped. He swaggered up to the vehicle in a manner suggesting Little Man Syndrome, barking out "I want to see all of your papers." When he saw Jason and I, he just said "OH" and then pointed us on. We laughed heartily. Jason informed the driver that he owed us for all of the times that we had gotten him through a checkpoint without having to pay.

Sometimes regular, random people try to ask you about your business and ask you for money there. One guy tried to do it at one stop but we all told him to get lost and he just walked away. The funny thing was that the traffic cop who the driver slipped the money to took the cash and walked away while we were getting harrassed by the other jackwagon.

The drive took FOREVER. We finally got rolling at about 9 AM and rolled into Rumbek at 7 PM. The sun had been beating on us for the whole day- my left arm is beet red. I finally ended up taking my DiveMaster hat and strapping it on my arm just to protect it from the sun. As Jason puts it- we feel like Mike Tyson has been kidney-punching us for the whole day. The road from Juba to the "halfway" point of Yirol is about 4 or 5 hours, and it is pretty fast driving. However, the stretch from Yirol to Rumbek is only about 50ish miles, and it takes FOUR FLIPPING HOURS. Apparently that area was bombed heavily during the war and the road hasn't been maintained as well. It was virtually impassible in some areas save for the fact that we were in an off-road vehicle.

When you factor in the heat, the rough ride, the fact that you've been traveling in some hot bus or plane or car or motorcylce consistently for hours over the past 8 days, and then multiply it by the fact that you are a grouchy khawaja who is on the last leg of his travel, you can get pretty impatient. As we were pulling up to the bus park in Rumbek, our driver told us not to "let anyone try to take our papers, don't show anyone your passport or allow them to grab your luggage, etc." We had also read about a khawaja who came to kRumbek after we were there last and some guy tried to intimidate him into giving him money right as he got out at the bus park. So we were tired, gross, in pain, and now we were ready to swing at anyone who even looked at us the wrong way when we got off the bus.

However, as usual, right when we are at our wit's end, things get nice and easy. Our contact, Shadrach, a son of the head police chief in Rumbek, met us there and escorted us to a tuk-tuk (a cool little motorized trike that can haul three people) and we were whizzed away to the hotel that we were going to stay in.

After the day we had, we would have probably slept on the ground if we knew it was secure. The hotel we were taken to (suggested by the Coast Province girl on the bus) was your average concrete room, open air windows with one light bulb and a communal bathroom. We didn't care- we were planning on getting some food and then laying down to get the day over with. We got the rooms and left to go to the restaurant across the street which was housed in another, much nicer, guesthouse. We asked and they didn't have any more food, so we resigned ourselves to just having a soda and water and then crashing back at the rooms across the street.

However, while we were in the bar watching the soccer match and drinking our soda, a young Dinka Gok greeted us and thanked us for coming. He didn't even know who we were and we didn't know him, but he was very thankful that khawajas were coming and was thankful for all that America has done for Sudan. Yeah, that's right, we've done a lot for Sudan- and for all of you total Bush-haters out there, it was his administration that helped broker the Peace Agreement and begin the work to end the suffering for these people. I'm just sayin.... Editor's note: sorry, I just saw this and I was really tired when I wrote it. I don't want to get into these discussions on this blog. Jesus would be neither a republican, democrate, or American anyway... :)

OK, now that I'm off of my soap box: Jason decided to inquire about the rooms at the nicer guesthouse to see how much they cost. Everything in Rumbek is very pricy so we expected hundreds of dollars. We wanted to find a place to stay the day before we leave so as to not have a rushed situation to drive two hours to the airport. The Kenyan lady working there showed Jason a room. I heard Jason and the young Dinka Gok guy talking as Jason was coming back- as it turns out, he is from Abiriu which is where Pastor Samuel Maciek stays! This sparked an immediate friendship; we introduced ourselves to him- his name is William Mayor Maker (Mie-Yor Muh-Kerr).

We decided that we would use a bit of our personal money to transfer guest houses and I am typing this to you from that place. It is NICE, and very affordable. When we got here and got settled in, William came back to our room and as we were chatting with him, we then found out that he is the nephew to James Ater (co-director of Hope Sudan Charity Organization) and not only do we have a new friend, but as far as the Dinka Gok are concerned, we have new family!

How awesome is it that every time we come on one of these trips that the Lord works out some magical way of us running into Ambassadors, new connections and new friends and family who show us such tremendous kindness? We are so thankful for the way things have gone over the past week. It has been rough, but at the same time it has been like relaxing and floating down a peaceful stream- that hurts your butt.

SO we are set up here in Rumbek and waiting for Tim, Charlie, Awan, Mike and Aim to arrive here tomorrow morning where we will pick them up in our transport and then it is ON.
 
January 5- written from Cueibet, S. Sudan
 
It has been a good last couple of days since we have been at our destination. Monday we picked all of the guys up from the Rumbek Airstrip. It is always great seeing your friends on the other side of the world. We first met Pastor Samuel Maciek and a couple other friends at the airstrip while we had a nice cold soda and waited for the others to arrive.


