It is two weeks since I came back from Pagak in the Machar Marshes of South Sudan but the impact has stayed with me because it was such a searing experience.
It is rare to find somewhere unconnected to the outside world. Even in South Sudan most places have a mobile phone network, WiFi connection and roads, buses and taxis. During the two weeks we were in Pagak we saw no vehicles, apart from a quad bike, used to take people to hospital in Ethiopia. One solar panel was operating out of four left when Save the children evacuated the hospital in the 2013 conflict. We had purchased a South Sudan sim card but the network does not reach the north east corner of the country – only an Ethiopian card will work. There is a well maintained airstrip, and community discipline ensures that during heavy rain the runway is crossed in one place so that it can be repaired. One Red Cross plane landed during the two weeks we were there. We saw no other planes or vehicles.
After three days my phone, which is also my books, my alarm and my photo library was useless. We were dependent on a satellite phone to relay messages to the UK. Return communications arrived in small packets, in random order. Two of the team spent an hour each day sorting fragments into sentences.
It was alarming not to be in touch with family and UK colleagues for two weeks. Reflecting back I can identify two benefits:-
- It helped us to build relationships quickly.
- We became more attuned to the natural world
After the sun set at six pm we shared supper and team devotions. The order of these depended on when the members of the Mothers’ Union ladies cooking for us had been able to fire up their portable braziers between rain storms. Then we went to bed – there was nothing else to do. We were pleased to wake before six am as the first light of dawn crept under the thatched roof. Without the stimulus of modern technology we noticed the beauty around us – striped lizards, black and white storks, black butterflies with white spots.
Pagak is an astoundingly beautiful place. Is it isolated? Yes. It took us two days to get thereby scheduled flight and light aircraft and we walked the last half mile. We make a donation to cover the cost of our air fares, including chartering a small aircraft, which is the only way to reach the area from Juba, the capital.
Pagak is an astoundingly beautiful place. Is it isolated? Yes. It took us two days to get there and we walked the last half mile because the track was washed away. Many of the 5000 defence forces personnel based there have not seen their families since the start of the conflict. They feel overlooked and ignored. The church has been looted and its leaders traumatised. The Mothers’ Union work tirelessly tp support families, look after the sick but they know they need more training.
People feel cut off from the rest of the world, but they are not. Chinese firms are negotiating for the rights to develop the Pagak oilfield.
We shared with them teaching on forgiveness, reconciliation, Christian healing and taking authority over the land they own. Their future is in their hands but it will cost time, forgiveness, and commitment. May the Lord give them hope, steadfast faith and resolution.
This blog is picking up the Five Minute Friday Linkup prompt ‘COST’
You can help train leaders in South Sudan through the Mothers Union raffle