By Christiane Fox (missionary in South Sudan)
I've been writing about the unpredictable nature of South Sudan for the past 4 years. While her political waters quake and foam in one corner, everyone just waits to see how far the ripples will extend. Will it reach our corner?
For almost four years South Sudan has been in the midst of a civil war. There are times when things actually taper off and there aren't any reports of fighting or clashes for weeks on end. In what is now known as Northern Upper Nile State, the rolling turbulent waters of South Sudan have affected our missionary team at Doro only by extension. We've carried on, seizing the time we are granted, all the while with subconscious radar running ready to alert us to more imminent issues if they were to ever threaten. The insecurity we experienced in December 2016 when our team had to be evacuated, was relatively small scale and really only a local issue. Of course, nothing is ever quite that simple here. There were potential ties to the bigger storm, but for all intents and purposes, it was small and local. The issue hasn't gone completely away, but because of other circumstances, it has been almost glazed over. People have moved on.
However, the far away storm has begun to threaten us. The Mabaan County government is in a land dispute with those at the state level who are expressing plans to take a chunk of land on the far west side of Mabaan. This has been in the works since last November, but only recently has this development been of direct concern to us. I wish I could describe to you how tricky this is to navigate. In some ways it's quite simple because this is exactly the sort of thing that can smolder for a long time, possibly never erupting, or it could all of a sudden spark and the fire spread quickly. There isn't enough information to ever make a real prediction. So everyone simply waits.
But how do we as a team of Gospel ministers weigh what might be 'wise' humanly speaking with what is important in light of eternity? How do we navigate the potential worst case scenarios that are truly grim against the fertile ground we are seeing among the Muslim tribes who are thirsty and longing to hear about Jesus and for a fledgling church who are just beginning to catch a vision for these neighbours?
To me, it feels like I'm standing on the shoreline, seeing what looks to be a large wave way off in the distance. I know that it's not the same size as the other waves, but I also know that the distance and the horizon can distort reality as well. As moments pass I know that the tide is bringing that wave closer ... is it as big as I'm imagining? Am I seriously looking at a tsunami forming? If that's what it is, then I should get out of here! But if it isn't and it's just a big wave, running feels foolish, even wasteful. I know it's getting closer, I know what it could be, but I also know that the energy of the water is a mystery and suddenly, just as easily, the power in that big wave could suddenly disappear. The human side of me senses impending doom nearly every day, but other truths exist at the same time. My God is sovereign. He is wholly trustworthy. My life is but a vapour. My existence is to love Him. The things on this earth happening around me aren't actually big things when I ponder eternity. Everything in this life serves eternity- either as a tool of the King or a tool of the enemy. We who know Christ already know the ending. We just don't know the details in between here and there. But for each one of us, our lives serve eternity, whether we know it or not.
These days, for me, life in Doro is an active battle of the mind and of the heart. My eyes tear up as I remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians where he talks about beating his body into submission and making it his slave so as to remain obedient. This is where I am at. It's an active boxing match between my natures - my earthly one that I default to so easily, and my graceenhanced-He's-still-working-on-me spiritual one.
These are hard and exhausting days, but also days that even in the midst of them I can feel their value. Like a hot crude metal, being heated to remove impurities, I can sense some days, what the Lord is bringing about in my life. I know that if I am granted many many more days in my future, I will look back on these days as truly precious - the days that I actively engage in the battle. And therein lies the rub. For each one of us the battle looks different and He takes us through various ones throughout the course of our life. Sometimes building up our strength slowly and gradually increasing the heat. But sometimes it seems like He lands people right into the biggest fire early on. Our God is a mystery. But the truth is, it's so very easy to not engage with the battle and so very easy to feel like we don't have the energy to try and combat the enemy's schemes with the truth of Scripture. It's so much easier to not force yourself to lean into Christ's victory and chose to find rest there. It's so much easier to see just what is around us and emphasize the importance of now, rather than humble ourselves to think of the big picture and acknowledge that our lives really only have meaning by what lives on in eternity. But the purest gold or anything of value isn't spontaneously produced without heat.