Awan Ater in particular definitely shines in his home land. We had to go to the hotel while we waited for our vehicle to be worked on previous to us taking it. While waiting, several people greeted Awan including Ambassador Paul Malok Macuei, whose card shows an address in Bulgaria. Awan has quite the life story, but he is basically the godfather in this area, as he was the teacher to many of the people who are in government these days.

We finally got our vehicle and began the trek towards our place. We stopped at Pastor Samuel's place in a town called Abiriu (pronouced "uh-BEER-eww") and had a cup of Bun (prounouged "boon-" Sudanese coffee). We were able to meet Samuel and Debra's new baby boy, Imannuel Benbai Maciek. Very cute.

We made our way to our destination, a brand-new school compound that was built outside the town of Abiachuk (uh-BEE-uh-Chook). The place is pretty nice. The church people greeted us in the pitch-black night under the brilliant starts. We sang and shouted with happiness. They had cooked some chicken and bread and we all took time to speak to them and talk about how much we had been waiting to see them. We were HOME!

Tuesday morning was our "rest day," which you typically take one rest day right when you get here because everyone is pretty out of it. Jason got some sort of stomach bug that kept him up and my back has been hurting, but we aren't letting it get us down. The other guys are adjusting well and things are good. After a good discussion with Samuel about his vision for this year and much coffee, Aim showed some of the young Dinka boys some highly impressive soccer skills.

We took some time to go to the market in Rumbek and buy some huge bags of beans and rice. The market is always interesting- I was much more bold with the camera this year and got some cool footage to share with everyone.

While we were at the market, there was a massive dance party in Abiachuk that Tim, Mike and Aim attended. All of the young Dinka men were in traditional garb and doing their traditional dances. Mike got in on some of the action and we have it on tape! Tim tried but they told him to sit it out- he had a camera to run anyway!

Today (Tuesday), we have come to Cueibet (SHOO-ay-BET) town and have met with the new county commissioner, Mayom Malek. He is a towering man- probably about 6'10" if not 7 feet tall. We were welcomed by him and his staff and discussed the needs of the local people as well as our specific goals.

We then visited the Diakonie Camp, which is where we have stayed every other time we have come to Sudan. The camp is a very nice group of concrete buildings that has hosted medical teams over the past years. Diakonie, the company staffing the camp, has ended their contract at this place and are now looking to fund the place but with completely indigenous management. We have a desire to fill these positions and have the camp function as a base of our operations as we expand more with Hope Sudan Charity Organization. Awan Ater, director of HSCO, is willing to function in a management capacity over here on a full-time basis. This is definitely something to pray into with us.

We will be staying at Diakonie tonight and tomorrow night as we prepare to go to Lang Dit, the birthplace of Awan Ater. There will be some serious partying- unfortunately, many bulls will probably lose their lives as traditional custom dictates. We will have plenty of pictures of the celebration (no worries, we won't post anything grisly) and I hope to update from the Diakonie camp again before we leave.

Friday, Saturday, and Monday, we will be doing training with the young leadership of the congregation we partner with here. Sunday will bring a massive celebration at the church- we are eagerly anticipating. The Sudanese know how to BRING IT. They all compose their own worship songs and dance like you wouldn't believe. I have a high-quality sound recorder to capture it this year.

Very little has changed around here since we have been back. Right after we left last January, there were inter-tribal clashes and fighting between the SPLA (Sudanese Military) and the Gok tribes in Cueibet town which resulted in the loss of some lives. Prior to that, everyone had been disarmed save for those in the military, but this year we have noticed that there are some civilians who have their Kalashnikovs strapped on again. However, things are highly peaceful and there are no problems. President Salva Kiir has mandated that there are to be no clashes as the referendum draws near.

I was given a Referendum tee-shirt by John Kur before we parted ways and have been wearing it today. Several young men have asked me why I am wearing it and what are my reasons for supporting separation. At first I thought it wouldn't be wise to wear it, but after asking them, they appreciate it and just want to make sure I know the reason for it. Imagine that- knowing what you are talking about. Something us Americans should think about. It's a place where what goes on politically actually affects your life, and people genuinely care about it; unlike us, who vote in the presidential election and don't pay attention to anything else for the next 3 years.

So cool to be here. I hope everyone is having as good of a time as we are. It's flippin' hot here and I doubt I have ever been this tan. I hope to update you all soon on things that are happening from here. Wednesday, we leave Rumbek for Nairobi to hang out for a couple of days. Jason, Awan and I will head to Mombasa around Thursday or Friday of next week and the other guys will head back to the States. Have a great rest of the week and I hope that everyone is well!
 
Sincerely
Randall and the boyz

1.01.2011

fish, chips, whiplash, new friends and air conditioning!!



First off- scope out the video above. This is a taste of what the last week has been like for us. Some of it is really cool (motorcycle taxis) and some not so cool (whiplash- details below).



Tombe, Randy, Mori Luka, Jason


Awhilo and Mori Luka examine Randy's ink


Jason, Mori Luka and Tombe reunited!

