Around this time two years ago, I (Scott), was back in South Sudan packing up our house and saying good-byes. After Ali’s malaria and pneumonia, we flew back to the States as a family and then I returned to South Sudan. At the time, it felt like the unexpected death of a close friend or loved one. You go through the motions, partially in shock, and do what is necessary to make it through the funeral. It took nearly two weeks to inventory, pack up, give away, and sell our stuff. In between that work, there were plenty of difficult good-byes to our many friends in Ikotos.
My flight out of South Sudan took me through Kenya. As I sat on the small, 11-seater plane and crossed into Kenya, I wept. Uncontrollably. My tears were a mixture of emotions and incomplete thoughts; sorrow to be leaving the place that we loved, loneliness to be there without Ali and Layla, sadness that Ali wasn’t able to say proper goodbyes, the pain of leaving our friends and the Lokwa people, and the unknown of if and when we would ever return.
I don’t think we ever consciously or unconsciously believed that we were God’s gift to the Lokwa or that we were responsible for their salvation. Still, we knew that where there is not a large enough population of national believers in a people group, the Gospel does not advance. What would become of the Lokwa people? Would the church in Ikotos survive the conflict that had ripped it apart for the past year?
Today, two years removed from our crisis, our hearts still break for the Lokwa. We have stayed in touch with Lojana and Bosco and continue to pray for the growth of the church. A few months ago, Lojana called us and told us that a boy, Moses, from the village of Lotome (Loh-toh-may), had come to Ikotos for school and had accepted Christ. Through the process of discipling Moses, Lojana began to feel burdened for the Lotome people. In February, Lojana and Moses took a 6-hour bicycle ride out to the village and met with the village chief to see if they could share the Gospel. The chief accepted and helped to mobilize the community. The next day, Sunday, over 100 people crammed into a small school classroom to hear Lojana preach and Moses translate into their Lotome language. That morning, over 30 people accepted Christ as their Savior! After the service, people told Lojana, “For the past two weeks we have had dreams that someone from outside came and told us about God. Thank you for coming.”
Another twist to this story is that Moses is an orphan. Both of his parents were killed in a cattle raid from members of the Didinga tribe. The Lotome and the Didinga are sworn enemies, constantly stealing cows and retaliating for past offenses. Lojana is a Didinga. As a Didinga pastor and a Lotome translator stood side by side in the proclamation of the Gospel, they told the people, “Who we were in the past and what we become through Christ are entirely different.” Only through Christ’s death on the cross can enemies become brothers and orphans become children with a rightful inheritance to God’s immense riches.
As Ali and I heard this amazing report from Lojana, our hearts were overwhelmed with joy. Our immediate desire to return to Ikotos was tempered by this wonderful reality: the church in Ikotos is doing just fine without us. God is about the business of redeeming people from South Sudan and growing His church. At the same time, He is redeeming us, strengthening us, and growing us in our spiritual maturity and dependence on Him. God has led us back to the States for a strategic and meaningful ministry in the Edge program and to grow and learn. Rejoice with us and praise God for this incredible news from Lojana!