HomeNewsPrayer UpdatesOur God is a Wonderful God: Experiences of Driving a New Van through East Africa

Our God is a Wonderful God: Experiences of Driving a New Van through East Africa

On August 30, 2011, we departed from Yei in a van taxi and travelled to Kampala, Uganda.  This city is home to 8 million East African people and is the nearest center of commerce to South Sudan.  Our purpose in the journey was to purchase a van on behalf of the ministry for our family to use.  After two long weeks, we had completed the task and were ready to make the trip home.  This may sound simple, but as you read this account, you will see it was anything but!

At various times along the journey, the kids would break into one of the Sudanese worship songs we are learning, such as "Our God is a wonderful God...Rabuna Huwo Rabuna kweys".  This was a great reminder that He IS a wonderful God, even when we were surrounded by people who were trying to do us evil, and forces all around seemed against us actually making it back... right down to 2 miles from home.

September 15, 2011:
We were not yet out of the city, Jeff was driving, it was before 7AM, with rush hour in Kampala beginning, when the first police officer waved us down.  He informed us that we were not allowed to carry more than 3 people in our vehicle as it was in transit out of country (new information to us).  He told us to park on the other side of the road, stopping the line of traffic so we could do so.  It was next to a line of vehicles that looked like they'd been there a LONG time, right in front of the police substation.  We felt it was very likely that our journey would end right there.  Our "escort" went in with the officer with the official papers he was entrusted to carry, ensuring that the unlicensed, untaxed vehicle we were exporting actually left the country in 3 days.  Due to delays in the workshop where we had seats and a luggage rack installed, however, we were already 2 days beyond our "expiry date" for leaving, as well as the temporary insurance.  We attempted to go about proper channels to have an extension of these, but the authorities said there would be no problem, just show our receipt and explain the delay in the shop.

After several minutes, our escort returned and said that we could go, but he needed 60,000 Ugandan shillings (about $22) for the officer.  So began a trip with numerous potential stops, and many reprimands by various traffic officers that we were not supposed to carry passengers. We saw God's grace in amazing ways as several times as we approached a checkpoint, the officer would be turned away from us or occupied with another stopped vehicle.  We prayed that God would make them not see us-- and we saw Him answer that time and again.

Then we arrived at the Karuma Bridge, which spans a very turbulent area of the Victorian Nile near Murchison National Park.  The road was blocked by a crane which was extricating a truck that went off the road the day before.  We inched our way past other larger vehicles as some of the officers said we could fit through.  This, was of course, after each one informed us again of our infraction of the law!  Several times, I had to show letters explaining the purpose of our travels and the ministry which employed us-- which seemed to satisfy most that examined them.  After 15-20 minutes of different people telling yes and no, we finally squeezed through, the van leaning to the side with luggage on top.  From there, it was an uninterrupted 100 km through the park-- except for the occasional baboon on the road!

As we approached another bridge over the Nile, we knew we were facing the biggest challenge of the trip-- Pakwach, a notoriously difficult checkpoint where we must get our papers stamped and sign in with the traffic police.  I was told to expect an over 200,000 shilling fine there.  We increased our praying, and pulled into the customs lot.  Our escort and I went to the office, but nobody was there.  He saw an agent outside on his cell phone, who waved us into an empty office (which was a stick and mud tukul by the side of the road).  After a few minutes a young Ugandan man dressed in slacks and a polo shirt came in, smiling and cordial.  He asked for the papers, examined them, and asked if I was the owner and the other man the driver.

Our escort explained that I was both the owner and driver, and he the escort.  "You're driving?!"  He asked to see other papers, and I showed him the letter asking for safe passage of me and my family.  He looked out the window to see the vehicle, in which were Elizabeth, the children, and several others traveling back to Harvesters with us.  Surely, I thought, he will raise the issue of passengers, the expiry date, or another host of problems he could find about us.  "How is Sudan?" he enquired.  He wrote down a few things as he and our escort talked about the rising price of cars in Kampala. He came out to check the chassis number (the VIN), and again did not mention the fact that we had 14 people in the van.  Then he suddenly said "Okay, it's fine.  You can go now."

As we drove away, our escort said "I can't believe he didn't ask for anything!  That man is a good man, and his father is a good man.  If the agent that was on the phone when we got here was in the office, he would have asked for a big fine, over 200,000!"  I replied, "That man has a good father?  Well, we have a good heavenly Father!"

We drove another 100 meters, and were told to go into another office!  A middle aged woman sat at an old wooden desk in this tukul.  "How are you?" she said cheerfully.  "You're with EPC?" (the national church which Harvesters is under)...  She too asked if I was driving, had me present my license and passport, sign her book, and pleasantly dismissed us.  At the "petrol station," I put our last 100,000 shillings toward diesel, then we left Pakwach, amazed and relieved at the provision of our God!  We drove undisturbed over the last 100 km, and stayed the night in Arua, where we were able to exchange the last bit of US dollars into shillings, preparing for the next day of fines and fuel.

September 16:
In the morning, we left early, after a heavy rain much of the night.  The "tarmac" (paved roads) ends just after the airstrip in Arua, and our speed went from 100 km/hr to an average of 5-15 km/hr.  Sections of the road were okay, but then we got into areas where the mud was VERY slippery.  Just before a bridge, it got particularly bad, such that the large trucks had given up and stopped on the side of the road.  We stopped as well, surveyed the scene, and locked in the 4 wheel drive, shifted to low, and slowly drove around the stopped trucks.  From then on, the roads were terrible!  We bounced and slid and bottomed out numerous times.  Jeff weaved to avoid the worst of the potholes, but it was still bad.  At one point, Eva exclaimed, "I'd rather get out and walk!  I could walk faster than this anyways!"  We all concurred, but she stayed in the van.  We occasionally met a large truck or bus, requiring us to stop and move over as far as we could.  But, there were NO stops at checkpoints-- which our escort later told me was unusual.  After 4 1/2 hours of this, we finally arrived at the the town of Kaya at the border.

