UNREACHED

Snakes AND a Plane: The Miraculous Works of God in South Sudan

September 20, 2023 UNREACHED Season 1 Episode 5
UNREACHED
Snakes AND a Plane: The Miraculous Works of God in South Sudan
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Picture this, my good friend Peter and I are sitting down for a deep, heartfelt conversation about a place that's close to our hearts - South Sudan. Peter opens up about the 21 transformative years he spent there among five tribes and 17 dialects, immersing himself and his family in their culture. He reveals the beauty of their connections with the locals, and the unique, profound ways their service impacted this newborn nation. 

Brace yourself for a thrilling encounter with a cobra in Peter's home and marvel at the miraculous acquisition of a plane expanding their mission. Not simply a vehicle, this plane symbolizes empowerment, enabling the South Sudanese to connect with the last unreached people groups in their own country. It led to a spiritual awakening among the locals and fueled Peter's dedication to discipleship, propelling him to become a pilot to serve the South Sudanese even better.

Journey with us as we trace the incredible manifestations of God's power in South Sudan. Hear about a floating Bible, a falling witch doctor's flag, church planting, and disciple training in a context where literacy is scarce. Then, listen as Peter shares the challenging yet rewarding journey of their mission work and the precious lesson he learned about finding success in faithfulness to God. This episode is more than a story of mission work; it's an exploration of the beauty and power of faith. Tune in to unwrap the richness of these experiences.

Follow @unreachedpodcast on Instagram for more!

Dustin Elliott:

In Revelation 7, john shares his vision of heaven, with members from every tribe, tongue, people and language standing in the throne room before the Lamb. Yet today there are still over 7,000 unreached people groups around the world. For the last six years my family and friends have been on a journey to find, vet and fund the task remaining. Come journey with us to the ends of the earth as we share the supernatural stories of God at work through the men and women he has called to reach the unreached. Hello friends, welcome back to the Unreach podcast, dustin Elliott, here today with a special guest, my friend Peter. But before I introduce Peter, I just want to take a minute and think about where we've been so far. What we kind of promised you in the audience was journey with us to the ends of the earth as we tell the supernatural stories of God at work through the men and women he has called to reach the unreached.

Dustin Elliott:

And so far we've started in America and we set the table the mission of God, the mission of the church. And then we went to Papua New Guinea. We spent some time in a tribe there, then we went to Russia and Ukraine, then we went to India and now we're coming to South Sudan today and we're about to go to Syria and to Turkey and to Thailand and Myanmar and so many cool places. So it's really coming together. We're traveling around the world and we're seeing what God's up to, and so let me introduce my friend, peter. Peter, please say hello and tell us a little bit about you and your family and where you're serving in your ministry.

Peter Swann:

Thanks to us Incredible privilege, honor and joy to be with you today. Thanks so much for having me on. My wife is Shauna. She's amazing. We are blessed with three kids Allison, timothy and Titus. They love God and they love who God cares about the people of the world, the tribes of the world and it's been such a joy to get to grow up, or to get to see them grow up, with that heartbeat for what God is doing all around the world and specifically in the call that we have here in Africa.

Dustin Elliott:

That's awesome, and so I believe you've been serving in Africa for 21 years, yeah that's right.

Peter Swann:

I grew up in Tanzania. My parents were missionaries, moved there when I was one year old and I am American by citizenship and absolutely love the US, but very African in heart. And it was 1998 when I first ran into some South Sudanese refugees in North Africa and had a really powerful calling of God to South Sudan. At that time Bombs were falling, the war was going on, this terrible civil war that raged there for a lot of years and sort of scratched my head at how in the world it was that God was calling me to South Sudan. But it was his plan and next year Shauna Knight got married and by 2002, we were setting foot on South Sudanese soil and it has been a profound privilege and honor. We like to say that, as best we know, it's a life calling. I hope one day that all the privilege of being buried there, that our life, will be spent for the sake of the South Sudanese.

Dustin Elliott:

Wow, that is profound. I don't know that a lot of people think about where they want to be buried, but if that's where your heart is, that's a beautiful thought. And so, since the time of y'all getting married and living there, your kids you've had three kids, and they're how old.

Peter Swann:

They're 17, 15, and nine. So Shauna and I moved to South Sudan. We lived in a mud hut and a village of 600 people in the early 2000s and it was tough. I mean it threw us around a bit. We absolutely love the people. They're still very, very dear friends of ours to this day. But at that time the civil war was going on. We were almost entirely cut off from the outside world. We had a radio call at seven o'clock in the morning every day to Kenya, a whole different country just to let people know we were still alive and apart from that, we were just living in this mud hut in the village of 600 people. It had a profound effect on us. We really got to see who God was and in that context and we deeply fell in love with the people. So through the years, as our kids were born, they were given names in the tribe. So the elders of the tribe named each of our kids. So they have their you know they're sort of their American names, but they also have their South Sudanese names.

Dustin Elliott:

So they really are very deeply connected to South Sudan and Shauna and I are Can you tell us a little bit about the demographics of where you are, the tribes you're in and around kind of the area? Can you give me some ideas of what you're working with there?

Peter Swann:

Yeah, I'd love to. People were culminated in a peace agreement and South Sudan voted to be separate from the North, and so it's the world's newest nation, republic of South Sudan. And in South Sudan there is. There are differing views on how many tribes there are, but anywhere from 65 to 80, we normally say about 80 tribes Depends on where you draw the lines with some of the people groups. We live among five of those people groups. Those are the ones we've been among for the last 21 years and then from there launching out to engage other people groups.

