Remember, We Are Never Alone

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As the conflict continues in South Sudan and almost 200,000 people are displaced from their homes, today I remember a journey to the front lines of conflict in 2011.  Please remember with me. And pray.

TURALEI, SOUTH SUDAN :: June 25, 2011

We arrived Awiel on Saturday morning prepared to set out immediately for the border with Abyei.  A small dusty blink of a town home to the tens of thousands fleeing the destruction of their worlds was our destination.  In the middle of trying to arrange transport and purchase fuel, word comes that marauding militias from northern areas had pillaged the area two nights in a row.  We could not proceed.    We decided the next morning we would rise before the sun, take off at first light and return by sun down.  It was a 5 hour journey over barely there roads one way.

The next morning, we shook sleep from our eyes before light peeked over the horizon.   We purchased two huge grain sacks filled with warm fresh bread and off we set.  Villages of Wonyjok, Malual Bai, Akon, Gogrial, and then Wunrok pass by as we drove through landscapes dotted with palm trees where cattle shared the road.

We stopped for a security report at the WFP base in Wunrok.  All was calm in the day the report comes.  On we go.  Nearing the border with the north, we approached Turalei.  Temporary shelters lined the road and filled the open spaces.  We pulled into the dusty center of the market and I flagged down a UN vehicle with two very bewildered westerners and an Asian driver.

Concern crossed their faces.  “You aren’t planning to stay the night?” they worriedly asked.  “What organization are you with? It is very unstable here.”  I was passed a card to call in emergency.  They obviously were not planning on staying long.

We find out that thousands of refugees fled just that morning deeper into the bush to escape the threat of attacks.  We wound our way through some grass mat huts in a field until we happened on a family under a mango tree.  Joy filled my heart at being there despite the real safety risks.  I really have never done tame well.

undermango-2Mama Lina (in the green with her arm around me) came up and enveloped me her arms.  Her eyes glistening.  Her children laughing.  Sitting on a grass mat, the only thing left from their former home in Abyei, they opened their hearts and stories to us.  You would think they were simply having a picnic.  I was undone by their welcome.

They narrated their last weeks.  Bombs started to fall and militias with guns blazing came in setting fire to all in their path.  The story was being repeated again.  The tragedy again.  The ethnic cleansing of a region violently engulfing the people as their world exploded all around them and they ran.  For hours they ran.  Not knowing if children were safe or loved ones were alive.  Running for their very lives with nothing.

These were somehow the lucky ones.  They did not become separated in the chaos.  I will never forget this mama gazing deep into my heart, moist eyes shining and she who ran from bombs living with her children under a mango tree with no protection from marauding militias, this one, SHE grabbed me close and held me long.

She leaned low and whispered His faithfulness.  He will care for you.  Don’t worry about your leg.  He will never leave you.  He will always be there.  Remember, we are never alone.

I choked back tears.  I seriously wanted to pull up a grass mat under the next mango tree and become their neighbor.  I will never forget how Jesus looked at me through Mama Lina’s eyes.  I am stunned again today at the generosity, the compassion and the riches of those we call poor. I left part of my heart under their tree. I still long for the day I can go back and find it.  It has been an honor to walk with my South Sudanese brothers and sisters and call their land home for seven years.  They having nothing, have everything that matters. I am still learning from that.

Read about how the base I started in Yei just gave 90% of their supplies to serve refugees fleeing the present day conflict to their north. It is a real life glimpse into what revival really looks like, what radical trust means and what living in God’s love is all about.  It is such joy to watch them continue to flourish and grow.

Would you like to be a part of the miracle that is unfolding in Yei?  Here’s how you can sow into what God is doing.  Thank you so much for standing with those I love in prayer and for your continued generosity toward the peoples of South Sudan.

Star of Wonder

via The Guardian as shared by Lauren Frey

I still remember the dusty square crammed full of children lined up by school and class.  Sun beating hot overhead, red earth breathing a pent-up sigh. The day prayed for for some 50 years.  A generation just barely seeing a glimmer of peace on their horizon.  A new nation rising from the ashes of the cruelty of war. And I, the pale-skinned, one-legged woman from the west who found her home on this battle weary patch of earth was there to celebrate in their midst. Seven years I called this land home and so much of my heart still does.

