December 7, 2010
I just got back from a 20 day stint in Sudan. As usual, I have a few stories for you.
Let’s start with John Monychol (Mon-choal). On the second half of the trip, John was the key church leader we worked with for church planting, and training. I’ve written about him once before, but this is a more extensive profile.
John has a presence. It’s difficult to articulate, but there’s a calmness and peacefulness that emanates from him. He comes across as naturally quiet. That could be due to language. He interacts as much as any other African when he’s moving amongst his people. One assumes the peace is from his walk with Christ, but it could also have been born when he was laying with the pile of dead bodies–but I’m skipping ahead.
What do you do when war comes to your village when you’re a young boy? You’re too young to fight, so you run. In John’s case he ran east following the Sobat river until it took him to Ethiopia. There he found makeshift refugee camps that also served as an outpost for the rebel army fighting for Southern Sudan. It was also then that his mother died. His father, an animist believer of traditional, tribal beliefs, slaughtered a bull and asked a spirit to protect John. That’d be the last time he’d see his father.
I tried to put myself in John’s shoes since we’re about the same age. When I was 11, I was adjusting to middle school. I cared about my haircut, the clothes I was wearing, and if I would ever be big enough to play football.
When John was 11, he joined the Southern Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA). They scooped him up in that refugee camp. At first, he lacked the physical strength to actually pick up and point an AK-47, so the SPLA kept him near the border and educated him. Once he was big enough, he entered the fight. In one particular fire fight, the SPLA was losing badly. John was shot in the leg and his fellow soldiers left him in their hasty retreat for dead. Bleeding, he laid down in a group of dead bodies and played dead. He played that part, in the midst of so much death, for three days while the enemy army looked for survivors to kill. After the Northern Army finally passed by, John got up and walked until he found the Red Cross. Looking at his condition, they placed him on a helicopter and flew him to their hospital in Northern Kenya where he spent the next three months recuperating.
After convalescing, John moved south to what is now a semi-famous refugee camp: Kakuma. Kakuma is where the vast majority of the “Lost Boys” here in America came from. In fact, John applied five times with the Lost Boy program and was rejected each time. John continued his education in the camp and it was here, in the middle of the night, John says God came to him and called him. He publicly professed faith in Christ at an open air event shortly after this encounter with God.
A missionary gave John a few books to learn more about how to follow Christ. Convicted about keeping this knowledge to himself, he organized men in the camp–across tribal lines–and taught them the contents of the books. He’d help plant six new churches in Kakuma before leaving. While he continued to be rejected for Lost Boy status, that same missionary sent he and five others to Nairobi for bible school training. Four would finish.
With his bible school training under his belt, John continued to plant new churches in far Southern Sudan and Northeast Kenya until another American missionary asked him to come back to Sudan with him. Shortly after this, John felt compelled to return home; however, home no longer existed. The SPLA controlled a village about 20 kilometers south of John’s home village. He set up camp there. It was 2005. He hadn’t seen his father in over a decade. John had been shot, left for dead, and radically transformed by Christ in the meantime. He decided to look for his father. For his act of reconciliation, he was captured by a still active Northern Government. Despite the newly signed peace agreement, John was jailed for a few days until word hit and the foreign army released him.
Over the next several months, peace came to the area. John settled back in his home village of Baliet. He learned that his father now lived in the North. He married, planted a church and started a family.
I met John shortly after this in 2007, hundreds of miles from his home at a conference in Rumbek. I was struck by his presence and his heart. His first child, a son, had died because of the lack of clean water. John, with his education, easily could have left and found work in a bigger town. Instead, he was–and is–convinced he’s called to serve his people. He stayed, kept building the church and working with other leaders along the Sobat river to plant and strengthen churches. God blessed he and his wife with two lovely little girls.
As he relayed his story to our team in Baliet, he said, “War was God’s plan. Because of the war, we got eternal life. You must have suffering.”
“You must have suffering.” Those words hung over us and humbled us to a state indescribable.
His vision now is to first work with five to ten leaders. Disciple them to reproduce the work God has had him begin all along the river. He wants to grow the mother church he tends in Baliet and plant others. His church cares for 17 orphans. He tried to house and care for them all at his home, but it became too much. And, in an act of tenderness, he became concerned when the other kids started to make fun of them for not having families. Since then, families in the church have taken in the children as long-term foster care or adoption to end the stigma.
Fellowship Bible Church Dallas gave the funds for John to start a pastor training center. e3 is planning on sending teachers from Kajo Keji up to the Upper Nile for three-week teaching sessions. These sessions will build the next generation of leaders.
Finally, to get the Christian elementary school up and running. There are no Christian schools along the river, and most of the children don’t even attend school. Instead, the tend their families goats and cows. Worse, the best school in town is Islamic, which specifically targets orphans and the most dire cases.
Now, we pray for peace. The referendum comes on January 9, 2011 and Baliet is near the border of the North. We pray that the suffering can begin to end.