David White spent 18 months living and working in South Sudan. It was a turbulent experience which brought him a new understanding of who God is...
When war is raging and people are being tortured and killed simply because they come from a different tribe, God is at work.
When you put yourself in the middle of that danger and take on roles you never thought you’d be doing, God is at work.
That is the experience of Serving In Mission worker David White, who spent 15 months on our South Sudan team. David, who is sent by Hope Church, Glasgow had wanted to serve in South Sudan ever since he visited in 2010. He had set his heart on long-term mission among the various peoples of South Sudan and Sudan.
But God, through a challenging period spent working in the SIM compound on the edge of refugee camps in Doro, used David in unexpected ways.
He explained: “I spent nine months in Egypt learning Arabic and then went home for a break over Christmas 2016. That was when violence erupted in Doro and all the missionaries had to be evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya.
“I flew out in January, but I joined a team that was still dealing with the shock of evacuation. My intention had been to get involved with church-planting and discipleship in the refugee camp but it wasn’t even safe to go back to the compound.”
Within a month or so, the situation had improved in Doro and David volunteered to be part of a small group which went back to assess the situation. Much of the compound had been ransacked and looted but the overall situation was calm, so David then joined the repair and rebuilding team.
Just two weeks later, the missionaries who had decided to stay returned to the compound, even though there was still a huge amount of work to be done.
As they returned, the various SIM ministries began to resume. The SIM Clinic and Nutrition programme started treating patients; the Water Project began repairing bore holes and providing people with clean drinking water; and evangelists returned to the refugee camps to continue sharing the gospel and training the church.
David’s role changed too. He became increasingly involved in organising security for the SIM compound and ended up leading a team of 27 guards who watched over things night and day.
He said: “I was asked to be operations manager for the SIM team, which involved a lot of logistics and planning.
“Besides leading the team of guards, I also had to assess whether it was safe for any of our mission workers to go out into the refugee camps. The team has some very talented and passionate evangelists, some of whom speak the language fluently.
“I could see that, in my changing role, I was enabling people with more gifts for evangelism among the refugees to go and do the work. I’m sure they were a lot more effective in that ministry than I would have been.”
All of 2017 and early 2018 was punctuated by periods when the violence would flare up and then die down again. In turn, people who were victims of violence would flee and then come back. In the complex political world of Sudan and South Sudan, tribal loyalties fluctuated and more refugees would arrive in Doro from violence further afield.
But through it all, the ministry of taking the gospel to people who have never heard it has continued and even grown.
To take just one example, the secondary school which was once part of the SIM compound was completely ransacked in the first outbreak of violence. The response of SIM has been to work with the Sudan Interior Church to set up open-air primary schools.
David explained: “The schools operate outside so all they need is a blackboard and some chairs. If the people have to flee again, the school can effectively go with them.”
David and SIM also helped provide food aid for internally displaced people and brought church leaders from rival tribes together.
He said: “We facilitated an inter-tribal trauma healing workshop for church leaders at a time of great tension and animosity between tribes.
“The challenge of church unity is massive because tribal loyalties are so strong. This is often a barrier to understanding and accepting we are all one in Christ so it was great to see the leaders put that into practice.”
Another highlight was being the final link in the chain of bringing a complete Bible in the heart language of the Maaban people.
David said: “This project has been decades in the making, with countless people involved. It was my very humbling privilege to be part of the team which delivered the first consignment of those Bibles to the Maaban. They were overjoyed! Even non-Christians were delighted because having the Bible in their own language was a great cultural honour.
“It’s my prayer that those who bought the Bibles would open them day by day and come to a living faith in Jesus.”
David’s time in South Sudan ended earlier this year and there are questions about how the work can continue. But one thing is certain — in the midst of turmoil and violence, God is growing his church and drawing people to him.
Give thanks for all God has taught David during his time in South Sudan.
For peace among the various tribes and factions so that people can live securely and safely.
For God’s word to spread like wildfire among those living in refugee camps.