Dear friends and family,
Greetings from South Sudan!
First of all, please forgive this severely belated update. I’m sure many of you can agree that the first months of marriage is a time of major transition. Heap on that the process of integrating two drastically different backgrounds into our newly founded family and, for my part, transitioning into a new culture (family, church, community, country) and this new stage of life becomes even more intense! With all of that to navigate over the last six months, we continue to live happily in the Lord’s many graces. Let me give you a brief overview of what we’ve been up to!
Our wedding was held successfully on 25 November 2017 in our church, Cornerstone, here in Nimule. My father, sister Olivia, brother-in-law Gabe, and two neices, Audia and Petra, were present. William Levi founder and overseer of Operation Nehemiah Missions and his family (Hannah and their seven children) were also in attendance. Isaac and I were so blessed to be married here in the presence of the community among whom we live and work each day.
Exactly one month after our wedding we celebrated Christmas in our home at ONMI’s Yerushalayim Mission Center on Gordon Mountain, surrounded by many friends and family. It was a true South Sudanese feast made successful by the skilled cooking help of my new sister-in-law Viola and cousin Grace. They are a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen and wonderful company! It was very different from the New England Christmases I know and love, but no less blessed or full of the wonder of Christ’s birth.
The new year found us in church with our candles lit. January brought the grain harvest at the Nile Beth Israel Farmland. Sorghum, millet, and sesame (sim sim). It was beautiful to watch skilled hands beating and winnowing the grain, separating the grain from the chaff, and gathering it all together in sacks. How proud we were of or farm staff as we stood beside the fruit of the year’s labor!
On 19 February we received our first rainfall in four solid months. I rejoiced with a heart full of gladness that day for two reasons. Firstly, I had made it through the hardest days of the dry season, and secondly, the rainy season would soon begin in earnest and the world would become green again.
On the day the first tile was laid in our house (the end of February) we received a visitor who has since become a permanent resident; our little dog Howl. He is destined one day to become a renowned hunter and a credit to his master.
On 31 March we were blessed to witness the baptism of our dear Viola along with several other brothers and sisters from Cornerstone in the waters of the Nile River. After the sacrament was complete we were in a holiday mood and most of us took a playful dip in the cool water with the newly baptized. Safely out of reach of the Nile’s swift current and resident crocodiles, of course!
The following day was Easter Sunday which we celebrated with our church family. After the service everyone was given a packet of biscuits (African cookies) lovingly made by church ladies, as is their custom on special Sundays.
In April we were blessed beyond measure to have the septic tank for our house successfully installed. I watched the process with interest seeing the promise of future bathroom fixtures to come in the laying of every brick. April is also mango season in South Sudan. Our trees in the farm put forth a banner crop! It’s a joy to see all the mango trees, young and old, big and small, literally dripping with fruit. Our community had such a happy month of feasting!
Early in May we received some very special visitors. William Levi and his two eldest children, Abijah and Nachemyah, came for a pastoral and administrative mission trip to oversee the work on the ground in all three of Operation Nehemiah’s mission compounds within the country. They were with us for two glorious weeks bearing gifts, news of home, lot’s of laughter, and family love. Their visit so encouraged, strengthened, and motivated us to persevere in our work with the ministry. They also brought a guest with them who specializes in field medicine. He was able to utilize Operation Nehemiah’s mobile clinic and gave some much needed medical aid and diagnostic advice in some of the outlying villages who are not within easy reach of clinics and pharmacies.
And here we are in June already! With the rainy season now well underway. Plowing and planting in the ministry farmland have begun in earnest. We see maize, okra, sweet potatoes, etc. alreading popping up and growing to maturity. The harvesting of lulu fruit is also going on. Lulu is a tree fruit which contains a hard brown acorn-size seed in its center that can be pressed to produce a fragrant oil for cooking and flavoring.
In addition to preparing the land in the ministry farmland, our tractors are busy plowing in the surrounding communities to encourage and facilitate food production all around us. One example is the small community of Pageri. It probably doesn’t exceed 50-60 in its current population, all but derserted until the military sent a group of wounded veterans to live there last year. Pageri lies (by road) between Operation Nehemiah’s headquarters in Borongole and Opari, a village that O.N. has been working with for some time. In going back and forth we became friendly with the people of Pageri and have just recently done some plowing for them. They were so happy for the help that they told us they wanted us to bring them the gospel as well! Last Sunday Isaac and I went there to pray with them. Isaac shared the gospel messege to a group of fifty including eight children. Over half of the adults present came forward in belief to receive salvation. What a brilliant ray of light! We were full of joy and thanksgiving.
This month another project has only just begun. A big one! The construction of a new broadcasting facility for NTC (Nehemiah Trumpet Call 97.3 FM) Radio! The radio has been operating for the last two years in a building here on the mountain that was not originally designed for that purpose. The building does not have adequate ventilation or facilities and the radio equipment and our broadcasters have suffered as a result. They are being blessed for their perseverance now and we couldn’t be more excited! The funds were raised on the ministry’s behalf by a gospel radio corporation in the US.
Now that you’ve been updated somewhat on our activities of the last six months, let me describe to you what our role is here and what we do.
As Assistant Country Director for Operation Nehemiah, Isaac is involved in the administration of the ministry and articulating its vision and mission in the country. Part of his role includes overseeing the agricultural department. The purpose of agriculture in the ministry is twofold. First we as a ministry want to do all we can to help ensure food security, second we want to pioneer the way and inspire others to do the same; working the land to provide for their families and benefit their community. This also provides employment and a training ground for the small remnant of skilled farmers raised in this land who can pass their knowledge to the next generation before it is lost. Isaac works closely with these men (our farmers) ensuring that they have everything they need to run the farm from plowing and planting through to a successful harvest at the end of the season. This requires a lot of planning and budgeting, facilitating the maintenance of equipment, attending to the human needs of the farmers, and much more.
