A lot of you remember the Mini-Sessions we photographed back in early December. Thirty shoots in two days. We shot everything from families to engaged couples to dogs to Christmas cards to toddlers. It was insane and freezing and amazing. We were stunned that everyone showed up and everyone was excited for our trip. You see, that’s why we did the whole thing: to raise money for a trip to South Sudan. Now we believe with our whole heart that we’re supposed to go, that it’s in the cards, that it’s Divine Destiny, or whatever you want to call it. In our minds, God wants us to go. And I’ll tell you how in three ways:
1. THE MONEY
I can’t believe how fast God raised the money. He gave us the gift of such generous people. I remember looking at our webpage that shows how much we had raised after all the mini-sessions: 82% raised in two days. We also received an email that day of someone pledging $1000 on top of the 82%, which obviously put us over our mark. Cole and I took it as a serious confirmation from the Lord that He wanted us to go, amidst a myriad of other really clear confirmations.
2. THE LOCATION
Cole went to South Sudan a few years ago. He was hired by Water Harvest International to photograph the digging of fresh water wells in a village of (what was originally) Sudan called Kajo-Keji. He lived there four months. The town is still there, still chugging along. But the country it belongs to is now South Sudan, as most of you have seen in the news that South Sudan broke off from Sudan to be its own country.
Cole always wanted me to experience this place, this little village, along with its sweet church folk and compound leaders and drill crew. We always planned to return to Africa some day and see those people again. We prayed for God to be clear on when he wanted us to go, and we got on with life in America. And then I was scrolling through our church’s website, just to stay updated on what was going on.
And I saw it.
“Short term missions trip to South Sudan.” I remember reading it and thinking, “Wait, isn’t this the country Cole visited? I’ll ask him about it.” And I did. He told me that we should look into it, but not to get our hopes up: South Sudan is the size of Texas and Oklahoma put together. The chances of our church going to the same tiny village that Cole visited was about the same chance at throwing a dart into Texas and it landing in the same place twice. But we looked into it anyway, just to see. I bet you already know where this is going. We saw the bright, shiny words leaping right off the webpage: “Kajo-Keji.”
“What?!” Cole was flabbergasted.
Now you could be somewhat amazed and just keep reading at this point. But there’s more. When we investigated further into where exactly we’d be staying, Cole discovered our lodging would be in the compound NEXT DOOR to the compound he lived in back in 2011. It meant we’d be a stone’s-throw away from the people he loved so dearly.
3. THE TIMING
Now remember, our trip is through The Summit Church. It had no connection to Water Harvest International (WHI,) who had hired Cole those years prior. But once we realized we’d be so close WHI’s compound while we were there, Cole couldn’t help but contact them. They were just delighted, and they told us something very interesting: the week we were planning on going is one of the only times during the year that the church, the drill crew, the compound leaders, and the villagers will all be there simultaneously without a ton to do. Their other seasons are super busy, but this little two-week stint in January would be the perfect time for me to meet everyone there. Seriously?! So they asked us to stay with them for the second week of our trip and do some photo-work of the fresh water wells again. And of course we said yes! The timing for us to be there was perfect according to WHI.
But the timing wasn’t just strangely perfect for them. It was for us, too. When we pulled out our calendar, the dates of the trip were nestled into the only two-weeks of the year that we didn’t have a photo shoot on the books. We were booked solid before the trip, and we we had weddings scheduled after it too. And it wasn’t just work. When we looked at that two-week blip, there was nothing on our schedule. No family trips, no events, no hang out sessions with friends, nothing. Somehow God, unbeknownst to us, planned our entire schedule to have nothing on the books for two solid weeks in January. So the timing was clearly confirmed on our end just as much as it was the church’s and WHI’s.
There are other things that have been sweet little reminders from the Lord that He wants us to go invest in South Sudan, but those three are the clearest examples we can give you. And all the while we wondered why. Tons of people go on mission trips to bless other people without this clear of confirmation. They just go. Sometimes the money is hard and sometimes the location doesn’t matter. So, you see, we kept wondering why. “Why God? Why are you making this so clear, so obvious, so unbelievable each step of the way? We’re not used to this. There must be a reason you want us to be this sure.”
And there was.
I’ll go into that with my next post; however, suffice it to say, God doesn’t make things crystal clear unless He knows doubts are about to rise and reasons for not going are about to flood in. He wanted us steady and He wanted us sure, so He gave us these clear marks on the road to keep running toward South Sudan, not away from it.
Listen, God tells us His mission regarding the world is a good mission, not a convenient one. Cole and I aren’t going because it’s convenient. We’re going because we believe God when He says he wants to use ordinary people to change the world. And He says there comes a point when you move beyond seeing or talking about the needs of the world, and you just go meet one of them. You finally do something about it.
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother or sister in need, yet closes his heart against him, how can the love of God be in that person? Little children, let us not love in our words or talk, but in our deeds and in truth.”
1 John 3:17-18
My next post will be helping you see that although we’re sure, we’re not stupid. We know the conflict going on over there, and we’re keeping up with the news. We are not running into harm’s way just to do it. The region we will be in is a safe one, and I’ll list off a bunch of different ways for you to feel better about where we will be and what our precautions are. And trust me, if bad things spread to Kajo-Keji, the organization itself will cancel the trip. We’re planning. And we’re taking necessary steps to stay safe and stay in contact with the U.S. Embassy.
Till the next post, I hope this entry helps you see why we feel so committed to our trip. The plan of God in the Bible to redeem the world isn’t easy. It drains your money. It gets you sick. It makes you jet-lagged. It creates exhaustion. It breaks your heart while you do it. It did all those things to Jesus when He walked this earth. But, listen, it’s a good plan. And it’s rewarding, and it’s redemptive, and it wakes your soul up, and it helps you get to know God a little more, and it’s the right thing to do. And if it’s worth it to Him to do those sorts of things, it’s worth it to us. We love Him. And He loves these people. So we love these people.
**Photos are from Cole’s last trip to S. Sudan, as seen in the “Missions” category on the Blest Photography site.