Deep into the quarter-mooned night sweat dripped from our bodies like a leaking faucet nagging at you to call the plumber first thing in the morning. Hyenas yammered in the distance, digging a hollow sense of suffering in the marrow of our hearts as the faces of the orphans outside the safety of our gates flashed before our minds.
Somehow, in all the commotion, our small team of celebratory yet weary travelers ended up one tent short. Shrugging my shoulders, I thought, “Life always comes full circle.” Once again I found myself lying un-tented under the open stars, and remembering my first months in South Sudan, sleeping in the bush surrounded by James Lual Atak and hundreds of hungry orphans. In those days, I’d learned to keep a stick at my side, often rising to chase away hyenas or other beasts who might rush upon us.
Twelve years later, inside the safety of our compound, surrounded by beautiful buildings where hundreds of orphans study by day and sleep by night in the safety of steel and cement, I sprawled out on my army cot without concerning myself with the need of a stick. I sprawled out on a rickety army cot knotted together near the tent of Catherine, MWP indigenous Taiwanese leader, and Sherry a volunteer Catherine brought along. The thin walls of their tent did nothing to divide our shared tears as we heard a child crying off in the distance as the hyenas went wild.
Even with all the excitement of the upcoming high school graduation, a Restless Spirit stirred among us throughout our first night in South Sudan; what sleep we snatched came light and intermitted. Nearing the morning hours, I rolled in a half stupor from facing Catherine and Sherry’s tent to the open wild and pulled my soaked and clinging t-shirt from my sweaty body. That’s when the first sense of Something took me, and I knew we were not alone. Instantly, as if with full knowledge of having been outed, a wild hissing mewled at me. As every psychologist knows, “the body remembers” and I instinctively reached for my stick to chase away the wild thing as I had done hundreds of times so many years ago. Only this time, I had no stick.
Neither had I a plan; Something wild and instinctive from deep within took over. I sprang from my cot—blowing myself up as big, loud, and threatening as the baboons I’d watched on the Big Screen of Tarzan. To my amazement, a leopard had joined our sleepless soiree. By the grace of God, it didn’t take much puffing and blowing myself up to send him scurrying back under the same hole he’d dug to break into our compound.
My rattling bones returned to their rickety cot, still not quite believing what had just transpired. Bombs, heavy artillery, and charging soldiers had long run off most wild life in South Sudan. The only leopard I’d seen in more than a decade there had been one that a trapper caught and stuck in a cage barely large enough for the leopard to turn around. He laid pathetically on the rusted floor and never budged even when children poked sticks through the chicken wire.
The region of our NLM high school graduation has known relative peace for several years now, more than a thousand miles away from the bombing of OFC or the hand-to-hand conflict of HFSS. So, clearly the wild life is returning to South Sudan. We’ll beef up our fencing and take all appropriate measures, but I have to admit that at the end of the day our unexpected visitor signifies one of the best glimpses of Hope we could ask for: Life is indeed returning through our orphanages. I’ve seen it in our gloriously ALIVE children and now, through the Wild. Still, Dinato, one of our highly gifted graduates ran to hand carve this beautiful stick for me, so that I’d be ever prepared to behold the next leopard!
If you missed it the first time around—or even as a rerun, here’s the video that’s going viral for New Life, celebrating the first high school graduation and the making of a generation of Peace Makers. Please pass it on, spread the story and help us to keep building—taking in those children still caught in the wild, outside the gates.
Love, your leaping sister on the journey,