Isaac is also a leader in our local church, Cornerstone. He and the other leaders work together to manage and maintain the work of the church and shepherd the little flock, our church family.
I play a supporting role in the ministry of Operation Nehemiah and our family. My focus is centered in our home. I do my best to create a comfortable home for my husband and a welcoming atmosphere for visitors. I hope that one day our home will be known as a haven of rest and refreshing. As much as I am able I also love to be by Isaac’s side out in the field. It’s always an adventure making the trek out to the farm and an encouragement to see all that the Lord is doing there.
I still have a lot to learn about living in South Sudanese culture. Its unique style of etiquette and hospitality are very different from my New England ways, and I often make mistakes. I still struggle to find the correct way to respond in any given situation. Thankfully my new friends are very forebearing, but I look forward to the day when it’s all second nature.
Another major undertaking for me is learning the local languages. There are sixty-four tribes in South Sudan each with its own laguage and dialects. It is said that all of them are represented here in Nimule due to displacement. It would be an impossible task to try to learn all of them! Fortunately, there are two overarching languages, English and Arabic, and most people can speak at least one of them. Thus my first language goal is to grasp Arabic. I’ve made very slow progress in six months, but I am lately beginning to pick up speed. The language of the tribal land in which we live is Ma’di. I know a handful of useful greetings and phrases, but Ma’di is a more complex language than Arabic. I continue to pick up little bits here and there, but I won’t devote myself fully to it until I have a working knowledge of Arabic under my belt.
My third area of focus is integrating myself and building relationships within our community, particularly my new family and church. I am so blessed to have been so lovingly embraced and nurtured by my mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and so many of the godly, motherly women in our church despite big language barriers with most of them. The love of Christ is truly universal and transcends all barriers. Herein lies the motivation for my continued language studies that is closest to my heart. I am longing to grow closer with these women spiritually so that together we may build a foundation of mutual support and encouragement.
When we have the opportunity we love to be as involved as we can in the various meetings and studies that bring the body of Christ together throughout the week. It is so sweet to grow together in the knowledge and understanding of God and His Word. These smaller, more intimate meetings are also an excellent place for me to get to know my new brothers and sisters in the Lord on a more personal level. The leadership team at Cornerstone has also proved to be a bubbling spring of encouragement and we count them among our dearest and most trusted friends here.
All in all, here we are, doing what we can to live a quiet life, lead by example, share the love of Christ, and remain faithful to the Great Commission to which all who love the Lord have been called. I’ve attempted to give you a bit of a window into our life and show you how the Lord is working and blessing all of us here in South Sudan. The needs and challenges of this country are very great; politically, economically, and so on. Many would say South Sudan’s quest for peace and renewal is a hopeless one. We, and others who keep the flame of hope alive in their hearts, are only planting the tiniest of seeds deep in soil we know to be fertile. Many of the seed are still down there in the darkness waiting for God to bring the rain and the sun to quicken the life in them to burst through their dry husks, push up through the soil, and grow into mighty trees that will bear the fruit of transformation to feed the nation. Our seeds are the gospel of Christ, the Word of God, and the fruit of the Spirit. Pray with us that these seeds which we sow in faith will not fail.
We thank you with our whole hearts for the many prayers you have offered on our behalf and the support and encouragement of infinite value that you have bestowed upon us. We love you and hope to see you soon to share with you in person all that the Lord has done.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you. Amen.”
(2 Corinthians 13:14)
“We have so often listened to it as a soothing ending of a quiet sermon. In its true meaning it is a battle cry.”
(I. Lilias Trotter, 30 November 1908, regarding the above Scripture)
1. Pray that God will grant Isaac a spouse visa in order to meet and visit Katherine’s family and friends in the US and be granted spouse benefits with the freedom to travel between South Sudan and the US with ease.
2. Speedy progress in Katherine’s language studies.
3. God’s hand to prosper and protect the purpose and vision of Operation Nehemiah Missions and that staff and leadership will share in the unifying power of the vision of the Great Commission.
4. God’s protection on all ministry vehicles and equipment against lightning, breakdown, the effects of rough roads, and other damages so as not to hinder or slow the work of the ministry.
5. God’s provision for our house. That it will be fully complete soon. It’s very close! We are praying for finished plumbing, painting, other finishings, and eventually furnishings.
6. That the construction of the new NTC Radio broadcasting facility will progress smoothly and be completed within its budget.
7. The prospering of the Spirit’s work in the hearts of men, especially local church leaders, to proclaim the one true gospel and preach the Word in spirit and truth.
8. That the gospel will be proclaimed in churches, homes, under trees, in the streets and lanes, and over the airwaves and bring many to the knowledge of Christ and salvation.
9. Pray for a prosperous rainy season that will bring forth an abundant harvest from the ministry’s farmland and all the gardens and farms throughout South Sudan.
10. Protection against diseases like malaria and typhoid as well as injury not only for us, but for all who live in South Sudan.
11. God’s transforming power to unify, heal, and restore Biblical order in broken families and households.
12. Pray for peace in South Sudan, wisdom for our president, unity in the government, and law and order in the military. Pray that all these listed will be marked with honesty, integrity, and wisdom.
13. Pray that the Lord will give all of us the grace, fortitude, and perseverance to continue ministering to our community (Nimule, Opari, Pageri, Borongole, etc.) both physically and spiritually in such a way that honors the Lord and furthers His kingdom.
We thank you again. We miss you and we love you. Our prayers are for you as yours are for us.
In Chist’s love,
Tombe Isaac & Katherine Laurence Kenyi
19 June 2018