I used to think that God guided us by opening and closing doors, but now I know sometimes God wants us to kick doors down.– Bob Goff, Love Does
A closed door (or maybe even a door slammed in your face hard enough to rattle your teeth) doesn’t necessarily mean that God doesn’t want us to go through that door.
If we had waited for the doors to open into the Nuba Mountains over the last five years, we’d still be waiting. In fact, a lot of doors have been slammed along the way. For example, our first trip in 2014 took us all the way to Yida, the sprawling refugee camp in South Sudan, which lies just south of the border with Sudan and the entryway into the Nuba Mountains. We spent a very long, hot week in Yida trying to get out of the camp and into the mountains, but the surrounding fighting prevented us from moving. It would be two more years before we made it back.
And although we have since gotten into the Nuba Mountains on four different trips, we still encounter slammed doors. On our most recent trip to the Nuba Mountains at the end of April, the first door slammed in our face while we were still in Juba getting our “routine” travel permits into Nuba from the Sudanese Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (SRRA), which is the functional governing body for the embattled Nuba Mountains. We had not had a problem at this stage in our previous three trips, but this time (after two exhausting days of travel) the official told us, “We did not know you were coming. We don’t know these people with you. You cannot go.”
Just like that: Slam!
Apparently, we were the victims of some behind-the-scenes political wrangling, and it took some more behind-the-scenes political wrangling to get our travel documents the following day.
Of course, travel documents are no good if your flight to Yida gets canceled—and it did. We lost a whole day trying to rearrange flight schedules, and finally ended up on an South Supreme Air flight with Russian pilots, only two windows, and seats that permanently reclined. But at least we were on the plane.
But not so fast. Apparently, this flight was overbooked by about fifteen people, which resulted in 15 people standing in the aisle of the plane. As I sat in my fully-reclined seat (the guy ahead of me was fully reclined as well, right into my lap), an official came on and started removing people one by one. I was convinced that at least some of our team weren’t going to make it since we had just booked the flight at the last minute. But as they forcibly removed the last of the fifteen under the threat of a riot, we were finally on our way.
Then, there was a moment when we didn’t think the plane was going to get airborne at the end of the runway. But it managed to take off, and we headed toward Yida. Another door kicked open—
—only to encounter our nemesis, (We named him Herbert), the head of camp security in Yida who has a very high opinion of himself and his authority. Herbert saw us at the airstrip, recalled a previous encounter where he tried to detain us for being “spies of Donald Trump,” and challenged our right to be there this time.
“Nobody informed me that you were coming,” Herbert said, as he confiscated our travel permits and told us to come see him the next day. He also looked at me and said, “Why are you looking at me with those sunglasses? Are you CIA?” I assured him that the sunglasses were not CIA issue, but I’m not sure he was convinced.
We had a very long and arduous drive ahead of us to make it to the Church Leadership Conference in Nuba the next day, but without the travel documents we couldn’t leave the camp. Herbert drove off with our documents, and another door slammed. It looked like we’d be stuck in Yida again. To this day, I don’t know what our guide Yassir did to get those documents back (and I’m probably better off not knowing), but we were on our way out of Yida within the hour.
Another door kicked open.
The next slamming door was a little more personal to me. After a six or seven hour drive fraught with gastrointestinal issues, I was looking forward to getting to the compound in Kauda which had been our base of operations during each of our previous trips into Nuba. The compound is not exactly a destination resort, but it does have a “squatty potty” which I was quite keen to use.
But when we arrived in Kauda at about one a.m., Yassir informed us that we would be “staying with the pastors and church leaders” at a church outside of Kauda. Translation? We would be sleeping on the ground. And there was no sign of any “facilities,” either. I was in big trouble. After waking up all of the sleeping pastors and discussing the situation for what seemed to be an interminable period, Yassir ascertained that they didn’t have room for us at the church, so we had no choice but to go to the compound. Delivered again–thank God!
I could list many more slamming doors over the last five years—canceled flights, missed flights, difficult officials, broken-down vehicles in the middle of nowhere, being stuck in the mud all night, and on and on and on—but I think you’ve got the idea. If we had waited for open doors, we’d still be waiting. But because our God loves to kick down doors, and through Him we’ve been able to accomplish so much more than we ever could’ve imagined. Through Him, we’ve delivered tons of grain and other desperately-needed supplies, brought medical healing, brought spiritual comfort and encouragement, showed the Jesus Film to thousands of people (half of them Muslim), conducted a leadership and evangelism conference for pastors and church leaders, and talked about Jesus to a “unity conference” of Christians and Muslims.
God is at work in the Nuba Mountains. It is simply our job to join Him there in His work with His people. Sometimes an open door leads to an opportunity and a closed door is a signal to stop. But sometimes God wants us to kick open some doors, or step aside so He can kick them open, so that we can do what He has called us to do. What a blessed privilege!
ATC Board President, Steve Shell has been on 17 trips with Answering the Call, including every trip into the Nuba Mountains since 2016. When he's not boarding planes with permanently-reclining seats, he is a real estate lawyer and partner in the firm his father founded over 60 years ago. A proud father of three tremendous kids, Steve also self reports that he "married way above his head" to the lovely Kyle Shell, whom he "has managed to stay married to for almost 32 years."