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2011, Freedom Square, Yei: Independence Celebration

I stood there watching the military sit proud and all the organizations and schools, groups and even groups that wanted to be groups amassed in a great banner waving crowd.  And it hit me.  I was standing right in the middle of the answer to my prayers.  As a teenager years before I once saw the picture of world map with the boundary lines of nations changing before my eyes as I prayed and I boldly declared, “I want to be there to see that happen.  I want to be there one day to see a nation be born.”

For five years I had walked with my Southern Sudanese family through unrest and struggle and sickness and miracles and the beauty of a wholly abandoned faith that had no plan B.  I staked a claim in that red dusty ground right there with them, honored to be able to join hands and heart with my precious friends to start a home for some of their most vulnerable little lives.  And then the moment came with much celebration and great joy, a new baby nation arrived and it seemed the world stopped holding its breath. For a short while at least.

My sweet children learning their new national anthem to join the ceremony.  Their voices ringing clear filled with promise for all that lie ahead.  They sang with conviction and held high their new flag, their own flag… with a golden star shining bright.

Oh God!
We praise and glorify you
For your grace on South Sudan
Land of great abundance
Uphold us united in peace and harmony

Oh motherland!
We rise raising flag with the guiding star
And sing songs of freedom with joy
For justice, liberty and prosperity
Shall forevermore reign…

{Republic of South Sudan, National Anthem excerpt}

And their star stitched in fabric reminds me of another star that heralded another birth.  The time when heaven kissed earth and the Creator of all was born a helpless baby.  And He alone can bring peace to this storm of tribes and angry generational division.  He alone can be Peace for South Sudan.  Peace only truly exists when He reigns in our hearts as the Prince of Peace.

ssudan-2I remember that day SO very well, my children and our school dressed in their crisp uniforms carrying a banner of dreams.  Yes Jesus, we want to teach a generation to dream.  To dream bigger than their nation’s history, to dream beyond the confines of ethnicity, to honor their identity while dreaming Your dreams for their land.

_71885758_01_ethnic_groups_464I saw this map of major ethnic groups today and I could hear my children singing a prayer that started on their faces before Jesus and then later was heard all over the region on the radio.  Children from many tribes crying out together for the healing of the ethnic divisions, healing of the painful memories and violent shadows of  the past. A prayer sung by the ones who will shape the future and who are growing together in a family where God’s Love is stronger than anything.

I pray tonight a world away that songs of deliverance will echo through out a land I love so much and bring freedom in the hearts of its many peoples.  Listen to hope rise in the voices of my children.  Join with us and pray for healing and that the star will guide all involved home to the One Who laid aside His power to be born a baby so He could save His people from everything that kept us apart from Him.

Beled Sudani
by Kat Maples & the children of Iris South Sudan, Yei Children’s Village.

Muhaba ta Yeshua ma be kalasu. (Jesus’ love will not end)
Niina be asuma koray ta faraha. (We will listen to cries of joy)
Niina be koray; niina biga farahan. (We will cry out and be joyful)
Rabuna b’ilaju beled ta niina (The Lord will heal our land!)

Beled Sudani, Rabuna b’ilaju inta (Sudan land, the Lord will heal you!)
Beled Junubi, Rabuna b’ilaju inta (South land, the Lord will heal you!)

Niina koray le inta Rabuna (We cry to you, Lord)
Niina koray le inta Yeshua (We cry to you, Jesus)
Niina koray le inta Allah (We cry to you, God)
Niina koray le inta Baba (We cry to you, Father)

Niina nadi, inta asuma (We call, You hear)
Niina nadi, inta ja (We call, You come)
Niina nadi, niina koray (We call, we cry out)
Inta afi, inta ilaju (You forgive, You heal)

When “Peace On Earth” Is More Than a Christmas Card

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Photo courtesy of Carolyn Figlioli, Iris South Sudan

She has grown so much, standing there reaching tall to touch the stars and the star with them.  This little one who came a bundle of giggles and nestled herself right into my heart the first 6 years of her life.  Now seven and still wielding victorious joy, she has stretched out long and lean, with a smile that can still light the dark and my heart all at the same time.  I may live thousands of miles away now and be in a new season of pioneering back in the West but these children will always have my heart.  The more we give away, the more truly find we have in this upside-down, inside-out Kingdom.  And I gave my heart away there only to find it came back to me, with all of my children and the peoples of this newest nation forever living within it.