We had such a blast last night with the kids. My back is out because I was busy wrestling three or four of them at a time. They were so awesome! This was extra special for the kids as Jason is the one who helped to rescue most of them from the peril of being an orphan in Nimule at the time. We bought several crates of sodas to help the kids bring in the New Year. Everyone over here loves to share a soda!

We boarded our bus right outside our hotel this morning and headed for Juba, the capital city of South Sudan (sometimes known as 'the largest village in the world'). It reminds me of Phoenix. The weather here is brutally hot, but we lucked out and got some rooms with air conditioning! We have been traveling solid for one week now, and it is getting pretty intense. Tomorrow will be our last bus ride to Rumbek, where we will stay until Monday morning, procure our "rental vehicle," and pick up the rest of the guys (Tim, Charlie, Awan, Mike and Aim); then we'll head to Cueibet and the ministry will be ON.

For those of you who haven't been to Africa, there's a certain way things are here that flies in the face of conventional American "wisdom" and punctuality. Sometimes, stuff just takes time- a LONG time, and sometimes you aren't quite sure exactly HOW things are going to work out, so you just have to trust that they will.

Today was another one of those times. We boarded our bus right outside our hotel, which is situated at the end of Nimule on the way to Juba, so that was convenient. However, that also means we were the LAST to board the bus, and we set at the very BACK of the bus.

Now to those of you who get freaked out about the occasional pothole in America- you probably shouldn't venture to Africa. Ever since we have been in Kenya, we were told that the road from Nimule to Juba is "very good." I envisioned a nice, smooth ride. Maybe a washboard here or there.

However, apparently "very good" just means that you can drive a bus down it- PERIOD. There's a reason people don't like sitting at the back of the bus in Africa; the same reason that they don't like sitting on the back of the roller coaster. You get your butt kicked. BAD.

As Jason and I made our way back to the back, we were asked by Onek and several people sitting solo if we were sure that we wanted to sit there. "The mzungus can handle this," we assured them. The bus started driving. Five, ten minutes pass with no problems. Then things started getting silly.

The first set of washboards that we went over felt maybe a little rough- no big deal. But right when I was in the middle of answering a question to Jason, we all dropped about 6 inches and with the upward velocity of a trampoline, we were flung about a foot up into the air from our seats. We landed half-on, half-off our seats as another upward volley from another pothole slammed us in the opposite direction. We'll probably need to see a chiropractor.

The rest of the bus looked back at as as we had apparently screamed like little girls. We laughed it off, but after another volley or so, Onek had enough pity on us and came back to sit with us. We began to figure out that if we flexed our entire lower body, it enabled us to neutralize some of the upward force and not constantly get flung around.

However, the bus ride is almost 4 hours, and you can't remain alert and flex your butt the whole time. So inevitably, we  would space out and get flung up again. The bus got hotter. Some lady broke out half her window when she was launched upward, leaving a razor-sharp edge just inches from her carotid. I couldn't watch. The dust from the road began filing in until every time you touch your teeth together there's a nice crunch. You chew your cheeks in anticipation of the next bounce until you realize you might bite your tongue off. You feel like you're in a clothes dryer, but somehow you are at peace despite all of this and can't help but laugh it off.

That being said, we were very grateful to get off the bus, get our stuff, get in a cab and get to some ultra-nice place called the "Jebel Club" to eat some fish and chips. We felt very out of place amongst the fat white guys in speedos and obviously-rich NGO types sipping on their 10 dollar beers. In spite of that, we were very thankful to enjoy another nice meal, because we're about to start roughing it.

We met a new friend today- Johnson Malek Wantok who lives in Juba, but is from Cueibet. We were in a pinch as none of our listed contacts' numbers were working, so we called Adhel in Nairobi (board member of HSCO) and she called her nephew to come pick us up and take us to our hotel. We had a soda with Wantok and he then joined us a little later for dinner and conversation about all things Gok. We learned much about his life and the things he's been involved with regard to joining the SPLA when he was 12 to his schooling and his involvement now with the upcoming referendum for independence. Every new person we meet has unbelievable history to share with us. We are happy to have him as a new friend.

Speaking of referendums- the reality of what is about to happen here in South Sudan has really taken shape and registered with us in a new way. Everyone we know, everyone we have come into contact with is migrating to their place of registry in eager anticipation of placing their vote. As we rode into the capital today, we heard lots of talk about the referendum as well as tons of signs and ads for the upcoming vote. To be here in this time is really cool. Many are speculating about whether there will be problems but most people agree that there will not be big problems other than minor clashes in some of the border areas, but we will still be praying against that.

So again- we're leaving Juba tomorrow morning for Rumbek- about an 8 hour ride. We'll update if possible in Rumbek and on Monday we will pick up the rest of the guys from KC and begin the wild ministry for a couple of weeks.

At that point, Jason and I will fly to Mombasa to get the LAND ROVER! Please be praying that it arrives a little early because then it's a mad dash back into Sudan before flying home!

L8r,
Randy/Jason