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|Publisher:||B&H Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||3 Months to 18 Years|
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Descent into Hell
Our flight path that day took us away from the fertile green Nairobi hills described so idyllically in the novel Out of Africa, across the parched brown terrain of northeast Kenya, and then over the forbidding mountains and desolate desert of southern Ethiopia. We finally dropped out of the sky and descended into hell by way of a bombed-out, single-landing-strip airport on the dusty outskirts of a city called Hargeisa.
This was the regional capital of an area known in colonial days as British Somaliland. Just a few years earlier, the region had declared its independence and attempted to secede from the Somali Democratic Republic. That had prompted the embattled Somali president to order his air force to bomb the second-largest city of his own country into submission.
Within minutes of my arrival there, I was aware that I had never been, or even imagined, any place that felt as oppressed as this. Rough patches on the recently repaired runway covered only the biggest cracks and craters.
Every man I saw working or walking around the airport carried an automatic weapon. Next to a nearby storage shed I saw women and children poking wearily through piles of refuse in search of food.
Inside the shed, which was covered by a bomb-damaged roof and enclosed on only three sides, two Somali guards napped atop stacked cases of hand grenades, AK-47s, rocket grenades, land mines and assorted other ordinance and ammunition. That one cache of weaponry — probably sixty feet wide, fifteen feet deep and piled ten feet high — looked to my untrained eyes to hold enough firepower to overthrow a good-sized developing country. And perhaps it would, one day, do just that.
Once arrangements were made for a private car to "taxi" me into Hargeisa, I thanked the Red Cross crew for the lift. The pilot reminded me that it might be anywhere from a week to a month before he returned. He said that he would try to get word to the airport before he did.
* * *
I couldn't begin to comprehend the devastation that I encountered traveling from the airport into the city that day. What should have been a quick, five-kilometer jaunt turned into a long and disturbing drive through utter destruction. If I had ever needed a visual image to illustrate the term war torn, that picture popped up everywhere I looked. The few individuals I spotted on the streets seemed to be wandering more than walking. They were people who seemed to be going through the motions of life with little hope, uncertain purpose and no real destination. My driver told me that seventy thousand people still called this tortured city home. I also learned that, in all of Hargeisa, only seven houses still had intact roofs.
The worst of the fighting in this Somaliland region of the country had ended many months earlier. Once the bombing runs had halted, a relentless follow-up mortar and rocket-grenade assault on the city began. With that punishment inflicted, the loyal government troops had turned their attention southward again to continue their battle with the rebel clans' militias for control of Mogadishu and the rest of the country.
The southern clans' insurrection eventually succeeded and the long-time dictator fled into exile. Soon the rebel coalition fell apart and former allies turned their violence against each other to determine which factions might be strong enough to seize ultimate control and govern the country.
The worst of the warfare may have moved elsewhere. But the death and destruction wrought for years on Hargeisa remained.
As my driver carefully picked his way, detouring around rubble from collapsed buildings and dodging bomb-craters in the road, I was told that the local people were still finding as many as fifty land mines a day. Many of the explosives were discovered only when stepped on and triggered accidentally by animals or playing children.
This was Somaliland in early 1992 — a land tormented by a deadly and unprecedented drought. Even worse, this horrific natural disaster had come hard on the heels of a brutal civil war as violent and inhumane as any conflict in human history. Yet, tragically, there would still be many more months and countless more deaths before this crippled country's full measure of misery would finally register on the radar screen of world awareness and shock the international community into responding.
* * *
I didn't know a soul in Somaliland the day I landed in Hargeisa. An acquaintance who had worked in the country before the civil war somehow made contact on my behalf with a friend of his — a young European man currently working with a German nurse and a Dutch woman who had run an orphanage in Hargeisa for years. Those were the only contacts I had in the entire city. Fortunately, my driver just happened to know where to find the westerners who ran the orphanage. They graciously invited me to make their "home" my base of operations for as long as I was in Somaliland.
The three of them lived very simply in the undamaged rooms of an empty shell of a rented house a few blocks from the orphanage that housed about thirty children whom they cared for with the help of a few Somali staff. With no electricity, no running water, and no western furniture in their home, my hosts used a small charcoal stove to prepare a supper consisting of chewy bits of goat simmered in broth and served with potatoes and boiled greens. We sat on the floor to share my first meal in Somaliland, and we remained in that same position for a long after-dinner conversation.
As they told me about their challenges at the orphanage and talked about the children that they worked with, I was moved by their passion and compassion — not just for the girls and boys in their care, but for all the desperate people of Somaliland, old or young, who had suffered so much for so long.
