Tag Archives: Bor

Africa in Infrared

As the wedding season slows a bit here in the south (it gets really hot here), I find I’m able to catch up on the things I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time. I no longer feel like I’ve got all the unedited files snapping at my heels like a herd of badly color corrected schnauzers.

 

On one of my previous trips to Africa, before I left, I had my old 30d slr camera converted to shoot 720 nm infrared light by Digital Silver Imaging. They take the old filter that’s opaque to infrared light off your sensor and replace it with one that allows certain wavelengths of infrared light to pass through. This allows for some really unique photography. I’ll say right off the bat that people seem to either hate it or love it, but it is a totally different way of seeing things. Objects reflect infrared light differently than visible, light, so the processing of the photographs is really an art form unto itself.

Infrared photography taken in Torit, South Sudan
Infrared photography taken in Torit, South Sudan

 

So why would I carry the extra weight of an additional camera body when I have tight weight restrictions and  literally need to be able to carry everything on my back?  Because as far as I know, nobody’s done it before, at least not in South Sudan. All photos were taken either in South Sudan or in Kenya. I wanted to get a new perspective, and by doing so, perhaps catch peoples attention who have never paid any notice to what’s going on in that part of the world. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, there is a tremendous physical and spiritual need in South Sudan. Having said that though, I’m not sure I’d carry the extra weight again.

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A family shelters from the heat of the day in Torit, South Sudan. Infrared photo.

I am currently getting ready to go on a missions trip to Ethiopia. I’ve been asked to take pictures for the Petros Network, which is doing extensive work there with church planting, medical missions, and widow and orphan missions. I am excited and honored to be able to help them. Their website is http://petrosnetwork.org

I will of course be blogging and posting photos of the Ethiopia trip when that happens. In the meantime though, between now and the end of October when I leave, I need to raise about $2000 more  to cover my expenses. I have put my infrared photos up for sale as a fundraiser.  The gallery can be viewed by using the following link. There are a variety of sizes available, and custom sizes can be ordered by contacting me though the online gallery.  Please visit http://www.enjoyphotos.com, and fill in the following information:

Username: Infrared Africa Prints
Password: 43975

Enjoy my photography, and if you’d like to own some of it, you’ll be helping a good cause.

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Huts and one lone sheep, Bor South Sudan. Infrared photo.
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Praying That The Truck Stalls.

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b

Prayer has been on mind mind today, in particular in regards to some of the situations I’ve been in when traveling in South Sudan. One particular instance comes to mind. I was traveling in the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser with two other missionaries and several natives, going from the town of Bor to a village about three hours north called Liliir. The seasonal rains had run long that year, and there were huge sections of road that were virtually impassible. When I say virtually impassible, what I mean is that some vehicles made it, and some did not. We passed many vehicles that were stuck deeper than the wheels in mud, and were being unloaded to take the weight off so hopefully they could be moved. I remember one that had its rear axle sitting behind it, and was clearly not going to be going anywhere. I have a picture I took of one of those vehicles as we passed.

Toyota being unloaded to try to get it out of the mud, South Sudan.
Toyota being unloaded to try to get it out of the mud, South Sudan.

 

So now, knowing the situation, you would think that our driver would take the utmost care to avoid those kinds of situations on the way back from the village that evening. You would think wrong. He apparently had a terminal case of denial, and as we came to this very spot where only six hours before we had seen the above vehicle stuck, he decided to go through that very same spot rather than go the route we knew was safe. The thing about traveling in South Sudan is that you really don’t want to be doing it at night, and getting stuck would have put us in that situation.  Just for reference, since I’m unable to get the travel warning we were under at the time, I’m just posting the current one from the Dept. of State. ”

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Republic of South Sudan.  After review of our security conditions, the U.S. Department of State lifted the ordered departure status for the U.S. Embassy in Juba on June 12, 2014.  However, as a result of continued instability and a poor security situation resulting from the civil conflict which erupted in the country in December 2013, the U.S. Embassy will continue operating at reduced staffing levels for the foreseeable future.  The U.S. Embassy is therefore only able to offer very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Republic of South Sudan.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on April 23, 2014.”

