Geoffrey was an unexpected friend. I was visiting a church in Tika zone, a newer and more undeveloped zone in Rhino Camp. He was sitting with several men and women on the church’s benches; row after row of smooth tree branches held about a foot off the ground. They were talking beneath the shade of the church’s thatch roof. We sat and talked for a while, learning how the church was doing and playing with the crowd of children that swarm to us when we visit Tika.
Geoffrey, we learned, was an official in Tika and a leader in the church. He began telling us about challenges Tika has been facing recently. One issue he stressed was a lack of water. “The lack of water is a big problem.” Recently the water sources had been dry for three days. Two days before our visit the water had started to flow again but remained very low. These days it’s normal to wait over 4 hours to fill a jerry can (a large yellow plastic container used to transport water). In fact, driving to the church that day we’d passed a borehole (a water source) with more than 30 jerry cans lined up, all waiting for water. Geoffrey explained that those jerry cans sat there overnight so they could keep their place in the line. You could see worry for his people etched on his face. After discussing the challenges in Tika, Geoffrey began telling us about his life…
He grew up in Pajok, a small village in South Sudan, near the border of Uganda. But, now most of his clan is scattered amongst various refugee camps. At 14 years old, he joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army as a chaplain. For 18 years, Geoffrey faithfully served the military: “That’s where I was serving God’s people among the soldiers.” He said it was very hard to be a chaplain, “You hold a Bible. Others are holding rifle.” But he spoke of the opportunities it gave him to preach. Before every military operation, he was given time to preach the gospel; he said God used him to win many souls to the Lord.
His life took an unexpected turn in 2017. He was having kidney problems and was granted travel to Uganda for medical care. He traveled to the hospital along with his wife. When the treatment was finished his wife asked if they could go visit her parents in one of the refugee settlements. They found transportation to Rhino Camp but had no idea where her parents lived. By now, Geoffrey had been gone longer than his authorized leave, so while he tried to decide what to do, his wife went to visit her father in another settlement. She then traveled back to South Sudan, but she didn’t tell Geoffrey. One day, he received a phone call from the police in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. He was told not to return or there would be trouble. He learned his wife had returned to marry another man, and that man didn’t want to see Geoffrey alive or in the country. Now, 2 years later, I witnessed the pain caused by her betrayal –– is voice tight with emotion, his eyes focused on the ground rather than us.When he learned his life would be in danger upon returning to South Sudan, Geoffrey registered as a refugee and was assigned to Tika zone. He made a decision that he was not going to stay idle while a refugee; he was going to continue serving his people. So he ran in the refugee camp’s elections and became vice-chairman of Tika zone.
As vice-chairman, Geoffrey’s responsible for all the children in Tika, especially the separated or unaccompanied children, of which there are many. He passionately spoke about his responsibility, saying, “Children should go to school. And all children should receive their food. At home, children should be bathed and have a good place to sleep.” His other responsibilities include knowing all visitors to the zone, providing information to any higher officials, such as the chairman of Rhino Camp, and being available to fulfill any other duties asked of him. It was clear he takes his position very seriously. Throughout our conversation, he would politely pause and address the needs of people who came to see him. The position of vice-chairman is part of why the water needs were heavy on his mind and why his thin shoulders seemed to hold the weight of the world.
Geoffrey had a rather unique perspective when asked why he loves South Sudan. He simply stated, "My country is very good…" He likes how easy it is to find a job in many different fields when you have a nationality certificate. “You are number one citizen in your own country…. Back home, even without documents, you can get a job because of the nationality card." Like many of his fellow Sudanese, Geoffrey desires to return to South Sudan. He can’t rejoin the army as a chaplain because he was away too long, but he hopes to continue working in religious affairs. You could see the spark of hope in his eyes as he said he wants to return and “at least continue with the ministry of the Lord.”
Geoffrey’s Prayer Requests: - Pray for the future and unity of his family. With tears in his eyes, he told us about how his family is scattered between 2 countries. His wife, who left him, and 2 of their children are in South Sudan, and 3 of his children are in Uganda living with his in-laws. He sent them there because he could not take care of them in the camp alone, but he sends any extra food and money he has, even if it is only $3.