Reaching into Africa
Reaching into Africa

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Reaching into Africa: Far Reaching Ministries Serves Christ in South Sudan

Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Steve Shambeck

This article ran in issue 78 in winter 2019, documenting a gathering of chaplains to be trained and prepared to teach God's Word.

A 4-year-old boy wandered through the crowded sanctuary in the newly built Calvary Chapel Cush in Nimule, Republic of South Sudan. He was searching for the man he calls his dad: Wes Bentley, founder of Far Reaching Ministries (FRM). Wes joyfully picked up Forgiven, nicknamed “Given,” holding him in his lap for the remainder of the church’s dedication service in July. Given’s father Thomas, a military chaplain for the South Sudanese army trained by FRM, had been one of Wes’s senior officers. In 2017, he was shot and killed during a domestic dispute he was trying to resolve. Wes related, “This was not supposed to happen. We were not behind enemy lines.” Wes and the chaplains were able to forgive Thomas’ repentant killer when they understood he feared for his wife’s life.

Men march with kids

Children march with Far Reaching Ministries (FRM) chaplains during South Sudan’s National Day in July. Many youth in South Sudan consider the chaplains heroes.

Loss and death are commonplace in South Sudan, an oil-rich country devastated by conflict. Before becoming an independent country in 2011, southern Sudan had suffered from decades of violence under the government of Islamic northern Sudan and the terrorist group LRA—the Lord’s Resistance Army. Both groups have attacked and burned villages, murdered many, and abducted and brutalized women and children. Just two years after becoming the world’s newest country, South Sudan split in 2013 over a political struggle between its president and vice president. A new civil war marked by ethnic and tribal division still rages despite recent attempts at peace.

Man facepalming

A chaplain prays during the dedication of Calvary Chapel Cush in Nimule, South Sudan.

Wes, an ordained CC pastor, formed FRM, an evangelical missions and humanitarian outreach, in 1998. His wife Vicky works at his side, actively ministering to women. The chaplains’ corps, begun in 1999, continues to serve actively in the conflicts and to spiritually mentor the people of South Sudan. More than 500 chaplains have been trained. Since the first class graduated in 2000, 54 chaplains have died for the cause of the Gospel, Wes stated.

Wes and Vicky holding kids at church

Wes Bentley, seated between his wife Vicky and close friend General Mamur, holds 4-year-old Forgiven at the CC Cush dedication. Forgiven is the son of a deceased chaplain.

Refresher Course

For three weeks this summer, FRM recalled more than 300 chaplains to their training base in Nimule for refreshing, refitting, and re-equipping. The men received medical help; many have malaria and typhoid fever. They were fed beans, corn maize, and meat to regain some of the 20 to 30 pounds they lost serving in the field.

One night, Wes gravely addressed the men. “Many of us have fallen, and many more will. I’ve done the math—one in eight of us is going to die for the Gospel. Now, I want you to go home and tell your wives that you love them. Pick up your children and tell them that their daddy will always love them. And try to explain the calling of Christ on your lives.” He didn’t expect their response. “They all stood up and cheered. It hit me that they consider dying for Christ the highest calling in this life.”

Men talk about Scripture

Pastor Gary Lawton of CC Santee, CA, (center) discusses Scripture with FRM chaplains during their July refresher course.

CC Pastors Teach and Encourage

Calvary Chapel pastors from the U.S. and Russia taught God’s Word and encouraged the men during their time of recovery. The chaplains participated in seven Bible studies and up to two hours of worship each day.

Gerry Brown, founder of U-Turn for Christ, was one of the teachers. He believes that 2 Timothy 2:1-3 describes the work of the chaplains: You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. “These men come one after another after the teachings to ask questions. You know they’re serious about what they’re learning. They want to have every detail,” Gerry said. He remembered conversations with Chaplain Peter that challenged his own faith. Peter has been shot five times, left for dead twice, and been found alive, buried under bodies of dead men. “And yet he comes back to say, ‘I want to go back to the field. My place is with the troops, sharing Jesus Christ as Savior of the world with them.’” He added, “We talk about how we want to live for Christ and are willing to die for Him, but these men are proving it every day as they go into the field. Incredible stories like that set you back to just thank God. Do I have that heart? Am I really completely sold out for God like these men are?”

Man and boy

A chaplain feeds a boy at FRM’s Nimule compound; the ministry has fed 14,000 children a day for 12 years.

Pastor Gary Lawton of CC Santee, CA, often felt that the chaplains should teach him. “Their faith has cost them so much more than mine has. These guys are facing genuine dangers, putting their lives on the line for the Gospel. They are like the Mighty Men of David in the Old Testament who laid their lives down for their king,” he said. “Yet, I couldn’t help thinking that they’re just men who need to be reminded that God loves them and has a plan for their lives, who need the Word and fellowship with like-minded believers.”

Wes and Vicky holding hands

Vicky and Wes Bentley wait to say goodbye to his friend Lt. Gen. Mamur, head of national security.

Shawn Stone, executive pastor of Maranatha Chapel in San Diego, CA, described the chaplains’ hunger for God’s Word. One day while talking to Chaplain Paul, he put his hand on the man’s back. “My hand was on fire; his temperature was 105 degrees,” Shawn recalled. Paul, however, insisted he was fine. Shawn later learned that every day before Bible study and worship, Paul went to the clinic for full-blown malaria and typhoid fever treatment. “He was smiling and worshiping, not complaining.”

The chaplains, Shawn noticed, don’t want to focus on their hardships. “They want to share incredible stories of men and women coming to know the Lord. They want to talk about Jesus,” he observed. “They were truly living out Philippians 1:21, For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. I believe and teach that, but these men live it every day.”

Wes hugs man

Wes hugs a young chaplain who returned from serving in the Sudanese war.

Dimitri, a Russian missionary serving at a Calvary Chapel in Russia, said the pastors were bringing comfort, mercy, and love to the chaplains. “It is our duty as Russian and American believers to join in the work that the Lord is doing in South Sudan, to support them in their new walk, and see the Lord do an amazing work in this country,” he remarked. “Even high-ranking officials in the government are now converting to Jesus. It is truly a chance for us to win the nation to the Lord.”

Wes believes that someday South Sudan may be predominantly Christian. “When God called us to Africa, we didn’t go to be another Christian presence. We came to win a continent to Christ. We’re fighting tooth and nail [spiritually] for the country,” he added.

Hands on back

“There is no black or white with us,” Wes said. “Christ’s love unites cultures.”

Dedication of Church Building

The recovering chaplains participated in the dedication of CC Cush’s new building in Nimule, a rebuilding of a Calvary Chapel which FRM had planted in 2003. Approximately 2,000 adults and 1,000 children attend three services, one in English, one in the local Madi dialect, and one in Arabic, Wes said. South Sudanese television rebroadcast the ceremony. Eight army generals showed up throughout the week and South Sudan’s president sent a greeting. Surrounded by soldiers with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns, Lt. General Mamur, South Sudan’s minister for national security, also participated.

Peggy, Jean, and Vicky at women's event

Peggy Brown, Jean McClure, and Vicky Bentley (left to right) enjoy a women’s event.

“God ordained that we’re to be brothers in this life and fight for the souls of the nation. Mamur has helped lead his nation to freedom,” Wes explained. Their friendship began in the first year of FRM’s chaplain corps after Wes told him he couldn’t supply arms for the war. Instead, he gave him Chuck Smith’s tapes on wind-up recorders, Bibles, and a Christian movie. “The first time I met with Mamur, I shared Christ with him for three hours. At the end, he stated, ‘Wes, Jesus Christ has not yet captured me.’”

Men lined up

FRM’s highly trained chaplains listen attentively as they receive daily orders.

The future general attended the first chaplains’ graduation. That night, Wes urged Mamur to make the most important decision he’d ever make: to either receive or reject Jesus. Mamur said “yes” before 40 of his officers and soldiers. “‘I fully understand what I’ve just done. I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and I will not turn back. I want you to baptize me,’” he told Wes.

“The potential here is unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time,” declared Pastor Don McClure, a member of the Calvary Chapel Association Leadership Council; he taught the chaplains and helped dedicate CC Cush. “A tremendous number of nationals (chaplains) have already been equipped. You can do a tremendous amount of work here for a very little amount of money. Now it’s just about getting the Word out, and then seeing the interest and desire to get involved.”

Overhead of people sitting

Pastor Don McClure of Calvary Way Ministries teaches.

Chaplains Live the Gospel

Wes related, “Our guys don’t sit behind desks, or counsel from the rear. They’re highly respected, well-trained frontline chaplains. I don’t train my guys to be sold-out for Christ. I train them to be fanatical for Jesus Christ.”

Chaplain Michael, FRM’s senior chaplain and pastor of CC Cush, often recalls Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. “I realize that it is not about my strength, but the strength that comes from God, that faith that is given to me to continue to move for His kingdom. I continue to pray and seek His face, and say, God, I want to grow in You.”

Men pray

Don McClure (sitting) and Gerry Brown pray with two chaplains.

Chaplain Joseph remembered times when his commanders wouldn’t let him preach the Gospel, even jailing him. “FRM brought Jesus to my life. Now I know more about Christ and have found the miracle of Christ in me, Who guides me and then protects me where I go,” he said. “I know that when I die, I’m going to get new life in heaven.”

John, a chaplain for 10 years, has reached Muslims in the Nuba Mountains. “We preach the Gospel and bring the Lord Jesus to the people. When the Lord returns, He will say, ‘Good and faithful servant, come into your rest.’ So there is no fear for me as a chaplain. We can go everywhere the Lord has instructed us to go. My life is not more important than serving the life of others.”

Man reading Bible

A chaplain follows along in his Bible as he listens to a teaching from a Calvary Chapel pastor.

Chaplain John said that South Sudan needs God’s Word and prayer for more churches. Although FRM has planted many churches in South Sudan, they’ve been abandoned as citizens left villages for refugee camps during the wars. John observed, “When people have the fear of God, then they will do the right thing. The verse-by-verse teaching that we get here can change our people and our nation.”

Wes concluded, “The hope for Africa is the Gospel. Because until you teach men to love their brothers, and love their enemies as themselves, they’ll continue to kill. There’s a great light that’s growing throughout this nation, and many people are coming to Christ.”

Lady with steaming pots

South Sudanese women prepare great amounts of food to help restore the health of chaplains returning from the battlefields.

 

Crowd worships

A large crowd worships at CC Cush. Approximately 2,000 adults attend the church weekly.

 

Lady singing

Doreen, a senior women’s mentor, worships.

 

Kids dance

The church youth present song and dance.

 

Pastor Don McClure teaching

Pastor Don McClure dedicates CC Cush.

 

People kneel and pray in church

Pastors pray with people responding to an altar call at CC Cush.

 

Gen Mamur at CC cush

Because of extreme volatility in South Sudan, Lt. General Mamur is surrounded by armed guards.

 

Soldiers sit on truck

South Sudanese soldiers relax at the Nimule base during a break.

 

People standing next to car

Wes and Vicky say goodbye to Lt. General Mamur after the dedication of CC Cush.

 

Wes sitting with leaders

Wes discusses plans for reaching South Sudan for Christ with area and national leaders.

 

People leaving CC cush

Congregants stream out of Sunday services at Calvary Chapel Cush in Nimule, South Sudan.

 

Men riding camels

FRM’s Camel Corps helps chaplains travel long distances to share the Gospel.

 

Men march in gate

Known as the Citadel, Far Reaching Ministries is building a defendable fort to provide a base for the chaplains ministry and their families, who stay behind when the men leave to minister in the war.

 

Men march

FRM chaplains march in Nimule on South Sudan’s National Day, July 9. South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 and has endured many years of war.

 

Man reading Bible

Chaplains at the refresher course take the study of God’s Word seriously. More than 300 attended the three-week event.

 

Soldier raises hands

Chaplains rejoice and relax after successfully practicing a march sequence.

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. 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.

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