Silent Night ... but not in South Sudan
I wasn't sure what to expect when I got the call Sunday afternoon during the Christmas service at church.
Evacuation of all missionaries from South Sudan on the verge of civil war. Due to the potential of a very long day for the pilot, exceeding a normal duty day, and the environment we're flying into, AIM AIR requires a second pilot to go along on these flights. Finally getting flight time in the Caravan, a 14 seat single engine turbine! I wasn't going to turn it down. Flying the Caravan was something I've wanted to do for a loooong time. It was a dream come true. Don’t get me wrong. It was very cool to fly it into Northern Kenya and land it at Loki. But that’s not what I will remember the most.
I will remember the words of one of our passengers, a doctor from northern Alaska who works for a few months in Alaska so she can subsidize her work in a village in South Sudan. She sat quietly in the back, reflecting on her years. “This will be the first Christmas I haven’t been in the village in 22 years.” She didn't want to leave. THAT is the love of Christ in action. The love for a people she was called to serve. I could hear it in her voice and saw it on her face. I noticed it on a lot of the passengers as they deplaned and re-boarded the different airplanes in Loki after clearing customs. They were safe now, but what about all the people they left behind? All the people they have been witnessing to and working with for so many years. What will be left when they return? If they are able to return...
I will remember sharing dinner and breakfast with a MAF pilot and being thankful that we are all united in one mission … no politics, no lines of separation, just one unit working together to move His people out of harm’s way. Helping unload Samaritan Purse's DC-3 as it passed through Loki with a load of medical personnel and others who had been working in the north part of South Sudan. Working as a team serving those who serve.
I smile as I think about a trick one of our pilots uses - to put heavy books under his seat to hopefully absorb some of the energy of a skyward bound bullet. Another sits on a bullet-proof vest. The armor of God comes in many forms …
I was thankful for all my training and preparation to be able to troubleshoot a mechanical problem with the Cessna 206 as it returned from South Sudan and then fly it back to Nairobi, giving the other pilot a much needed break after a very long day of flying into a hostile area. We are here as a team. Each doing what we can to serve.
I also saw that sometimes we get there a little too late. One of the remote strips was closed by the government due to fighting encroaching on that area. All we could do was pray that God would provide a way to get those 3 out. And that God would blind the enemy to them in the meantime.
My maiden flight here in Africa did not involve going into South Sudan. I stayed in North Kenya just 10 km from the South Sudan border. This allowed for another person being able to be evacuated out and for me to stay behind, wait for our 206 and assist in getting it and its passenger back to Nairobi. But God used the experience all the same. This is why we are here. To serve those who are serving The Most High. To provide transportation into remote places that are normally not accessible. To bring the love of Christ and His Word to those who might never hear. And in some cases to remove those servants from harm's way so that at a later date, they can return and continue the work they were sent to do. Growing up in Alaska, I thought I knew what a remote location was. But flying over the vastness of Northern Kenya and seeing the little pockets of settlements scattered below with no roads connecting them gave me a whole new perspective of remote and the unreached.
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:14-15
Thank you to all of you who have been a part of sending us to be a part of this. Through your prayers and unselfish giving, you have made it possible for us to be a part of serving those "beautiful feet".
Please continue to pray for South Sudan and this conflict. Pray that it does not escalate into a full civil war and that a peaceful solution comes to the unrest between the 2 main tribes. Also pray for the remaining people that were not able to be evacuated. Pray they will be hidden from the violence and that a way out will become available. We are praying for the missionaries who have been displaced from their homes and work among the South Sudanese people, especially during this Christmas time. That they will find comfort and peace here in Nairobi or wherever they temporarily end up.
Thank you again for all your prayers. We wish you a joyous Christmas with family and friends. May God bless you richly.
In His Service,
Joel, LaReina, Renee and Ian