When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a missionary doctor to Africa. All through elementary, my best friend Vivian and I would dream out loud of all the things we would do to help ailing people in Africa. We were thinking of the Africa that we knew, the one with the wild animals and the beautiful savannahs. The one we thought was a country and not a continent.
Fast forward 30 years and I am neither a doctor nor a full-time missionary, but I have (finally) been to the African continent, to the marvelous country of South Sudan.
I planned for this trip for months, but it was in my heart for many years. God has a way of making each event in our lives so impeccable in His timing. This trip was the prime example.
Flying through the United States and Dubai, I finally arrived at the airport in South Sudan. I walked across the airstrip towards the Immigration offices where I presented my entry permit to the officers sitting inside the container-turned-office. I felt very isolated from everyone as I tugged at my carry-on stuck in the mud and the pellets that served as a small trail. Maybe that feeling was because I stuck out like a sore thumb: a pale-skinned woman, travelling alone, evidently not knowing where to go. A middle-aged Sudanese man with an identification tag indicated to not worry, he would watch my bag while I walked a few steps away to retrieve my passport from the officer.
As I stood in front of the officer, I was approached by a young Sudanese man measuring almost 6 feet tall. He bent over so he could reach me face to face at my 5.1 feet. He held out both his hands and asked "Priscila?". "Yes?" I replied as I gave him my hand and he shook it between both of his. "My name is James" he said, “I am with the missionaries”. My isolation disappeared into his warm and genuine smile.
That was the beginning of my journey. Meeting people left and right who were kind, respectful, caring and loving.
I hate to disappoint those who expect to hear stories of the horrors of the heat and mosquitoes. I had a wonderful experience! It drizzled as I walked off the airplane and it stormed 2 times during my 10-day stay. The weather remained in the high 80's but with plenty of bottled of water, the heat was extremely enjoyable to me (I usually suffer migraines when the heat is very high). I did not get one single mosquito bite, nor did I suffer any disease on or after my trip.
I quickly learned that South Sudan is a land of great natural wealth. The Neem tree is abundant and is the only tree (as I was told) whose leaves do not dry up in the hot summers, and therefore is also one of the only trees to give sufficient shade during that time.
The ground is fertile and will produce peanuts, legumes and roots (among other things) with the right irrigation and care.
There is water to be had, but no plumbing or sufficient wells. There is no electricity unless the property boasts a generator.
But internet and smartphones? Yes. The internet is unreliable and slow, but it works… for the most part.
I came away thinking of South Sudan as a land to be tilled. Who will invest in it?
Fundación Emmanuel, a Guatemala-based organization, has been investing in South Sudan’s children and families for over half a decade now. The positive results were visible during my visit.
The children's ICTHUS program receives over 1,000 children once a week in 4 different locations in Juba.
Every week, a small group of young people and adults gather in the Bible Institute to learn more about the Bible and the basics of the pastoral ministry: speaking in public, preaching, teaching, English language, etc.
Four churches are active in this growing and developing city that blends tribes and religions with a steadily increasing sense of peace and collaboration for their shared newborn country.
The day I left was October 29th, the day before the peace agreement celebrations were set to begin in South Sudan. The airport looked very different that day. Many heads of state from surrounding countries were expected to arrive and UN helicopters hovered over the city. We had seen mobilization of soldiers and reinforced security in different official sites and private buildings for several days. The locals voiced their doubts as to whether the opposition leader and former vice-president, Riek Machar, would actually return. But he did, and the peace agreement was signed, once again.
The most interesting fact of all during my trip, and the one thing that keeps me in awe, is how a young couple from what is a considered a developing country (Guatemala) has made the soil of South Sudan blossom and the hearts of the community heal. Backed by Fundación Emmanuel and many individual supporters in Guatemala, these intrepid missionaries arrived in South Sudan with little knowledge of English, much less of the local dialects. They were practically on their honeymoon travelling across the world to their new home. And somehow, they connected with the locals and earned their trust enough to be given South Sudanese names and to be called their brother and sister.
In the next year they will face many new challenges. Among other things, they will be joined by the second young, recently married couple coming from Honduras!
For me, the long and beautiful journey to Africa has only just begun. I intend to go back as many times as possible to support the missionaries as they develop new projects and make new strategic alliances with in-country NGO’s and international aid programs.
Be on the lookout for my upcoming posts, where you will read about one of the exciting new projects involving South Sudan handcrafts and the association of women that produce them.
If you are interested in knowing more about their ministry, please look them up on facebook as “Fundación Emmanuel Sudán del Sur”. They can also receive your donations by wire transfer or direct deposit to accounts in Guatemalan banks.