We were in the shade but things were heating up.
The crowd at Boroli Camp was growing and they werenâ€™t happy.
Ethan Bossier and I were the only whites within twenty kilometers and their initial hope at seeing us was cooled by our honest explanation that we had nothing to give.
The Camp Chairman explained, through a young interpreter, that Boroli Camp had several thousand residents from twelve tribes in South Sudan. Most of the refugees, including him, were Murle from Jonglei State.
The Murle have a unique reputation among the South Sudanese. They are considered outcasts, cattle thieves, and baby snatchers. Let me make this clear: that is how theyâ€™re perceived but up to this point, Iâ€™ve met only kindness from any Murle Iâ€™ve met.
Up to this point.
But this crowd is suspicious.
You can feel an edge to them.
Our appearance has been akin to a red cape flapped in front of a bull.
The chairmanâ€™s name is Daniel.
His interpreter, Ronald, is the camp youth chairman.
The chairman continues to inform us that the Murle feel marginalized.
"The other majority tribes have been favored.
They have more boreholes, larger ration of food, and better shelter supplies."
Joseph, a local Madi pastor, listens to the manâ€™s complaints.
I slip out of the crowd and retreat to a nearby tree.
We need something to break the tension that is building.
I say a short Nehemiah-like â€œFlare Prayerâ€ as in â€œLord, help us.â€
I believe God answers in the form of a simple reminder.
Get out your satellite phone.
In the outlying camps as well as rural roads we travel, cell phone reception is poor or non-existent.
Iâ€™m used to it: I come from the Bermuda Triangle of cell phone reception: Dry Creek, Louisiana.
Recently, we purchased a satellite phone for situations where we need to make contact but have no cell service.
We used funds from a special friend who has chosen to support Open Hands Africa since weâ€™ve been here.
Thatâ€™s why I call the satellite phone â€œElizabethâ€™s Phone.â€
Elizabeth, or Beth as I know her, is a friend who shares a mutual love with me: a place called Dry Creek Baptist Camp. Our satellite phone is a new model called a Sat Sleeve. I insert my iPhone into a slot on the larger phone and now Iâ€™ve connected to three satellites hovering over Africa. I can now call most of the world from the spot I'm standing.
I motion Ronald, the youth chair, out of the crowd. Another young man takes over translation. As I dial Johnâ€™s number, I tell him, â€œRonald, I have a Murle friend you may know. Iâ€™d like you to talk with him."
I pray for John to answer.
John is a new friend.
Heâ€™s a Murle church planter.
Heâ€™s started churches in Pibor, Bor, and Juba.
Each time fighting has forced him to evacuate.
He is currently living between our town of Entebbe and Juba, the capital of South Sudan. John has a heart as big as Nairobi and a desire to see his people know Jesus Christ.
â€œHello. Who is this?â€
I explain who I am, trying every alias and description I have: This is Mzee Curt . . . Mzungu in Entebbe . . . met you at Calvary Chapel Church . . .
Thankfully our game of charades ends with him connecting who I am. Heâ€™s in Juba and we have a clear signal.
â€œJohn, I want . . . I need . . . you to talk to one of my Murle friends.â€
I hand Beth's Phone to him.
I can only hear one end and its in staccato Murle, but Ronald's smile tells me much. .
I glance back at the crowd and can easily hear the chairmanâ€™s strident voice.
Ronald hands me the phone and I wade back into the crowd. I hand Bethâ€™s phone to Chairman Daniel and say,
â€œMy friend John, who is a Murle, is on the line.â€
The camp chairman takes the phone and within half a minute, I can tell several things:
He knows my friend John.
He is smiling.
Evidently John gives a good report.
When the call ends, the chairmanâ€™s entire attitude has changed.
Weâ€™ve been stood for. Itâ€™s a common term in Africa.
Itâ€™s nearly a legal or ethical statement. â€œI know this man or woman and will stand good for them.
Itâ€™s like a legal bail: Iâ€™m standing for him and will take responsibility for him.
Murle John has vouched for us.
And it has saved the day.
It has opened a relationship door for us with Boroli Camp.
A door that we strive to continue to walk through in wisdom and compassion.
And Iâ€™m convinced the door opener was Bethâ€™s phone.
We purchased it for our vehicle and long trips: breakdowns, getting hopelessly stuck, having two flats at once.
However, the first time it was used was a different type of emergency: a relationship builder in an atmosphere of muted hostility.
Thank you Lord for how you can use anything for your glory.
Including a Thuraya Sat Sleeve Satellite Phone.
aka â€œBethâ€™s Phone.â€
Thank you Lord that you choose to use simple folks like us.
Like DeDe and I.
We are privileged to be on this journey at this season of our lives.
And thank you Lord for praying friends like Beth
Who faithfully hold the rope back home.
Thank you Lord.