A Father’s Heart: Being fully present as a parent while serving far from home
Joshua Bundi shares how he stays connected with his family in Kenya and present as a parent to his three children, even though he works nearly 1,000 miles away in South Sudan.
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It has been three months since Joshua Bundi has seen his wife and three children face-to-face. But despite his calling to work in South Sudan, he makes it his top priority to ensure his family stays connected between visits home to Kenya, which often means spending up to three hours nightly together online. In part 1 of our conversation with Joshua, you'll hear about this, as well as the miraculous birth stories of two of his children—one of which took place as he was fleeing violence in South Sudan.
A Father’s Heart: Being fully present as a parent while serving far from home
Cathy: Welcome to The End of the Road podcast. My name is Cathy, and I'm your host and tour guide as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet. I'm so excited to have you along for the ride. So buckle up, we're going to the end of the road.
Cathy: Our guest today is Joshua Bundi. Joshua is World Concern's South Sudan country director, and he's been with World Concern for about seven years. We're going to take a little different approach today at The End of the Road. Joshua's going to be sharing with us his life story, so where he grew up, his family and what it's like working in a difficult place, particularly being far away from his family. So welcome, Joshua. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Joshua: Thank you, Cathy. Thank you for hosting me today. I'm delighted to be your guest today.
Cathy: Wonderful. Wonderful. So Joshua, tell us a little bit about your family. You have a wife and kids, tell us about them. How old are your kids? Where does your family live?
Joshua: I'm from Kenya, I'm born in a family of eight. We are eight, four brothers and four sisters, very balanced. My parents were just peasant and farmers. My mother never went to school. My dad went up to what you call grade five in US. I am married. My wife is called Jackie. She's a nurse by profession. We're blessed with three children. My eldest is daughter, who is 11 years, turned 11 years in May. My second born is a son turning seven, no eight years next month. And my dad born, who was born when I was here in South Sudan, is turning six. My daughter is called Abigail Zawadi. Zawadi means a gift. I have a story to tell around Zawadi, why we called her that name. My second born is called Emmanuel Baraka. Baraka means blessing's a so name. And my last bone is called Enoch Amani, or peace.
Cathy: I love that children's names have meaning in Kenya. I've heard that from some of my other coworkers and friends who are from Kenya, that every name has a meaning and the parents and the kids know what those meanings are. And they're very purposeful and they're very special. So, tell us that story that you were going to mention about your daughter's name.
Joshua: Yeah. Maybe before I tell you the story, one thing is with my children, I haven't named my children the way we do it traditionally, because as part of the traditions, I'm supposed to name my child after someone, let's say my first born daughter is supposed to be named after my mother. My second born is supposed to be named after my dad. And my third born is supposed to be named after my father-in-law. But you realize they have Swahili names because we wanted a different setup together.
Joshua: When we were expecting our first born, my wife went through quite some challenges. I think she was in and out of hospital, I think almost eight times, that tells you, sometimes a month she would be admitted twice. That began from first trimester. And we didn't know that she make it. And come the last trimester, what happened is when she was due, the labor pains disappeared. And she went past by one week, the second week we decided to go to the hospital and the doctor, we had done all the procedures, the scans and everything else. And we were all of us expecting a normal birth. But then we decided, okay, she goes through, she be induced for labor pain so that she can go it normal as we had desired. And she struggled almost half of the day.
Joshua: So at some point we realized she was getting fatigued and we had to make a decision that she has to go through a CS. Of course, that wasn't our plan. It was an emergency one. The results made us cry because the chord was round the neck three times. There was no chances of survival if she went through the normal birth, we would've lost our daughter. And when we looked back, we thought we have fought to kill this daughter but God refused and protected her and shielded her. And so looking at the whole process of the pregnancy and then the birth, we just said this a gift from God. So that's why we gave her the name, a gift, Zawadi.
Cathy: Zawadi. Beautiful.
Joshua: Abigail is prophet prophetic from the Abigail of the Bible. So that's why I say, I have a story to tell around the Zawadi.
Cathy: Yes. That's an incredible story. What a story just of God's protection of how she came into the world. I assume she knows that story, you've told her the story of her birth.
Joshua: Yes. We have told her the story. We have told the boys the story, and we keep on sharing. Yeah.
Cathy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's a wonderful story. Wow. I'm really happy for you. And then your third was born while you were in South Sudan working. Is that right?
Cathy: So you missed that birth?
Joshua: Now his birth is also another story there to it.
Cathy: Let's hear it. Let's hear it.