So you can see now why we wouldn’t want to be stuck out at night with no way to get back.  Despite our loud objections, our driver tried to put the vehicle into four wheel drive low, and descend into the muck. What he didn’t know, though, was that we had a team of people praying for us back home.

As our driver tried to put the vehicle into four wheel low, the engine stalled. He started it back up, tried to put it back into four wheel low, and stalled it again. This happened three or four times. Finally, he gave up, backed up the vehicle, and drove to the route we had come through that morning. As he got to the crossing, he dropped the vehicle into four wheel low gear with no trouble and no stalling, and crossed easily.

It’s situations like this that make you realize the difference between tourism and missions. It’s not the place you are going that makes the difference, it’s the spiritual currents that are running just below the surface. Is what you’re doing moving things in the spiritual realm? If they are, you are going to face opposition, and this is why those who are still at home in prayer are just as important if not more so than those who actually go. I will probably go into other situations where this was very apparent at a later time.  For now though, the subject of prayer is forefront on my mind as some of my friends are currently on their way to Kenya, some of them for the first time. Also, in the next three months, I’ll be going to Kenya as well, and then to Ethiopia. More on that later.

Trying to explain South Sudan

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In the movie “The Matrix”, Morpheus tells Neo, “No one can be told what the matrix is.”  The same can be said for South Sudan. When I tell people where I do missions there, I get one of two responses. The first response is a cringe followed by, “Wow, rough place!”  They’ve seen the BBC stories about civil war, starvation, tribal warfare, etc.  The second response I get is, “Did you bring your wife and kids along?”  They know nothing about South Sudan at all. Neither is really a correct assessment of what South Sudan is like.

Even as I go to write this, I’m tempted to try to explain what South Sudan is really like, but I know that I can’t do it myself.  There are unfortunately too many preconceptions and paradigms that Americans have about the way they think life is and about what’s important, and any explanation goes through those filters first. There was a show a while back called “Meet the Tribe”, where five men from Vanuatu come to America and stay with families for a while to see what American life is like. When they got to California I can honestly say I was embarrassed for our culture. Between the in-house botox parties and the many luxuries that are seen as needs, I was made aware of just how hard it is for many Americans to comprehend what life is like for most of the world. Fortunately, I took a lot of video footage the last couple trips I made. I was lucky enough to be in on a conversation that really put a lot of things into perspective, and explain a lot about why South Sudan is the way it is. It is also a great explanation to those people who ask, “Why do you go all the way over there to do missions when there is so much to do here.”  It’s all in understanding what need is.  So check this video out. It was shot this last November, about 30 days before the town we were staying in was destroyed over things that are talked about in the video. Hopefully it will bring some understanding.

 

Thankfulness and Faith in Hard Times

It’s been a rough week in Bor, South Sudan. I’m still trying to sort out all the details as to what happened, but in any case, the end result is that about fifty people are dead. Even as the mass graves settle from the previous conflict, new conflict has arisen, this time between youth in Bor and United Nations soldiers. I hesitate to call them peace keepers because that doesn’t seem to be their primary goal. In any case, the violence continues.

One would think that this would be a time when people would be angry and would lash out at each other or at God. This is not what I’ve seen though.  We ask ourselves many times, “why would God let this happen?”  I heard an evangelist recently speak about their conversation with an atheist. The atheist insisted that the blood of Christ makes no difference in the world, because the world is worse off now than when He came.  The evangelist responded that the atheist was mistaken.  He said the blood of Christ is like soap. You can own soap, and even work in a soap factory, but until you apply it, you will not be clean.

