Commissioned: Following God’s call despite roadblocks and challenges
In part 2 of our conversation with Joshua Bundi, he shares how his calling to serve in South Sudan was confirmed and the blessings he has reaped by following it, despite challenges.
Check out photos, videos, and behind-the-scenes stories from our guests on the podcast. You won’t want to miss these exclusive extras!
If you’ve ever wondered what your calling is, you’ll want to hear how Joshua Bundi, World Concern’s South Sudan Country Director, knew with certainty that he was called to serve in one of the most challenging places on the planet. Despite major obstacles and challenges, he also shares the blessings he’s reaped by following God’s call on his life. Don’t miss part 2 of our conversation with Joshua.
Commissioned: Following God’s call despite roadblocks and challenges
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: We are back today for part two of our conversation with Joshua Bundi who serves as World Concern South Sudan country director. If you missed part one, you'll want to be sure and listen to that. We've already heard such great feedback from so many listeners who were blessed by Joshua's incredible stories about his children and how he manages to stay closely connected with his kids despite being separated for months at a time while he is working in South Sudan. In part two, Joshua is going to dig in a little deeper to why he feels South Sudan is his mission field and how God confirmed this is where he's supposed to be. So if you're maybe struggling with confirmation about God's calling on your life, or you just want to hear more from this incredible servant and leader, you're going to be so blessed by what Joshua has to share. So let's get back to our conversation with Joshua Bundi.
Joshua Bundi: I started as a loan officer within the microfinance center, I was working with very vulnerable communities. Part of the Samburu people, where we are serving, World Concern is serving, I was based Isiolo. You passed through Isiolo when you're going to Samburu.
Cathy: I did, yeah.
Joshua Bundi: So I was working with the Borans, the Samburus and, of course, the other business people, but dealing with the lower head of the market, people that would come looking for loans of an equivalent of $50, payable within maybe six months, some would want to pay in eight months. And during that time I had three experiences and three encounters that changed my perspective of work. One was as a Samburu guy. No, he was a Boran but living among the Samburus, who was a pastoralist and this guy was very rich, but very poor. Rich in that, around that time in 2006, he owned about 150 camels. He had over 500 goats. Now, when we tried to value then, that was about 12 million Kenyan shillings. That's about 12,000 USD. No, it's 120 USD...
Joshua Bundi: ... I think so. 120,000 USD. But this guy could not even service a loan of 100 USD in six months.
Joshua Bundi: So even today I remember him and he's one of the people that made me want to go back, leave the management job in the bank and come to work in the communities. The second guy was this young guy, young boy I found on the streets, working groundnuts. The total value of his business was less than $20. And he was working roasted groundnuts, and he asked me, "Joshua, is it possible to allow me to get into a group, a savings groups where I can borrow a loan?" I looked at him, he had nothing that could make him qualify to get to... But then I knew a lady who feared God and was a chairperson of a group. So I went, introduced this guy, and fortunately the lady knew the boy and said, "Are you willing to take him in your group?" He said, "This guy is my son. I will take him, put him in the group. If he doesn't pay the loan, I'll pay as the mother." So that's how I introduced Moredi to that group.
Joshua Bundi: Moredi today, as we talk, he owns around four trucks on the road that are doing great things.
Cathy: Wow. What a change. That's amazing.
Joshua Bundi: And the last person was a Muslim lady who was in a group which had very prayerful women, she was called Arima. And Arima comes to this group this day and says... Okay, she used to have issues with blood pressure and a few other health complications. And she requested, "Can we pray? Can you pray for me today?" We prayed for Arima she got healed. So the following week during the group meeting, she came to give her testimony and she was healed. And by that, she gave her life to Jesus Christ...
Cathy: Wow. That's amazing.