Naturally, my hosts wanted to know about me, especially why I had come to Hargeisa and what I hoped to accomplish. I told them about Ruth and my boys back in Nairobi and then shared some of my personal background: growing up on a farm in middle America, being the second in my family to get a college education, serving as a pastor at a couple of small churches back home, coming to Africa seven years before and working until recently in two different African countries, planting and growing churches.
I saw concern as well as interest on the faces of my listeners. I quickly let them know that I understood that I would never be able to do in Somaliland the kind of work that I had done previously in Malawi and South Africa. Strict regulations had made it extremely difficult for westerners with any kind of religious affiliation to live or even gain entry into the country. Now, in the wake of the recent civil war, it had become virtually impossible.
According to my research, the best estimates indicated that in the entire nation of Somalia (with a population of seven million people) there were only enough followers of Jesus to perhaps fill the pews of one small country church like we had back home in Kentucky. Of course, there was not a single church or enough believers concentrated in one area of Somalia to form even a small house-church congregation.
In light of that, I assured my hosts that Ruth and I were representing several different secular organizations that were interested in providing much-needed relief work in Somalia. Naturally, as believers ourselves, we hoped that our humanitarian relief efforts might demonstrate the love of God as we tried to be obedient to Jesus' teaching that His followers should seek out "the least of these." We wanted to obey His call to give water to the thirsty and food to the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide shelter for the homeless and lost, to care for the sick, to visit those who had lost their freedom. Like the Good Samaritan in Jesus' parable, we wanted to bind up the wounds and generously provide for the needs of any one of our neighbors in need of help.
Even at this early stage, we were well aware that the "forms" of Christianity such as buildings, ordained clergy, and seminaries were not transferable into hostile environments such as Somalia. Words like church, missionary, and Christian were just a few of the words that would harm witness and hinder work within an environment such as this.
If my three dinner partners had written me off as a naïve American, they would have been right. But they listened graciously and assured me that once I began scouting around Hargeisa, I would have no trouble at all finding a multitude of neighbors with more needs than I could even imagine.
* * *
Later that night, lying on top of a sleeping bag spread out on a concrete floor, I mentally reviewed all that I had seen and heard and learned in just a few hours. I was already experiencing sensory overload. And I was certain that I had only started to scratch the surface.
In that moment, the prayer that I prayed was mostly complaint: "Lord God, why me? Why here?" Just in case God had forgotten, I pointed out that nothing in my upbringing, my education, or my professional experience had equipped me to live or work in a place like Somalia. My prayer that night was filled with demands: "What in the world do you expect me to do here, Lord? There are no churches and hardly any Somali believers. There are no pastors, no deacons, no elders, no Sunday schools, and no Bible studies. There is nothing here that I recognize! There is nothing that I know how to do here! I am hopelessly lost. I am all alone behind enemy lines. Please, Jesus, get me out of here!"
Forget the months of planning and preparation that had preceded this trip! If there had been a way to contact my Red Cross pilot and persuade him to fly back the next day, I was ready to climb on the plane and never return to Somaliland.
* * *
My visit to the orphanage the next day lifted my spirits, despite the fact that getting there was another harrowing adventure. It was difficult and dangerous for anyone to move around Hargeisa. What should have been an eight-block walk that took a few minutes wasn't that simple. And it certainly wasn't safe. I followed my hosts' lead as we trod carefully down deserted alleys and detoured completely around other blocks where they knew the streets had been mined and not yet cleared. By the time we reached our destination, I felt as if I had walked to the end of the world.
The orphanage, however, felt like an oasis of joy and hope in that vast desert of despair. The kids crowded into that little compound were some of the best-fed Somali children I would ever see.
The home itself showed the Arab architectural influence common to many cities in the Horn of Africa — a single-story, flat-roofed structure, its walls constructed of sunbaked bricks covered in plaster and whitewashed inside and out. Sunlight shone in through bar-covered window openings, none of which was screened or glassed. The outer walls of the house were pocked with bullet holes. At night the children slept wall-to-wall on woven mats they rolled out over cement floors. Like the rest of Hargeisa's residents, the residents of the orphanage lived without electricity — except when petrol could be found for a small generator to power a handful of lights.
Without running water, orphanage workers had to search each day for new sources of water that they could afford to purchase. The only toilets consisted of a simple hole in the floor or ground over dug-out latrine pits.
Not one time in my visit that day (nor in any other visit to the orphanage) did I see a child set foot outside the walls of the orphanage. Their entire world had been reduced to that one small compound consisting of the interior of that house and its tiny courtyard. Theirs was a world without toys. There were few books, no modern appliances, and no pieces of furniture. Yet, despite such primitive conditions, the contrast between inside and outside could not have been greater. Beyond those walls I had witnessed the hideous face of evil and its crushing impact on the country. Within the shelter of that home, however, I discovered a surprisingly secure and happy refuge where children smiled and laughed and played.
