Far Reaching Ministries in South Sudan

Blank Article Template
Blank Article Template

Share This

Emerging from Decades of War—Part 2

Story and Photos by Tom Price

Far Reaching Ministries Trains Chaplains in South Sudan

Part 2 continues with details about Far Reaching Ministries’ work to physically and spiritually train military chaplains who carry—and live out—the Gospel in battle and throughout war-torn South Sudan. Click to read Part 1, which shares how Far Reaching Ministries (FRM) founder Wes Bentley’s wife, Vicky, disciples many women in South Sudan.

Template photo

Student chaplains are taught to march at the Far Reaching Ministries (FRM) compound in Nimule, South Sudan. Their housing is behind them on the left. A building to house visitors to the compound is located behind them.

One of the main missions of Far Reaching Ministries is to train chaplains spiritually and to ready them for the deprivations of war. After a year of biblical and physical training (PT), the men are prepared further by military drilling to be embedded into the South Sudanese Army. FRM’s goal is to have them better prepared for the rigors of military life and combat than the troops to which they are being assigned. Still, since the chaplain’s program began, 68 of the men have been killed.

A fragile peace swept over the embattled country in February of 2020. Eight years ago, after fighting for and winning independence from Islamic northern Sudan in 2011, the new republic descended into chaos with different warring factions vying for control. More than four million people have been displaced. Although major fighting ceased, there have still been clashes.

Template photo

Chaplains train in the compound. The statue is of a FRM chaplain carrying a Bible and a weapon, ready to minister to soldiers in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

A Lifetime of War

FRM chaplain Lino Manyol remembers Sudanese regular army units marauding into southern Sudan; killing, raping, and committing atrocities in nearby villages when he was just a young teen. His father’s cattle, their only means of survival, were confiscated by the armed soldiers. Sharia law and its harsh penalties were imposed on the southern Sudanese Christians.

Template photo

Chaplains Lino Manyol (left) and Michael Alahai (right) were driving to the South Sudanese capital city of Juba when gunfire erupted. Insurgents kidnapped five children and several women, most likely destined to become child soldiers and sex slaves. Michael and Lino, armed for the overland trip, radioed a nearby quick response team from the South Sudanese People’s Defence Force (SSPDF). The chaplains and soldiers quickly outflanked the fleeing marauders. A fierce gun battle ensued, killing the rebel kidnappers. While all of the kidnapped children and women were unharmed, a woman and child had been killed by the insurgents when the kidnapping began. Both chaplains were thankful that the Lord put them at the right place at the right time and that their combat training helped them rescue the children and women.

“When I was 12, I joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which seemed like the only way of survival at the time,” Lino remembered. “Our training was limited, and we were quickly thrust into battle against the Islamic north. They had jets and we were constantly bombed.” Newly discovered oil fields in southern Sudan had intensified the Sudanese government in Khartoum’s desire to control the southern part of the country. What ensued was an intense 22-year conflict between the Islamic central government of Khartoum and the SPLA.

Template photo

Pastor Michael Alahai of CC Cush chats with Sunday school children before church. He is also the senior chaplain of FRM.

Lino remembers the intensity of the fighting which often resulted in hand-to-hand combat. Eventually commanding a platoon of recruits, he refused to come off the battlefield despite being wounded. “The other soldiers needed to see you were ready to give up your life, as you had commanded them to do the same.” Still harboring three wounds suffered in the many battles, Lino was eager to join the chaplain corps when it began in 1999 and joined its first training class. But leadership in Far Reaching Ministries realized that their chaplains had to be as prepared to defend women and children from atrocities as they were to share the hope of the Gospel. So, they are armed and trained in combat.

“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak.” Acts 20:35a

Template photo

After a difficult day of physical training, six hour-long Bible classes and marching drills, the chaplains-in-training praise the Lord for giving them the strength to get through it all. Their day begins at 5 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. with their personal time of Bible study. The men are taught through the entire Bible in a year, verse by verse.

Intense Training & High Expectations

Wes Bentley, the founder of FRM and all its different ministries, makes it clear that the chaplains are never to fall back or retreat when a village is threatened by an attack. Rather, they are ordered to stay and fight in the hope of allowing women and children to escape. Wes added, “When the chaplains came back to our compound for rest and restoration this past year, I explained that many of them would more than likely be killed in their service to the Lord.” Wes was surprised by the reaction he received. “Instead of a somber response, there was a rousing cheer of joy from the entire group of chaplains to be considered worthy to die for Christ.” Hence, the training is tough at the compound. Drill instructors push the chaplains to their limits in a Marine Corps-style of bootcamp.

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27

Template photo

One of two drill instructors, Samuel Gozo pushes men to strive for excellence in military training. Their goal is to have the chaplains better trained than the South Sudanese army units they will join after graduation.

