Our hearts have been impressed and etched so much these last few weeks, with the love of Jesus and his heart for His people. I have been pondering His heart for us in a much deeper way as I pray for South Sudan and the people of my heart. I have been in a season of consistent fasting and seeking His face as I have become so hungry to know Him more and His heart so full of love and mercy. Our team, sixteen of us, left before dawn on Monday morning to head north to a Refugee Camp on the northern border of Uganda, where over 12,000 of our Yei family and friends live. The camp is very large, almost 40,000 people, but the part we went to was newly inhabited, just in the last two months, by our Yei people. It is an eight hour drive from where we are now currently staying.
We arrived in the late afternoon and were embraced amidst tears by our friends and neighbors who were staying there, throwing ourselves into each others arms. Our hearts were undone with compassion and love for these precious souls who had journeyed so far amidst such hardship, only to arrive to no water, no medical care, no shade trees, and lots of rocky ground and scorpions and intense heat at times. Even though we were in a refugee camp, these people had made it as much a home as they could, making huts out of UN tarps, with grass roofs and some houses even made of grass thatch. Water is extremely hard to find under the earth and I was told that one borehole pump served all 12,000 people. Water had to be trucked in to supplement what they had and they would go two and three days sometimes with no one bringing water. They are on half food rations because the UN has no money to buy more. They are ten miles from any medical facility and we were told that every single day one or two children die, every single day, for lack of simple medicine that is readily available all over the country.
We immediately set out to visit people in their homes, to hear their stories and their hearts, to pray with them, cry with them, hold them and to encourage them in the Lord. Everywhere we went we saw much hopelessness, people who were so tired of their burdens and who had just resigned themselves to being dumped here in this desolate place. They were heartbroken because many didn’t know where their loved ones were, as many were separated in the running from danger. They told stories of carrying all they could on their heads only to have everything taken from them along the way by those who would take advantage of their plight. To protect all of us I can’t even say who these bandits were. We were told stories of people being chased from their very homes at the end of a machete to escape death at the hands of terrorists who didn’t even know or care what side they were on.
These people have lost everything. One man told us that this is the third time in his life that he has had to run to Uganda from war and he is just tired, just plain tired, and can’t keep doing this. We prayed with so many and we were so moved by the faith of the people, they had such faith in God. They told us time and time again that it was only God who brought them out and is keeping them still. The faith of these people surpasses that of anyone I know. They have nothing and yet they have everything. The next day when we arrived at the church where we would spend the next two days, the people worshipped God with all their hearts and they lifted their hands in thanksgiving, yet they have nothing. They praised a God who is so much bigger than all of this. They have given the throne of their hearts to God, for Him to be seated there. I am undone even as I write this and continuously moved to know my God more and draw ever closer to His heart, like these people who know He is the only hope.
For the next two days we talked about persevering faith, hope and love, about forgiveness, about new hearts and about peace. When I say we talked about this, it wasn’t us preaching to them. They knew they needed to do this and we just flowed into it with them. We were on our knees in the dirt repenting of our anger at the people who had done this to us, asking for forgiveness and choosing to love our tormentors in the face of having nothing. A spirit of forgiveness swept through the camp and as we visited more houses, the local pastors were telling the people how important it was to forgive. We have all been feeling that God is going to do something new in this part of the camp and that forgiveness and peace will be the norm so that God can take us back into our country with this spirit of forgiveness and peace and love for all. At night we sat under the stars and we interceded and we worshipped for these people, our people, most especially for water to come and for children to not die anymore.
The day that we left the camp, one of our children who went with us told us that he heard this was the first night that had passed that no child had died in the camp. Our great and loving God has heard the cry of His people. Our last night we had a crusade at the local football pitch and hundreds came to watch the Jesus Film. We began by preaching about the power of light and darkness and us choosing which one to side with, to agree with. At that very moment the sound system started to break down. It was a brand new system, first time used this weekend! Then a huge dust storm came right at us, literally right at us. It was blowing down our movie screen, blowing dirt everywhere. Right across the road three grass thatched houses caught on fire. All of this happened while preaching that God is mightier than all powers of darkness. We kept preaching, we kept putting up our movie screen. Our lungs full of dust we preached on. We were able to watch the film and another missionary preached afterwards. Hundreds gave or regave their lives to the Lord. Jesus continues to have the victory where we place our hope in Him in all things.
The name of Jesus was lifted high in this camp day after day and Him only. Right before our very eyes we saw people getting their hope back. People began to smile. I neglected to mention that we were told by the camp chief that we are the only whites who have been allowed in the camp thus far. Others have been turned away. When we asked why, we were told that Iris is known in Yei and our reputation for doing good and doing what is right is known, and that we were not there for a any other reason but simply because we love them and they are family. There were seven of us from the Iris South Sudan team and all of us commented that we wanted to live there in the camp because it felt like home. We cried when we said goodbye because it felt like we were leaving home again. Our hearts are so pierced with love for our people, a love that only Jesus can bring.
We are truly seeking God as to how we can help our people who are in such need. We ask that you join us in prayer for God to send water from the earth, even from a rock, and to heal all of the children so they don’t need a doctor and to even rain manna from heaven so that they can be fed. These people are not asking for handouts, they are asking for God to help them. They want God to be their source and their help. My faith has reached an even higher level of desperation to know Him more as I am spurred on by theirs. A faith that says, “God if You don’t come then we will not be able to stand. It can only be You O Lord who is our very present help.”