July 2019: Without War There Is No Victory
It was early Easter morning, and the whole community, near the city of Yei, was preparing to celebrate Resurrection Sunday. Easter is celebrated with much more respect in South Sudan than in the United States, and the war was probably the farthest thing from everyone’s mind.
Every church prepares to march through the community: singing, carrying handmade banners, declaring the resurrection of Christ. They all try to come up with a matching uniform, even if it is just a red t-shirt and matching trousers or skirts for the women. It is a time when the whole community, at least for a day, tries to leave the war behind. They enjoy fellowship and share a meal with family and the church. Often, everyone comes together to cook, so that we can all share together. At the Far Reaching Ministries’ compound, we traditionally purchase between three and four cows just to feed the church body for this one celebration. I have personally been in South Sudan for Easter for probably 18 out of the last 20 years, just to be with the church. Calvary Chapel Nimule is the largest Calvary Chapel in Africa, with around 2,000 adults and over 1,000 children. We always seem to have many visitors on these special holidays, so the church often swells to include an additional 500 guests. Even if the guests only come for the free meal, all are welcome.
This was the perfect day for a sneak attack, and the enemy knew it. While the city of Yei is far away from our base, we have many chaplains stationed there serving with their military units. The enemy launched an attack, with the hopes of overrunning the garrison and possibly capturing the city. They were winning the battle. The attack was a complete surprise—no one expected it on Easter, as this day is usually recognized and respected. This was not the case this past Easter. At first, it seemed all was lost, until a few men including Chaplain Peter Magai decided to carry the fight to the enemy with everything they had. The men knew if the city fell their wives and daughters would be raped and murdered. This gave the men great determination. These few men would turn the tide of the battle from a defeat to a victory. The fighting was very fierce, but the men just kept attacking, refusing to give ground to the enemy. As soon as one magazine was empty, they loaded another and kept advancing.
At first, I think the enemy thought this would be an easily won battle, but as the casualties continued to rise, their determination began to wain. What started as a for sure win turned into disillusionment, as enemy soldier after enemy soldier fell. They soon realized in order to win, they would take a very high casualty rate, and they began to lose heart and fall back. Peter was one of the lead soldiers pressing the attack. The enemy was rapidly losing ground, giving back what they had just won. What started with great expectations of victory from the enemy, turned into a full retreat. It was in the last few moments when the enemy was just about chased from the city, with one of the last few rounds fired in desperation, that Peter was mortally wounded. He had helped to save the garrison, the city and many civilian lives, but it would be at the cost of his own life. He leaves behind a wife and three children, with a nursing newborn son.
As believers, most of us prefer not to have conflict or trials in our lives. However, without these trials or battles, there is no victory. It is through difficulty that a man’s character is made and forged in life. Michael, our senior chaplain, told me that Peter was extremely popular with the men in his unit. This was because of how he lived out his life before others. Peter did not need to be forced to do a task; he was always willing, no matter how difficult or unpleasant the task was. He did it with joy. He truly lived out his Christian walk. He chose to put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, instead to live a life that was set aside for the Gospel. He was a man that realized he was not here to represent himself, but to represent Jesus Christ. Peter understood what the Word meant when God speaks of His church and says that we are a holy people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people set aside for God’s own purposes.
While we will all miss Peter, he has made the final journey having lived for Christ. Jesus said that no greater love does a man have than this, but he lay down his life for a friend. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to, at a single moment, lay down your life. Then, in the next moment, be in the presence of the Father hearing, “Well done, my son. Well done.” Oswald Chambers said that when a man is truly born again, he is in bondage to a life of holiness. But what some would see as chains that keep us from pleasure, we see as a small sacrifice to keep us pure before our God. And nothing this world offers will ever be compared to the treasures of heaven. Peter now wears the crown of righteousness that he will have for all of eternity.
One of the mottos of the Chaplain Corps is, “They died that others might live.” Peter fulfilled this in his personal sacrifice to save others. With Peter’s passing, his wife and children will have to continue on, each having their own race to run. We will care for his wife and children as we do for all of our fallen men’s families. Life, I am sure will not be easy, but they too must learn to endure and allow faith and trust to grow in their own personal walks with the Lord. His children will be taught by Peter’s fellow chaplains. The baby boy will never remember his father, but he will know that his father was a man who willingly chose to lay down his life so that his family would live.
Far Reaching Ministries