How 9 Years in South Sudan Prepared Me for Step-Motherhood… an Introduction

I remember that time like it was yesterday.  Those days before I left for South Sudan back in 2008.  All the details and plans had been worked out: flights, accommodations, job descriptions, and packing lists.  I was full of anticipation for the adventure I was about to embark on and was already starting to fall in love with the Mabaan people who I’d hardly even met before that point.  I knew that I was stepping further into things that God Himself had put into place. Even though I knew it would be hard – how could it not be? – He would be there through all of those hard pieces and ultimately it would be awesome and worth it for so many reasons.

Even today if you visit our base in Mabaan County you spend a number of days in Kenya before flying further inland to South Sudan. There is a scene that is burned into my memory from the day before I took my first prop-plane flight towards my future.  I was sitting on the veranda of another organization’s guest house in Kenya and from that porch I could see a small plane flying just above the buildings in the distance.  In those moments things got very real and I remember praying with nervous anticipation and even dread.  Sudan was still one country in those days and while there was a peace agreement in place things felt very unstable and uncertain.  To go in meant you’d already envisioned the ‘worst case scenarios,’ had counted those costs, and chosen to move into that risk for the sake of something greater.  Sitting there that day I was going over that process once more, journaling and praying for courage to walk into that which God had put before me.

The ideals we have preceding the realities that we face – even when we know things are going to be hard – cannot possibly prepare us for what really comes.  It’s like the difference between 2D and 3D: one is ‘flat’ and is more of an intellectual theory, and the other is the surround-sound, all-encompassing reality of being IN it.

Flying over (South) Sudanese land… on my way in for the first time in 2009

The next day, a plane just like the one I had been watching would take me from 2D to 3D, from planning to be in Sudan to planting my feet on Sudanese soil.  Within an hour after landing in Doro all the realities of my new life came at me full force.  I was sitting in a ‘dining hall’ with mud walls and flat, clear-bodied spiders peppering the wood ceiling above me.  Moments before, the small 9-seater caravan plane that had carried me for 6 hours from Nairobi over the parched and cracked black earth of what would soon become South Sudan, kicked up billows of red dust and puttered back into the sky…leaving me behind, stranded in what felt like the middle of absolutely nowhere.  I was surrounded by strangers, encircled by people I hardly knew. They were excited by the arrival of a new teammate and were full of information about how this and that worked but nothing, absolutely nothing, felt familiar. Yet I knew this was supposed to be ‘home’ for the foreseeable future.  Nothing had even happened yet and it was already hard.  I was already doubting if I was strong enough to handle it because I felt, for the second time that day, close to panic and at the very edge of my own limitations.

Plane taking off from Doro airstrip (2009)

Tyler and I didn’t enter into our relationship quickly or hastily.  From the very start our relationship carried the weight of all that it would mean for us to take even one more step.  A widowed father of three children and a single missionary from a rural village in South Sudan…not the typical or recommended recipe for marital or familial happily-ever-after’s.  And so, 4.5 years later as I prepared to walk down an aisle and into this family, I had a very similar sobering sense of anticipation as I did sitting on that veranda in Kenya when I watched that small plane and knew that I would be on one the very next day, for better or for worse, come what may.  I was committed and had counted the costs of the things I was yet to experience.  I knew in theory that there would be hard days to come – how could there not be? – and that He would be there through all of those hard pieces and ultimately it would be awesome and worth it for so many reasons.  So I once again prayed for the courage to walk into that which God had placed before me.

Down an aisle… and into a family

Just a few very short weeks after our wedding our family was in North Carolina and the kids were asked by a friend of mine what it was like having me for a mom.  We had technically been a family for just a few weeks but each one of us had already had at least one ‘stranded-in-the-dining-hall’ experience where we realized that nothing felt familiar and that reality was not as fun as our idealistic anticipations to say the least!  My friend, who, Lord love her, thinks I’m great and was anticipating enthusiastic responses was met with a long bit of silence.  Our brave Sophie was the one to step out on a limb and break the awkward ice by saying truthfully and sincerely: “…it’s different.”

It IS different, isn’t it?  Nothing really prepares you for what comes down the road.  You can try to anticipate what things will be like, you can try to imagine and process the supposed ups and downs…but the truth is that until you are IN it there is no real preparation.

As someone who never dreamed for the days of having kids, this new season of my life where I’m cleaning and picking up after kids (and a husband), doing loads of laundry, playing games, rushing through errands to beat the school bus home, baking cookies, packing lunches, helping with school projects…is quite a life-change.  Everything I’ve known in my adult life (since graduating from university) has involved living cross culturally, learning language, cooking over charcoal, walking close to 6-10 hours every week, sharing a compound with 15 other teammates or a village with 100+ Mabaan.  In many ways, you’d think these lives couldn’t be any more different and in lots of ways you’d be right because there are some stark polar opposites.  However, I’d like to share with you some of the amazing similarities I have found in hopes that you’ll be as amazed as I am at God’s gentle preparation for this selfish-and-determined-single-missionary turned selfish-and-determined-wife-and-mother-of-three!

Over a number of posts I’ll share some of my inner thoughts and experiences of how the Lord continues to use these last 9 years in South Sudan to ‘prepare’ me for the ups and downs of being a stepmother….

If these things move you, then let’s do this together. Tyler and I are in the process of raising up a support team with SIM. Click on the “Together…” link for more information how you can connect with us and what God has drawn us into.

4 thoughts on “How 9 Years in South Sudan Prepared Me for Step-Motherhood… an Introduction

  1. Love this, Christiane. Love your heart. Love your openness and honesty, love the work of our God in you and his wonderful ways! Will continue to pray for you and the family – with a little more insight!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Laura

    Soooooo good!!! Being a sudden-mom of three not-newborns sounds pretty cross cultural to me!! I’m definitely looking forward to reading this series as it unfolds!! ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. momfan

    When you so beautifully described your 2D to 3D journey with the panic rising as the plane flew off in a cloud of red dust, I could feel your heart sinking like mine did when we first landed in Kano amid flies and swirling heat and a beggar accosting me in a busy traffic circle with a baby in my arms. Thank you God for holding us in those moments of panic. Like Laura, I immediately thought about the cross-cultural aspects of your new role! Loving this series you and Tyler are writing!


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