Joshua: I came to South Sudan in March 2016, by the time I was coming to South Sudan, my wife was expecting, and I knew, we had discussed and agreed this was God's calling to South Sudan. We had prayed about it. Initially I was hesitant to come to South Sudan and leave her expectant, but as we prayed, we felt peace. And we noted that it was God's time. So three or four months down the lane, she was due and we expected that she would also, and we wanted to push it, that she gets born on 10th of July, like the brother so that they would share the birthday. But then, yeah, he came a few days earlier. Now what happened, I was supposed to travel and be with her a week before she was due. But that is the time when Wau was attacked.
Cathy: Oh, okay.
Joshua: That was 2016. So, the week I was supposed to travel is, I think on a Saturday, on a Friday evening when I was supposed to schedule to travel the following week on a Wednesday, fighting broke out in Wau. We ran to Kuajok. And I went to Kuajok. I had an attack of malaria. Guess what? I was admitted somewhere in the bush for three days.
Cathy: There was a hospital out there and you were admitted?
Joshua: Well, what happened is I went to a UN clinic. The first day they treated me, gave me some medication. It was getting last two days, that day I went back, they repeated the test. They told me, now you can't continue on oral medication. We have to do an IV. So you've to get a place to be admitted. And we can't admit you here in the UN compound, because you're not the staff, you're not authorized. We can treat you, we can support you with medication. So we went looking around and we got something that looked like a clinic. And that's where I was for about four nights.
Cathy: So out in the bush, in South Sudan, there was something that looked like a clinic and you got admitted there.
Joshua: And it was in Kuajok. Where we are, we do not have many choices. Sometimes you've to make a choice of what is available for your life. So, that's what happened. And so after week staying in Kuajok, I was sick, frail. I couldn't travel as she, because flights had been canceled. But after a week, we were able to go back to Wau. At that particular point, things were getting normal, but then my wife had a visit to the doctor and the doctor recommended an emergency CS four days to... She had to go through CS. So they went to the hospital in my absence. And we made a decision that I was to travel immediately because that time we had gotten back to Wau, I managed to get a flight from Wau. That was on 7th of July. That is the following day after she underwent the CS.
Joshua: From Wau I could tell there were things that were not right, because it was abnormal for us to be delayed at the airport for three hours, then midway to Juba the flight diverted and we went to a place called Rumbek, and we stayed there for another three hours. I was to do a connecting flight. So I missed the flight. And guess what? The fighting in Juba began that night.
Joshua: So I was caught up in the fighting in 2016 in Wau. And while going home on the eighth, I was again caught up that night. That's when the fighting in Juba began. But we serve a God who is very faithful, who looks at his children and takes care of their needs. So that night when fighting began in Juba, the tax driver who picked me from the airport called me and asked me, Joshua, fighting has began, please stay indoors. Now the first commander of UN forces in South Sudan was a Kenyan. And so I knew his assistance because he used to be in Wau with the Kenyan battalion. So I called the guy and asked him what is happening. And he said to me, stay in indoors until we come and get you to the airport the following morning.
Joshua: Well, I stayed indoors and at around 5:30 in the morning, the taxi driver called me when he was outside the hotel and he told me, get out, we need to get to the airport. I dared to go out. We went to the airline, KU, they had not arrived, the Kenya Airways. I wanted to see whether they would reschedule my flight and book me the next flight. We waited for them, all over Juba town, it was only armored tanks and artilleries out there. No one, we were the only private vehicle, the rest were just military vehicles. This guy was courageous enough to tell me we will wait here until they come. So finally they came and they gave me the sad news. They couldn't book me until Saturday. Now that is Friday morning. So we stayed there, hoping something would happen. And we decided to check on another airline called Fly540, also a Kenyan airline that was operating in South Sudan then.
Joshua: I went there, yes they had some seats, but I had to do a process, canceling the first one and requesting that I'd be booked in this one. Now, while waiting there, the Kenyan defense forces guys called me and he asked me, "Where are you?" They wanted now to come and escort me to the airport. And I told him, "I am at the airport." And the first thing he screamed and asked me, "How did you get there?" I told him, “I am at the airport." And he told me, "Make sure you get out. And if you don't get out, don't come back to town, stay at the airport."
Cathy: So the fighting had gotten worse in town?
Joshua: I think that time everything was silent, no fighting was going on, but I think they had info maybe something would happen. So at that point, we had to make an emergency decision, a quick decision, by that time, these other flight, they had already closed the check-in. But I got my ticket. I was checked in, in the office and they took me straight to the runway to check-in. That's how I got out of Juba. And by the time I got to Nairobi, everyone was calling because hell had broke loose in South Sudan. It was fighting. It was gunfire all over the town. That's how I escaped Juba.
Cathy: Wow. I can't believe it. So, when those wheels lifted off the ground in Juba to take you back to Nairobi, you must have just cried out a prayer of thanks that you were in the air and on your way home.
Joshua: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
Cathy: Yeah. And so how many days old was your baby when you got home?