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Photo from the UNMISS compound, Juba South Sudan.

This week 20,000 war beleaguered souls, mostly women and children, crushed their way through the gates at the UNMISS compound in Juba to escape an alleged coup attempt that rapidly escalated into ethnic fighting.  Tonight it is threatening to swallow whole any thin facade of peace there was on this battle worn soil.  I have stood right there, in the middle of that photo.  It makes all the difference once standing on this patch of earth. I know these buildings, these gates, this red, red ground.

These faces all have names. Bol, Dut, Victor, Mary, Susan and I am sure a plethora of Johns.  These tall noble people have weathered so much for so long.  And now this.  Violence has been simmering and the nation a powder-keg waiting for one misplaced spark.  So the fighting is not entirely unexpected.  But it is still serious.  Deeply serious.  In any other season of my life, I would have been on a plane there yesterday.  {And truthfully, a big part of me wishes I was.}

For so many I love so deeply a world away “peace on earth” isn’t just a nice greeting we dust off to use in Christmas cards.  For them, “peace on earth” is everything.  And lasting peace can only come on earth as the Prince of peace reigns in our hearts.  So would you, this Christmas season, join me in praying for my family in Yei, South Sudan?  And if God might lead you, they need every bit of support possible right now. {Things were already tight, but the shadow of potential violence makes normal expenses multiply exponentially- especially with borders being closed.  I happen to know they are some of the best soil out there to sow into.}  You can GIVE HERE.

Here are some of the most balanced links I have found to current articles covering the escalation in violence, in case you’d like some more details.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to either answer them or point you in an appropriate direction.  Thank you for standing with me as I stand with them in every way I can, as this new season allows.  It means more than I can say.

when you hit the wall

{Re-Blogged from 03/13/2012… because we all need reminding of how much we are loved… so in case you missed the first telling or needed to hear it again too.)

There are days when I just plain need rescuing.

Tonight the wind blows slightly cooler and high towers of purple storm clouds roll in from the distant horizon.  It has been an ordinary day of too much to do before lunch and it being too hot afterwards to do much at all.

I step outside to do my evening round of greetings and hugs.  Walking across to our neighborhood of white children’s houses with aqua trim a stone’s throw from my gate, I am greeted by an all out melee. I turn to see what the excitement is about just in time to watch a small feathered projectile fly headlong into the side of the nearest house.  My own brood rushes to gather its stunned little body and bring the spoils of their find to me.

Miniature nearsighted kamakazi finches had been flying into the walls. I don’t know what is a worse fate.  To hit a cement wall full bore or to be “rescued” by some of my children who are still learning kindness to animals is a virtue worth pursuing.  Some of my older daughters take my cue and stop the younger ones from having their way, the bewildered birds twice rescued.

I motion my elated flock over and rescue one of their finds, cupping it gentle in my hand.  Totally free to fly, but held safely until she had mustered the strength to try again. Some days when I hit the wall, I just need to be cupped gentle until I recover.

For ten minutes, maybe more, she sits motionless in my hand as one by one carefully monitored little fingers stroke her head, soft and kind.  How far simple kindness can go when you have crash landed after your best efforts.  Sometimes it is not the super spiritual we need most.  Sometimes we just need someone to offer to hold our fragile state with gentleness, speak softly and offer a cup of tea along with a listening ear.  I am so grateful for the friends in my life who handle my fragile days with care… and my bad hair days with grace, ruffled feathers all included therein.

My new companion just rests in my palm, even as I can just rest safely in His, leaning hard against where my very name is etched in love.  Suddenly she turns, springs forth, spreading her wings and soars without hesitation smack into another wall.  Hard she falls stunned to the ground.  I walk over, pick her up again and in a moment she finally flies far away from such dangerous places that have audacious walls and curious children.

I know that that feels like.  To miss the wall and fly straight into it.  Be rescued.  Draw up the courage to try again only to fly into another one.