Joshua Bundi: ... during the group meeting. Well, that was the lower head of the market. I advanced in career and became a branch manager and all that. Started dealing with people who are taking big monies. Someone would take maybe 50,000 USD equivalent of a loan. Others would take even a 100,000 USD equivalent of loans, buy them big trucks. But even as I sat to appraise those clients and all that, I wasn't feeling like I was making any impact. I wasn't feeling like I was touching lives. Yes, they were dealing with big monies, but I felt there was more life, I was more useful dealing with the people down there. That's the driving force. So when an opportunity for South Sudan came, we prayed about it. Around that time, I knew God was speaking to me about something and preparing me for something.
Joshua Bundi: We were praying about it with my wife. And when this opportunity came, as much as I said earlier we knew she was expecting, she was happy to say, "You go." And I think twice God has used her to speak to me. I'll share with you the two times, because at some point I felt I've stayed and left them alone and I wanted to go back. But we prayed about it and we came to South Sudan. Now come to South Sudan, well, landing in Juba, it was very hot. The day I arrived in Juba, the temperatures were about 44. I come from the slopes of Mount Kenya where it's very cold.
Cathy: This was a shock to your system.
Joshua Bundi: So the heat wave in Juba Airport almost sent me back to the airplane. I came, went to the hotel, I didn't want to see the light the rest of the day. I was asleep. And then the following day we went to Wau. When I got to Wau, the compound which would be my next room or my next home, I reflected back and there was nothing to compare, so to speak. I almost told Aaron, book the next flight, I'm going back to my employer. The office is still wide open for me.
Cathy: “I'm out of here.”
Little side note, I was just picking up my phone to do a little calculation for the listeners that are more familiar with Fahrenheit temperatures than Celsius. So 44 degrees Celsius is 111 degrees Fahrenheit.
Joshua Bundi: Yes.
Cathy: So that's very hot.
Joshua Bundi: Yes, very high.
Cathy: So just, yeah. Okay. Carry on.
Joshua Bundi: Yeah. So the first week was very difficult for me. I was in that worry of decision whether I heard God right, or whether I was on my own mission. Because, to be very honest, I had to sacrifice more than I was getting to be here, because I believed it was God's call. But then coming to South Sudan, the reality sank, deepened. It was very difficult for me to take it in. But anyway, the first week went, we were doing some induction. The second week, some orientations. The third week was dramatic. Aaron was here to introduce me to the team and orient me to the mission. We went to a place called Aweil, and on our way, we almost got ambushed. We came to this place, there was tension in one of the places we work in now called Jur River. I know you have a lot of stories about Jur River.
Joshua Bundi: And Wau.
Joshua Bundi: And we go to one of the places, one of the markets, there was a checkpoint. So there was a lot of tension in this area. And it's like, they were waiting for the government to come and do disarmament. So the young people were very armed. We met about 300 young men, each one of them with a gun.
Cathy: Oh my goodness.
Joshua Bundi: And then...
Cathy: Welcome to South Sudan, Joshua.
Joshua Bundi: That's my third week, that's my third week.
Joshua Bundi: So we come here, that's the closest I had come to a gun. There may be the other time I'd come close to a gun was in a barrier for a soldier. So when we arrived at this place, there was another oncoming vehicle for a government official, which had escort of three military vehicles. And all those guys were armed. So when they came here, they stopped, the government official stepped down and the soldiers came off the vehicle. So we were in between the government forces and the young people, and you hear the young men cocking the guns and taking positions. It was about three, four minutes drama that they... Somehow, nothing happened. This guy got in the vehicle, the government official, on that, the soldiers back to the vehicle and they proceeded. And the checkpoint was opened for us to proceed. It was about 40 kilometers to Wau, where we were heading to.
Joshua Bundi: And I can tell you, we were there with Harun and Andrea, no one who spoke to anyone. We never spoke to each other until they got there. So that was my third week. Now I'm wondering whether this is the place God has called me or thinking about my family back home and all that.
Cathy: And so you said your wife spoke to you a couple times and you feel like she sort of gave you a message from God. So was this one of the times that she said you should stay?
Joshua Bundi: No, this time I never told her what happened. I never shared this experience until much, much later. Because I thought it was too scary, even for them. It would have been too traumatizing for them. I didn't want to share that at that particular point. But now come the fourth week and still during my induction, we go to one of now the current OVT village called Tello. I was to be exposed to OVT villages and now they look like. We were setting up Tello, so it was those initial meetings. The project was to begin later that year.
