GREETINGS to you from our EmpowerOne team and the churches in Yei, South Sudan. Here is a summary of my trip so please read at your leisure and enjoy!
W H E R E ?
South Sudan is in the middle of East Africa in the place where the landscape transitions from wide-open grass land to lush forests as you head south toward the equator.
|The Nile River, my personal favorite river, |
runs from Uganda through South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt into the Mediterranean
The town of Yei is in Central Equatoria State in the southernmost part of the country, southwest of the capital Juba and almost equidistant from the borders of The Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
Google it https://www.google.com/maps/place/Yei,+South+Sudanfirstname.lastname@example.org,30.1162869,9z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x176cc2577a458fef:0x951911ab63641a20
As you leave the town of Yei on the roads that lead to either neighboring country the thick trees and grass conceal numerous small villages in what is commonly referred to as “the bush”. We held our training in one such village called Abua (like “agua” with a “b”) gathering leaders from 3 other villages and 3 different churches in the town of Yei.
|Yei Green Valley Hotel was our home for 5 days. It's new.|
The county commissioner lived in the room next to mine
Agricultural and economic developments in Yei could help feed and stabilize the rest of the country. The stability of the region gives it potential for spiritual vibrancy that could also flow out into the rest of South Sudan. Yei is one of the brighter lights in a very dark place. While much of our time in South Sudan is focused on deficits, Yei is important because it is a place where we can build on the positives and develop native South Sudanese leaders who can make a difference in parts of the country that have direr needs.
W H O ?
The USA team on this trip was comprised of two fellow Dallasites and myself. Bart "White Dinka" Roberson was my co-leader on this trip and was on our team my first trip in 2012. He might be the funniest accountant you’ll ever meet and he has a great heart for ministry. Josh Smith is a fella I connected with through an old friend and it was a joy to introduce him to South Sudan. He is bold in engaging with people and tasting the local food.
On the South Sudan side we were coordinating with Pastor David Taban. He is the pastor of Rwonye Baptist Church in Yei town and oversees a network of churches in Yei county and Central Equatoria state. He is one of the most talented ministers I have ever met. He is gifted both pastorally and administratively, which is a hard combination to find, and his passion for serving the people of Yei is unmatched. Despite all his talent he is a humble man of God.
David gathered together a core group of 15 church leaders and pastors from 7 different villages in the area surrounding the town of Yei. A few of these men and women have some seminary education, others are lay leaders, and some are still working out their theology but they all love Jesus and want to see transformation in their communities.
W H A T ?
The purpose of our trip was to strengthen the churches around Yei by developing the leadership. Practically this meant two main focuses: Teaching Bible Study Methods and Basic Church Planting Principles.
Teaching Bible Study methods through a translator with a semi-educated group of people is……..a lot of fun. We kept our method simple asking them to answer three basic questions when reading scripture: What does the text say about God? What does it say about Man? What does it say we should do? We did this in small discussion groups and modeled teaching through facilitating discussion rather than rote lecture.
This is a new method of teaching for most in South Sudan. By day 2 they had the basic idea. By day 3 they were beginning to lead the discussions with some direction and feedback. By day 4 I was able to sit back and watch them have lively discussions relating scripture to the unique issues they face in their culture. I was not even having them translate for my sake because it only slowed them down.
Our Church Planting teaching consisted of developing 4 main actions of the church: Prayer, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Gathering Together.
Teaching prayer was a learning experience for me as the typical “go around the circle and each person pray as they feel led” method many of us are used to is not something familiar to them. So after a few awkward silences we adapted our methods to a style of prayer they were more familiar with, instead of making them pray the way our culture says you should.
We had everyone pray out loud at the same time and simply asked them to give thanks to God and then ask God to meet their needs. It was a simple format but David shared with me that many of these church leaders are not used to praying out loud or leading prayer groups so the foundation of simply giving thanks and then making requests will give them something to build on. We continued to practice this throughout the week.
Our teaching on sharing the gospel was the most memorable part of the trip. We taught each person how to share a personal testimony; asking them to simply tell the story of their life before they knew Jesus, how they came to know Jesus, and what their life was like after coming to know Jesus.
The stories in my group consisted of everything from wartime trauma, to abandonment, to hopelessness, to a lot of alcoholism, a lot of anger, and ultimately a lot of grace. It was a gift for me to sit with these men and women and hear their stories of suffering and redemption.
Our discipleship training focused on the principle of mentoring others by simply sharing life with them. We emphasized working and eating together as much as praying and reading the Bible together. Spiritual life is cultivated not only in the explicitly spiritual activities but in the daily living of life in community.
W H Y ?
South Sudan is the newest country on the planet and this baby nation is still learning to crawl. Half a century of civil war with what is now Sudan has left generations of people who only know how to live in crisis mode. People don’t plan for the future, politicians are corrupt, alcohol is many people’s best coping skill, and education is sparse. In the last two years the new South Sudan has regressed again to civil war, now among the South Sudanese themselves who were allies in fighting the north less than a decade before. The old pattern is being repeated.
But if we believe that Jesus can save our souls for the next life and change our character in this one then the Gospel is truly good news for South Sudan. More transformed hearts means more servant-leaders, more unified communities, more courage for change and most of all more hope.
On our last day in Yei I told the church leaders that in the USA we have a word pronounced “Yay”. I told them it’s a word we say when something good happens. It’s a word for celebration. I told them this is especially true for me because when I hear “Yay” I think of “Yei” and I celebrate the good things that God is doing in that place. Thank you for supporting me and thank you for supporting the people of Yei. I hope as you read this you are also saying “Yei” and celebrating.