The response I have seen from those I know in South Sudan is truly humbling to me. In a week where it seemed like a lot of things went wrong for me, one of my friends in South Sudan posted on my Facebook page the following verses; “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore” ISAIAH 2:4 If you are please this verse say AMEN.”

It was truly humbling to receive that. Faith for them is not a tool to add to your utility belt, it is everything. They realize that in a world where nobody wants to apply the soap of Christ’s blood, He is still their only hope. They don’t dread Christ coming back, they long for it, because only then will there be real peace. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Their faith astounds me.

I’m finishing by posting a shot I grabbed from one of my friends. It’s a picture earlier this week of a parade to celebrate Palm Sunday. Even as violence brewed and the town of Bor is still in shambles, they are celebrating.  Lord let me be like that.

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Cut The Baby In Half

I haven’t written for a while. I’ve been waiting to hear some definitive news that anything has changed in South Sudan. I wish I had good news to report, other than the fact that there have been some miraculous stories of escape and rescue, including a boat that appeared out of nowhere to rescue a family that was about to be overrun by Nuer rebels.

There is talk of resolution at the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Salva Kiir’s government has been negotiating a peace deal with Riek Machar’s rebels. The thing I have to ask is; “for what?” The damage is done. Thousands are dead. The “good” news came yesterday that the town of Bor, where our friends are, has been retaken again by SPLA (South Sudanese government) forces. At this point I’m not sure how many times Bor has changed hands.

I put the word “good” news in parenthesis, because at this point, what is there to go back to?  South Sudan’s leaders need to take a hard look in the mirror.

A friend of a friend in South Sudan brought up a very poignant allegory. It’s the story of the two women that came before Solomon with a baby, each claiming to be the mother.  1 Kings 3:16-27“16 Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him. 17 And one woman said, “O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while shewas in the house. 18 Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. 21 And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead. But when I had examined him in the morning, indeed, he was not my son whom I had borne.”

22 Then the other woman said, “No! But the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.”

And the first woman said, “No! But the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.”

Thus they spoke before the king.

23 And the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son, who lives, and your son is the dead one’s; and the other says, ‘No! But your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” 24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.”

26 Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!”

But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.

27 So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.”

28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.”

What the leaders of South Sudan have essentially done is decide to cut the baby in half.  Rather than let your enemy win for the good of the country, they’ve decided that no one should win. When self comes before brother or family or nation, that nation cannot stand. I understand that it’s a hard thing to do, but old hostilities need to be left behind, no matter how deep they run. It’s only by the grace of God that South Sudan will stand, because it’s going to take a level of forgiveness that only God can give to heal the wounds that exist. And shame on those that have exploited old tensions for their own gain. In the end they will lose too, because they will not have a nation to rule. And when that happens, South Sudan will again fall under the rule of someone who is not only not Dinka, and not Nuer, but also not even South Sudanese.

The following is a before and after picture of the market in Bor. The first picture was taken in November, last time I was there. The second picture was taken in the last few days.

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A Further Update To The Fighting In South Sudan

It’s been over a week since I last updated this blog, not because there was not something to write, but because it was just too difficult to write it. I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but the situation has further deteriorated since then.  Only now when there is a glimmer of hope can I write about it. We have heard stories of incredible escape, but also tragic, personal, heartbreaking stories. The latter I may tell when there is some emotional distance, but perhaps never.

Last time I wrote, our friends were hiding in the bush as the town of Bor was overrun by Nuer rebels known as the White Army, named because of the ashes they cover their skin with to protect from insects. They are not much more than armed children and youths, but deadly nonetheless.  Our friends were able to return to Bor after about a week, after SPLA forces forced the rebels out. One of our friends escaped harm in the bush, only to return to Bor and get shot in the arm by a random bullet. Fortunately he will be alright. Another was caught by rebels and told to sit down. Had he complied they certainly would have shot him. As he put it, “I decided to make my own decisions. I ran. They shot at me, but God said no to the bullets.”