Cathy: Let me pause for just a second and let the listeners know that OVT stands for One Village Transformed. It is World Concern's sort of signature program. And so we have many, long history of doing One Village Transformed programs in South Sudan and multiple villages there under that program.
Joshua Bundi: So I go to this village and I was told we are going to a church. Now, it's a long journey, from Wau it's about 70 something kilometers, about 75 kilometers. You go 60 kilometers to a place called... To a market there, then you get deep into a village. At some point, you have to leave a vehicle and walk for about 5 to 10 kilometers to get where the village is then. At least now because of our intervention, there is a road that goes all the way now to where the church is. And through working with the village, they have even established a church and a school. But that particular time, it's when we were doing the initial groundwork for that village, so I was told we are going to this village. So we go to this place, leave the vehicle, then we have to walk for about almost 10 kilometers. And I went anticipating to see a huge building, of course, a church.
Joshua Bundi: And it was very hot that particular time. And we got to this place under a certain tree. And one thing I realized when we got there is, it was a beautiful shade, but it was swept clean. And the resort looked like the church pews, but it's a stick, one stick, Y-shape with pegs down and then a rod is placed in between the pegs, what would make church benches. But I thought it's a public place where people come meet. And I thought maybe the community will meet us there then take us to the church. The shock of my life came when I saw someone come with a cross and place it a place, some might see the open is under this big tree and a shade. And then people started coming in, and you know the way we get to the church and we bow down, that's when I realized, okay, I'm in a church.
Cathy: This is a well-known story. Many of us at World Concern have heard of the church under the tree, and we've seen pictures of it. And it is pretty incredible. This big tree that provided at least some shade from the hot sun and then some logs from other trees that had been turned into the benches that were the actual pews that people were sitting in. And that is where they held church. And it's pretty amazing and reminder to us all that a church is not necessarily a building. It's a place where people gather to worship and that was happening there, wasn't it? In that church under the tree.
Joshua Bundi: Yes, yes. Two things that happened that day that changed whatever I had, whatever thoughts were coming into me, whatever doubts that I started settling in. I saw a people that were very passionate about God. I saw a people that were very committed, but lost. For the first time I had an experience maybe of what Paul had in Athens when he said the streets looked very godly, but there were these inscriptions that were written unto unknown God.
Joshua Bundi: You'd see people. They were seeking God, but a god they didn't know. A god they had not a relationship with. Very far away from Him. And that day, I knew that's what God had called me to in South Sudan.
Joshua Bundi: I think then I had the courage to share with my wife that I know what I am coming to do in South Sudan. Initially I had gone to South Sudan for a project which was funded by GIZ, the Germany Arm of Development. But after the fighting, they canceled the project. So I was only in the project for about six months before it was canceled and terminated. But I knew the mandate God had called me to South Sudan was bigger than this project. And when I look at what we are doing today, Africans to Africa, that has reached out to over 50,000 people, that has seen over 18,000 people giving their lives to Christ, that has seen over 100 churches established in the villages. I say, "Yes, God, I heard You right. I obeyed You." Because that burden and the vision for evangelism in those communities were born that day, under that tree. And I don't regret a single day being in South Sudan.
Cathy: Let me just pause for just a second, I want to kind of just recap. That was a really powerful statement you just made, a really powerful story that you just shared about arriving just a few weeks into your new role, visiting that church under the tree, seeing people that were passionate about God, but didn't really know God, and feeling like that was your purpose there.
Cathy: Fast forward to today where you oversee a particular program, a World Concern called Africans to Africa, which I just want to kind of reiterate some of those numbers. 50,000 people reached and 18,000 people giving their lives to Christ through that program. Yes, I would say absolutely you were called to South Sudan for a reason, and that's really incredible confirmation and incredible work of God that you've been a part of. So thank you for making the sacrifices and being willing to go for long periods of time, and be in a really, really hard place to serve people that are in such great need. And the change has been really dramatic and really powerful. And just, you've got to go to bed at night feeling really good about the work that you're a part of and how many lives are being changed because of it.
