Far Reaching Ministries in South Sudan

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Emerging from Decades of War, a Nation is Being Transformed by the Gospel through Far Reaching Ministries

Story and photos by Tom Price, February 2020

women worship the Lord

Above: Ladies welcome Vicky Bentley from Far Reaching Ministries (FRM) with songs of worship.

Women in brightly colored skirts ran out to meet the vehicles bringing missionary Bible teacher Vicky Bentley and the team of translators, guards, and helpers. Welcoming smiles adorned each face as the group greeted their bi-weekly Bible teacher with native worship songs. Several ladies erupted with high-pitched shrieks of ululation—sounds of joy that pierced the afternoon calm. Waving branches of leaves, they danced as they led the group into their newly built church.

“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” they cried to Jesus, each woman sang and clapped; babies carried on their backs bounced about unfazed, a drum pounding out in a frantic pace. The songs and joyful celebrations continued for 20 minutes. The translator commented, “We are giving thanks to God for bringing you here to us.” Vicky thanked them warmly and encouraged the ladies as she settled down to her teaching task.

Vicky teaches the Bible

Above: Vicky shares the Gospel with a women’s group, one of ten she teaches weekly. The women built the church and even baked the bricks themselves.

“Remember in our last lesson, how Jesus rejoiced in His Spirit?” Vicky asked excitedly. “This was the only time in Scripture, my sisters, that it was recorded that Jesus rejoiced.” The women nodded in agreement. Vicky continued, “Jesus thanked His Father that He had revealed the truth of the Gospel; not to the mighty, not to the powerful, not to the rich, not to the kings and famous people, but to the babes, those who were unimportant in the eyes of the world, to those new in their faith. Did you realize that Jesus was talking about you and me?” The room erupted into cries of joy. She shouted over the applause and attempt of the translator to complete Vicky’s words, “They might say we are not important; we don’t have any titles or authority, but Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, rejoices over each of us!” Several startled sleeping infants awoke during the deafening ululation that erupted.

In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes.” Luke 10:21a

Vicky went on to explain many key areas of Jesus’ ministry. After an hour, women shared their personal stories of how the Lord had affected their lives since they had last been together. Testimonies were powerful and intimate, telling how families had been bettered and marriages restored.

Vicky fellowships with ladies

Above: Women from Nimule, the home of the FRM compound, meet every week for Bible study and discussion.

“The fruit is genuine,” Vicky exclaimed later. “It is so powerful to see the Gospel changing lives in these villages.” Several months before, the women’s Bible study had lost the facility for their gathering. They prayed and asked the Lord for His power to construct their own church. Vicky added in amazement, “These women made the bricks and baked each one in the curing ovens.” Mortar was then used as the women put each brick in place. Now, no one seemed fazed that the floor was dirt. Neither did anyone seem to have any concern when a chicken nonchalantly walked in front of the pulpit during the teaching and then exited on its own.

chicken in the church

Above: A chicken walks in front of the pulpit during the teaching.

“The women and their families had previously fled the brutal fighting that had engulfed Sudan for decades,” Vicky said. “They have been through so much but yet are filled with so much joy and excitement for God’s Word.” When it was discovered that there were no finances to put a roof on the building, Vicky offered to pay for it through the FRM budget.

The FRM compound, which is only a few miles away from the newly built church, has been bombed several times during the many years of fighting.

Vicky and her husband, Wes Bentley, founder of FRM, share an apartment in the compound during the rare occasions when both are there. “This is home to me,” Vicky added. “I feel that God has called me to share His message of hope to the women in as many villages as that the Lord allows us to reach.” Vicky teaches a minimum of 10 Bible studies to women each week, spread over a vast area of tough and often dangerous terrain.

Calvary Chapel Bibia

Above: Calvary Chapel Bibia’s service time is Sunday from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. The people were refugees from the ongoing fighting in South Sudan lasting nearly 30 years.

One of the main missions of FRM is to train chaplains spiritually and 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, 59 of the men have been killed.

chaplains march

Above: Chaplains learn to march. A building to house visitors to the FRM compound is under construction in the background. The men are taught through the entire Bible in a year along with daily physical training.

