Above: I am holding a chameleon I found on my hut.
I lived in Lohutok village in the Lopit Mountains of Eastern Equatoria, Sudan for about six months in 1980. [At that time, we spelled the village name “Logotok”, but most now spell it “Lohutok”.] There were vast differences between my rural Kansas home and this Southern Sudanese village. And yet, I quickly felt at home. I stayed with the Arensen’s, who supervised a medical project for Africa Inland Mission. They treated me like family. The people of Lohutok were eager to share their knowledge with a curious American. Like my father in Kansas, they had fields of grain sorghum and herds of cattle. The African savannah, stretching endlessly toward a distant horizon, felt as open and endless as my native Great Plains.
There were several reasons for my journey to Sudan. I went there to study the agriculture and culture of the Latuka [also spelled “Lotuko” or “Lotuho”]. This research would become the basis for my Masters thesis at Cornell University. I felt that God wanted me to help the Latuka increase their food production and encourage them to follow Jesus. I hoped my research would guide Africa Inland Mission in establishing an agricultural project. I realize, in hindsight, that a desire for adventure was another motivation for this journey.
After leaving Sudan, I returned to Cornell and completed my thesis. I then signed up for a three-year stint as a volunteer on a rural development project in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. It was difficult to keep track of events in Southern Sudan while living in rural Indonesia. The internet was not yet invented, I did not have access to telephones or television and the press wrote little about Southern Sudan. After completing my assignment in Indonesia, I returned to Kansas. I took a farm lending job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. My wife and I raised three kids. We did volunteer work for our church and other organizations. The years passed and memories of Sudan faded.
My memories of Southern Sudan were recently re-awakened. I began to feel that God was again stirring up my interest in his people in Southern Sudan. The media began covering the upcoming election. Internet searches began pulling up not only general information about Southern Sudan, but even reports about my village of Lohutok. I learned that a woman I knew there had gone on to found a church in a predominantly Islamic city in northern Sudan. I had a chance meeting with a Sudanese refugee when traveling along Highway I-70 in western Kansas. He was returning to his home in Wichita after attending a church conference. During the civil war, his family had fled from Southern Sudan to Khartoum, then to the U.S. He left his village when he was a child. Consequently, he knew little about the culture or language of his tribe. My conversation with him made me realize that information about my experiences could help refugees like him understand their heritage. Later I met a trainer in an Apple computer store who had recently done peace and reconciliation work with former refugees in Uganda. Our conversation caused me to think about the impact of war on the psyches of the people in Sudan, especially the children. They will need help adjusting to “normal” life. [I encourage you to seek out and support organizations helping Southern Sudanese people. Links in this blog will help you begin your search for opportunities to give.]
I recently re-discovered an old spiral notebook wherein I recorded my journey to Lohutok and back. Every day when I was in Lohutok, I wandered the paths and fields asking questions and observing. Every evening, I sat by a kerosene lamp and wrote what I had learned. I now intend to share those notes via this blog. [I may occasionally add comments from a more recent and mature perspective.] My “target audience” includes Southern Sudanese wanting to re-connect with their roots, people planning to work for missionary and development organizations in Southern Sudan and those studying or researching Southern Sudanese issues.
Above: The village of Lohutok is located near the base of these mountains.
Above: Susannah carrying a basket of newly harvested sorghum.
Above: The home of Lohutok's "Rain Queen" - one of the nicest houses in the village.
A young woman clears weeds in preparation for planting peanuts.
Above: A sorghum field on the mountain. Tobia was thin because of last year's drought. This year's rains bring hope of a better harvest.