My name is Allie Riddle and I am a post-South Sudan missionary mom (more about that later). We moved to rural South Sudan in March for my husband to do discipleship and for me to work as a nurse at a bright blue women and children’s hospital. Our one and half year old son has his own work: eat, sleep, play – repeat. I am a former missionary kid, and now 3rd generation missionary to East Africa. My husband Billy was born and bred in North Carolina and is a sweet, football playing country boy with a strong stage presence and voice to preach the Gospel. We love cooking and having people over, so come visit us!
The mornings in South Sudan are bright and cool – and my need for coffee will not be hampered by a hand grinder. It would appear that the more time and effort I put into something the more I enjoy it. I am a milk and sugar coffee girl. My friend Ana in Uganda gave me a fun recipe for coffee creamer – which, in the land of milk powder, I was super excited about. It goes something like this:
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
2-3 cups powdered milk to thin it out.
Add vanilla or peppermint to change it up
Some of the missionary girls (me less faithfully) run a few mornings each week. Not your classic stroll down the sidewalk, these runs are filled with jumping over ruts and holes, waving at the people laughing at us or mimicking our jog, and good conversations. This road is one we often run, and one that leads right to the hospital. It is traveled daily by pregnant moms coming to antenatal clinic or to give birth! So much of life in South Sudan is fighting the elements. The rains, the heat, the roads, the bush. If you let anything alone for too long it’s lost to the tall grass or worn away by heavy rain. Life here is work but people here are strong and up to the task.
The teak trees are abundant and tall. Their large, green leaves cast shade that is so precious to us in the equatorial heat. My son Lewis will play for hours under their watchful gaze. The mornings are a time for play, adventure, and practicing our African handshakes. Sadly, our slow pace of life in Yei Town came to an end. In July heavy fighting erupted in Juba, the capital, between opposing forces rivaling for power. We were evacuated a few days later, not sure what was going to happen. It was an intense time as my husband and I had to really think what we would do if we could not go back to the country we loved. It was a remaking and rebuilding of our hearts and minds. Thankfully we were able to go back in about three weeks later.
These are the beautiful teak leaves I love so much! I often joke about how fancy we live as all the furniture available in Yei is either mahogany or teak. It is all fun and games until we have to move the dining room table or chairs around. #HEAVY
The houses here are surrounded by packed dirt. They remove all grass around the house to help keep snakes away. They use brooms like this one to sweep the dirt “yard” each morning. Sounds strange, but their compounds always look so tidy.
(left photo) I walked by this sign at the hospital a dozen times or more before it hit me. We are not just doctors and nurses doing C-Sections. Apparently we are Storm Troopers. (And, I wasn’t kidding about the bright blue hospital…our team leader calls His House of Hope a cool drink of water to the community because of it). One of my main responsibilities is anesthesia for c-sections. I spend a lot of time in this theater! HHH was recently named a national teaching hospital in South Sudan. How cool!! I love the constant rotation of nursing students and clinical officers.
(right photo) This is the operating room at the hospital. I am telling you what, seeing a newly born baby never gets old for me. Each time I am shocked that birth is happening and that there is a new person in the world. One of my favorite parts of c-sections is taking the bundled baby to the waiting family, usually crowding outside the theater doors and telling them if it’s a boy or a girl. 1 in 9 women die of childbirth in South Sudan, and each c-section is one more mom and baby who beat those odds – and I love that.
Newborn baby blinks. Such sweetness in stark contrast to the world they have been born into. Instability in South Sudan is increasing, coming closer and closer to where we live. Evacuation is suddenly always a possibility. Will today be the day we lose it all and have to leave? I walk into the wards at the hospital and watch the people moving around outside the compound and wonder….what will happen to these people if war reaches us here? Ever since July more and more people are leaving the area – choosing a life of being a refugee over staying in their birth country. Our numbers of admissions are dropping…I ache with sadness to think about what could be ahead. Already food is becoming scarce, and the stories – oh the stories – I hear people telling are bone chilling. Let the presence of God be here in South Sudan, and let this trial only strengthen and grow his Church.
We often cook on the charcoal stove outside. It saves propane, which is no longer available in town, and keeps the house cooler. It isn’t as bad as it might sound. Once the coals get hot its just like a stove top burner (with the addition of cats and chickens curiously inspecting the food). Sometimes cooking is a mental release from juggling the emotional struggle living here has become. War or no war? Peace? Was that gunfire?
(left photo) This day I suddenly had to have pot stickers and spent an entire afternoon rolling out thin pieces of dough. We stuffed them with cabbage, garlic, ginger and mushrooms. It ended up being a heavenly combination. I googled recipes for pot sticker dough and a vegetarian filling. Then it was mostly guessing and tasting until the right combo happened. First you fry the freshly stuffed pockets till the bottom gets golden, then you add water to your pan, cover and let them steam until cooked. We dipped them in soy sauce and I might have eaten 10.
(right photo) If I cook at the wrong time of afternoon the sun will bake me along with whatever I am frying. However, the sun steaks on the wall here were too lovely not to capture. Our guard Modi will usually start the fire for me, which is sooo helpful. I made sloppy joes with brown lentils instead of ground beef – my husband renamed the vegan meal “untidy josephs”. We definitely made them again!……along with cooking I have become a news junkie. Watching the political mess unfold around the country has become my nervous tick.
This is His House of Hope, a 50 bed hospital, that I love! This morning, a stray bullet entered the hospital compound and struck the wall near a nurse. Its terrifying entrance signaled the official evacuation of all families from Yei. My last day of work was after a furious three days of packing. The wards were nearly empty…people were gone. Gone to the bush, gone to Uganda – their hearts weary and afraid. Now we will be gone too.
There are 25ish national nurses who staff the hospital with us. They are brave, smart and funny. Mornings at work started with devotions and sweet, hot tea and lots and lots of handshakes. I will miss our long days together birthing babies, hanging blood, doing c-sections and practicing my Arabic. This place was an amazing testimony to the goodness of Christ – in all things we were able to point to Him as the true healer. It’s hard to say goodbye.
We arrived in South Sudan with 12 bags. We left with 4.
On a lighter note…when one evacuates take only the essentials – orrrr your favorite spices. Forget clothes!
So, now. Here we are in Uganda. God is faithful, and his promises to me are the same as to my South Sudanese brothers and sisters. He has not left them alone or forgotten them. And I have to trust that our time in South Sudan was meant to lead us to this moment – and that what is ahead is where we were meant to be all a long. Here’s to new adventures and the gospel spreading.