Cathy: 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.
Joshua Bundi: So I was telling you the second time my wife spoke to me, that was 2019. 2019 I had told my wife that I was exiting South Sudan, and I think that's when the country office fell vacant, and I was acting. So I don't know whether this will go on live, but I didn't apply for the position of the country director then. And many people are wondering, why haven't you applied for the position. Because within me, I felt like I didn't want to just apply, and I was feeling like it's that time when I go.
Joshua Bundi: I thought maybe usher someone in and maybe get someone recruited, orient them, continue my role as program manager and at some point I exit when the person settles down. But then before we traveled to Seattle that time for, I mean the last country directors meeting we had, we had already started this program, Africans to African. It was peaking very well. And so one of the partner churches that we have been working with from Nairobi had organized a South Sudan Sunday, and because I was home, I told them I would be joining them to celebrate the South Sudan Sunday. That was, I think, two weeks before traveling to Seattle. And I was going to Nairobi to join the church to celebrate. I was with my family, all of us, we were driving to Nairobi. And that day we had a bad accident.
Joshua Bundi: We got sandwiched, and so it was a bad one, but one of us got injured, but the vehicle was extensively damaged. Fortunately, it was a place, a town where our last born has some interest and he was around that place. So I called him and they came, they took the children, took my wife. So they came with some friends and then we were left dealing with the police and settling the matter. Eventually we settled the matter, we proceeded, I left the vehicle, towed to the police- no, we towed it to his place.
Joshua Bundi: I reported the matter and I went home to proceed to Nairobi. And the children went to his place so they couldn't make for the Sunday. But my wife and I managed. So when we went for this service, at the end of that service, I think God had spoken to her and said, she told me, "Joshua, I know what your intentions are. But hear me and hear me right, that your work in South Sudan is not complete. We need you here but I think your assignment will only be selfish and not obeying God to push you to come back home."
Cathy: Listen up when your wife talks.
Joshua Bundi: So as I came to Seattle, that time I was a little bit troubled. But again, coming, a number of people were inquiring why haven't you applied. Around that time I think by the time I left, I had now decided, let me throw my application because I think I'm the one who is running away from the calling. And when we did the presentation during the board meeting, we spoke about South Sudan and one of the board members said, "Then we make him the country director." That was, again, a confirmation that's like, Jonah, you are running away from God's agenda. But somehow we have to get you... God's agenda being accomplished. So, that confirmed the calling God had for me in South Sudan. Three things that I desired to see that are done in South Sudan.
Joshua Bundi: One, our staff changed and empowered. That's a story for another day, Cathy. But there are things that are difficult to talk about. But when I looked at the team I was working with, I felt God had a purpose for them. There are mates that needed to be completely deleted and a new story written altogether. Thank God that today, those mates are gone. And we have a formidable team that believes in the values and aspirations of World Concern. I looked at the community that was hopeless and being taken advantage of. And I felt a nudge and a calling to a community that is empowered. So we had to work on our team so that they can also work on their communities because they're at the best place. And that item was to make God known and disciple people. And so when I see the programs we're doing in reaching out to the community, now we have a very powerful Sunday school movement that is coming up.
Joshua Bundi: We have a youth movement that is coming up, crowding them in the wonder of God. It gives me satisfaction. The problem with South Sudan, to a large extent, is a spiritual problem. It's not what we think about, it's not about war, it's not about... They have a lot of resources. Okay? There are opportunities in this country I don't think any other place can, the people are extremely resilient. When you think about the root of a threat in this country, the spirit of revenge, the belief in witchcraft, then you know the real problem is not what we deal with in most cases, is a spiritual problem. And until the spiritual problem is addressed, this cycle, violence, the cycle of poverty, the cycle of... Will go for a long time. And I'm happy that as World Concern, we are doing our part. And that, to a large extent, rewriting the stories in those villages.
