A Praise in the Middle of Chaos

Living and working in South Sudan is full of paradox.  Like Dickens’ ‘…Two Cities’ it includes the best of times and the worst of times.  The bad is obvious.  Poor country, disease is prevalent, and the rumors of violence are continuous.  The good is more fundamental.  Great people, smiling and active children, a country with high hopes for their future, and a church that is integral in almost every aspect of society.

In many ways, to work in this environment and remain healthy is to simultaneously love the people and hate the circumstances.  Love of the people is necessary.  Not only is it the first rule of leadership, but without it, nothing, and I do mean nothing, would make me stay around.  To be the sole missionary working with a foreign church is too expensive.  I miss my family, and being here has caused me to sacrifice relationships and moments that are very dear to me.  Hating the circumstance is also important, I feel.  Part of what fuels me is a disdain for the suffering of those created in God’s image.  I also don’t want to see people who were created to thrive barely get by.

I used to describe my work as trying to use the scriptures to explain how our health is integral to our faith and integral to the life of the church.  Now, I understand my task as something much more basic.  It is simply to live out Christianity more fully.  When the gospel is lived out, it impacts every aspect of our lives – health included.

The other day the Community Health Education team (Mama Rose, Medical Officer Kenyi, Driver Joseph, and me) traveled some 60 miles from Juba to the payam of Lobonok.  We went there to speak to the pregnant women, and see what they were planning for their deliveries.  After speaking to the women, we were told that one of the pregnant women had a husband who was sick.  We looked at the man and soon decided he needed to go to the hospital.  He looked pretty bad, about two days from death (I’m able to estimate this from of my experience as a VA chaplain).  He was coughing heavily.  When he sat up, his face grimaced and he grabbed his sides.  My uncle, who once had tuberculosis, recently described to me what it felt like to have TB.  When I saw the man, it seemed like my uncle’s words were coming to life right before me.

After much persuasion and a promise to take care of him, we found ourselves traveling back to Juba with an additional passenger.  The man’s sickness brought a stench vile enough to cause Mama Rose to vomit 15 minutes into the journey.  In such a situation, there is nothing much to do but look out the window and try to take in as much fresh air as possible.

As I looked out the window, I began admiring the area’s natural beauty.  I’d been to Lobonok before, but this was the first time I noticed the area’s magnificence.  I don’t know if it was because I was less comfortable when I first came (anxiety always clouds what’s beautiful), or if it was because the tall grass was now burned.  Either way, after about 5 minutes of staring out the window in awe of my surroundings, it began to dawn on me that my work as a minister requires me to ride along a bumpy dirt road in the heart of Africa.  What a gift!  I had to just praise God in my heart for the moment.  Then I looked behind me and saw sitting beside Kenyi an extremely sick man, a man struggling to keep his head up and whose mouth we covered because we feared his illness.  Oddly enough, I had to praise God for that too.

10 years ago when I finished my undergraduate education, I would have never imagined that I would live and work so far from home in an area so beautiful.  4 years ago when I entered Duke Divinity School, I would have never imagined that literally saving physical lives would be part of my ministry.  It’s difficult to explain the gratification that came from seeing two beautiful sites at once – God’s creation in the mountains of South Sudan, and God’s creation in a man headed for healing.  That day in the car, I shared with the Community Health Education team what a blessing it was for me to work with them in South Sudan, to touch all the lives that we touch.  They think every American is rich and easily travels, so it’s hard for them to appreciate the significance.  But in that moment, I understood I was living a rare and unexpected blessing, nothing less than a miracle.  In reality, I’m the grandson of a sharecropper.  Like most middle-income African-Americans, I’m one generation from poverty.

When I came home, I found a website that allowed me to upload pictures and send one of my grandmothers a postcard.  I did that as an attempt to share the journey and blessing with her.  I remember attending the 2001 National Society of Black Engineers Annual National Conference in Indianapolis, IN.  At the closing gala the keynote speaker said, “You are the product of unceasing prayer!”  I believed him them, but last week those words never rang truer.  I know the blessings I receive are not of my virtue.  In ministry, the gift you receive is always greater than the gift you are.  I received a great gift that day, a tremendous blessing of aesthetic pleasure, and joy and satisfaction in work.  It was more than I had ever imagined, and still somehow I know the best is yet to come.