* * *
My first actual attempt at "scouting" came later that day. It was nothing more than a simple trek with the orphanage ladies on their daily walk to the city's open-air market to see what food might be available for the children's supper. I asked if I could tag along. I figured that, if my organization was going to provide the orphanage with food and other relief assistance, I needed to have some firsthand knowledge about what was currently available from local sources.
The short answer to that question was: Not much!
The only meat for sale was goat or camel. And there was no sure way to tell whether the meat had been intentionally slaughtered to be sold fresh at market that day, or if a local farmer had simply tried to make the best of a bad situation by carving up the carcass after one of the emaciated animals in his herd had dropped dead of thirst or disease — or maybe wandered accidentally into a minefield.
None of the meat for sale that day would come close to qualifying as "prime." But I had seen my share of animals slaughtered back home on the farm, so I wasn't too squeamish about the skinned and dressed sides and quarters of raw meat hanging from the top of the butchers' stalls. Once the ladies made their choice and pointed to what looked like a whole goat, I did have to wince and swallow hard when the butcher gave the carcass a good whack with the flat side of his machete blade to chase a cloud of flies away before sawing off one scrawny leg-of-goat.
The orphanage children would each get barely one bite of meat from that single goat leg. But there might be enough to flavor a small sack of scrawny potatoes that another vendor had for sale. Along with some onions and two under-sized, shriveled heads of cabbage, those were the groceries we bought — simply because that was all anybody had for sale.
Later, I was able to explore some other parts of the city. What struck me most was not what I saw — but what I did not see. For example, nowhere in the city of seventy thousand people did I find a single functioning school. Nor did I find any hospital seeking to provide care for the many people dying of disease and starvation.
Everywhere my friends took me, their tour-guide spiel sounded sadly the same: "A school used to be here, that building over there used to be a hospital, this was where the police station was, a store used to be here, a sports field used to be there."
As I listened to this repeated refrain, I asked myself, In a place where so many of the things basic to life have to be spoken of in the past tense, is there any hope to turn things around and get to the future tense?CHAPTER 2
Growing Up Country
Today, looking back on that first trip into Somaliland, I often wonder, What in the world was I thinking? In many ways the experience seems just as surreal to me now as it did at the time. There was nothing in my rural Kentucky background that would have hinted at a life of international travel and hair-raising danger.
I was the second oldest of seven children. My family heritage provided me little in the way of privilege. Before I left home at the age of eighteen, I had traveled outside of Kentucky one time. Our family was both poor and proud. My parents instilled in their children a strong sense of family loyalty, a solid foundation of integrity and personal responsibility, a determined self-sufficiency, and a strong work ethic.
Looking back, I don't know whether I would claim to have had a particularly happy or unhappy childhood. Mostly, I worked hard and kept busy; I didn't have much time to think about whether I was happy or not.
From my parents and my neighbors, I learned that life is hard work and that happiness is being with family and friends. Those simple lessons have served me well over the years.
No one in my family had ever been to college before my brother and I went. My dad earned his living in the construction business. My mom was a housewife, which meant that she was also a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, and much more. On weeknights and on weekends, our family farmed a nearby piece of land, and there was never an end to the work.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Insanity of God"
Copyright © 2013 Nik Ripken.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword David Platt xxiii
Prologue ... Ready or Not xxvii
1 Descent into Hell 1
2 Growing Up Country 9
3 The Face of Evil 17
4 But I Wanted to Be a Veterinarian 27
5 Broken by a Smile 37
6 God's Gift: Ruth 49
7 "Take My Baby!" 57
8 Mosquitoes Win 67
9 Why Didn't I Just Keep My Mouth Shut? 75
10 Just Show Up 83
11 Bubba Sings 91
12 Tears for Somaliland 103
13 Broken and Poured Out 109
14 Too Great a Cost 117
15 When Your Best Is Not Enough 125
16 Death Follows Me Home 129
17 A New Path 137
18 Seeking Answers in the USSR 145
19 A Prison Sings 155
20 The Genealogy of Faith 163
21 Learning to Live; Learning to Die 171
22 Fear or Freedom? 181
23 Refusing to Be Silenced 189
24 Secret Rendezvous 201
25 One Extra Pair of Underwear 217
26 The Power of Prison 227
27 The Chinese Road Trip 233
28 Preparing for Persecution 245
29 Rebuked by God 255
30 Dreams and Visions 265
31 The Toughest Man I Ever Met 275
32 HeartSongs 289
33 What If He Is Alive? 301
34 It's All a Miracle ... And the Journey Begins 313