A fragile peace swept over the embattled country this past February. Six years ago, after fighting for and winning independence from Islamic northern Sudan, the new republic descended into chaos with different warring factions vying for control. But now they are sharing power.

chaplains training

Above: Chaplains train in the compound. The statue depicts an FRM chaplain serving in the Sudanese People's Liberation Army. He is carrying a Bible and a weapon.

A Lifetime of War

Chaplain LinoFar Reaching Ministry chaplain Lino Manyol remembers Sudanese regular army units marauding 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.

“When I was 15, 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.

inspecting cattle

Above: A candidate for a special Saturday night feast of beef for the chaplains is inspected at a nearby cattle farm.

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 was in the first training class. But leadership in Far Reaching Ministries realized that their chaplains had to be as prepared to defend the 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

cooks prepare meal

Above: Joseph and the cooks ready the butchered meat. Cooking for over a 100 people is done on the coal-driven ovens. Beans and posho, a white corn maize, are the daily staple.

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 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

Drill Instructor Sam

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

Drill Instructor Samuel 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.

Drill Instructor Chris

Above: Drill instructor Chris Haley teaches men to march. The American instructors come to South Sudan for three months of long, hot days.

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 teams. 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.”

Sam laughs with chaplains

Above: Sam 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.”

chaplains wash clothes

Above: Saturday provides time to wash clothes and relax. Sundays are busy with two three-hour services. The men help with teaching the kids.

A chaplain’s day begins at 6 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 set of three classes followed by another bout of drilling and learning how to march until dinner. Lights out at 10 p.m. is the rule. Saturday is a day for laundry and possibly writing home or playing soccer. Sunday is a three-hour church service at CC 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.

Calvary Chapel Cush

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

Biblical Training Course

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

Pastor Billy teaches chaplains

Above: 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. 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 done recently,” Tom recalled, “it was certainly the most fulfilling since it was unto the Lord.”

chaplain studies the Bible

Above: A chaplain takes notes.

Billy agreed 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.”

chaplains pray for Billy

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

At the same time, thinking back, Billy said, “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.”

Missionary Vicky Bentley

Vicky BentleyVicky traveled to Sudan for the first time in 1998 on a short-term mission trip. “I immediately knew that Sudan was where God wanted me to be!” Vicky remembered. “When I returned to America, I couldn’t get Sudan out of my heart.” She had been working for Safe Harbor International, an organization dedicated to African missions, where she used her legal expertise in setting up non-profit statuses for ministries. She had petitioned her supervisors to send her to Sudan, but they considered it too dangerous for a woman. Weeks later, a contributing agency which was drilling for safe drinking water there needed to send a technician. The only tech available was a woman. Vicky convinced her superiors that they shouldn’t send a woman there alone, so Vicky was soon on her way to Africa with that woman.

Vicky met Wes Bentley in 1998 in Sudan. He was in the process of resigning from Safe Harbor International to start Far Reaching Ministries and begin training chaplains. Wes needed legal expertise to set up FRM’s non-profit status. Vicky volunteered to set it up and take care of all the legal aspects. Then Vicky asked Wes, “If I do all of this, can I be FRM’s first missionary?” Wes prayed and agreed that Vicky was indeed called to be a missionary there. “Wes said ‘Yes’! But I don’t think he was really very happy about taking me on as a missionary at that time,” Vicky confided with a laugh. By 2001, both realized their relationship was more than just to be co-laborers.

The couple were married in 2002. She continues to travel with Wes to other lands where FRM has impact. “For Wes and me, South Sudan is where our heart is, as a couple. But Wes has a greater vision for the world,” Vicky said. FRM is in 25 countries. “Wes has a big heart, so he’ll go anywhere.”

Vicky is passionate about discipleship and the compound in South Sudan feels like home to her. “But I would go anywhere God sends me.” Vicky had just returned from three weeks in a former communist country with Wes as they ministered in churches that FRM had helped build. “Wes and I both have a great passion for the continent of Africa. It feels so largely unreached,” Vicky said. Many Africans have not heard the Gospel or have heard so little, while at the same time they are open. “We are happy to pour our lives out here in South Sudan to raise up a generation of missionaries, who, in turn, will go out and reach the entire continent for Christ.”

© 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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