Dustin Elliott:

Yeah, I love that. I love that. And, as the as the listeners know if they've listened to the first episode, we talk about the within reach scale and the one to 10 steps of reaching an unreached people group, and the, the getting on side and the majority language learning and the minority language learning. And so among the five tribes you're in how many different languages or dialects are spoken?

Peter Swann:

Yeah, it's five. It's five different languages and 17 different dialects, so there is a lot going on. And so when we showed up 21 years ago, it was kind of like, which language do we learn here? And so we learned the tribal language of the largest tribe, which serves as a trade language for those five different tribes and those 17 different dialects. So pretty much everyone knows that main tribal language and so that's, that's worked fairly well.

Dustin Elliott:

And how have you historically traveled between the five tribes, cause I assume there's some mileage, relative mileage, right between the groups.

Peter Swann:

Yeah, south Sudan is a rugged place. I don't know what the statistic is now. Last time I saw it in print 90% of the people live in mud huts. So I'm sure that number has fallen now, but it is an overwhelming majority of the population live in mud huts. So we're talking about one of the poorest nations on earth. A lot in natural resources.

Peter Swann:

Really praying for South Sudan to keep coming up, but people who are predominantly living off of the land and, you know, no, no power, no running water, totally different contexts than it would be in the Western world, some of the greatest people you're ever going to meet, just a totally different context. And so when we showed up 21 years ago, you could hardly find a vehicle anywhere. There were no motorcycles. A few people even had bicycles. Through the years it's changed a little bit. We used to just walk everywhere 21 years ago. Now we have the luxury of of, you know, jumping on a motorcycle taxi in the market and going somewhere. We don't have our own vehicle. We do have a plane for going further distances, but within those five tribes it's mostly walking, sometimes by bicycle, and then, if it's really far, jumping on a motorcycle taxi from the market.

Dustin Elliott:

So is a walk a two or three mile walk typically, or how about? How far are we talking about?

Peter Swann:

Yeah, it can be anywhere from three miles, five or six miles. The South Sudanese people themselves will go a very, very long ways. They'll walk 15 miles or 20 miles and not think much of it. One of the brothers the privilege of discipling heat. He'll walk six miles one way, turn around and walk another six miles back, and do that twice a week and I really think much of it.

Dustin Elliott:

On these walks, in these yards in South Sudan. I mean, what kind of animals are you typically seeing and experiencing? I mean, I know there's a big game, but also you know spiders and snakes and things and we hear about the thorns and things like that. What's that like?

Peter Swann:

Yeah, great question. So about 50 years ago you had elephants roaming around this area. Lions and all giraffe, all sorts of big game, were roaming around. Civil War kind of drove them out. A little bit west of us we still have hyenas I can lay in bed at night and hear the hyenas calling out and other wild animals that are around. But our greatest threat personally is from snakes. For sure we have cobras and vipers and pythons and it seems like almost any number of snakes there. So we like to say that the snake exhibit kind of kind of lives. You know, you go to the zoo, you go to the snake exhibit. Kind of like to say we sort of live among that and really by the grace of God and His mighty hand that we depend on for us for daily protection there.

Dustin Elliott:

A couple of years ago I sent you a note towards the end of the year and I said, hey, god's kind of blessed us with a little extra this year. You're looking for a good place to put some of it. Do you have anything you've been praying for or anything on your heart Right? And one of the things that was a struggle for you all was your wife's you know, breathing and kind of her asthma or allergies and that part of her health living in a mud hut, was hard on her. And you said, brother, is there any way you could help me get some resources to put a brick house or something like that up? Can you walk us through that?

Peter Swann:

Yeah, yeah, that was incredible. It had a deeply personal impact on us. We had the option many years ago of staying in mud huts, as we used to live, or trying to stay in a tent. So we got a tent from the States. We thought maybe it would be a bit cooler and a bit better for Sean and my wife, and it worked well in some ways. But we had a terrible issue with mold that kept coming in to the tent Even when we replaced it. It would happen again. My wife struggles with Lyme disease and she's really susceptible to mold, and it was having quite the impact on her health, and so we realized that we needed a brick home. But we were just dependent on the Lord in prayer, and so when you contacted me and the way you're spotted, that was such a profound answer. At the same time, I could say this as well, since we were just talking about snakes Only before we got rid of that tent, I walked in it late one night.

Peter Swann:

I had been out doing ministry all day. It was about 10 o'clock at night. I walked in it and I just collapsed in the chair. I was really tired, decided to respond to a couple of messages on my phone. And then I suddenly stood up. I don't know why I sat in the chair instead of this little couch that normally sit in, but sat in the chair, stood up and all of a sudden I realized I needed to check something else on my phone. So I froze. I was looking at the phone and suddenly I heard this what sounded like a breathing sound. It was, and you've learned through the years in South Sudan not to ignore sounds that you hear, but I never heard that one before. I really began to wonder what it was. I was trying to think of it as our goats outside, but they're normally not there that time of day. I could not wrap my mind around it. Then I heard it again and it suddenly stopped. So I decided maybe I would just go out of my way. And then I thought no, you know, I need to check that out, I need to see what that is, and so I thought it was from outside the tent. But then our tent did not connect to the ground, and so I thought maybe it's possible.

