October 2015: WITH JESUS, A MAN CAN CHANGE THE WORLD
During the annual refit and refresher course, I sat down with several of our chaplains and had a chance to talk with them one on one. One conversation that I had stands out among the rest is one that I had with Reech (Santino) Yel. He was selected by his division commander to become a chaplain with Far Reaching Ministries. His calling is to serve as a chaplain on the battlefield and his vision is to preach the Gospel to the men that God has entrusted to him. His prayer is that God will change these soldiers for His glory. In Santino’s words, “It is time to pray and work toward revival. I know it must begin in my heart first. I am praying daily for a breakthrough. I want to fear God more than anything else. I believe that if we seek God with all our being, He will be found. I believe Jesus is the hope for Africa. I am committed to pray for revival in these last days, as many are falling away.”
After his training as a chaplain, Santino was deployed along the border of Central African Republic, a country that borders Sudan and South Sudan. He said that every time his unit went into battle that he was chosen as a point man, because of his great physical condition and his training at the chaplain base. Before he would go into battle, he would always share Joshua 10:12-13, with his fellow soldiers. This gives the account of when God made the sun stand still. Santino wanted to encourage the soldiers with this story and would ask, “Who cannot trust a God that has such great powers?”
During his deployment, Santino was called by his commander to go out and search for the enemy because there were reports that they were coming for blood. During his patrol, he spotted two scouts that had been sent by the enemy. Santino waited for them and was able to capture them. During the interrogation of the scouts, it was told that they were a part of a much larger force of men, approximately a battalion in strength, plus an additional 700 Arab mercenary fighters.
Once again, Santino was sent out and came back with five more enemy prisoners. He was sent on a third mission and captured two additional scouts. His commander asked him how he was able to keep capturing these men. Santino replied that it is by the power of God. The commander pondered Santino’s life because it was so different from any other man in the unit. The commander thanked him for walking with Christ and said, “Your faith will be what saves our men.” With the intelligence that was collected from the three groups of prisoners, Santino’s unit was able to get the upper hand in the battle and give the enemy a resounding defeat that sent them into a full retreat.
His commander called Santino again and said, “I am sending you on an important mission. Because of your skill, you will be needed to protect the lives of our men.” Santino’s unit was sent into a dense forest with every kind of insect that is known to feast on man. While there was a lot of wild game in the area, they were difficult to spot in the dense vegetation. This made finding food impossible and the men were extremely hungry. So, one of the men went out hunting. He traveled many miles through difficult terrain, and because of the dense vegetation, he lost his bearings. After many hours of hunting, he spotted a gazelle and shot it. Because the sun was setting, he did not have time to find his way back so he laid down to sleep with the dead gazelle next to him. During the night, a lion was drawn by the smell of the dead animal. He grabbed the gazelle and ran off into the forest with it. The man was fortunate that he had made the kill or the lion would have most likely killed him instead.
By morning, a search party was sent out to find the missing man. Santino and his group of men searched all through the day until Santino came across the lion tracks. He saw that the tracks had crossed with the missing man’s footprints. They did not know if the man was dead or alive, so they began to track the lion to find out if he had been killed. Santino and his men searched for three days. At night, they tried to protect themselves from the insects but their efforts were in vain. Their bodies were nearly eaten alive.
They finally picked up the tracks of the lost soldier and were all able to get back to their base safely. When Santino got back to the base, he said that his body was covered with insect bites—too many to count. It amazed me what these men were willing to go through to retrieve one lost man. Giving up was never a thought until they knew if their fellow soldier was dead or alive. One cannot help but parallel the story of leaving the ninety-nine to find the one.
When Santino reported back to his unit, he was informed that his village had been attacked and destroyed; his home had been set on fire. He asked if his wife and children had survived the attack. His commander did not know the fate of Santino’s family but released him to go and search for them. When he discovered they were not at his house, he went to search for them in the bush. After seven days of searching, he found his wife and his children, the youngest being eighteen months old. They had been hiding for over a week without food. Santino was able to get them to a place of refuge and then had to return to his unit.
As Santino was narrating this journey, he informed me that his wife had just called to let him know that his youngest daughter was sick and could no longer eat. His wife had tried to take her to the doctor but because she did not have the ability to pay for treatment, the little girl was refused admittance. Her condition had become critical. Santino said that he believed that she would most likely die. Then, he said, “No matter what happens, I will remain faithful to the Lord.”
There was no hint of resentment in his voice. You would think that he might say, “God, can you not see all I am doing for your kingdom?” Instead his words were, “The mission of being a chaplain is too important! Our faithfulness determines the difference between heaven and hell for the lost.” I sat back and just looked at him. Here was a man who had truly counted the cost.
I immediately dispatched men to send the money needed for his daughter’s treatment. We were able to get her admitted to the hospital, but because her condition was so fragile, she died three days later. After going home and taking care of his family, Santino returned to the frontlines with no bitterness in his heart. He trusts that it is the Lord who gives and takes away.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed resisting the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler wrote:
If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow Him. But if we lose our lives in His service and carry our cross, we shall find our lives.
With the ordinary believer, we will not change the world, but with men like Bonhoeffer and Santino, we can win nations and continents. The Bible talks of such men and says, “…of whom the world was not worthy.”