, editor of Mission Quarterly
I’d heard that South Sudan could be a dangerous place. But little did I expect to be detained by armed men wearing camouflage.
Arriving in the capital, Juba, a few weeks ago, I met up with Earley Simon, the Adventist Mission video producer for “Mission Spotlight” and the television program “Mission 360.”
We spent several days interviewing people from across South Sudan, one of the world’s youngest countries after gaining independence from Sudan in 2011. We listened to amazing stories of how God had intervened in their lives in the restive African country. Because of safety concerns, all interviews were conducted on the enclosed mission compound of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s South Sudan Attached Territory, part of the East-Central Africa Division.
On our final day, Earley and I asked if we could go on a brief tour of Juba so we could take some pictures. Arrangements were made for a driver and a local pastor to accompany us. Dr. Fesaha Tsegaye, the Health Ministries director for the East-Central Africa Division, also went with us.
We were told that we could take pictures discreetly, using only our cell phones rather than our larger professional cameras.
Driving around Juba, we noticed barricades and tall fences with razor wire surrounding various government buildings. United Nations vehicles seemed to be parked everywhere.
Earley and I continued snapping pictures as we drove across the only bridge in Juba. Arriving on the other side of the Nile River, our driver went a little farther and then turned around to head back to the Adventist compound.
This time as we crossed the Nile, a soldier was waiting for us on the other side. He ordered us to turn back and again cross the bridge, where several soldiers armed with assault rifles met us. We were told to get out of the car and walk down a steep embankment to a two-room makeshift building.
Leading us into an inner room, the soldiers motioned for us to sit down as they seized our cell phones. Then they began yelling at our South Sudanese hosts in Arabic. Not knowing what was going on, Earley and I prayed silently.
Aware that kidnappings happen, I wondered whether that was where we were headed. “Tell my family that I love them” were the first words that came to mind.
As some of the soldiers continued interrogating our South Sudanese hosts, the leader turned to Earley and me and started asking questions: “Who are you? Why are you here? Why are you taking pictures? Are you journalists? Where are your credentials?”
We pulled out our missionary credentials issued by the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church. Throwing them on his desk, the man yelled: “These are totally meaningless! Give me your passports.”
We handed him our passports. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed soldiers bringing two assault rifles into the next room. “Are they going to shoot us?” I wondered.
Immediately I sent up a quick prayer, “Lord, I’m Yours.”
Instantly I felt God’s peace completely surrounding me and I knew without a doubt that no matter what happened — whether I lived or died — everything was going to be all right. I had perfect peace.
But then a voice seemed to whisper to me, “You need to pray with the leader.”
“OK, Lord, but show me how,” I silently answered.
The voice continued. “If you don’t share the truth with him, who will?”
“That’s true!” I thought. “What chance does this man have of hearing the truth as it is in Jesus if I don’t share it with him?”
I looked around. What a miserable situation this man and his soldiers were in — lives full of fighting, killing, uncertainty. What hope would they have if I didn’t share?
“OK, Lord, show me how.”
I remembered that in my bag I always carried small gifts and some GLOW tracts. Quickly and discreetly I counted out five Adventist Mission pens and grabbed a GLOW tract about end-time events titled, “When Freedom Dies.”
Then miraculously, the soldiers handed our phones back to us. As I stood up to receive my phone, I set the five pens on the leader’s desk.
“Oh, this is good,” he said.
Giving him the GLOW tract, I said, “You’re going to want to read this because it will tell you what’s going to happen in the very near future.”
He accepted the tract.
Then I asked, “May I pray with you?”
“Yes,” he responded.
“What’s your name?”
So I prayed for Wilson. I prayed for his family, for his soldiers and their families, and for their country, that peace would come.
After the prayer, tears glistened in Wilson’s eyes as he shook my hand. We were free to go.
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25, NKJV).
Gina Wahlen is editor of Mission Quarterly, a publication of the Office of Adventist Mission at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Featuring stories from around the world, Mission Quarterly has been continuously published since 1912.