Peter Swann:

Something came into our tent, and so I peered over. Behind the couch and the bookshelf next to it, there was about a five foot long cobra right there. What I found out later is, when cobras are about to strike, they raise at their head, they open their hood and they make a noise. And I'd never heard that noise before. And that was the noise to warn me that we're about to strike. We're about to strike. Well, if a snake's about to strike you, the thing you're supposed to do is to freeze. And so I did exactly what I was supposed to do, without knowing that I was supposed to do it. I was checking my phone and so I froze. And then I froze because I was just trying to figure out the noise.

Peter Swann:

Oh, by the grace of God, there was a South Sudanese brother not too far away. He came running with his bow and arrows and the end of the story is snake caught out outside of the tent and we're running out there and he's trying to shoot that snake in the darkness. And it was a blessing and God, we've had so many snake encounters like that. But it was one of those things where I thought why did I sit in the chair instead of the couch, where the snake was just right behind that couch? Why did I freeze? Why did I respond the right way? So we got all the ghoul for that and we also saw his hand in this new home because it would eliminate the possibility of that type of snake issue happening again.

Peter Swann:

Obviously, a brick home they can't come under the walls anymore and so let's just say it was primarily for my wife's house. But there were some other reasons. I mean it's very, very happy about that new brick home and it was an incredible gift and joy to be able to watch my wife walk through that home for the first time. One of the things that we've seen in South Sudan through the years is just so rugged that it burned so many people out so quick.

Peter Swann:

And in missions and in ministry tenure matters, because there's something about really knowing the people and them, really knowing you, and you really know the language, you know the culture. Those things can't be acquired quickly and how that level of credibility and trust means something. I mean the people that were just youth that we used to greet on the path 21 years ago are now deputy governors of states and in other significant positions of authority, because of the grace of God on us to give us those 21 years. And so when my wife developed Lyme disease, it was this question of how do we make sure that we have a lengthy tenure and by lengthy I mean the rest of our lives. How do we make sure we can run this well? Until, god willing, we'll be buried here, and it will have been as big an investment in these people, in the communities, as we can have, and so this home is really a significant part of our lives and therefore a significant part of long-term ministry there.

Dustin Elliott:

Peter, I've got so many thoughts. First of all, clint and I have been frozen in the studio the entire time you were telling that story, just in case we were somehow going to upset a snake here or there.

Peter Swann:

So we're frozen.

Dustin Elliott:

But you hit on something else while ago that I was not quite ready for it. We're going to go there. You travel by plane. You have a skill set that's different from a lot of other folks in the field is that you're a pilot, and one of the things we prayed for before the plane showed up was man, I wonder if somebody might give us a plane someday right when we could go and travel a little bit further. And the idea is, you've reached and made disciples of a lot of the tribal members around you and they're ready to go. They're ready to be sent right, and so the point of the plane was not just about y'all traveling around for your own good, but the point of the plane was we can take them to other places and they can start to minister to some of the other tribes as well. So tell us the story about how do we get the plane, and then we'll talk about the components that came after.

Peter Swann:

Yeah, I'd be honored. There are various things that we've been engaged in through the years, but our deepest passion has always been evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and so through the years, the South Sudanese just kept asking for more discipleship. It's how we started 21 years ago, and so several years ago, we felt led of God to take a deep dive into a sole focus on discipleship of the church leaders in our area as they're then launched out to share the gospel, to disciple others and to plant churches. And it was incredible what God did. I mean, just from day one, almost, people just began to respond to the gospel in really, really powerful ways Generations of disciples, churches being planted through the years, and it has been the greatest move of God that I've ever had the privilege of witnessing my own life. And it was so significant because our first 10 years in South Sudan we did not see that at all. We would have described that as a period where we weren't seeing any fruit at all. I'm sure God was working in ways that we didn't see, but it was not visible to our eyes. And so what God has done over these 21 years has been from the first half with no fruit at all to the second half of just sort of an increased movement of the spirit to where it just felt like it was a really powerful explosion of God's work. And so what came with that was a real stirring of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the people, began to see a lot of repentance and a lot of conviction and powerful obedience to the scriptures. One of the things we were discipling in even from the beginning is going through the scriptures and focusing on the commands of Jesus and our obedience to those commands.

Peter Swann:

And one day I was under a main good tree with a group of brothers and they began to be really troubled in a way I'd never seen before and I asked them what was wrong and they said they had a problem with Acts 1-8. I never heard that before. I never heard anybody say that, a problem with Acts 1-8. But it says the Holy Spirit will come on you and you'll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, judea, samaria and to the end of the earth. And they said the problem was that they couldn't be obedient to it. They could walk and try to reach their Jerusalem, their area where they live, judea, which is where these five tribes are. They could walk to those areas where some of them have bicycles that could try to take their bicycles, but they had no way to get to Samaria, the rest of South Sudan, much less to the ends of the earth. And they were struggling with this idea of we don't have vehicles, we don't have motorcycles. A few of the richest people have motorcycles that are used for business in the market, but that's not us. None of us do. They're looking around saying we literally have no way to be obedient. Even if we had a vehicle. Most of the roads are cut off during the rainy season. We're talking about I mean, south Sudan is the size of Texas, so you're talking about quite a distance to try to cover anyway, and almost all the roads are dirt. Around the capital there's some paved roads and other parts, but most, the vast majority of roads in South Sudan are dirt. And so here they were saying they don't have the means. Even if they did, it'd be really difficult.

