Here is a post written by one of our long term missionaries, Irina. It’s an amazing testimony and shows how beautifully God is moving in our children’s lives.
One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in South Sudan, and truly one of the best moments of my life, happened recently with one of our young men, “John” (name changed for privacy). He grew up in the Nuba Mountains, an area that seems to constantly be at war. In the midst of extreme poverty and conflict, John had a thirst for knowledge and a natural aptitude for leaning.
He used to sneak behind his older sister to school and stand at the back or the classroom, not having the proper attire. He remembers the school shifting into the forests or the caves, hours away, when the bombs of the 2nd Civil War were dropped on his homeland.
He came to Iris Ministries at age 16, leaving behind family and all he knew and entering a completely new culture because of his yearning for an education (note: South Sudan, mostly Christian and Black, is very different from the Arab and Muslim North). He wasn’t an orphan, like most of our kids, or a Christian, but Iris’ late Sudanese director saw God’s hand on his life and made a way for him to come to Yei. John persevered through culture shock, loneliness, and foreign-tasting food, to attend school, and met Jesus along the way. He quickly soared in high school, maintaining a place at the top of his class all 4 years.
Last year, I watched John’s face change as bombs were dropped on his beloved homeland once again. I sat with him as he cried, expressing anger and guilt for leaving Nuba, feeling like he should be there suffering with his people. I looked at him straight on and reminded him of how he came to Yei, how God had picked him out, how brilliant he was. I told him of the destiny on his life, that God brought him out so that he could one day attain a place of influence and enact change on behalf of his people. I don’t think he really cared for what I had to say in that moment, he was so heartbroken, but deep down, I believe he knew it was truth.
John completed his high school exiting exams in October. These exams are issued by the Ugandan school system because that is the curriculum used in South Sudan (South Sudan does not have its own). They’re extremely difficult, especially for South Sudanese students whose education system is so poor and not anywhere near the caliber of a Ugandan school. But both Ugandan and South Sudanese students take the same exams and are evaluated on the same level. So John studied…hard. And where others came back from the day’s testing complaining how hard that day’s test had been, John would say, “Yeah, it was fine” – confident.
John wants to work in government, so he needed to continue his education beyond high school. In East Africa, a student cannot got to university directly after high school but must complete 2 years’ study in a post-high school secondary school first. The closest secondary schools are in Uganda, none in South Sudan/ The problem was, exam scores traditionally don’t come out until March for South Sudanese students, and many of these secondary schools begin their semester end of February. (Results for Uganda students come out 1st week of February. The injustice of this is a topic for another time).
Not only this, but Ugandan schools are very competitive and most of the spots fill up with Ugandan students quickly. So if John were to get his results in time to get into a secondary school this year, he had to have done extremely well and it had to be an absolute miracle. My friend Wendy worked tirelessly to make it happen – bombarding the exam center and South Sudan Ministry of education with emails, calling everybody, visiting education offices…everything. We prayed a lot too. All the contact caught their attention because the head of the Ministry of Education, “Stephen”, emailed and assured us we would obtain results for John early. He even said he would personally travel down to Uganda to make sure this happened, if necessary.
Through many phone conversations and the absolute favor of God, we reached an agreement where John could retrieve his results in person from the South Sudan education representatives in Kampala (the capital of Uganda). Stephen specifically contacted these reps to make this arrangement on our behalf, for John. John traveled to Kampala with one of our missionaries, preparing to pick up results when they came out and visiting various schools on the faith-based assumption he’d get his results in time and perform well enough to be enrolled. We called every day to check on the status of the results, and sure enough, the day after they were officially released, John picked them up.
Wendy got a text that day and screams, shows me, I scream. And we both just screamed and jumped around for several minutes. John got one of the top grades possible on the exam, of all Ugandan and South Sudanese students collectively, and was in the top 10 for all of South Sudan!!!! It was truly one of the happiest moments of my life. Not only was John able to retrieve results a full3 weeks before ANY other Sudanese student, he got one of the top grades of ALL exam-takers that year. His grades and the entire process were nothing short of a miracle. Even the Sudanese educations reps in the office who handed John the results were ecstatic.
He proceeded to some of the schools with results in hand, catching the attention of the principals, one in particular, who, even though most of the spots in his school were already filled, could not believe a student from the South Sudanese [awful] education system could achieve an exam result like that. Noting his brilliance, the principal made a spot for John. John started school 2 weeks ago, very well on his way to being that man of influence to affect change for his people, God’s favor and love on his life.
From the mountains of Nuba, war, poverty, to a top school in Uganda, to ……who know where. Sounds like the makings of a best-seller. But better yet, the story resonates and spills over with the heart and hand of our beautiful God, for those who are unnoticed and inconsequential, living in a tiny village 95% of the world hasn’t heard of. But God sees and God chooses, calls out, brings forth…all the time. I’ve been blessed to see just one instance of it with John. And I am honored to be a part of this young man’s life and to call him my friend.
To read more from Irina, please visit her blog: