Just before dawn on November 28, 2017,
a group of bandits attacked the small village of Duk Payuel in South Sudan, located 110 miles north of Bor, in Jonglei state. Retreating back into the bush as the sun rose on that day, they carried with them 56 abducted children, leaving behind smoldering ruins of the village and dozens dead. A local official, Commissioner Deng, was sleeping only 11 kilometers away that night. He received a call from a humanitarian worker at 6:30 a.m. and arrived shortly after the bandits had escaped.
“We found bodies lying down. Women were running around trying to find children that were not there. There was wailing. It was a horrible scene,” the Commissioner recalled during a recent trip to Annapolis. The villagers looked to him for leadership and strength. He worked hard not to cry and did his best to attend to the living and dead. “It was one of the worst experiences I have ever gone through,” he said, sighing heavily at the memory.
One man, who had lost his entire family and all earthly belongings, was inconsolable. He wandered around the village in shock. A child, only 8 years old, had watched the bandits steal away her siblings after gunmen had killed both of her parents. She had been shot in the leg, so the bandits didn’t take her, or kill her. “She was asking questions we couldn’t answer,” the Commissioner said, “and said she couldn’t understand why they didn’t just kill her.” In that moment, the Commissioner again struggled not to cry. “It was terrible.”
In total, there were 19 wounded, 56 children abducted, and 44 dead.
As word spread, Bishop Daniel, who oversees the Diocese that encompasses the village, received a call and immediately set out for Duk. He found village elders and others sitting around wondering what to do. Everyone was looking at him, expecting him to say something. “I was helpless,” he confessed.
"An old woman came to hug me and warned me not to cry,” the Bishop said as re-lived those moments. As soon as he heard the words “do not cry," he felt the power of the Holy Spirit come over him to give him strength and courage.
Romans 8:35-38 came to the Bishop’s mind: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
He read Scripture to those gathered. "God is still God,” he told them. After sharing more scripture with them, he walked over to the mass grave to pray.
When the Commissioner’s brother, Deng Chol, received news of the massacre, he immediately moved to have his employer, Samaritan’s Purse, respond with two planes to evacuate the wounded to Juba where they could receive definitive care. Even as pain and sorrow overwhelmed, God’s hand was at work through the Commissioner, his brother, and the Bishop. Together, they had the wounded evacuated to the hospital. “Not one was lost,” the Bishop said.
But the Lord wasn’t finished. In early December, Bay Area got involved through longtime member Jim Hiskey, who asked what he could do on a conference call organized to discuss the massacre. “The best thing you can do is pray,” one of the local pastors on the call told Jim.
“Okay, I’ll do that, but is there anything else we can do?” Jim pressed on the phone. They told Jim about a container of supplies that had been organized and shipped to South Sudan by a local organization.
The supplies were stuck in Juba. Because of the rains and the cost of transport, funds were required to load the container on a flatbed trailer and securely transport it to Duk Payuel, including armed guards. Jim asked them, “If we can raise the funds, can you get the container out there [to Duk]?” The answer was yes.
Jim called Lead Pastor Greg St. Cyr to ask for help, then met several times with Global Missions Pastor Casely Essamuah to discuss what could be done. Bay Area was able to provide the funds to have the container loaded and moved to Duk. It arrived safely on Christmas Eve, less than a month after the massacre had happened. Survivors received new clothes in time to worship God at the Christmas service.
“[That container of supplies] brought hope back to the people of Duk,” the Bishop said. It was a moment when the survivors saw that God was still with them.
“The people were dancing and rejoicing in the Lord,” the Bishop shared. Recognizing the small but important role Bay Area played, the Bishop said the container’s arrival was a moment of brotherhood and mutual identity in Christ. “I pray that God continues to strengthen our unity,” he said as he shared Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…”
On July 8 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., you can join the Bishop, the Commissioner, Deng Chol, Jim, Casely and others in a time of fasting and prayer for the abducted children of Duk.