When I first saw Jackson Mataya he was crawling in the dirt. I was told that he had a five-mile journey to school every day.
He’d contracted polio as a child – a disease which can be avoided with one simple injection. Yet, in spite of the severe disability of a chronically twisted spine, Jackson radiated a remarkable, positive attitude and a smile to match.
A call to MAF Operations Manager Dave Rogers back in Uganda established MAF would be happy to fly the wheelchair frame back to Kampala for repair. Terrific news, except that I wasn’t certain what the next step would be!
God’s timing, God’s promise
Fortunately, I’d received help in the past with providing a wheelchair from a group called Katelemwa. One of their volunteers, Liz Oliver, collected Jackson’s three-wheeled chair from the airport and took it to Katelemwa for it to be made road-worthy once again.
MAF then flew the repaired wheelchair back to South Sudan – donating the freight cost as another goodwill gesture. However, unable to make contact with partners in Kajo Keji before landing there, I couldn’t be sure if anyone would be there to greet us.
However, God faithfully answered our prayers – Pastor David from the orphanage was waiting on our arrival to transport all of us and the wheelchair to Jackson.
At the orphanage, we were informed that Jackson wasn’t there! Due to MAF’s flight programme, we had less than an hour to hand over the now road-worthy three-wheeler. Finally, we found Jackson at a school close to the airstrip where he took delivery of his precious new wheels.
The elation on the face of a young man who’d been given back his mobility will remain with me forever.
Five years later
As happy as that ‘ending’ was, Jackson’s fate weighed on my mind after hearing that Kajo Keji had largely been evacuated in January after militia attacks had pummelled the region. On top of this, what future was there for a severely disabled person in a country wracked with poverty?
In September 2017, another prayer was answered when I finally made contact with some South Sudanese pastors from Kajo Keji. Ahead of my flight to a refugee settlement in Uganda, they relayed the news that Jackson’s school had been relocated to Arua. He’d been living there safely since the previous January.
With great joy, the two of us were reunited on Friday 22nd September. Looking dapper in a suit and very smart shoes – I’d last seen him in flip-flops – he told me he’s studying to be a doctor!
Yet, but for the grace of God, Jackson’s ‘story’ could have been very different indeed.
Almost exactly a year before, 12 armed militia entered his school in Kajo Keji and began shooting indiscriminately. ‘We had nowhere to run so we had to lay on the floor,’ he told me. ‘One boy who was shot was right next to me.’
Two of Jackson’s fellow students were killed during the 15-minute ordeal. Practically everything was stolen by the militia, including the school bag we’d given Jackson in 2013.
But he was able to grab his wheelchair and get home.
Orphanage Director Mama Susan prayed for and counselled Jackson before he was taken the 90 miles from Kajo Keji to safety in Uganda.
‘My wheelchair was tied behind a boda boda (motorbike taxi) with me on top of all my belongings!’ Once he arrived in Arua, Jackson completed the exams he and his classmates had been sitting when they were attacked.
Jackson continues to thank God for the faithfulness He has always shown him. Undaunted by the crippling effects of polio and the loss of his parents during South Sudan’s tragic conflict, this young man remains utterly determined to gain a Phd in medicine and serve his people.
It is a relief and a joy to report that Jackson is safe and excelling at his medical school in Uganda. Your prayers, I’m sure have made it possible for this story to be told.