Drill Instructor Samuel (Sam) Gozo, from El Paso, TX, was on his third tour at the compound. He has contracted malaria four times during his deployments. “Keep your eyes forward! No one said to look that way!” Sam bellowed at the more advanced chaplains, his face inches away from their faces. Seconds later, a trainee didn’t comply quickly with an order. “Get down and give me 25 [push-ups]! Count them out!” Sam screamed as he hovered over the young man. “Count them, I said! I want to hear you count them!” The man finally complied. Another man failed to arrive for PT on time. He was commanded to run laps carrying a 10-pound weight over his head. Later, his face filled with sweat, the young man declared that he would never be late again.

Sam and his fellow drill instructor, Chris Haley, took turns teaching military drilling and marching. While the barrage of screams could be seen by some as cruel, the trainers know that the chaplains will be thankful for the chastisement when they are embedded with their military team. Sam added with a laugh when away from the men, “We are trying to introduce discipline into the lives of a very undisciplined group of young men. We are not here to be their friends, but their drill instructors.”

Template photo

Samuel shares a laugh after drilling. He understands that the men don’t appreciate the discipline now but will thank him when they graduate and are able to perform at a higher level than other military units.

When the chaplains enter army units which may have trained together for a long time, the chaplains have a hurdle of trust to overcome. Sam added, “The more the chaplains give off the aura of military protocol and competency, the sooner they will gain the respect of the men. Only then will they be able to effectively share Christ.”

While Sam and Chris know that they themselves cannot grow close to the men, both said that the chaplains have shown them what a true walk with Jesus is all about. Sam concluded, “These men have given up their lives for Christ.”

Template photo

Saturday provides time for the men to wash clothes and relax. Sundays are busy with two three-hour services, where they assist in many ways.

A chaplain’s day begins at 5 a.m. with physical training, tea and bread later, and then three classes in the morning starting at 9 a.m. After lunch, there are another three classes followed by another bout of drilling and learning how to march until dinner. Lights-out is at 10 p.m. Saturday is a day for laundry and possibly writing home or playing soccer. Sunday includes a three-hour church service at Calvary Chapel Cush, at the compound in Nimule. The church is filled with hundreds of local residents every Sunday. Many of the chaplains assist with the service.

Template photo

At a nearby farm, chaplains inspect a “candidate” for a special Saturday night feast of beef.

Template photo

Joseph (center) and the ladies cook the butchered meat. They cook for over 100 people over coal-driven ovens. Beans and posha, a white corn maize, are the daily staple.

Biblical Training Course

The Biblical Training Course for the beginning chaplains is either taught by a volunteer Calvary Chapel pastor or a FRM chaplain. Each year, the men are taken through the entire Bible, line upon line, chapter by chapter, five days each week.

Template photo

Pastor Billy Rutledge of Hatteras Island Christian Fellowship, NC, teaches. He was asked to wear the chaplain’s uniform since he is a U.S. Coast Guard chaplain at home.

Billy Rutledge, pastor of Hatteras Island Christian Fellowship, NC, a CC affiliate, and Tom Price, editor of Calvary Chapel Magazine, taught classes for two weeks in February 2020, just before the pandemic swept around the world. Billy taught the Book of Ephesians and Tom taught the first 33 chapters of the Psalms. For Tom, it was a step of faith. “I am used to going to places to take still photos for the magazine and video for our online presence. But to teach three classes a day was a real stretch for me.” Eighteen of the men were already pastors who had given up a year of their lives to learn the Bible better. Both Billy and Tom began to lose their voices by the third class because of the nearby noise. “While it was the hardest thing I have recently done,” Tom recalled, “it was certainly the most fulfilling since it was unto the Lord.”

Template photo

After Billy taught his last session, the chaplains in his class prayed for his healing as he battles a deadly cancer.

Billy admitted that it was one of the hardest teaching experiences he had ever encountered. “These were classrooms without walls. The drill instruction was going on 50 feet away. Construction noise filled the air with the new building going up.”

At the same time, thinking back, Billy reflected, “I came here to teach, but I was schooled by what it truly means to be a man of God. I’ve never suffered like these men; I’ve never had to take the risks these men have to take. This is what it looks like to run the race, to endure hardship, and still be in love with our Savior. It will cause you to be a thankful person … who knows he just needs more of Jesus.”

Template photo

Some of the chaplains surround Pastor Billy (left center) and Tom Price (right center), editor of  Calvary Chapel Magazine. Both men taught portions of the Bible to the chaplains for two weeks.

                  

Click to learn more about Far Reaching Ministries

Click to read Part 1, which shares how Far Reaching Ministries (FRM) founder Wes Bentley’s wife, Vicky, disciples many women in South Sudan.

Template photo

Wes Bentley, founder of FRM, started the ministry in 1998 to train chaplains for the SPLA. When Wes warned them that many of them would “more than likely be killed in their service to the Lord,” he was surprised by the reaction he received. “Instead of a somber response, there was a rousing cheer of joy from the entire group of chaplains to be considered worthy to die for Christ,” he exclaimed.

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2021 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

%MCEPASTEBIN%