South Sudan Goes Sustainable
By Mommy Emily
She rises, alone. Dusts the tattered mat she’s slept on.
The sun rises too, like a blood orange in a blue bowl. It’s hot in this desert of Nimule, South Sudan.
Somewhere a rooster crows, like it’s clearing its throat. Minutes later, people are gathering wood and making fires and filling up jerry cans.
She doesn’t hear it, crouched in her hut. She just hears the soldiers. Can still see the glint of their machetes. Her Baba and Umi, not moving. She bites on her hand as she did then, so they wouldn’t hear her, hiding behind the curtain. She was 7, then; now she’s 11, but she’s barely moved. The war is over but the bad men are everywhere, wanting to hurt her. She does everything quietly; no one knows her, except her neighbors who sometimes slip her bowls of rice.
Until the day he comes. They call him Pastor Francis. He is tall with a shiny face and big white teeth and kind eyes, and he ducks low, enters her tiny hut. She cowers against the wall until he looks at her. She can see he’s been crying.
“I’m not going to hurt you, friend,” he says. His voice is as soft as the night sky. “I’m here to help. What’s your name?”
He’s crouched on the dirt floor.
What’s her name? She tries to remember. It’s been so long. She recalls Umi — sees her gentle smile, her arms outstretched — “Rebecca, sweetheart, come eat” — and now it’s her turn to cry.
It’s been so long.
“Rebecca,” she says. “My name is Rebecca.”
Friends, this is a true story. Rebecca is a young girl whom Pastor Francis Irra recently adopted. For four years she was alone. Her parents were murdered in the Civil War that erupted two years after South Sudan became independent of Sudan. The war lasted from 2013 to 2018, and in 2020 the rival leaders struck a unity deal and formed a coalition government.
Her story isn’t unique. Rebecca is just one of many children who were abandoned when 400,000 men and women were killed and two million displaced — some mothers losing their children when fleeing rebels, finding themselves in separate refugee camps. Children as young as four dealing with atrocities too horrific for words, forced to scrounge like animals, thousands of them — alone save for the hand of God. And He sent “angels” to help them — people like Pastor Francis.
In the spring of 2018, God led us to fast and pray for these angels of South Sudan, these men and women who were caring for the lost and the abandoned. And the very day the 40-day fast ended I was in Uganda, heading home. In the airport, I ran into an old team leader — who’d led our bloggers’ trip to Uganda four years earlier — and he told me about the urgent needs of people in the South Sudan camps. His words?
“Please help them.”
So we sent three men from our Uganda team — Apostle Enock, Apostle Baptist, and Pastor Emmy — to the South Sudan refugee camps on a faith mission. They were sent to find a pastor for The Lulu Tree to partner with, and as they returned, trip after trip, heeding the Spirit and searching the camps, they found him — Pastor Taban Felix Santos.
A man with a banana smile and a heart just as wide, a man who was born under an actual Lulu tree when his mother gave birth to him in the forest while gathering sticks, a man who came to know the Lord when he was crossing the Nile river in 1990 at age 17, the army hard at his heels — “beating people, raping women, taking their properties” — and he had no way to cross the river. But then, miraculously, the Lord somehow made a kind-of footbridge across the Nile; Santos describes it as God pressing all of these leaves together, to make a path across, and they walked on water. The soldiers were following, but upon reaching the river Nile, God removed that footbridge — the leaves dissolved — and the soldiers had no way to cross.
“That was the time I began to have feelings about God,” he says. “I knew God could protect His people.”
Never have you been hugged ‘til you’ve been hugged by Pastor Santos. His arms stretch wide, ‘round all the orphans and widows of the refugee camps, around all the single mothers and the child-headed homes, and long before we came, this father was known for uniting tribes, for schooling vulnerable children, for training up the single mothers and widows and fathers in tailoring and hairdressing. Never have you seen a more profound love than you see in Pastor Santos, a love forged when God took a young boy fleeing evil, made a way for him to cross the River Nile, led him directly to a church where he was taught the Word of God, and raised him up to be the most influential and humble pastor in the South Sudan refugee camps.
Upon traveling to the camps, summer of 2019, I was privileged to meet Pastor Santos, who then introduced me to his brother in Christ, Pastor Francis. Francis works directly across the border in South Sudan, caring for teen mothers and widows on a church compound in Nimule, where Pastor Santos is originally from. Together as we prayed, we believed God to make a way for us to cross the river Nile again, to work with churches on the other side.
And as He always does when He gives the word, God made a way. Over the past two years, since January of 2019, He’s provided for oxen and plows, funds to build primary and secondary schools, vehicles for the national directors, a home and bathrooms and school fees for children in child-headed homes. He’s provided curriculum for training up pastors, and meals to feed them as they train. He’s provided roofs and walls and benches and chairs for reconstructing houses and churches. He’s given funds for microloan programs for mothers and pastors, for widows and children to fellowship together and be fed together, for goats and for sewing machines and threshing machines, for generators and printers and laptops. He’s expanded the hairdressing and tailoring courses for vulnerable parents. He’s provided materials for brick-laying materials to employ the youth, for carpentry lessons for boys from child-headed homes, funds for Pastor Santos and Francis to start up their own pharmacies to sustain their families, and 40 cows for each pastor to help them sustain their ministries.
What a God we serve! He gives the vision, and He gives the provision. And now, because Lulu South Sudan is nearing sustainability, we are able to help these pastors reach out to other pastors in villages across South Sudan, to help with providing income-generating projects which will allow those pastors to further their ministries.
And not only this, but this very month, Pastor Francis and Apostle Baptist (the latter being one of the three who led us to South Sudan two years ago) — are setting out for Kenya on another faith mission, to find a pastor there for us to partner with.
And so, we go as the Lord leads and provides. Like walking on water, we step across impossible situations, made possible by the One True God. To Him be glory, honor, and power forever and ever, amen.
To read other stories about God’s work in South Sudan:
My trip to Nimule, 2019: https://thelulutree.com/blog/2020/02/24/the-long-winding-roads-of-africa-emilys-trip-part-5/
Pastor Santos’ heart for Unity:
Pastor Santos and His Story: