In the year and a half that I have been serving with ATC, I have had the privilege of traveling to the Nuba Mountains of Sudan three times. This place and these people have a special spot in my heart. At eight years old, I told my parents that I wanted to go to Africa and care for all the children there. Fifteen years later that dream was fulfilled.
My first trip was in March of 2019. Our team of five from the States hopped on a plane, met up with our Man of Peace and we embarked on a two-part adventure. First we came alongside the local church to hold an Interfaith Leadership Conference in an area where we are now constructing a secondary school. This development and location is significant as it is a point of unity and reconciliation, strategically placed between two villages that were previously conflicting. The second portion of our trip was intended for an emergency food relief delivery to an extremely marginalized and oppressed area of the Nuba Mountains. This region had been blockaded by their own government in a forced starvation campaign for four years. In that time span, over 10,000 men, women and children died.
After a few suspenseful days of coordinating logistics, awaiting the arrival of a man called the guide, and an over thirty-hour journey through the thick of the bush with substantial security accompaniment, we broke through the frontlines. The level of celebration was indescribable. Thousands poured out of their huts and fields, running and cheering alongside our caravan. No one in the community had been notified of our coming for security purposes. I have never seen joy as pure and profound as that moment -- and the people didn’t even know that we came with food in tow.
Simply to know they were not forgotten brought them hope.
When Answering the Call delivers relief of any kind, we entrust the local leadership we have partnered with to conduct a just distribution. In this area of the Nuba Mountains, the leaders organize their community according to the greatest needs. Here they placed the youngest children first in line to receive relief in the form of BP-5 Emergency Biscuits. We held three major distributions in different pockets of this area. Often the distribution occurred wherever school was held as it is typically a common space in the village. During the time of distribution, we have the opportunity to share the message of Jesus with the children and all the community members present.
The furthest place that we visited deeply impacted me. There was only one small hut for school tucked close to the mountainside as that provided them some protection during the bombing campaign. The little ones with their swollen tummies, dull eyes, dusty faces, and tattered strips of clothing gathered to sing us a greeting. A Commander who was with us -- a kind and gentle, but strong man with piercing blue eyes that told stories when he smiled -- interrupted them with gentle firmness. We later learned that their song sang praises to Omar Bashir, the very man that had called for their “extermination.” These people had been forcibly isolated for so long that they weren’t aware of what was going on in the world around them. This Commander and other leaders that were with us greeted the children and encouraged them in their pursuit of education. As these men spoke in Arabic, the school teacher translated the mother-tongue language to the students.
Meanwhile I stood. Looking at these maybe fifty children squished into this straw structure. Holding a tight grip on their allotted three BP-5 biscuits that might start their recovery from malnutrition. And I realized that they still might not make it. And that if they do, there will still be struggles that they face. And that there are still hundreds of thousands of children in need in Nuba. And unfathomably more across Sudan, and South Sudan, and the whole world. And I suddenly felt very small and very helpless. This weight weakened me in the knees, bringing me to sit down next to these little ones.
Oswald Chambers said, "In missionary work the great danger is that God’s call will be replaced by the needs of the people, to the point that human sympathy for those needs will absolutely overwhelm the meaning of being sent by Jesus. The needs are so enormous, and the conditions so difficult, that every power of the mind falters and fails. We tend to forget that the one great reason underneath all missionary work is not primarily the elevation of the people, their education, nor their needs, but is first and foremost the command of Jesus Christ— 'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…' (Matthew 28:19)."
These children had never seen a kawaja (white person) before, so five at one time was a lot for them to process. Understandably, they were frightened by us. When I sat down, they collectively scooted away from me. Still I sat. Praying desperate prayers over them. And I began to remember that God is a Good Father. He is Justice. He is the God Who Sees. He is the Savior. These children are His. They are important to Him, known by Him, beloved to Him. Tears welled in my eyes and I realized there was nothing better I could do for them than be exactly where I was. Speaking their names to the King of the Universe.
It was time for someone from our team to bring greetings and share a word of love and encouragement. I was brought back into reality upon hearing my name called once, and then again, as David, our Director, invited me to come speak to them on behalf of the team. If you have ever traveled with David, you know this is a classic move. Always be ready, right? I’m not sure what I said, but afterwards I sat back down in the same spot. The children didn’t scoot away this time, but stared. And one little girl turned and timidly extended one of her potentially life-saving biscuits to me. I did not accept, but uttered whatever thank you I could in my state of shock. I am moved to this day by that moment. You may have recently seen ATC sharing about our upcoming trip to the Nuba Mountains that we have been referring to as March of the Rescued. For those who aren’t familiar, in just 10 days our Field Coordinator, Jake Fuller, will be leading a small team to Nuba with the mission of coming alongside the community bring 50 children out of two extremely marginalized areas where the toll of the war is still tremendously evident. The children will be escorted out of these conflict areas by volunteer leaders into a safe location where they will receive food, medical attention, clothing, education, the love of Jesus and the opportunity for a new life.
What you may not know, is that this is really a second phase of a mission that we didn’t largely publicize. The first rescue operation occurred after the trip last March. The leaders selected fifty children, security was assigned to them and community members volunteered to care for them along the journey and upon reaching their destination. Eleven days on foot with empty tummies across enemy lines. The odds were not in their favor.
But I think that might be our God’s favorite odds. In December we had the privilege of visiting these fifty children in their new secure location. I couldn’t believe those were the same kids we saw just eight months prior. The miraculous transformation of those little lives is something only He is capable of doing. Martin Luther said, “We are caterpillars in a ring of fire. Our only hope is a rescue from above.” For these little brothers and sisters, and in our own lives, I believe this could not be more true.
March of the Rescued is significant for many reasons, but perhaps most amazing to me is that it’s something only God can accomplish -- and we get to join Him.
One thing I love about ATC is that it is relentless. And what’s beautiful is that Answering the Call isn’t just the people whose names you see. It’s all of us -- David, Joy, Jake, every man and woman of peace in the field, everyone who has served with us on staff previously, everyone who has traveled with us, everyone who follows, everyone who prays, everyone who has given. Answering the Call is all of us.
Thank you for being part of Answering the Call. Only together can we continue to reach people in difficult-to-reach places.
Stay tuned as Jake and the team prepare to depart on March 8 and continue to join us in prayer!
NICOLE ARNEY, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
At eight years old, Nicole informed her parents that when she grew up, she would live in the bush of Africa. Today, Nicole lives in Virginia's capitol, yet her heart and mind remain internationally-focused. While working toward her degree in social work at James Madison University, Nicole concentrated on genocide and refugee advocacy, working closely with refugees being resettled locally. With her administrative gifting and missional mindset, Nicole tackles ATC’s day-to-day tasks with color-coded precision. We mean it—her handwriting could give Times New Roman a run for its money!