Joshua: I was getting home the third day.
Cathy: Third day. Okay, after he was born.
Cathy: Okay. Okay.
Cathy: And that was your youngest?
Cathy: Wow. What an incredible story. You've got so many stories that are just really amazing. That's absolutely incredible, how many challenging and dangerous situations you were in just trying to get home to be with your wife and your family. Right now you're actually in Juba where you work most of the time, for the listeners to understand. And you have an office there in Juba where you work. And then World Concerns field offices are quite a ways away. You take a flight to get out to, when you go and visit the field. And so right now you're in South Sudan. Your family is in Kenya. How long has it been since you've seen your family this time, how long have you, since you've been home to Kenya right now?
Joshua: It's about 10 weeks now. So I've not seen my family for the last two and half months. And I long to see them soon.
Cathy: Yes, yes. And I understand you're taking a much needed leave from work very soon. And in early July, you'll be going home for several weeks, I hope, for an extended leave. But yeah, at that point, it'll be almost three months since you've seen your family. And you do this over and over again. So in a typical year, how often do you get to go home to see your family in Kenya and how long are you in South Sudan during those times?
Joshua: Being here, it's something else. You have to encourage yourself and you have to keep the focus. The arrangement is I stay here for 10 weeks. I take what we call rest and recuperation, R and R, for 10 days. So basically I'm supposed to work for 10 weeks then take a break for two weeks. But what happens is the two weeks are not part of my annual leave. I have 25 days annual leave. So what I do is mostly I do the two weeks when time allows, I do an extra week or two weeks, so that I can be with the family longer, but because of work schedules here sometimes I do more than 10 weeks, towards the end of last year I did about 14 weeks in South Sudan. The longest I've done, I think is 15 weeks, depending on the work demands and all that.
Joshua: And the longest I've been at home is, other than during the COVID time, during normal period, the longest I've done is six weeks at home. However, during COVID time, I was here for almost seven months without seeing the family. But when I went home, at least I had about two and a half months at home. The world we are living in, unpredictable.
Cathy: Yes. Yeah. So you spent seven months straight in South Sudan and you couldn't get home to your family, is that right, during COVID?
Joshua: Yes. Yes.
Cathy: My goodness. I want to just pause for a moment and thank our listeners for joining us today. If you're just hearing about World Concern for the first time, and you're curious to learn a little bit more about who we are and what sets us apart from other organizations you might be familiar with, please visit worldconcern.org/podcast, and learn a little bit more about what we do. And now let's get back to our conversation. So this is a hard life. This must be lonely for you to be by yourself for 10 weeks at a time. I know you're out with the field staff from time to time. It's not the same as being with your family. So this must be hard for you. And it must be difficult for them. How do you guys manage that as a family being apart so much?
Joshua: Yes. As you've rightly to put it, Cathy, being away from your family is not one of the easiest things. And especially when you are in a foreign land, like where I am in South Sudan, and doing the work that we do, we all know that the place I'm working in is ranked as the most difficult place to work in. I know we talk about Afghanistan, we talk about... But when you go to the UN rankings is rated the most difficult. One because of bureaucratic things that people have to go through and all that. And that makes you to spend a lot of time alone. So you realize movement are limited. It's not like a place where you can go out in any time, maybe you'd want to stay late, go take a late dinner outside and all that. You have to restrict your movement.
Joshua: And that introduces loneliness and all that. And for the family, as well it's not easy, but since this a calling and it's something that it's not by force, it's a willing undertaking that I am in. I am not in it alone. I am together with my family as much as we are not together. We are a net in South Sudan as a mission field. So what I do is, and especially for the nuclear family, that's my wife and my children. It's a lot of sacrifice that, Cathy, almost every day, I do two hours of online talks and discussions. Most of my evenings I have dedicated a portion of it, mostly between one hour and two hours to chat with the children, to chat with my wife. And sometimes it can be even three hours. That's why sometimes you see me awake a little bit late.
Cathy: Wow. So I just want to clarify that for the listeners. So you spend between one and three hours online like this with your family.
Cathy: And you do kind of a family church, devotion, fellowship time with your family every night.
Joshua: The fact that I am in South Sudan, that does not stop me from being a father. That does not stop my role of a father. So part of what we do when I'm online is when we do the devotion as a family, I give assignments memory verses with my children, we have to do, they have to recite them. We have to agree. I have to listen to them. I assist them to do homework when I am here. So sometimes they'll take photos of the assignment, research, we go through and I take them through, my daughter demands I do that. And I have to take up that, I have to listen to their quarrels. Children are children. They will love their differences.
Cathy: Yes they are.