Peter Swann:

And so we talked and talked and I said what would it take for you to be obedient in terms of living this out? And they couldn't come up with an answer. It could come up with an answer, and then finally I said well, you know what about an airplane. Is that possible? Because air travel is how missionaries have to move around South Sudan for a long time. Keep in mind these are predominantly Western missionaries. And that was in their response. They said well, we've seen God do that for people like you, but we've never seen him do that for us, for the South Sudanese. We've never seen God provide a plane to take South Sudanese around as missionaries. And I said but what would happen? If we pray? Because we are praying, if we pray the Spirit, we're praying into the heart of God. This is God's passion, this is Jesus' command, this is straight from the heart of God. And if we are praying, and you're praying, and you're saying, god, we want to be obedient, we can't, we just provide the means, then let's see what God does. And I asked him a question If God provides a plane, are you willing to go? And they said absolutely, if God provides a plane, we're going to go.

Peter Swann:

So if you fast forward the story, I felt there are some other things that were just sort of clashing together in Shauna's heart, wife's heart and my heart of this idea that you know, we expect this to be a life calling. We've got another three or four decades. God will. What's the most catalytic thing that we could do now to help accelerate the advance of the kingdom for the next three or four decades? Another way to ask the question if we're on our deathbed, looking back, what will we wish that we would have done? And we thought, you know, nothing makes more sense than if we could, if I could become a pilot and we could serve the South Sudanese so they can go as missionaries. So we're not only discipling them, we're also helping them to move out. And so God moved. We just began to pray. We didn't know what to do. We felt in and of ourselves this deep conviction not to ask, and so we were very dependent on God to stir hearts.

Peter Swann:

And one day we went to lunch with some friends and we sat down and they immediately said, within just a few minutes, what's something that God has put on your heart that you're not talking anybody else about? And I thought, man, that question teased it up. And so we just began to share about the same story. I just told X-1A, out under the mango trees, the church leaders, this crazy prayer for a plane. And that was about it for the conversation. But afterwards just began a dialogue with them where they sort of said you know, god really touched our heart and we don't have the funding that you would need, but if God provides it, we pledge right now. If God gives us that funding, we're going to buy that airplane. And over the next year there wasn't any further conversation. And so we're back a year later wondering how things were. And we ended up in another conversation with these same friends we hadn't seen them for a year here because we were in Africa and yet again, it was just the restatement of the same thing. We still feel compelled to this. We don't have the funding, but if God gives it we're going to do it.

Peter Swann:

Well, long story short, god worked in an incredible way in their lives in the months that followed and six months later the funding was in hand. And a couple months after that, a few months after that, god had provided the airplane. A few months after that, missionaries were going out and it was one of the most radical things that ever seen. It was just a series of miracles. You know, many stories have one main miracle, but this is a story where we just saw so many take place. And I remember the day that that airplane that I landed on the dirt airstrip in Envolo, south Sudan, in our home in South Sudan, and people gather around the plane. They just began to sing and to dance and praise God in this enormous celebration and within days, missionaries were going out. I mean that pledge that they had if God provides the plane, we're going to go. They absolutely did and it has been powerful.

Dustin Elliott:

And if you're driving around right now and you're listening to this, I just have to ask you, like, how do you not want to be a part of stories like this? Like, how do you not want to be a part of stories like this? Can you tell us a little bit about a couple of the? I don't know just highlights a couple of the trips? I mean, how many guys typically go with you? Where have you gone? What's the strategy been? Do you have it mapped out and you've got pins on a board and we're going here next and give us a little playbook on how you're going about it.

Peter Swann:

When we bought the plane it was well equipped. It was a former mission aviation fellowship plane. They've been incredible to us through the years. But it needed some real upgrades and the GPS, as you know.

Peter Swann:

It was incredibly vital in that and we are unbelievably grateful in what God did in that, as we began to go out, it was with the concept of sending the South Sudanese out two by two. So same thing Jesus did. When Sinister Cycles out two by two, it was with the idea of just trying to really mirror the New Testament. And we've seen that, not only them going out two by two, but the encounters that they have, the way they've shared faith, the miracles that have taken place along the way. There was also this question in the beginning of where do we go? And you noted earlier, ty thought was really powerful about that co-dependence between the missionary and the host population, to the point where they no longer feel like a host population. It's just your community, it's your people, absolutely.

Peter Swann:

And so as we were talking together and this question of where to go, I was just asking them, saying where do you think, where should we go? We just we talked around and then we came up with this question of where are the idols coming from? Because the idols are such a significant part of witchcraft, and witchcraft has long been the undercurrent of spirituality in South Sudan, and so we began to talk together about that, and they said well, to the south, it's this place called Merida, southwest, a place called Yambio. To the northwest, distant, distant northwest, is a place called Raja. Well, I began to look on the map. I knew Merida, I knew Yambio, I'd heard a little bit about Raja, but no missionary pilots were flying there, and so we really wondered what God was up to.

