Come Mud or High Water: Going the Distance to Capture Stories
We caught up with filmmaker Jeff Arnold while he was on the ground in a remote part of South Sudan. Hear his description of the environment and challenges there in this brief phone interview.
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Filmmaker Jeff Arnold and two other videographers trekked for miles through the mud during South Sudan’s rainy season to capture stories of young evangelists who are overcoming tremendous challenges to reach others in their community—and beyond—for Christ. Long days and spotty internet made communications difficult, but we managed to connect with Jeff briefly over WhatsApp to hear his description of this remote part of South Sudan.
Come Mud or High Water: Going the Distance to Capture Stories
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 Jeff Arnold. He is a filmmaker who's currently in a very remote part of South Sudan with World Concern, doing some video shooting. He's joined us today from his hotel room in Wau, South Sudan. And he's going to just give us kind of a description of what the end of the road is really like.
Cathy: And so welcome, Jeff. Thanks for being with us. Thanks for making the trek way out to the end of the road. Give us a little description of where you are right now.
Jeff Arnold: Yeah, first off, thanks for having me. Right now, we are in the middle of what feels like a town, but it's a very small town. And every day we make the trek out, about three hours, give or take, how many times we might get stuck, or might not get stuck, out. So we start out on a main road. They said, "Oh, this is the good road." And for most people, that would not be the good road, because it's very... Just dirt, bumpy. And then we drive on that for about 45 minutes, and then we get to the turn-off.
Jeff Arnold: And then the real adventure starts, and we have an hour and a half to two hours down this road that I wouldn't really call a road, but more a path. Through a grassy pasture, where you take a right, and a left, depending on what the local that is with us is telling us, on how they get to this remote village. And so the road goes through grassy pastures, through basically rivers. And I would say, just trails that you would go offroading for fun, probably at home where you live. You would take your Jeep and go on this, but this is how you get to the remote villages. And it's pretty far out here.
Cathy: You've traveled quite a bit internationally. How does this part of the world compare, in terms of just remoteness, and feeling like you're way out there, beyond the end of the road.
Jeff Arnold: I'd say it's pretty far out there, for, even for us. We've traveled quite a bit, been to about 43 countries, and this, especially coming during the rainy season, is far out there. Going through huge puddles that you're not sure if you're going to make it all the way through, followed by another huge puddle, and another huge puddle, that you're hoping you don't get stuck. Pretty, pretty remote. Even for us, who travel quite a bit.
Cathy: Yeah. And so it's rainy season there in South Sudan. So what's the weather like, and how is that impacting your travel?
Jeff Arnold: Yeah, the first two days were great. It would rain on and off, maybe for 15 minutes, but then be done. But tonight it started just monsoon raining, as soon as we got back to the hotel. Literally got our equipment inside, and it literally just started pouring down rain. So it's currently... We're outside, under the tin roof, but it's raining pretty hard right now.
Cathy: Okay. Okay. I almost feel like we can hear that rain a little bit in the background.
Jeff Arnold: Yeah. I'm sure if I stepped outside, you definitely could.
Cathy: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. And so with that rain, a lot of people don't know that South Sudan is very tropical, and they do get heavy rains, which actually can be quite devastating when they get flooding. Can wash out people's crops, and roadways. Prevent access, even for World Concern staff who live there to reach the villages, and stuff like that. But describe kind of the environment that people, that families, are living in there, and what it's like. What is a home in one of the villages kind of look like?
Jeff Arnold: Yeah. So a typical home is a wooden hut. A circle hut with a bamboo, thatched roof on top. So they use the bamboo to create the structure, and then they put the fat, dry grass on top to kind of create the roofing structure. So every home has about two or three of those. One of them's the kitchen, one of them's the sleeping area, one of them might be the bathroom if you're lucky, but probably not. Pretty incredible. And it's so... In the rainy season, it's absolutely gorgeous, because it's just green grass, green, green, green. Almost looks like a screensaver when you're driving through the grasslands.
Cathy: Wow. That's incredible. Yeah. We'll share some of the photos that you've taken on Instagram, so people can catch a glimpse of what you're talking about right now. But it is incredibly beautiful. And at the same time, all that rain does pose challenges for people. What would you say is kind of the biggest challenge that you've seen that people face, who live there. Just in terms of trying to survive, and make a living for themselves? What makes that part of South Sudan extra challenging?
Jeff Arnold: Well, I'd say there's a couple of things. Right now the farmer, the rain was late this year. So the farmers planted all their seeds. All of their seeds, a couple of months ago, hoping that the rain would start, and the rain didn't start. So all of those seeds and crops started coming out of the ground, and then would immediately die, because there was no rain to keep growing them up. So the great thing about World Concern being here, is that they also helped give them new seeds to start. So they just started their new seeds now, and the rains are coming down pretty hard, and helping them grow. But then of course, that could also wash out a small crop, that doesn't have the strength that it would normally have at this time of year. And then another thing that we're kind of witnessing is, people getting sick, and having to pay the little money that they have to a witch doctor, to hope that they might get better.
Jeff Arnold: And if they don't get better, then they pay the witch doctor again. And it's just a vicious cycle. Then sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't work. We saw a boy who got... Probably a teenager actually, who probably got his foot hurt in some kind of accident. And it's just a big boil on his foot now, because there's no hospitals, no medical services, no nothing like that to be able to get to. It took us three hours in a car to get there. So you can imagine what it would take someone walking, or on a bicycle, or trying to get a moto taxi.
Cathy: Right. Yeah. Wow, incredible. So last question. Just seeing what you're seeing around there, meeting some of the people that you're meeting, knowing kind of the remoteness of this area. We ask our listeners to pray for the folks in the areas where we're working and stuff. What would be something that you would encourage people to pray for, for the families there, in that region of South Sudan?
Jeff Arnold: Yeah. One thing would be rain, but not too much rain. [inaudible 00:07:51] the right amount of rain would be really good, because they depend on their crops to feed their family. And, let's see, what else would we pray for? Just kind of learning the info about how to better take care of themselves. How to better help themselves. We met with a family that recently became Christians, and they used to pay the witch doctor lots of money. And now that they're Christians, they pray, and God hears their prayers, and heals them, which is just remarkable. So I think just, kind of praying for more people to kind of come into that light and kind of help change their mindset a little bit, I think would be two good things to pray for.
Cathy: Yeah. That's awesome. That's incredible. Those are really good things to keep in mind. Things that, yeah, we don't ever have to think about, or deal with, in the places where most of us live. We can access medical care, we can access clean water. I imagine with all the rain, that the water gets easily contaminated with parasites and bacteria and all that kind of stuff. And then, just food, just the timing of the rain. And like you said, that can be hit or miss, and people are so dependent on the weather for what they need. So really good things to keep in mind, as well as those cultural and spiritual issues that World Concern addresses as well, in some of these places.
Cathy: So Jeff, thank you so much for joining us. Be careful out there as you complete the work that you're there to do. Thank you again for being all the way out there, and helping to capture the stories that are happening out there. What God is doing out beyond the end of the road in South Sudan, and to bring those stories to life. So for our listeners, more to come from Jeff, and the team there, as they continue to capture what's going on in South Sudan. So be safe. Jeff, thanks again.
Jeff Arnold: Yeah. Thanks Cathy. Thanks for having us.
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.
Cathy: 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.
Cathy: Thanks again for joining us today, we look forward to more stories at the end of the road, next time.