July 2014: A Knight Has Fallen
Just days after I flew back from South Sudan to speak at the East Coast Mission’s Conference and Pastor’s Conference, I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing. As I sat up, Michael, our senior chaplain said, “Pastor Wes, I have some hard news. Chaplain Peter Magar has been killed at the frontline around Bentiu.” This was the seventeenth time that I have received this kind of call over the last fourteen years, but it never gets easier. The news of Peter’s death was especially hard because he left behind a wife, four daughters and a son.
Since the failed coup d’état in December, former Vice President and rebel leader Riek Machar has continued to launch violent attacks, inflicting unimaginable suffering across a vast region of South Sudan. Rebel troops show no regard for human life by targeting innocent civilians—predominately women and children. When the rebel forces retook the oil producing region of Bentiu, they killed their own tribesmen for taking shelter from the bloody fighting and for failing to cheer them on as they sought to wipe the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers off the map. In a display of extreme wickedness, they raped the women who were unable to escape, including little girls and elderly women. The chaplains deployed to the frontlines with the SPLA forces are aware that failure to stop the enemy will result in genocide. This war is not just an ongoing tribal conflict, an entire ethnic people are under threat. The SPLA’s counter attack to regain control of Bentiu succeeded, but it came at a tragic and high cost of human life. During one of the battles, Chaplain Peter Magar was killed while serving the soldiers and his Lord. Communication from the front is difficult when the situation is this volatile, but we want to give you as much information as possible. We believe that as we pray, God will intervene and spare lives from any further loss. Far Reaching Ministries’ (FRM) chaplains are deployed as active servicemen within the SPLA who are responsible for the religious welfare of their fellow soldiers. This means that they are sent into combat units where fighting is the fiercest. When the threat of death is at its peak, men want to know that there is a pastor nearby. The wartime adage still holds true that, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
The chaplains willingly go to exceedingly dangerous situations for the name of the Lord Jesus. They are trained not to fear death, only to fear the Lord. Their passion for reaching the lost compels them to press beyond the ferocity of the situation. Our chaplains serve as witnesses of Christ Jesus in a country torn apart by decades of civil war, tribalism, religious oppression and extreme poverty. Most of our men have known war all of their lives and will tell you that the only kind of chaplains who can serve with this ministry are those willing to lay down their lives so that others might live.
When a cadet first reports to the FRM training base, they share their testimony with us. I remember Peter’s testimony vividly, because the hand of God spared his life on more than one occasion.
In 1987, Peter joined thousands of South Sudan’s young men in the pilgrimage to Ethiopia. The journey took over a month and required crossing a barren desert with no water sources. It was a grueling death march for hundreds, but God spared Peter. Exhausted, he decided to bed down for the night. Due to fatigue, he ignored the warnings that there were dangerous thieves in the area. That night Peter was attacked and shot in the side of his torso by the thieves. They were about to kill him when several soldiers came to his rescue and fought them off. Badly wounded, and losing a lot of blood, the soldiers carried him to a makeshift hospital and a doctor was able to save his life. Lying alone in the hospital, Peter realized it was the Lord’s hand that had delivered him. Peter was so convinced of the Lord’s sovereignty over his very life that he left the hospital and went straight to a local village church where he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.
After Peter recovered from his wounds, he joined the SPLA and fought for the freedom of his people from the Islamic Government of northern Sudan (GoS). In one battle, he was shot in the hand and in the leg. He later fought against the militant extremists of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), where he was again wounded, and again, by God’s hand, he survived. When Peter told his wife the testimonies of God’s intervention and deliverance, she was moved by the Spirit and surrendered her life to Christ.
There were FRM chaplains who served in Peter’s military unit. They saw his tenacity and devotion to the Lord. They encouraged Peter to consider joining the chaplaincy training program so that he could enter the ministry himself. Peter prayed faithfully for two years that the Lord would open the doors for him to be accepted. When we finally sent him word of his acceptance, he came with a thankful, hungry heart and was ready to learn. Peter was more than an exemplary student, he was everything that we hope and pray for in a man called to serve God with his entire life. Peter always had great joy because he saw ministry as a way of saying thank you to his Lord. It was common to find him singing and giving glory to God. Peter’s ministry was a labor of love. Peter told us that Matthew 16:24 was his life verse. His singular passion was to take up his cross and follow Jesus. He had no hesitation or reservation about the cost; his only aim was whole-hearted obedience.
Peter’s parents were very proud of his decision to serve the Lord as a chaplain and he was able to lead them into a personal, saving relationship with Christ. Peter’s army commander made it very clear that he looked forward to the day when Peter would graduate and return to his unit to teach the other men the Wordof God.
Since the chaos erupted back in December, Peter bravely stood fast by his unit. Intense battles were fought over the strategic cities of Bor, Malakal and Bentiu; yet, as a good soldier of Christ, he never faltered in his service to the Lord. As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, the last class that I teach the men before graduation is to prepare them for martyrdom. I want the men to count the cost of true discipleship. True surrender requires soul searchingand laying on the altar your very life. Due to the battle situations that our chaplains face, many of them will not live to see old age. Our desire is that in abundance or in lack, in life or in the face of death, they are willingly and intentionally giving Christ every breath—holding nothing back for themselves. Men like this have a very light hold on this present world, because this world holds nothing for them. They can say with Paul the Apostle, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Such men are sojourners, passing through this life for a very short time, en route to their eternal home in heaven where they will live forever in the very presence of their King who bought them with His own blood.
The chaplains who served with Peter say that he bravely ministered Christ to the wounded and dying on the battlefield. He was highly regarded by all the men in his unit and lived as he died, a knight for God’s kingdom. Peter never wavered in his faith and devotion to our Lord. He finished his race faithfully while serving in the heaviest fighting this year. Though Peter is among the martyred, he will not be forgotten and we will see him again at the great banquet of the Lamb. His life, while short, had abundant and eternal meaning, leaving his children a legacy of righteousness.
As William Grunell, who lived from 1616-1679, wrote, “Let this exhort you then Christian, to petition God for the holy determination and bravery you must have to follow Christ. Without it you cannot be what you profess. The fearful are those who march for hell (Revelation 21:8)…Do not claim that you are begotten of God and have His royal blood running in your veins unless you can prove your lineage by this heroic spirit: to dare to be holy in spite of men and devils.” I pray that we, too, will all finish our race as Peter did: passionately and valiantly, all for the glory of our King.
Until the oppressed are free,
New Bush Vehicles Are Needed!
In South Sudan, transportation for our ministry is not a luxury, it’s critical. Our current vehicles are between 12 and 14 years old, and it’s unheard of for any vehicle to last as long as ours have in such harsh terrain. As faithful stewards, we have intentionally maintained excellent care of our vehicles and they have lasted four times longer than those of every other ministry, humanitarian group and governmental agency across Sudan.
Due to the recent rebel attacks, and escalating humanitarian crisis, we realize that we must purchase new ministry vehicles, as quickly as possible, to be able to continue to respond to the growing demands across South Sudan. This continues to be a dangerous and crucial time, and we must ensure that we have safe, durable and highly reliable transportation.
Although we realistically need to purchase six new vehicles, we have started the process to purchase the first two that will be built to endure the harsh South Sudan environment. The cost for these vehicles will be $74,000 USD ($37,000 USD each). To assist in these essential purchases, please notate “Bush Vehicles” when you donate online or call our North American office at +1 (951) 677-4474.