January 2018: Paying for a Daughter
I landed in Uganda the 29th of September and had about seven of the senior chaplain leadership come to meet me in Kampala. With the ongoing war and casualties, the men needed a couple days of R&R. When I awoke on the 30th of September, Michael informed me that news had just come from the front that Deng Makuei (pictured left) had been killed at nine o’clock the previous day. Ten days later, we would learn that Thomas Malish John (pictured right) also lost his life along with his wife and child.
As I sat down to speak with Michael, he began to tell me that he thought that Thomas Nokrach, a senior chaplain who was killed in May, knew he was going to die. He seemed to have a premonition. Michael said that the month before Thomas died, he kept talking about heaven. It was so often that the other staff began to question, “Why are you so consumed with heaven?” Thomas sat back, smiled and said, “It is going to be great to be there!” The day he died, he was giving his possessions away. When asked why, he simply said, “We must all share.” His actions and relaxed attitude seemed as if he knew that he would see Jesus soon. Thomas was wholly given to Christ and his confidence could not be shaken.
When I arrived at the chaplains’ base, Thomas Nokrach’s three-year-old son, named Forgiven (though we all call him Given), came to see me. When we heard a knock on the door, Vicky opened it and welcomed Sara, Thomas’ wife, and Given. He ran, jumped into my lap, put his head on my chest and kept smiling as he looked into my eyes. For some reason, this little boy loves me and has made me his favorite. When I am at the chaplains’ base, he always comes to find me and wants to spend time with me. Sara, his mother, said that when she told Given that I had arrived at the base, he said, “Quick, Mom, give me a bath!” So, she bathed him and tried to clothe him, but Given insisted, “These clothes are not good enough, go and buy new ones.” She also said that if he is not obeying, all they need to say is that if you do not behave, I will tell Wes, and he immediately behaves.
When I arrive in South Sudan, there are various situations waiting for my immediate attention. Since Thomas was a senior staff member, securing his widow’s future became my priority. Weddings are based on a dowry system; the bride’s family meets and sets a dowry price. The groom then pays it over time, like a mortgage. Until that price is paid in full, the family makes decisions for the daughter, not her husband. Thomas had agreed to the bride price, but did not live long enough to pay the dowry. Therefore, Sara’s family began seeking a new husband to secure another dowry.
The drought and famine, is impacting every family in Sudan. People scramble to get enough food just for the day. Sara’s family desperately began seeking to arrange another marriage for her. She is still grieving and has no desire to remarry, but hunger pushed the family into securing a new spouse for Sara. It sounds harsh to our American mindset, but it’s normal to the South Sudanese. I knew I needed to intervene. So, I sent Michael to have Sara’s family come so I could negotiate on her behalf.
Michael arranged for Sara’s family and extended relatives to meet with us at the chaplains’ base. We negotiated until each family member relinquished their rights and I made them sign a contract placing Sara under my authority as a surrogate father. I told them that Sara was no longer their daughter, as far as marriage was concerned. She belonged to me and I will not tolerate anyone forcing Sara to marry.
Next, I sent the chaplains to warn the local community that no man should dare raise a hand or threaten Sara. Should anyone touch her, we were prepared to bring the full weight of the law to their doorstep—neither police nor the military could protect them. I will not hesitate to protect my “daughter”. Folks, I know this may seem drastic, but this warning of punishment that will make these men fear and keep them from forcing Sara to have sex against her will.
When we received the news about Chaplain Thomas Malish losing his life, we learned that he was not alone, but his wife and youngest child died along with him. They left behind five children, the oldest being 11 years old and the youngest being three. To our knowledge, they have no living relatives, so I knew the children must have been afraid having lost their mother, father and sibling. I told Michael to send soldiers to go and get them. Michael, our senior chaplain, had decided to adopt these children even though he already had five children of his own.
Michael shared with me that when the children arrived, they were just happy to be in a place where there was food. The place where their family had lived, food was extremely scarce, and hunger was a constant reality. The children all clung to each other, as would be expected, but within a few days, they were playing with Michael’s other children and laughing again. It will take time, but at least they have a loving family to integrate into.
When Chaplain Thomas Malish John wrote his testimony, he shared that he had been religious and even taught the Bible, but that he was not born again until one day when he ran into one of our chaplains and heard him share. He said, “I saw a big difference in this man and I wanted what he had. So, I gave my life to Christ. Eventually, I was accepted into the chaplaincy program where I learned it was all about grace and having a personal relationship with the Lord. For the first time, I understood I could truly be born again. I cannot wait to return to the front. Now, I have something more powerful, and I am excited to see how it will change lives. I dream of the Lord’s Second Coming and hope that He will find me busy doing His work.” As Thomas Malish John wished, on the day he was taken, he was about the Father’s work. He was not alone, his wife and youngest child would all journey with him to heaven.
When Chaplain Deng Makuei was killed on the 29th of September, like Thomas Nokrach and Thomas Malish, he was also about his His Father’s work when he was taken home to be with the Lord. He had come from a family of six brothers and three sisters. His one great dream was that he would live a life good enough so that his family would know Christ. I think that dying in the service of Christ, you will not find a better way to let your life be a testimony to those around you.
I think one of the most difficult things that I have had to endure this last year was I could see who these men were becoming, and what they would have been had they survived.
Far Reaching Ministries