Peter Swann:

But we came to discover that Raja, in particular, is known by some missionaries as the last frontier. It's home to a number of tribes that are just unengaged, unreached people groups. Many of them have no believers at all, not even one, no real concept of the gospel, and so it began to thrill our hearts, this idea that the South Sudanese could be part of reaching the last unreached people groups in their own country. And so we began to fly to those three locations, and one of the greatest joys came a couple months ago, because in Merida, the location to the south, the missionaries from our area have gone to that place and, over the last two or three years have raised up missionaries from Merida who are now also going out to this Raja area. So you're talking about missionaries raising up other missionaries that are going to engage these people, groups that have no believers at all, and it is just a thrill to watch Acts 1.8 come into life in that way.

Dustin Elliott:

Wow, I don't know that I even have the ability to grasp the concept of the guys in the mango tree. I'm never going to eat a mango again without thinking about the story. By the way, but the talk of the mango tree and where it breaks my heart, but where they kind of were like well, we've seen that happen with your people, We've seen the right, but God hasn't provided that for us. And you're like pray, right, pray, and then did you already have your pilot's license?

Peter Swann:

No, no, I didn't.

Peter Swann:

I had begun the process, but it was very, very new and there was a very long ways I was going to have to go until I could ever meet missionary aviation standards. But when they said that Sean and I just talked and prayed and said, you know what, they're praying straight into the heart of God, it's hard for us to follow that God won't do that. You know, a miracle isn't even a miracle for God, it's just him doing what he does, and if you're praying into his heart, then that's just what he's going to want to do. And so it came with us, just in prayer and just feeling this deep conviction of, okay, we got to keep up with God here. And I had just started taking some pilot's lessons because again, we were asking that catalytic 30 or 40 year question. And then they brought that question out of the blue and it was kind of like that's why I asked them what about an airplane, you know? And God was just weaving those two things together. That moment the picture became clear and God just began to work.

Dustin Elliott:

Tell us what it's like when you you're flying the plane in, you go into one of these places that you haven't spent a lot of time, you land. What happens then?

Peter Swann:

Yeah, first time you land it's like a scene out of the movie. So it was the second time, third time and every other time. I mean people just flood around the plane, kind of coming out of the bush. Just a couple months ago I landed on our newest airstrip. It hadn't been functional in many, many years. We didn't know how to get it cleared. We had been praying and praying for a year or 18 months and just this strong conviction just to keep praying and praying. And so the brothers and sisters in our home area and in Bolo and many friends internationally were just praying. And one day we got the word out of the blue that the UN had cleared it. This is crazy story about the UN needed to make one helicopter drop, one helicopter delivery and they cleared the entire airstrip for a helicopter and God just did it for free. He just opened up that airstrip. We didn't have to deal with government red tape or anything else, he just did it. So I landed there a couple months ago again, the first landing by plane, and I don't know how many years, so many years, and people just came out of the bush.

Peter Swann:

Missionaries jump out of the plane. They immediately start to share the gospel, I'd confident the overwhelming majority of people had never heard the gospel before. They immediately just began to share it, began to engage with the people in that location. You can count the number of believers probably on one hand I think most certainly on two hands, but probably probably on one hand and we are thrilled that now these missionaries are going in as, as you noted, from Envola, from Merida, from multiple locations now going into this area of in Northwestern Saucer and this last frontier is recalling it going in there and trying to pour into the believers who are there to raise them up and better equip them to be able to reach, reach their community, in order to to be able to reach some of those tribes that have literally no believers at all. I traveled around for a couple weeks back in February back of a back of a really small motorcycle and other pastor friend of ours and we were just sleeping wherever we could find a spot to sleep and just eating whatever local food and and it was an incredible experience meeting with these chiefs in these tribes they're totally cut off from that and say well, they don't have schools, they don't have cell phone towers, you can't find any believers, certainly no church, for however many miles, and asking them the question of if they'd be willing for us to come in, if we could get there. And we told them, in order to be able to get there, we'd bring a really small plane. Now our, our normal plane holds six people. We would need something smaller to come in and land on a dirt road, on a soccer field, something like that. So especially it quits that aircraft for that, and they agreed it was.

Peter Swann:

It was really powerful. A lot of stories about that. The only thing was we didn't know the plane yet and so we were still in the process of prayer. But back to that same thing of God's passion is for the unreached, for these who don't know him, and so if, if, we're praying in his heart, and we just had this strong conviction that God is at work here, and so he did, the chiefs agreed fast forward the story. Another amazing experience of feeling convicted not to ask for money. But I just did it, just provided it. Again, so many miracles that we've seen. But that plane, that second plane, we're incredibly excited about it. God willing, this this week it's getting loaded into a container in California to come by boat, come by ship, over to the Kenya coast be trucked till you've gone to. The wings will get put back on it and then we'll fly it up into South Sudan.

Dustin Elliott:

God loves the unreached peoples one of the things you brought up when you were selecting where to go, when y'all were sitting down and you were praying about which tribe do we go to, what area, you said where the idols coming from. And if someone were to sit me down and say, give me the three coolest stories you've ever encountered around the world of God at work, that just what? What are they?