Joshua: I have to listen to who did what, who is not following the laid down... Where it's necessary, I have to discipline when I am here and make sure that it's known that dad has instructed that disciplinary action be taken. I have to enjoy some moment with them out. They have to go out sometimes over the weekend, they go shopping. So I have to be available because when they get to the supermarket, they will have to call me, when they're in the supermarket. And I have to pay when I am in South Sudan, not always, but to make that connection, just to ensure that they know as a father, you are providing, as a father you care, as a father you're concerned. They go for swimming. And while they're there, they will call me on video. So when they are going for swimming, I will be online. I have to stay a place that I can access internet.
Joshua: We have to do many other planning together. And if someone has to do something that dad must allow, they must look for me to give the authorization. So, that's something we have agreed with my wife, yes, I am away. You do your part, I'll do my part. And let them know, this one is dad who is supposed to, this one is mom can, just to ensure that I am with them on a day to day basis. And I am not a visiting father, I am present as much as I am away. But again, on the other, Cathy, I'll tell you a bit about where I was before I came to South Sudan. As much as I am far away, I feel like I have more quality time with my children than with my previous engagement, as much as I used to be with them throughout.
Joshua: This is because when I go on leave, the first week I don't get out of the house. I only drop them to school and pick them. So the first week when I go on leave, I'm offline for most of the things. I'm in the house, I want them to know daddy's at home. Maybe wake up, prepare them for school, take them to school, pick them, or if I'm not picking them, they find me home. They'll be dropped home. We do the assignment. We go to the kitchen together, do what we have to do together. Play around together, at least for that one week. We have to do road trips together, walk around the neighborhood with them as we chat and talk, just to ensure that we connect. And as much as I do for the children, I've also to keep my wife engaged and keep the connection going. The beauty is we in agreement, this is a mission field, is an assignment that we must complete.
Cathy: That's incredible. It sounds like you are an absolutely wonderfully engaged and present father, even though physically you're far away for lengths of time, which would be really challenging. But thank God for technology that you can use a video call and you can see your kids and you can be with them virtually at the grocery store, or wherever they are, and be able to spend time with them. But I think a lot of it sounds like your commitment to really being present with them. And so taking that time, that first week you're home to just be with them and spend time with them. That's really wonderful. I'm sure they are really looking forward to you coming home this time and getting to spend time with you.
Cathy: So Joshua, you mentioned that this is a calling for you and that you and your wife see South Sudan as your mission field. So, why is this work? Why do you feel like this is important enough that you are willing to make this sacrifice to be in a really difficult place, a sometimes dangerous place for long periods of time away from your family? Why is this work so important to you?
Joshua: My philosophy of work is, work is where God has sent you and work is ministry. So, that's first the approach that I give it. My initial work, I worked with the students in high schools and colleges. When I finished high school before joining college, I was very active member of a Christian Union, or the Christian Movement we call them the Christian Unions in Kenya. The CU patron introduced me to what we call Kenya student Christian Fellowship when I was waiting for my results. So Kenya Student Christian Fellowship takes scale of the spiritual matters for high school. I was the CEO chairman when I was in, or the Christian Unions chairman when I was in high school. So I felt I got attached to mission work and ministry, to the extent that even when I joined college, I decided to do evening classes and weekended classes so that I could continue serving. And I did that as a volunteer for about six years. So I finished college and still did that.
Joshua: When I was there, God taught me some valuable lessons and about relating with him. And one of the things that I learned while doing the student work is, in most cases we pray for work and we are applying for jobs here and there and praying for God to give us jobs. But when I was in, serving the student, God gave me a revelation. And I would say, it's a revelation because He said, ask me for my work and I'll give you a job. So, my way of, if I feel like I want, trusting God for a new assignment, I don't just play for a job. I pray for God's work to lead me where his work is. So that where he leads me, it could be by providing a job.
Joshua: So if he sends me to South Sudan to work with World Concern, yes, South Sudan, World Concern has given me an opportunity to be in South Sudan, but that's a platform that God has given for his work. Now, after working with the student ministry, I went into banking and I did banking for 10 years. I worked with microfinance institution, one of them, for those 10 years, I was in senior management by the time I left. And part of what I did there is what inspired me to come to South Sudan, well, I didn't know I was to come to South Sudan, but that's the door that God opened.
Cathy: We're going to hear more from Joshua in our next episode, you won't want to miss the rest of this incredible conversation. So join us next time at the End of the Road.
Cathy: I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope that your mind has been opened up a little bit. Your heart has been touched through some of the stories that you have heard today. As I mentioned earlier, if you're curious about learning a little bit more about World Concern, about our work beyond the End of the Road, you can visit worldconcern.org/podcast to learn more. I want to thank CRISTA Ministries, World Concern's parent organization for making this podcast possible. And I also want to thank Casey Helmick and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production and editing and consulting expertise for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today, we look forward to more stories at the End of the Road next time.