Cathy: That is indeed why you are there in South Sudan. Absolutely, I fully agree. This has been incredible. I've known you for a long time, Joshua, I haven't heard many of these stories. I haven't heard so much detail about your calling. And so it just makes me want to say, thank you. Thank you for answering that call and thank you for sticking with it through really, really hard and challenging circumstances. Thank you for making the sacrifice. It makes me want to say thank you to your wife and your kids for the sacrifices that they're making in supporting you and allowing you and encouraging you to serve and be distant physically from them. And yet, I love how you shared so much about how you stay close and connected to your family and to God on a daily basis, which enables you to continue to do the work that you do.
Cathy: And so I think it's really incredible to hear also how God prepared you, even with your time working in the banking industry, because I know that savings groups and economic development, that's all part of the work that World Concern is doing in South Sudan. And so I know that that background was an important step along the way to where you are now. But just so many different ways that God prepared you. And I also think that the listeners will be able to take away from this conversation, just a reminder that we can't run from God. And that it's not good to sort of go our own direction if He's calling us in a different direction. And so your story reminded me of that verse that says, I don't have it word for word, but something like, in his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.
Cathy: It's really evident in your life that you were thinking in your mind, "I think I'm going to do something else." And yet, through your wife, God spoke to you and reminded you to stay on course with Him. And so we at World Concern are very thankful that you stayed, that you served, that you were willing to go to the end of the road and beyond to see so many lives touched and so many lives transformed. So Joshua, thank you so much for all that you do. And thank you for sharing all of that with us today. It's been an absolutely incredible conversation.
Joshua Bundi: Thank you. Thank you, Cathy. Allow me to say this, Cathy. This is what I believe, that as Christians and as people that God has called, we can't all be pastors in the church. But you know what? Not a single person, God has not given an opportunity to do ministry. I joke around with my pastor back home and I tell him that he's part time, I am full time. If ministry is contact hours with the sinners, because I have more contact hours than he does.
Cathy: Absolutely, you do.
Joshua Bundi: You, too, have more contact hours. And so what God has ensured is... Cathy, as you tell your stories, tell the stories that we do, that's a platform God has placed you on to reach out and change lives and touch lives for Him. A police officer is in that office and that's the pulpit God has given him. They have a chance.
Joshua Bundi: My pastor back home is a medical doctor. So there is this day, a child gets to his clinic and the child was convulsing, and tried to do the first aid and realized he was losing the child. So he stops everything and holds the child and starts praying, and praying for the child, and the mother slapped him. So if you look at it from that perspective, that even when you are in your own profession, you are a doctor, you are a lawyer, you are a business person, you are a driver, you are a security guard. God has placed you there, and He has given you people. So when we go before God, He will not demand the sermons you did not preach or you to account for sermons you didn't preach in the church. He will demand you to account for the lost opportunities where He gave you people.
Joshua Bundi: You are a security guard, you're welcoming people day in, day out. You're ushering them in and out. Did you make Him known? That's what you have been responsible for. That's what I believe and that's my conviction. If you are a driver and you have all these passengers every other day, what did you do with them? You are a police officer, what did you do with all those people that God gave you? So I think as we reflect, and as I reflect about why I am here and what I do is, I think about that a lot, that what is it that I will have to answer to God when I get before Him? I will not be bothered so much about what didn't happen and what happened in the pulpit, because that's... Someone else is responsible. That's someone else's office. My office, and I'm not talking about the South Sudan office, is that privilege, that position, that opportunity God has given me. And so, I think we all have opportunities to reconcile, to do the ministry of reconciliation, because that's what we are called to.
Cathy: Absolutely. That's a really powerful word for all of us. Thank you, Joshua. I think that's a great way to wrap up our conversation today. Let people take away that thought and think about that and pray about that. That's just a really powerful admonition for people who are listening today. So Joshua, thank you again for spending so much time with us today and sharing such incredible stories of your life. God bless you. And thank you again for all that you do.
Joshua Bundi: Thank you. Thank you, Cathy for hosting me. The Lord bless you.
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. Thanks again for joining us today, we look forward to more stories at The End of the Road. Next time.