But there is such good news when we miss the obvious and hit the wall, on the days we need rescuing even from ourselves, the times we are fragile and vulnerable and need to be cupped with care.  HE is there waiting.  Not a sparrow or a nearsighted finch or one of us falls to the ground without Him there ready, watching, tender, kind.  It is this love, this grace that teaches us how to truly fly free.

forgive me if I’m nostalgic

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It never ceases to amaze me how a little light can chase so much darkness away.

I sat in my little apartment in Florida this morning having coffee with one of our Iris First Coast core team who is making the same trek I made to Mozambique seven years ago. I can’t help tonight but remember God’s extravagant goodness poured out along Pemba’s turquoise ocean shores and red dirt paths.  And be unspeakably grateful.

I could never have imagined then what the journey these last seven years have held, and it is only just beginning.  It is a little sobering to think the babies I held and rocked in South Sudan are now talkative elementary school children more than halfway to becoming teenagers.  Children why do you have to grow SO fast?  And the seven year olds, well what a difference seven years makes.

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Almost seven years ago this young man was much shorter than his adoptive very fair mama he chased down when she left where he was staying.

It is one thing to receive from and participate in a move of God’s Spirit as it happens around you in a corporate atmosphere charged with revival.  Please do hear me.  I will go anywhere God is moving because I am always ravenously hungry for more of Who He is.  But it is very difficult to know what has really become a part of you until you step beyond that amazing corporate atmosphere.  For me, Mozambique was about being radically encountered by Jesus.  But I had to leave Mozambique and go to South Sudan to find out the depths of what God accomplished on the inside of me.

It is extrememly difficult to know what you really have woven deep into your spirit, the expression of God’s moving, of His glory which you carry until you are sent out and step beyond the supercharged corporate atmosphere.  We never know what we truly carry until we move beyond the corporate experience out into seeing how God expresses Himself in and through our journeys each and every day. 

I was clueless as to what I carried from previous seasons until about three years into pioneering in South Sudan.  And now four years beyond that I still only know glimpses, snippets.  But I know more now than I did 7 years ago.  Most importantly of all, I know more how much I need Jesus, how much if heaven doesn’t come through I don’t stand a chance.  Our family in South Sudan only stands as strong as we kneel.

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I had such a wonderful time seeing my sweet children.  And while this trip was less of a leisurely visit, oh how I rejoice to even have a few hours with some of those dearest to my heart.  And God’s extravagant grace.  I can’t even begin to tell you how divinely orchestrated this trip was, down to hours of God’s perfect timing.  Thank you for praying.

Jesus reminded me of something this last weekend as we kicked off our first Night of Worship and the Arts with our Iris First Coast family and friends here in Jacksonville.  Sometimes we only really understand the visions and promises He gives us after they begin to happen.  And we can say “this is that- Oh I get it!”

On my way initially from Mozambique to South Sudan I stopped over in South Africa to pray in 2006 and had a profound encounter with Jesus.  In this experience, Jesus put a very dark African baby in one arm and a fair-skinned, none to ethnically distinct baby in the other.  At the time I thought He was referencing South and North Sudan.  But as worship rose right here in FL, not very differently from the dust and prayers rising like incense from our family in Yei- both raw and untamed.  I realized He was speaking of something even greater than I could then see.  A base here in FL and a base in South Sudan, but one family moving in step as one to the rhythm of the heartbeat of the Lamb.

This June marks a season of completion and one of totally new beginnings as we pick up and steward the story of God’s glory filling the earth both in Yei South Sudan as well as here in Florida with greater wisdom than ever, with a love that is utterly fearless, a gentleness that is fiercely bold, with a commitment to God’s character and truth that refuses to waver and with vision for the next season overflowing with the promises of heaven.

The road remains more unpaved than ever.  And the invitation remains the same.  A shared journey deeper into the heart of God.  Where the smallest flame of His light makes even deepest darkness flee before its shining.

P.S.  If you would like to find out more about what God is doing in South Sudan… stay tuned.  I have some exciting things coming your way very shortly.  Please keep Iris South Sudan in prayer.  The Yei base especially has been in a very tumultuous season of transition, but God is doing amazing things even though it has been a difficult part of the journey.  We need prayer for miraculous provision on many fronts.  And we stand rejoicing in God’s incredible goodness!