Peter Swann:

you have told me one of the three and it's the idol bonfire that story took place at a time when the spirit guy just began to explode in our area and the south Sudanese began to go to Judea. This was before the airplane Jerusalem, judea, smear the ends of the earth. They began to go out to Judea without me even knowing that they would come back with the story. So we weren't funding it, we weren't even casting vision, we didn't even know about it. It was just entirely on their own. The spirit of God was stirring their heart. They had to go share their faith as they share their faith. Um, god was touching hearts. People were coming to faith and a natural consequence of that is burning idols and its Ephesians 19 taking place. And so the south Sudanese heard this story about a place called Gulumaru. Gulumaru was really on our heart. We had trouble getting there. I was supposed to go several times. Goliw was in God's plan because every time something came up. But we kept praying for Gulumaru because we heard that within our area it was potentially the strongest witch doctor base, and so we kept praying, and praying, and praying for God to open the door. Well, sean and I traveled out of south Sudan with kids and, uh, we only later found out when we got back that the south Sudanese said they had traveled there, they they'd gone as a group, huge group things, about 20 people. They had hitched a ride on a truck and and kind of loaded in and gone to the closest major town and then they walked for 17 miles through the bush to get to Gulumaru. The group that got there first began to pray. As they prayed, for Gulumaru there is a flag that belonged to the witch doctors and that flag just began to lower on its own. By the time they finished praying, that flag was touching the ground. Now that got the attention of all the people that clearly God was up to something.

Peter Swann:

After that, the rest of those 20 people arrived in the area and they were asking themselves a question of where the witch doctors do in their activity and they heard that it was primarily, or at least significantly, at this body of water with the tree next to it. They went over to the body of water and and this tree and they knew that that was the spot where the, where the witch doctors had done their work. Now, sometime earlier this was a couple months early and this is what had put Gulumaru our radar. Was that a pastor on his own initiative, not not one of the guys. I was a disciple and somebody else had gone there, prayed for the area and placed a Bible on top of the water in that stream, and the Bible just floated. He left and it floated day after day after day. That Bible did not move and it did not sing, and the power of all the witch doctors was broken to the point where the witch doctors began to ask themselves what the world is going on. We no longer have our, our power, which we know to be demonic power, and they began to ask around the village only to find out. People told them about the Bible. So they went to where that Bible was, they lifted it off the water and their power came back. Well, that story traveled to our area in Amvolo and that's what generated such interest in Gulumaru and our prayers, all the way to the point where they arrived, the flag lowered and they went to that stream. When they got to the stream and that tree, they began to pray and they prayed and they prayed and they prayed and the Salsones are huge on symbolism they took that tree and they carved the sign that crossed in the tree.

Peter Swann:

After that, they went back to the village and they just began to do a battle of Jericho around the village. They were just walking around and singing praises to God and people just began to run up to them, fall down before them, confess sins and beg for salvation, through which the, the Sassones church leaders, said you know, we don't give salvation, that that comes from God, that, but we'll pray with you. And then people just began to bring their idols and for three days, day and night, they were just burning idols, idols after idols. People kept coming, confessing sin, longing for salvation, burning their idols until a point where the, the men and women from from our area in Amvolo, were just, you know, utterly exhausted. But they came back, just just buzzing, and I thought what an incredible story, what a move, the spirit.

Peter Swann:

And then it's like, weeks later I hear the story again somebody else went to another village, came back. What happened there? Oh, they burned idols for, you know, for three days, day and night, or just walking through the market one day, and I, I saw these three guys just covered in dust on the back of a motorbike. So I, one of the guys I knew he's one of the one of the men I had a privilege in cycling I said where have you been? And they said, oh, we came from this area, which is known to be a really dark area. I said what were you doing this at all? Um, well, we self funded this taxi motorcycle to carry us there so we could preach and proclaim the gospel.

Peter Swann:

Now, for three days, we've heard idols day and night, were utterly exhausted, and we're just coming back. We were filthy just over the dirt, but a beating with joy because the spirit of God was just on the move, and one of the big takeaways that that I've had from these years in South Sudan is just this encouragement that God is always on the move. You know, we might be living in context in our old world where we're not seeing breakthroughs through our prayers and we feel like we're not seeing people we care about maybe, maybe come to faith and and we're not seeing a god at work. But he is. He is in places all over the world, many of those places we never know about. God is stirring and moving and power.

Dustin Elliott:

It is incredible what he's up to so to give a little bit more context to this visual. 90% of the people living in mud huts, particularly in these areas I'm assuming pretty much everybody is when. When you say they're burning their idols. Give me a little bit more context. What exactly are their idols?

Peter Swann:

Yeah, great question. Sometimes the idols are pieces of wood, that's. That's very common. So some sort of totem that you might visualize if you've ever seen something like that, even portrayed in a movie, though it's not necessarily ornate, but just some sort of wood that they have, maybe a spear that's stuck in the ground. But sometimes idols are, are plants that they've put in the ground and and that those are the idols of the house. So I would say those are the two most common.

Peter Swann:

Sometimes they look like charms, it might be, you know, sort of something looks like a necklace or something else. It's a joy to me when one of the brothers, one of the church leaders in in a Volvo, will pass me as I'm Going down the path and he runs over to me what's to show me? The latest idol that's about to be burned. And so some of these are are really small. Some of these are are larger, some of them are hard to burn, you know, and it's a fresh plant, it's not easy to burn, but they do such a great job of trying to eradicate that and with that show a complete turning of allegiance to Christ.

Dustin Elliott:

But I don't know what they're gonna do about their tree, because it's got a cross carved into it now, so they're gonna have to burn the tree or cut the tree down or something else, right?