Here, our escort told me to prepare 30,000 shillings for three different fees/fines/bribes (not sure which, and didn't want to push the issue, as they could have made our lives even more difficult if they wanted to).  We paid and signed, and there were no more hassles.  The final customs officer was the one to actually delete the van out of the system, confirming that we took the van out of Uganda.  Our escort came up and told me that he had told him that we were having problems overheating and had therefore needed to travel at night (I'm not sure why he felt the need to lie; the truth wasn't much different than that, and his story made less sense than the truth!).  I prayed for wisdom-- I did not want to lie.  I prepared to confirm that we had "mechanical issues".  He came out, looked at the vehicle, and asked if I had a large family.  Elizabeth and the children had already left to walk across the border-- recommended to us, and they had enough of being in the van.

"Yes, 8 children here," I said.

"That's good," he said.  "You're opening a hospital in Sudan?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Okay, you can go."

Our escort then asked for bus money back, because he didn't know we would be stopping overnight, so he'd spent his bus money on lodging.  I knew this was coming, and was frustrated that his employer had not prepared for his needs, but chose to supply it.  He said "I have bad luck."  I asked him what faith he was, and he replied that he was from another religion prevalent in our area of the world, as I had gathered along the way.  "As Christians," I said, "we don't believe in luck... we believe God is in control of everything."  Was He ever that day-- in response to many of you being in prayer on our behalf.  I'm not sure if our escort was positively affected by us, but he got a healthy dose of the children singing hymns and praise songs, and witnessed our great God answer the prayers of His people.  I pray that Jesus becomes real to him.

As I drove off, the customs official ran back out, and asked what was on the luggage rack.  I explained that it was personal goods.  He was satisfied, so I drove to the actual border, where a crew of soldiers sat under a tree.  They poked and prodded at the securely tied luggage, then asked for 120,000 shillings.

"What is that for?" I asked.

"For these things...and for us."

I looked in my wallet and saw I had 130,000 shillings left, gave him what he demanded, and drove into South Sudan… with 10,000 shillings (about $3.30 US).

One would think the saga was over at this point.  We were relieved to have the van IN South Sudan!  A young, friendly pastor with the church there in the border town of Kaya met us, and directed us into the customs office.  We parked the van and left the keys with him.  In the customs office, we learned that we were supposed to have an exit stamp back at the Ugandan immigration office!  So, in the noontime sun, Elizabeth and I WALKED BACK INTO UGANDA (right past the soldiers I had just given my last bit of money to), to fill out 10 departure forms and get all 10 passports stamped!  We then returned to the South Sudan side (thankfully, no hassles in this process, although Elizabeth and I were experiencing some friction and I was not listening to her very well), and they stamped all of our passports and travel permits there.

We then, with the help of the local pastor, found THREE taxis to take us to our home in Yei, clearly stating that we lived at Harvesters, outside of Yei, in the jungle. The agreed, threw us and all our luggage in the cars and drove like the wind to Yei. When we arrived in Yei, however, Jeff and I kept trying to direct them to go towards our road, but there seemed to be some confusion. They then all stopped, got out of their drivers’ seats and had a meeting. They then marched back to Jeff and demanded that he pay them 20 pounds each to bring us the last three miles to the compound.  Jeff AND Elizabeth had had it by this point. NO MORE BRIBES. NO MORE EXTORTION. NO MORE MONEY going out for nothing. We were DONE. Our response was not the righteous anger that Jesus sometimes demonstrated; in fact, over the next day, we were both convicted that our anger did not “bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20).  We then called and had the administrator of the school and orphanage come and rescue us all and take us home.

We were SO GLAD TO BE HOME. Most of all, we are thankful to call this place HOME. Thank you to those of you who prayed that this would happen for us. It has and is....

The saga continues a little bit more…
September 19, 2011
So just as we are settling back into life on Monday morning, we suddenly get a call that our container with hospital and household goods is at the border (where the van is also)!  So within an hour, Jeff and a staff member (who helped us buy the van and who usually deals with customs at the border) are heading BACK to Kaya to attempt to clear the van.

We arrived just as they were closing the offices for the day, but they took our papers and we found rooms for the night.

September 20, 2011
After a brief breakfast of chapatti (flatbread) and coffee, we met up with the agents and began the 5-6 hour process of haggling over fees, exemptions, “unofficial” fees (no receipt given), to tax or not to tax (that IS the question, even in South Sudan)…  I wasn’t sure who to trust—so we (and many of you) were praying.  The initial price tag to get it out of customs was more than twice the amount I had with me.  We prayed for favor and for a way out.  By the end of the day, with just a few hundred South Sudanese pounds (the newest currency in the world!) left, I was actually driving our van toward home!  We climbed up the steep hill out of Kaya, weaving our way past the broken down trucks.  Only a few brief stops later, we were in Yei—at the customs office THERE!

Here, I discovered that our agent had not given us one of the needed papers.  Miraculously, they still let me proceed.  And later that evening, our agent made the 1 ½ hour drive to bring the missing document (again with a little more money from me for his taxi).

So, at the end of the day, I drove our van into our carport—an answer to the prayers of many!  The following day, with the help of someone with EPC, we obtained license plates, insurance, and registration-- all in one day-- a miracle in itself!  Thank you for joining in this struggle with us.

We have seen that the Lord provides JUST what we need, not extra, so that we keep our trust in Him, not in the things He provides.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 19:16

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