October 2017: The Most Dangerous Year of Our Lives
It was the 16th of May, only four days after Thomas’ death (whom I shared about in our last newsletter), when word came that Santo had been shot and was being carried away from the front for aid. At first, the reports that came were scattered and unclear, which is not uncommon. Over the years, I have found that first reports are often wrong. Before we could get an accurate account, it was reported that Santo died. Sadly, when it is reported that a chaplain is killed, it has always been correct except for one instance. I was still processing Thomas’ death, whom I was extremely close to. This news would add to the great pain that I was processing because I was also extremely close to Santo.
We were only two weeks into May, and already six of our chaplains had been killed; Santo marked the 35th member of our staff to lose his life in Christ’s service. With the war in South Sudan spiraling out of control, I brace myself for more to come. It has been said that God sends his toughest men to fight the most difficult battles, but I have found that His toughest men are made through the battles.
Several things hit me rapidly, with little time to process or think. Later, we learned what apparently happened. The lack of food and pay for army personnel has driven many men to become criminals. From what we understand, Santo came to the aid of a woman who was being attacked by a soldier. What exactly happened, I doubt we’ll truly know. What we do know is that at some point, the confrontation turned deadly. The soldier shot Santo twice, once in the leg and once in the body, though it is unclear. Santo was carried to a field hospital where he bled out over eight hours then succumbed to his wounds and died.
Santo graduated with class four, which means he served with the corps for 13 years. He was extremely active and was always sharing his faith. He planned outreaches in the city of Yei and invited us to come alongside his ministry and do crusades. He loved both Vicky and me, and even named his daughter after Vicky. Last year, when Santo came to the refresher course and saw all the construction, he told Michael, our senior chaplain, “Wes never lies. If he says he is going to do something, he always does it.” He was very happy about the development at the chaplains’ base.
I was numb with the loss of both Thomas and Santo, so it took me several days before I realized that Santo lived the life that I command of the chaplains. I have always told them that it’s not their job to save their own lives, but it is their job to save the lives of the women and children. And, if they die, they die—this is the role of a man.
At the chaplains’ base, we live by a code of ethics called the Knight’s Code. It is a code that holds the very fabric of our society together. It is biblical in principal, but well suited for our chaplains to refer to in the difficulties and hardships of life.
The Knight’s Code of Chivalry
To fear God and protect His church
To serve the Lord in valor and faith
To protect the weak and defenseless
To give refuge to widows and orphans
To refrain from the giving of offense
To live by honor and for the glory of God
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honor of your fellow knights
Never to refuse a challenge when the innocent are in peril
To keep faith
At all times to speak the truth
To respect the honor of women
Never to turn your back upon a foe
With South Sudan spiraling out of control, we are truly living in the most dangerous years of our lives. It is only a matter of time, if things continue, before the whole of the country is locked in civil war—with every city coming under siege. For those of you, whom I suspect is almost all, have never seen what happens to a village that is overrun by rebels—it is genocide. When Bor was attacked by 25,000 rebels, they spared neither child, woman, nor the elderly. Everyone was murdered. The stench of death hung over the city for months.
With this threat looming over us, we are making plans for the defense of our village. I am pulling 30 of our men, from the field, bringing in former Marines, Navy Seals and special operations military to train the men for the defense of the innocent. We have been called to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Over the years, I’ve had many former military personnel offer to help, but I always turned them down for two major reasons. One, we could handle the situation and, two, I was often unsure if their motives were centered in glory. However, recent events have caused me to reevaluate the situation. We have assembled a group of former Seals and Marines, in whom Jesus is the center of their lives—men who truly love the Lord. For over a year, I had been contacted by a former Navy Seal who had done work in Sudan and run into our chaplains. He had been in Bahr El Ghazal where he met a pastor who had a tremendous outreach. He asked the pastor, “Have you ever heard of Wes Bentley?” The pastor responded, “Wes is the father of my faith.” Over the last year, I have talked to this former Navy Seal, sporadically, but with the current situation, we have been in much deeper contact. I had to make the choice: to continue to ignore what is coming and accept the consequences, or prepare for the battle ahead.
Please understand if it were your wife or children, what would you do? I know some will be very critical of this decision. I can live with the criticism. I cannot live with the consequences of standing by and watching what I know will happen if I turn a blind eye.
We do not always get to choose the battles we fight. Often, they are chosen for us. I doubt very few understand what we are facing, but I wish more did. All I have ever wanted to do was teach and lead people to Christ, but there are Goliath’s in the land that must be dealt with.
Ed Gauntt, my assistant, met me in New York upon my return. We were traveling to a church. When we got in an elevator, Ed asked me about the situation in Sudan. I responded that the killing was getting out of control and that the roads are no longer able to be traveled because of rebel attacks. As we talked, I realized that everyone in the elevator was listening and a bit scared. So, I stopped talking because silence is the better part of discretion. These people are not a part of the world that we live and die in.
The prophet Nehemiah was sent to rebuild a city but the circumstances required that they carry a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, and so must we. We have been called to labor at God’s work by day and stand guard by night to protect the precious souls. We will prepare and trust the Lord.
Far Reaching Ministries
Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.