“‘What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’
the things God has prepared for those who love him—”  1 Cor 2:9

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19 Responses to A Praise in the Middle of Chaos

  1. Terry Farish says:

    Hello Darriel, I discovered your blog and have just started following it. You write about South Sudan in a vivid way. I’m following the blog because my novel that opens in Juba during the civil war has just been published and I continue to read narratives about the new country. The novel is called THE GOOB BRAIDER. I have many friends now who have resettled their families in Maine from Juba. Thank you for the stories you are sending. I loved your post about jumping and felt the joy of jumping with people and how that must be its own language.
    Terry Farish

  2. Gann Herman says:

    It gladdens my heart to read of all that you are learning and giving in your work there, Darriel. May God continue to keep you in good health and to use you as a living witness of God’s love for all people. gann

  3. Brandon Moore says:

    This was an amazing account Darriel! I’m so happy that you are fulfilling God’s purpose for your life and carrying the Word of God to even the remote areas of the world. May God continue to cover and protect you as serve Him. We are looking forward to your return. So proud of you man!!

  4. Kenyi Edward says:

    Yea Rev this is the way of life, its life we leave; i can not blame anyone for it. But i hope one day, one time everything will change and people will leave the life that every human being deserves. It was critical moment seated near the man. Although the man had bad smell my worry was us becoming infected, i felt the pain the man was going through and i knew this was risky upon my health and you guys health too but in all the man needed to be saved so i was in conflicting loyalty. But all working upon saving someones life is the best gift you can give. Its not the money, or the cars you give but that critical moment when God will reward you upon. But thank you for the courageous decision you made because we saved a life at the end.

  5. Ellen Daniels-Howell says:

    Beautifully written, Darriel!

  6. Gary Brown says:

    What an awesome testimony. Thanks for the reminder, “In ministry, the gift you receive is always greater than the gift you are.” We’re praying for you, brother!

  7. Patrice R. Harris says:

    Darriel, this is beautiful. May God bless you always. Mom.

  8. I fully understand the purpose of this blog and its message….but what happened to the man with the possible TB?

    • David,

      Good and fare question. Hospital care here is an entire new blog, but It was eventually confirmed that he has TB. They gave him medicine for 7 and they were going to discharge him today. They expected him to come back after 7 days and get additional medicine. They said that when they give people the full 6 month treatment, they usually end up loosing it or getting the pills mixed up. We were able to convince the nurses that because he lived very far, he needed additional medicine, at least one or two months worth. So they agreed to give it to him on Thursday. The man looked a lot better than he did at first. He’s gotten better day by day.

  9. Brandy Rutledge says:

    Hello Darriel,

    I enjoyed reading this. May God continue to bless you as serve others.

    Take Care,

  10. Hello Rev. Darriel,
    I had lost track of your blog but discovered an old email with a link. I have said it before and say it again – what a magnificent work you are doing for the Lord. I noticed several statements in this blog that shows me that you are understanding the Lord’s work (and yourself) better. I love your insight and particular the comment about “In ministry, the gift you receive is always greater than the gift you are”. The Apostle Paul put it very eloquently when he spoke of the “treasure in earthen vessels”. Ministry when done correctly (that is for the Lord) is definitely a labor of love. Some days you will hate it and wonder why so much sacrifice is required … but the Lord always shows you a ray of light through people, circumstance … or looking out of the car window at what He has created.
    I am quite proud of you …and in awe of what the Lord is doing to you and through you!

  11. Kendra Mellerson says:

    Hey Darriel,
    I was unable to stop by and talk to you after last Sunday’s service to let you know how AWESOME your sermon was. God is doing such wonderful things in your life and you are such an inspiration. Your blog is incredible!
    It is so exciting to see the marvelous things that you are doing in South Sudan.
    May God continue to keep and bless you.
    CBC is so proud of you 🙂
    Kendra Mellerson

    • Kendra, thank you so much for ALL your kind words. I haven’t visited this site in a while, so I’m just getting your comment. I’m humbled by what you’ve written. Your support, and the support of everyone from CBC, is such a blessing, and a huge enabler. THANK YOU AGAIN!!!!

  12. Teresa Green says:

    Whenever I think of my life’s blessings I think of the verse…”But I had a praying grandmother”.

  13. Sylvia D says:

    Hey Mr H.
    I only read this now. It brings back so many memories. I remember how you said it was a challenge for you being so far from home, but Jesus’ love compels us to do things that are ‘out there’ like moving to South Sudan. And how beautiful the time and fellowship there ne. I remember the people, the faces, the hearts, and to know that God loves each and every one with an eternal love that is so much bigger than we can imagine. Can’t help but want to love them too, and give them all a hug 🙂 Wouldn’t even trade being vomitted on by the little girl at the back of the SPLA truck. Remember going to Kabo? With the little kids playing, you and mama Rose were teaching, praying with everyone… God did a beautiful work, not just for the people, but in my heart too as I know He did in yours as you served. Keep walking in His love, as His Spirit leads you. Peace.

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