From two wings to two wheels

From two wings to two wheels

Les Vandenburg is a missionary who is bringing the Gospel to the Toposa people of South Sudan, with the help of his translator Lamano and two motorbikes which flew with MAF!

Les Vandennburg is a remarkable self-supported missionary who serves with Partners in Compassionate Care to enter and travel around South Sudan. Back in Michigan, he is a plumber with no qualifications at all to be a missionary, as he himself puts it. That doesn’t prevent him from taking off now and again to visit remote areas in a war-ridden country to spread the Gospel to unreached people groups. 'My only qualification is willingness,' Les declares.

Story and photos by Thorkild Jørgensen. 

I’m also glad that I can travel with MAF. They have tried so hard to help me and my mission through all the obstacles this country offers.

Les Vandenburg, Missionary with Partners in Compassionate Care

On this, his fourth visit, he has bought two brand new motorbikes in the capital Juba. To get them to the country’s southeast he needs MAF to fly him to Kapoeta, where he, and his translator companion Lamano, will then drive to the surrounding villages inhabited by the Toposa. It will be risky enough to ride his motorbike into the bush, but to drive the bikes the 160 miles from Juba would be near impossible – even during the dry season.

Credit: Thorkild Jørgensen. MAF-pilot Wim Hobo unfastening the bikes after landing on the airstrip in Kapoeta

Bring peace with the Gospel

The Toposa live in the Greater Kapoeta region of South Sudan bordering Ethiopia and Kenya, where they herd cattle, sheep and goats. Frequent cattle raids, and the competition for water and pasturage, keep them in a state of constant low-level warfare against their neighbours. Les is determined to transform this hostile lifestyle with the bread of life.

Credit: Thorkild Jørgensen. Les Vanden Burg telling the MAF staff about why he is determined to bring two motorbikes and solar powered audio Bibles to the Toposa

Most Toposa are illiterate though, and know only what is transmitted to them through songs, dance, music, poems and folklore. If the Gospel was preached to these people they would forget, because they wouldn’t be able to read the Bible. Les has however acquired 275 solar-powered audio Bibles from Global Recordings Network which are pre-loaded with God’s Word in a nearby language which the Toposa understand.

Some say the Toposa believe in a supreme being and in ancestral spirits, who may assist in overcoming problems such as drought or epidemics of disease among their herds. They believe that men originally lived with ‘Nakwuge’ in the sky, but many slid down a rope to earth. The rope then broke, separating them from heaven.

Communicating the Good News

Les has discovered though that the Toposa actually have a Judaic background – partly originating from Ethiopia and an introduction to Judaism in the time of Queen Sheba. 'I was talking with a group of people about how Jesus had become the ultimate sacrificial lamb. When I told them that we were saved through Jesus’ blood, I could see them discussing this eagerly, and I asked my interpreter, Lamano, "What are they saying?" He turned to me and explained that they understood this, because of their tradition of using sacrificial animals and blood for blessing people. "Everyone wants this saviour," Lamano told me. I was so excited. This was an open door for the Gospel!'

Credit: Thorkild Jørgensen. Lomana (red shirt) who rides the other bike and translates when Les encounters and teaches the Toposa.

'I have come across many such opportunities in this country,' Les adds. 'I’m also glad that I can travel with MAF. They have tried so hard to help me and my mission through all the obstacles this country offers.'