Peter Swann:

So they got a new problem they got to deal with no, the end of the story on the tree is that it withered and died within two weeks. Whoa that. The trees gone, it's gone, they. They put the the side of the cross of that tree and Two weeks later they were hearing from the people of village like you won't believe what happened. That should be completely died. The witch doctors will never use it again.

Dustin Elliott:

Okay, peter, I'm curious about something that that we haven't hit on yet, because you've been there for as long as you have and now we have disciples making disciples and you're taking the tribe to the local tribes, the other tribes. What is a Sunday morning? What's the church like there, where you are? What's that like?

Peter Swann:

Yeah, that's a great question. Thanks. There are Some established churches that have been there for a number of years, but there's so many churches that are new and and tons of churches that are getting planted all the time, and so I Typically go from church plant to church plant on different Sundays and then circle back to some of the established churches. Any church that's nearby Shawna, the kids can come with me as they're able and then Further churches, I'll walk or ride my bicycle to get there. As you walk in, if it's a church plan, it's out under a tree somewhere. Typically, may go trees they love, may go trees could be a different type of tree. So lots of tree churches and then it's sort of graduates oftentimes to where it's sort of a straw mat, a type of structure, it just to protect you from the sun. And then more established churches are mud brick. You walk in and You'll begin to to see this real vibrancy. They love to sing and to and to dance and to celebrate who God is. One of my favorite parts of the service is you're singing and dancing. I'm always stirred by the offering you're.

Peter Swann:

20 years ago and it wasn't really much of a cash economy, so even the tithing that they did during the service was often grain or, or peanuts, ground nuts, you know something else that they would bring, which was which was really beautiful, but it they will always give what they have, even if it's something literally think of the widows might, but they will. They will give what they have and that's it. That's a beautiful thing. One of the problems through the years has been that that, since most of them can't read or write, they don't really know how to learn more Bible stories so that they can preach from the scriptures. And that's been the privilege of the discipleship training that we're doing, because we have a written track for those who can read or write. We would also have an oral track, and so many are just learning these Bible stories orally and then they stand up and and they preach and they proclaim the scriptures that way and in an oral culture it's really pretty powerful.

Peter Swann:

And so there isn't an established church. They do have established leaders. Many of those leaders have shown great humility with a real desire to be discipled and and we've journeyed together many of those of those top leaders. 20 years ago there was only one denomination. Through the years we've seen some others come in and it's a joy just to disciple. All of them Re-invite everybody to come in for discipleship training, and there was such a limited lack, sort of a lack of exposure, the outside world that they tend to be so unified. It matters of faith and really just this deep allegiance to the scriptures. They just want to know the word and follow it, and I think that's probably one reason why God is moving so powerfully there.

Dustin Elliott:

Amen. The reality of the work you did was 10 years you referenced this earlier 10 years of somewhat not harvesting fruit, of frustration and challenge and struggle and isolation. Walk us through a little bit of that first 10 years and maybe the struggle and what you had to go through and get through to get to this place with this healthy church now.

Peter Swann:

Yeah, I'd be honored, thank you, you know, I think one of the things that you realize along here on the mission field is how broken you are, how weak you are and how much you don't know. There's just this constant prayer of but I don't know what to do next. I'm in tripling over myself, I'm stumbling over myself, and you begin to realize that anything that you're seeing happening is just a move of God's grace, by His power, for His glory, and it is just our great, great privilege to have a front row seat to witness it. I think, though, that I had to learn that lesson sort of in the early days. Sean and I had got there as mentioned earlier, we're living in a mud hut village of 600 people try to learn the language and then we tried to go out, begin to share our faith and disciple, and there was a form that we used to fill out in those days and submit to these mentors, supervisors, that we were under at that time, and the form was just a report on, you know, salvation's, baptism's church plants. The easiest form I've ever filled out is it's all zeros. First year, all zeros. Of the second year, going into third year, all zeros again.

Peter Swann:

I began to feel like a great deal of shame about, about turning that form in because there is just no fruit. There was nothing happening and at the same time, sean and I had slipped into some clinical depression, living in a mud hut middle of nowhere, almost entirely cut off from the outside world, and we didn't realize what was happening at first until it got to the point where Sean was crying every day, I was constantly crying and we were really struggling, really, really struggling all the classic symptoms of clinical depression. We ended out out in Nairobi, kenya, where our mentor, direct sort of mentor supervisor was, and I remember the day he sat down with me and he said Peter, you talked to you about something. Sean was sitting there as well, but he was just talking straight to me and he said you're in clinical depression, so is your wife. You're not having any fruit in the ministry, there's nothing that we can point to and I just see how deeply you're struggling just to make it there. And he said I think I just need to tell you that you're not cut out for South Sudan. It was a blow.

Peter Swann:

I had grown up as a missionary kid. I had already felt this really profound calling to South Sudan. We deeply love the people and you know, as a guy, my identity was sort of wrapped up in that. I was just shattered at that moment and he said I can't make you not go back to South Sudan. But I'd put it in my formal recommendation to these other mentors, supervisors, that this is what I think and if they want to make you not go back, they can't. Well, in the end we were given the choice to go back in and Sean and I prayed and felt really strongly that God's not done, this is our calling. We're supposed to go back in, and so we did.

Peter Swann:

Went back from Nairobi, kenya, back into South Sudan, but this time shattered, broken even more than before, because now the mentor over me, over us, didn't think that we should be there. Well, the clinical depression was even worse and I remember this since. Deep prayer of God. What do we do? Just crying, crying every day.

