It was Monday afternoon, December 16th. Laura and I made our way into town to grab a few things from the market before going to the airstrip to meet the plane that was coming to take us back to Kampala for our first Kampala Assignment. The plane carried a man from an organization based in another African country that builds radio studios. He was coming to survey our current radio building in hopes of expanding it in the future.
We had planned for him and the pilot to stay the night before we all flew out early the next day. After making a few purchases, we walked the rest of the way through town toward the airstrip. After passing the commissioner’s office and the education building, we saw a small crowd of people standing under a tree near the Nasir milk bar and livestock auction pin.
We wondered what was going on. As we approached, we realized that one of the street evangelists was preaching. He has been known to talk a lot, so Laura and I hoped to sneak by without him noticing us. Unfortunately, walking by unnoticed somewhere in Nasir is just about impossible (as there are probably less than 20 non-African people in the town). He called out to us, beckoning us to come join the crowd listening to him. We kindly informed him that we were on the way to the airstrip to meet a plane.
As we walked away, he informed us that there was a conflict in Juba. This was the first news of the conflict that we had received. We just wrote it off thinking he was making it up or that it was some small skirmish since we hadn’t heard anything until now.
When we got to the airstrip, we met up with Jared and Blaise and waited for the plane. Immediately after the plane landed and the pilot and passenger disembarked, a few airstrip security guards raced out. They began to question the men, as to who they were and why they had landed. We soon learned that there really was fighting in Juba, and the airspace over South Sudan had been closed. I began to worry that we wouldn’t be able to fly out the next day.
The rest of the day was a blur as we all hustled to get everything prepared to leave. Early Tuesday morning, we said our "see-you-laters" to our friends and compound employees and made our way to the airstrip. Soon, our wheels went up--we were on our way.
Originally, we had planned to refuel in Juba. Luckily, Bor had fuel, so we went there to refuel instead. As we landed in Bor, a few South Sudanese men along with a UN officer came to meet the plane. They were slightly more cautious than usual as we disembarked, checking all of our paper work and asking questions. As we waited for the plane to get refueled, I realized that there really was no one else flying, as the airport was pretty empty.
Just as we were getting ready to board the plane, a vehicle drove up and two Americans got out. It was a man and woman, asking if there were any available seats on our plane. They were scheduled to leave a few days later for the holidays. But with the current situation, if they didn’t get out with us, they were uncertain of when the next flight would be. Amazingly, we had two extra seats.
Soon, we discovered they were from Texas AND they were Aggies! They both worked for A&M’s Borlog Institute, stationed in Bor teaching classes at the University. It turns out that they also knew one of my good friends who had spent some time in South Africa. SMALL WORLD! After another stop in Arua, Uganda, we made it to Kampala safely.
A few days later, we learned that the fighting in Juba had spread to other parts of the country. Bor, the same place where we had refueled, experienced some fighting as well, as the rebel troops had taken the city.
God has been extremely gracious and caring to our team. We were originally scheduled to fly out December 20th, but the date got moved to December 17th. If we had stuck to the original plan, we would have been in South Sudan as the fighting escalated. His hand is all over our team in more ways than I can even express.
For he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Psalm 103: 14-19