Recalling a myriad of substantial details, I feel like I’m writing the Chronicles or the diary of Anne Frank. A multitude of stories, testimonies to voice, answered prayer to share - and all lived in just 7 days!
Where to begin? Going to jail on Day 1 because of taking a photo of longhorn cows? Or walking the popular market, bargaining for hours to get the best deals on snacks and mosquito nets, only to discover later that evening that the market is infamous for the abduction and kidnappings of foreigners!
Perhaps a better beginning would be the honor of a surprise by the elders of a church or better yet, 2 miracles of finding local donors for the building of a kitchen and restrooms of a local school and an orphanage!
We were close to the Earth’s equator, enjoying the sights of new fauna and flora. The people were equally remarkable - diverse ethnicities and tribes, each with their own heritage - with a “yes” or “no” sounding uniquely different.
As a team, we traveled together daily, also I want to thank "Merciful Relief Services" for joining NFGM on this mission - Hanan, Pastor Monyroor, Nyanjieng, Nyanlong, Gatweck, Maik the driver and myself. Culture, faith, customs, and traditions made for rich exchanges. Every time I visit a place under new skies, I’m always intrigued to observe how people grasp and process the Faith, how they marry the culture to God’s word, and where boundaries are set - all this made for encouraging and inspirational conversations.
In Juba, more than any other city we visited, I left with more questions than answers. Despite being a Christian city, the culture weighed much more for me than anticipated. For example, men are allowed to marry again and again, as much as they own cows to trade for each new wife. Men from the “Murle” tribe are allowed to kidnap children from other tribes. Why? Because Syphilis is negatively impacting their own abilities to procreate. These are just 2 examples of many that would make one question the existence of the Christian Faith there.
However, even with this mixture of good and bad that greeted us, if asked to return and serve, we would jump at the chance to spend more time with the joyful, loving and devoted believers in Juba.
We were told that the orphanage was close by - right at the outskirts of Juba. No, it wasn’t far, but on arrival, we found ourselves in the middle of the bush! The children were super excited to see us. Expecting 52 from the orphanage, the number swelled with another 170 children from the nearby village.
We’ll never forget their laughter watching the puppet show and meeting Mama Hanan. Their rejoicing increased even more to receive our special gifts - the Solar Music Player, mosquito nets and snacks. A big "thank you" to ICM for helping to produce this special Solar Music Player with more than hundred songs for kids to enjoy!
Fact: Sadly in 2019 alone, UNICEF reported the deaths of 7,720 children under the age of 5 from Malaria. Mosquito nets reduce the death of children by 20%.
Case 1: At the end of our day, we sat down to talk with the elders operating the orphanage. We learned they are desperate to have a water tank, along with a bathroom in the girls’ section. Currently there is only one tank and one bathroom - located in the boys’ section.
Case 2: Abraham Waric is a 6-year-old boy. Living in isolation, he has a problem with his gallbladder. As a result, Abraham can’t control or feel the urge to go the restroom. The result? Abraham has been bullied and has stopped interacting with other children. His grandmother also informed us that Abraham tragically lost his parents in a street clash between militia and the army in 2016. He was lying on his mother’s corpse crying when a soldier rescued him. I thought we should do something to help him, but given the full schedule prepared for us the rest of the week, all I could do was to begin praying...
As a boy growing up in Lebanon, my eyes sparkled to hear countless tales of the Under The Oak Tree School. Prior to the 1950s, young generations away from the major cities were schooled under an old oak tree. The tellers of firsthand accounts were students who were there - including my great grandfather!
With confidence, I can say that our ancestors were lucky at attend those “oak tree schools”, especially compared to the schools we visited in Juba. Picture a one-story building with 8 classrooms and a teacher’s room. On benches built for 3 children, 7 or 8 crowd together, unable to reach their notebooks to write. The classes are extremely overpacked and dark, due to no electricity. Raw cement walls and dirt floors take your breath away. Then, there’s the huge pile of dirt positioned between the teacher and the students. Incredibly, the children were eager to learn, even speaking to us in English.
After visiting the classrooms, we gathered up the children in a humble but large church hall. Amazingly hundreds more children showed up for the event, coming from the nearby village in the bush. Consequently, we realized these children were deprived of schooling.
Beginning our program, we noticed that the children were not understanding - Arabic or English. On the spot, we improvised a mimic puppet show to attract their interaction and elicit their laughter. As always, they loved the Solar Music Players and the snacks. But the highlight was to share the message of Salvation and to pray with them.
Case 1: All the children use only one restroom that belongs to the church. In order to receive food supplies and fill their water tank from UNICEF, the school administration needs to build 6 additional bathrooms - 3 for the girls and 3 for the boys, plus a kitchen to industrial norms.
Like we started the day, we thanked God for His protection and provision. On the evening of our second day, I was able to contact and meet an old Lebanese friend. Here we were eating dinner - 13 years after singing at my singing at his wedding, my friend, now a large Juba contractor. Suddenly, my friend offered to build the toilets for the school. Shocked, I marveled at the hand of the Lord, moving in mysterious ways - and I was in awe.
After explaining our purpose of prayer and gifts, we secured the needed permits from the administration. The Hospital awaited with 62 sick children in their beds. With their parents, we prayed a message of salvation and hope for every child.
Oh, the happy faces of child and parent, enjoying the puppet and receiving our Solar Music Player! We also brought soap, snacks and mosquito nets. Then, capped off with time connecting with the devoted staff.
On Day 4, Arya received us in her sewing workshop. There, 15 women gather for a great Bible study with Hanan, enjoying worship and refreshments. They prayed for our team, and we were blessed to feel the Holy Spirit knitting us together - men and women of different nations, tribes and tongues - to be one body in Christ.
On Day 5, we were thankful for a much-desired elders meeting. We listened to how the Lord had shaped them by Grace, how they survived wars and persecution. Their prayers for us was humbling - we had come to bless them and had equally received another lesson in faith!
Accompanied by his uncle, we met Abraham at the Children’s Hospital. It was 9AM and an appointment was booked with the doctor immediately.
During the consultation, we learned that Abraham would need a blood test, and a CT scan, then we could discuss the results. The doctor asked us to pray that Abraham would be able to avoid surgery.
Another hospital with laboratories would be required to conduct the tests, so off we went, waiting in line 2 hours.
Needing the results fast, we explained to the administration that we were flying back the next day - and decisions had to be made quickly. God’s hand could be seen in every detail, as everything began moving smoothly. Running back to Children’s Hospital with the results, we waited for the doctor to see us again.
Abraham had stones, and a severe infection in his gallbladder. In addition, the tests showed he had malaria, his blood mildly infected. Thankful that Abraham was brought just in time, the doctor explained that any further delay would have jeopardized his life. No surgery would be necessary - instead an antibiotic, anti-inflammatory drug would be used for the gallbladder, Hydroxy Chloroquine for the malaria. We all praised God and worshipped Him for this timely intervention. Our gratitude unbounded, we thanked the Lord for Abraham’s prospects of returning healthy to play with his friends again.
We hugged the child and his uncle that day, blessing and sending them back to their village. Mission Accomplished - Praise God!
On our flight to Juba, we spent a memorable worship night in Dubai. Now friends were voicing concerns that we might get stuck on the way home, as the UAE had already begun cancelling flights. With the backdrop of perplexing Corona virus news, we anticipated returning to Dubai, then flying back to the USA in the afternoon.
But hey, it wasn’t time to leave yet! It was Sunday, and I was invited to speak at church with the same school we had visited earlier in the week. With bags in hand, we prepared to make a quick exit after the service.
On arrival, many squads of children of similar ages in uniform were there to greet us in uniform! Unquestionably, it was a special occasion - and we were overwhelmed by the hospitality, gratitude and respect of teenagers, adults and elders.
My message, shaped by what I had observed earlier in the week was, “We ought to obey God, rather than men.” Acts 5:29 I had been burdened by witnessing how the entrenched cultural realm takes over God’s word - allowing men to commit sin with no guilt or remorse. In my heart, I knew it was a timely message.
It was a pleasure to also share how the Lord had answered our prayers, announcing that some generous souls had committed to build the urgently needed kitchen and restrooms for the school. Instantly the church burst forth with hand-clapping and a joyful noise, followed by each squad presenting a song or dance.
However, what came next took us completely by surprise - an honoring ceremony where Hanan and I were covered in white. They prayed and danced for us and shook our hands – every one.
What a touching farewell! We treasure those moments, hoping that one day we might replicate them. Our dear brother, Ravi Zacharias once said, “Time is a loan, we must turn it back in one day. Eternity is a gift. So, take this loan and use it in a way that you can return it to God with delight in your heart”. I pray, at NFGM, that each of us is aware of the value of time - and that we work relentlessly to leave behind a smile on the face of a child, so that we may return the loan having only in mind the smile of God.
Juba Mission Trip, March 2020