Peter Swann:

I felt really strong, impressed to read the book of Ecclesiastes, which is a terrible book to read if you're already in depression. But I began to read through Ecclesiastes Now meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless. I just wanted to give a big amen to that until it was as if the Holy Spirit has crashed on my heart this question of what is success, what is success in life? And I began to feel so convicted. I was judging success by the end result, by the numbers, but what you can point to who has come to faith, who's been baptized, who's been discipled, who's who's you know what church has that been planted? Point to the numbers and I began to be so convicted that Paul planted Apollos water, but God made it grow. God made it grow, god made it grow. So either plant or water, but God's the one who does anything. And that success is not the end result but it's the process.

Peter Swann:

Am I being faithful to God today? If I am, that's that success. Do you even be a missionary in a closed country and not see any fruit for 25 years and be more successful than enough missionary in another place? That that is seeing things happen, you know, because maybe the missionary in the closed country is being more faithful, in the other word, not as much. They're just seeing fruit. God determines the fruit, but for us it's about faithfulness and I remember coming out of out of that period was just this deep conviction and heartfelt prayer of God whatever happens, just help me be faithful.

Peter Swann:

I'm going to trip for myself. I'm going to make mistakes, I'm going to, I'm going to whatever. But you, you write the story. This is your story to write. You will do whatever you want to do, just help me be faithful.

Peter Swann:

And so for the next, you know, most of the next decade, it wasn't fruit, it was just a tri-season. But this constant refrain of God we just keep us faithful, just keep us faithful, just keep us faithful. And then it just began to explode, just began to move as a ripple of fact at first, until it eventually just became what felt like a tidal wave of the move of the spirit. And I remember getting the point where, every day, we were just hearing these stories of salvation and repentance and miracles and idol burning and churches planted, and you know just enough to make you weak and just realize I'm the same broken guy that I've always been. But all praise to God Because, in his power and for his glory, he just decided to stir and move. So, god, just help me plant, help me water. Whatever you want me to do, help me to be faithful in that, and may your name be the praise, because you're the one that makes things good.

Dustin Elliott:

For those listening that are in the field.

Dustin Elliott:

I think that has to be encouraging, no matter what step you are currently in, and your definition of success talking about the end result versus the daily dependence on the Lord that translates to every Christ follower in every vocation around the planet, whether you're in the marketplace or you're in full-time ministry or your full-time missions, whatever the rate.

Dustin Elliott:

The other thing you've done today that's inspired me is you know, peter, you haven't quit learning. You haven't quit committing yourself to bettering yourself as a disciple maker, as a church planner. You even went to the links of getting your pilots license just to show the people that you were with, that you were fully committed and that you wanted to help be a part of a miracle God could quote pull off, it would be a part of several of many, but show them that commitment level of I'll get this pilot's license. God provides us plane, we're gonna go and I'm gonna take you there and I love that. And so, to kind of wrap us up today, man, I'm overwhelmed with the stories and all the things that you've had to say. I'm so grateful that we get to be a part of your story and your family's story in this. Would you maybe pray for us and the listeners and everybody involved first in say the native language, like Jermodo, and then translate what you said into English for us. I'd be honored.

Peter Swann:

I'm your honor. Thank you. So the Jormodo language of the Envolvo area of South Sudan. We honored to pray and then translate it. Yeah, thanks so much. Let us pray.

Peter Swann:

Just prayed and worshiped God for who he is and his power and his glory, for his love, for his grace, for his power. Thanking God because he loves the people of South Sudan. He loves the people of the world. Thanking God for this, this time that we've had today.

Peter Swann:

Thanking God for his word and thanking him because of how he chases those who don't know him and then praying for his power, for his glory to be revealed among the unreached of South Sudan, the unreached of America, their unreached of the world, that God would, that God would move in great power so that all people know him, they would become disciples of them and that they would follow him with with all that they have. Thank you, god, for this time that we've had together today, worshiping him, thanking him for all of his blessings. To him and to him alone, be the glory. We are so small and so weak, but he is so powerful and so great. Praying that God, with, would bless this podcast and bless what God is doing here and bless all who listen and pray and miss for his glory. Amen.

Dustin Elliott:

Amen, amen, peter. How do people find out more about you? How do they get in touch with you?

Peter Swann:

Oh, thanks for asking. We'd be honored. We have a small website, pursuit53.org. P-u-r-s-u-i-t. The number five, the number three, dot or G, and feel free to contact us. Reach out to us and we'd be honored.

Dustin Elliott:

Peter, thank you so much for joining us today and thank you for the ministry and the work that you and Shana are doing. God is alive, he is active, he's going to the ends of the earth and he's inviting every one of us to be a part of that journey. Thank you for listening to Unreached. Our sincere desire is that what you've heard today will cause you to see the mission of God differently and you're rolling it more clearly. If this adds value for you and we hope it does would you please rate and review the podcast wherever you listen. Also, share with your family, your friends, your church, your life group small group, d group wherever you do life, and if you want to connect with us, find us on Instagram at Unreached Podcast, or email us at unreachedpodcastatgmailcom.

Journey to Reach the Unreached
Snake Encounter and Missionary Ministry Expansion
Discipleship and Missionary Aviation Power
Flying to Reach Unreached People
God's Power in South Sudan
Church Planting and Discipleship Training Journey
Finding Faith in Mission Work