August 2018: One in Eight
I arrived in South Sudan in the middle of June for the refresher course. Every 12 to 16 months, we bring the chaplains in from the field to refit them and give them a three week break from the war. Pastors from around the world came to teach the Word and encourage the men. This year included Don McClure, Brett Bergstrom, Ken Graves, Gary Lawton, Shawn Stone, Jonathan Domingo and five Russian pastors.
Every day, we killed two cows or five pigs just to feed the men. Each one needed to put on about 20 pounds from the loss of weight due to the lack of food at front line units. I told the kitchen to cook as much beans and corn maize as the men wanted. They were hungry and needed to gain weight. Often, they would eat three large helpings per meal. It was good to see the men relaxed, enjoying Bible study and time to sit around with their brothers, just laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
This refresher course was special, because we dedicated Calvary Chapel Cush. Our new Calvary Chapel can hold 1,200 people per service. We will have three services: one in English, the second in Arabic, and the third in Madi, the local dialect. It seems like this is the moment of green pastures before the storm comes again.
In the last two years alone, 26 men have been killed in the service of Christ, which brings the total from our staff who have died to 39 men. As of this year, not one death had been reported. I thought it was a miracle that we had not lost anyone. Yet, when I arrived at the chaplains’ base, Michael, my senior chaplain, came to tell me that casualty reports were actively coming in from the front. The death toll had risen to 53 or 54 men, who lost their lives. Not all had fallen by the bullet. Quite a few men died due to the lack of proper medical care or the lack of food. This is always hard for me to hear, folks. I do not take the loss of life easily. I am still trying to sort out the casualty reports and will need to update you in future newsletters as to how these men lived and died. If I dedicated one newsletter to each man, it would take over a year to inform you. So, I will group their stories together.
As I was looking at the casualty reports, I had a hard revelation. I felt I needed to address this issue with the men. That evening, I told the men, “Many of us have fallen and many more will. I want you men to go home and tell your wives that you love them and give them a kiss. Pick up your children and tell them that daddy will always love you. Try to explain to them the calling of Christ on your lives.” I told the men that when I first came to this country that I became very aware of the danger I was in and I needed to express to my children my love for them. I would sit my children down, when they were small, and try to explain my calling to them without scaring them. I would say, “Dad wants you to remember that he will love you forever on this side of eternity and the other.” I wanted them to have this memory in the back of their minds should something happen—to remember that dad loves and loved me. The hardest part about this job is not dying but leaving those left behind, who you want cared for. I told the men that I had done the math–one, in every eight of us, will die for Christ. What came next, I didn’t expect. The men stood up and cheered. Then, it hit me that they consider to die for Christ is the highest calling in this life.
The church dedication was quite the event. The Minister for National Security, Lieutenant General Mamur, came to help dedicate the church. When his military staff came into the compound, all the vehicles were full of soldiers and many mounted with heavy machine guns. The South Sudan press came to cover the event and it was televised across the nation. Pastor Don Mclure did the main dedication of the church, which blessed the men to know that one of the original pastors, who served with Pastor Chuck, would come so far to be a part of the dedication. In attendance, we had two generals and several men appointed by the office of President for Religious Affairs, including many prominent pastors and leaders of the Church in South Sudan. The President sent his greetings, which for the church, was a great blessing to receive.
While all the visiting pastors were in the sanctuary, men with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns were standing everywhere to protect the Minister. Jean McClure said that she had never felt so safe in a church. As each official stood to talk, they all had nothing but praise for the work that was being done. For me, the time with the General was the best. I had lead him to Christ many years ago and I was the best man at his wedding, and Vicky, the maid of honor. During dinner, he reached over and pulled my forehead next to his and just said, “My brother, my brother.” His friendship has meant more to me than great riches. I do believe that he will be president someday. He is a godly man, but also a great warrior and I believe, a genius. His love for Vicky is great. He always says that when I am around, Vicky glitters. He is very aware of how much we love each other. He told me once that God had ordained that we were to be brothers in this life. It is true, God did ordain that we were to be brothers in this life and fight for the souls of the nation. He has helped lead his nation to freedom and is much like a King David.
It seemed that every time I walked into a room every chaplain wanted to hug me. The men do see me as a father figure and I am proud to call them my sons. I left the U.S. 23 years ago to the most war-torn nation in Africa. Through all the hardship, it has become my home and family.
Far Reaching Ministries