Since then, the SPLA pulled out of Bor, for two reasons as far as I can tell from what I’ve been told. The first is because the town of Bor was full of unburied bodies, and the risk of disease was a concern. The second and I’m sure the larger reason was that 25,000 Nuer rebels gathered to the east to try to retake the town of Bor, which they subsequently did.

So for our friends the situation became even more difficult. Their trip back to Bor was largely fruitless, since the entire market and the hotels were looted, and much of the town was burned. As the threat of a further assault built, thousands gathered at the Nile to cross  to safety in a place you can’t even google. A number of children drowned in the crossing, and many more died from dysentery from drinking the Nile water, which was the only water available. Thank God, though, it sounds like most of the people made it across.

From there the people of Bor were able to flee to Juba, where the fighting was not as fierce, though it’s still going on.  As a footnote, I’ve been to Juba probably ten times, and there’s never been a moment there when I didn’t feel like I’ve had to constantly look over my shoulder. So to flee to Juba, you know it’s bad.

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Refugees coming into Juba in the back of a flatbed truck.

At this moment, it look as if there is another assault imminent on the town of Bor from SPLA forces. The talk is that Riek Machar is trying to hold onto the town of Bor so he will have a bargaining chip during peace talks. It’s a tragedy that our friends are the bargaining chip he is using in his bid for power.  Please pray for our friends, and the people of Bor and the church there as this atrocity continues. Pray for a real peace, for the safety of our brothers and sisters, and that Northern Sudan doesn’t use this as an excuse to try to take back their former territory.

An Update To The Situation In Bor, South Sudan

I wrote a couple days ago about the situation currently going on in South Sudan, specifically about what looks to be civil war in a power grab between South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and the ousted vice president, Riek Machar. We have been trying to keep in contact with those we know in the church in Bor. Some people managed to flee to their home villages, some we are hearing from but are in dire straits, and others we have not heard from since the first days of the violence. I am incredibly worried for these people, as they have become good friends over the last couple years.

sudan-0744smI’m amazed that any news gets out at all, but thanks to Facebook, I am still getting some updates. How they’re getting power I have absolutely no idea, but I’m thankful that they do, as it allows us to pray more specifically for what they need.

Currently the situation (as far as I understand it at this point) is as follows. Nuer Rebels have taken over Bor and are executing people. The United States and other nations have tried to evacuate their personnel from Bor, but have had difficulty after some evacuation aircraft were shot down. This is also hampering any relief effort.  The government of South Sudan has agreed not to launch an all out assault on Bor until foreigners have been evacuated. This is also making things more difficult for those who have had to flee, because they are running out of food.

A large number of the residents of Bor have fled, either to the UN compound at the edge of the city, or out into the bush. The general opinion that I’ve read from those there is that they generally don’t consider the UN base to be a safe place. From those in the bush, they are currently still safe, but are sleeping out in the open without protection from the weather or the mosquitos. Two babies were born yesterday to women on the run in the group we’re in contact with. They’re also running out of food. They’ve been eating acacia nuts and fish to survive, but the fish are becoming scarce. They’re crying out for relief.

Please keep the people of Bor in your prayers. God is in control, but we need to stand in the gap for these people. As we live here in peace during this Christmas time, please take time from the traditions and busyness of the holiday to lift up those who are suffering tremendously during this time. Pray for the wellbeing and encouragement of those we haven’t heard from.

Here is a link to a recent BBC story on the events in Bor.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25487084

Civil War in South Sudan (again), and Facebook.

This is an incredibly hard post for me to write today. I was greeted with the wrenching news a few days ago that civil war has started again in South Sudan, and ground zero for it is where our friends are in Bor. The initial indications are that the vice president, (a Nuer), who was dismissed by the president (a Dinka) back in July, has begun to air his grievance against the president with an uprising. During this uprising, the town of Bor was taken by Nuer rebels. Bor is where most of our friends are in South Sudan. If any of my South Sudanese friends have more accurate information than this, please feel free to post.

