No, not the Charlie Brown from the Peanut comics in the American Saturday morning paper! Charlie Brown, pioneer missionary serving in Kimatong, South Sudan!
Most of the time, I just get to hear about the amazing partners we serve. I rarely get to actually meet them.
But each of the MAF South Sudan pilots speak of Charlie with such high regard:
✈ 'Charlie’s ministry is what high impact missions is all about.'
✈ 'Charlie is the friendliest guy you will ever meet.'
✈ 'Charlie is the definition of a hard worker.'
✈ 'You’ve got to meet Charlie, he’s the best.'
I just knew that our conversation would be great. And it really was! He truly is one of the most friendly, humble, loving, hard-working, servant hearted missionaries I have ever met.
I can’t think of a better way for me to share his story than to simply share our conversation with you. So please, imagine yourself in the front row of a Cessna Caravan, you, me and Charlie having a good old chat in the air, somewhere over the skies of South Sudan.
Karyn: What are you doing in Kimatong?
Charlie: I’m serving in Kimatong with World Mission. We are building homes for a long term AIM (Africa Inland Mission) team coming to live with and serve the Lariim people group. AIM already has one couple and several single guys in Kimatong, and with three families ready to come we need to have a compound for them to live. The AIM team is coming to share the Gospel to this unreached people group. There is no church here, there are no missionaries here, the Gospel is not here.
Karyn: While you are building the houses, where are you staying? What are your living conditions like?
Charlie: I’m living in a tent, sleeping on a mattress on the ground. It’s good for my back. I eat mostly beans and rice. Sometimes we have potatoes or spaghetti. It’s ok though. I’m a village guy, I like it this way. We had internet and cell phone service, but that has been down for fifteen days now. I wasn’t even positive whether the MAF plane was coming today. I had no idea if the flight had been cancelled as I couldn’t check my emails. I was really hoping you guys would come though. Having no communication has been really hard. I’ve got six grown children and they haven’t heard from me in over two weeks. They need an email from me every once in a while, even if it’s just two words – “I’m ok”. That’s the first thing I’ll do once I reach internet in Kenya, email my kids.
Karyn: How do you bring in your supplies?
Charlie: [With a big eyebrow raise and a kind smile.] This is the tough part. It’s really hard. Our project has stopped several times because we are having such a tough time bringing the supplies in. The roads here are bad. I worked as a logger in Montana, so I’ve seen my fair share of bad roads. Like real bad roads. But these roads here in South Sudan…they are bad, bad, bad. We’ve sent supplies up on trucks, but there has been lots of banditry, three people have been killed. It took all the effort we had to bring in a truck full of cement. I sent some of my guys out for lumber and all they came back with were some nails. It’s difficult to get supplies in.
Karyn: How did you first travel to Kimatong?
Charlie: [With another big eyebrow raise, a half smile and a shake of his head.] I travelled by road. [A long pause, and an even bigger eyebrow raise.] But then we opened the airstrip in Kimatong. I worked with 20 guys from the village, we pulled the tree stumps out of the runway. I was ecstatic when we were finally able to open the airstrip for the first time.
Karyn: And how was your first flight out of Kimatong?
Charlie: [With a full smile this time.] Flying out of Kimatong was a “nice experience”. [This was very likely his biggest understatement of the year.]
Karyn: Other than the homes you are building, what is in Kimatong?
Charlie: For the people we are serving, nothing, absolutely nothing. There are a few hand pumps for water. But that is it. They say there are around 2,300 families here. That is about 10,000 people. Not one bicycle, not one toilet for the entire village. Right now it’s the dry season, so there isn’t even any food. They are picking the leaves off the trees and eating that.
Karyn: How has the community received you?
Charlie: I’ve received a very warm welcome. They call me “Cha-ro-lie”. It’s great.
Karyn: As you are constructing the AIM team houses, what are you doing in Kimatong now to plant the seeds of the Gospel?
Charlie: One of World Mission’s most valuable ministry tools is “The Treasure”, a small, solar-panelled audio device. Basically, it is a simple MP3 with Scripture recorded on it. We are getting three of the Gospels, Mark, Luke and John as well as Genesis and Exodus put on these audio devices in the Laarim language. This is a fantastic way to share the Word of God with the people of Kimatong.
Karyn: What is your dream for the people of Kimatong, what do you long for the Lariim people group?
Charlie: There was one guy named Lakota. The way I first remembered his name is that it rhymes with Dakota. He didn’t know any English at all except for two words “Good Morning”. And he would enthusiastically say “Good Morning” to me any time he saw me, despite what time of day it actually was. He was fully of energy and passion and potential. I flew out of Kimatong for Christmas, and when I returned I was expecting Lakota’s eager “Good Morning” greeting. But he wasn’t there. They told me he had been in killed in a cattle raid. People are literally killing each other over cows. There are too many widows, too many parents who have lost children. Lakota needed the Gospel, the people of Kimatong need the Gospel, they need God….
And that’s when I saw Charlie choke up. No tears, but a lump in his throat and genuine grief in his eyes.
Charlie: …The Gospel needs to come here.
Wow, they were right, Charlie’s ministry is amazing, plus he really is the friendliest, easiest guy to talk to. I was pretty much done with my interview and it was nearing lunch time anyways. So I put my pen down and popped my hand into my lunch bag.
Karyn: Oh ya, I packed two apples in my lunch bag today, would you like one?
Charlie: Yes, I most definitely would. But can I tell you one more story? It’s about two apples that MAF pilot Ryan Unger brought me a few months back. I had been in Kimatong for a while. Ryan had flown in and I had gone to see him at the airstrip. Just before he left, he handed me two apples from his own lunch. It was a beautiful sight, we don’t have fruit like this in Kimatong. It was such a nice gift. After Ryan took off from the runway, I began my walk back, both apples in my hand. The local children saw the fruit and started to follow, at first just a few, then more and more. Initially I shook my head no. But there was no use, the group grew and grew until there was a huge group of children around me. I looked at them, and then down at the apples. “There are forty of you, and only two of these” I said. I threw the apples up in the air and let the children sort it out. I left them, sharing the apples amongst themselves, imagining just how good those apples would have tasted.
With that, Charlie turned and looked out the window, biting into his apple, savouring the thing he had given up for the children of Kimatong just weeks before.
This is what Charlie is doing with his life, putting aside his own comforts so that the Lariim people group might come to know Christ. And that’s what Christ did for us. He laid down His life for us. It’s people like Charlie who inspire me. As I watched him eat the apple, beside me on the bench of MAF’s Grand Caravan, I couldn’t help but let a few tears drop onto my notepad. What an inspiration. I’m so glad that MAF is here in South Sudan, to provide Charlie with a safe, reliable and economical way to travel in and out of this remote village.
We were quiet for the last few minutes of the plane ride. As we said goodbye, I thanked Charlie for the chat and told him that I would try to send a few extra apples in Chris’ lunch whenever I could. He smiled and said, “Great, but could you send them in a bag or something.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Yes my conversation with Charlie Brown was as amazing as they said it would be.
Photos - LuAnne Cadd