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Now, with that short background, we are praying for them with a lot of nail-biting. This is the first time that war has affected me in such a personal way. People talk about the fact that only in the past thirty years or so have people been able to find out almost immediately via news what is going on in a foreign war. But previously it was still hard to see it as real , because the disseminator of news was always a news agency, and it was still a bit impersonal. You could always tell yourself that whoever it is that you knew might not have been wherever the bad news was happening.

Facebook changed all that. No we know within hours or even minutes what is going on with people who aren’t just acquaintances, they’re friends. And we can’t tell ourselves that they’re not involved or suffering, because these are personal statements being put on Facebook, coming right from their own experiences.

On one hand it tells me specifically how to pray for them, but on the other hand it breaks my heart to see what they’re going through.  We have a very hard time in the United States relating to what’s going on in a country many of us have never heard of, so I’m going to post some of their own statements (with no names on other personal info), to make this more real.

“All the displaced people of Bor Town are in the UN compound, but the open air will not be enough for the gunshot victims.”

“Gunshots have started now, at 4 AM.”

“Bor town is scare by gunshot at block 4 this evening.they were trying to be the part of what is happening in Juba. i don’t know how is gonna be tonight oh God !!!!!!! guard the live of these innocent civilians who are the suffer of this nonsense war.”

“Keep your battery charged.  I was told by a source that commandos together with tanks were on the way to try to retake the Town of Bor. Whatsup with Bor and the rescue mission? Do u hear sounds of artillery fire from ur hide out or it’s calm in town? The Army sent ystrday is really enough to push them out. God be with you.  XXXX refused to leave the house n she said if they wanna kill her, no problem! I am dead here man.”

“Hi! Freinds. I am fine with people in the bush on our third day sleeping in the cold. Thanks for your prayers.”

“Using computer power to charge phones in the bush, the only last chance for phones to stay on.”

“For those looking relatives, stay calm, all hiding are calm yesterday and today. I can still hear sound of heavy machine guns from Bor town. I don’t have an idea of what is happening there.”

Folks, it just got a lot more real. Please pray for these people caught in the crossfire.

Commitment

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Twice on my trips to South Sudan, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of drums. When I say middle of the night, I’m talking about 3 in the morning middle of the night. I assumed it was some sort of tribal celebration or a wedding, since those can last for a week.  When I asked in the morning, though, I found out that what I heard was the sound of an all night church service.

This really made me think. Would we ever see something like that at home? If the prospect of an all night church service was available to me, would I go?  It really struck a chord with me that whoever it was I heard was operating under a different set of priorities and a different level of commitment than myself. You stay up all night for something that’s important  to you; for something you really care about. A faith that we see as something private, that is just one of many things in our life that may or may not be important is nothing to stay up all night for. A faith that is something useful to complete your social persona is also nothing to stay up all night for.

On the other hand, a faith that goes through to the core, a faith so deep that if you didn’t have it you wouldn’t be the same person; now that’s something that would cause you to stay up all night.  So would a faith that would cause you to appeal to God to save your family, or your village, or your nation from perils that are too numerous and too terrible to list. The people I heard were praying and worshipping because they are appealing to their Dad, because He is the only one who can save them. They pray and worship because it is the first thing that comes to mind when there is a problem, not the last thing or one of many things. That’s the kind of faith I want to have, and that’s the kind of faith that gives me hope for South Sudan despite the numerous and sundry problems that exist. In second Chronicles, it says; “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This goes for us as well. Healing begins in the heart of each person, through humility and prayer, and it’s where we have a deep lesson to learn. I pray that we haven’t become so cynical that we become lost as a people.

For the South Sudanese at least, I hold hope, because I’ve seen where their hearts are.

I’ve begun going through the voluminous video clips I shot on this most recent trip. Appropriately, here is a link to some video of a worship service in Bor, South Sudan.