Eric Porterfield lost his sight in 2006 and learned to listen to God.
The founder of Blind Faith Ministries grew up in Princeton, where he admits that he was a “pretty wild, out-of-control teenager.” Soon after high school, he began a rugged path that led to his own ministry, marriage and his work as a missionary in South Sudan.
At 20 years old, Eric said he “got right with the Lord” and went to Bible college, but a decade later, he said God sent him a message he couldn’t ignore.
That fateful night, Eric was attacked and sustained head injuries so severe that he lost all of his vision in 2006.
He clearly misses the ability to admire his pretty young wife, Jessica, or recognize a classmate from high school whose name doesn’t quite ring the proverbial bell, but Porterfield is at peace with the fact that he cannot and will never see again.
“I believe my vision was taken as a result of the chastening of the Lord,” he explained. “In 2009, I gave up the belief that I was entitled to stuff because I was a Christian. I started Blind Faith Ministries. I planned to preach, to fill pulpits.”
Rooted in the couple’s home church of Rich Creek Baptist Church, Blind Faith ministries gradually grew until April 25, when the Porterfields got a push they believe came from God and steered them toward the world’s newest nation — South Sudan.
“I found myself in a meeting I wasn’t technically supposed to be in,” Eric explained.
In that meeting, another pastor mentioned an upcoming mission trip to spread the gospel in South Sudan, and the seed took hold in Eric’s mind.
“I believe the Lord impressed upon my heart that I needed to look into going. I talked to Jessica on the way home, and she had done her senior research project on the persecution in Sudan,” he said.
The couple made contact with AAA, to ask for assistance in planning the trip, and they soon found out that the agency could help them get a flight into the country. Beyond that, they were either on their own or required to rely on Christian groups with a foothold inside the young nation.
And, they needed an invitation to get into the country.
Word about their efforts soon reached Pastor Dennis Blankenship, of South Sudan Independent Baptist Ministries, who assured Eric and Jessica that he would ensure Blind Faith Ministries could get inside South Sudan. Blankenship also offered the use of his vehicle, once they got there.
The next obstacle came in the form of finances. The Porterfields needed to raise $10,000 in 44 days, in order to join the upcoming mission effort.
“That was the rub,” Eric said, as he explained the daily fundraising efforts he and Jessica embarked on. “We were raising money, but it was coming in slow.”
He started to wonder if he had misread God’s message, when he got a blessing that convinced him he was right all along.
“Our church supports a Christian rehab center in Texas, and there was this man going to the center who needed money. I really wanted to help him, but I kept thinking to myself that we were planning a trip to South Sudan and needed the money, too,” Porterfield said.
After careful thought and prayer, Eric decided to support the man in seeking rehabilitation, and he got a surprise of his own.
“The next morning, I found out that a lady, who had helped me get a job in Chicagoland had called and gave me more than 10 times what I gave that boy,” Eric said. “Then, I knew we were supposed to be going to South Sudan.
So, in June, the couple flew to South Sudan, where they found a world they never expected.
The environment was hotter than they imagined; infrastructure was fragile at best, and the people knew more need than the Porterfields had previously experienced.
“It was just brutal circumstances, everywhere,” Eric said.
In the villages, roads are so rough that traveling 100 miles took the Porterfields and their crew more than four hours on their first afternoon. Their hotel only touted electricity during specific times, and food supplies are so scarce that people make use of every possible part of the animals and plants they have for nourishment.
“The soldiers we talked to said they would eat anything that could be eaten. When they got very hungry, they would watch the animals in the jungle, the predators. If one animal could eat another, they determined they could eat the animal that could be eaten in the future,” Eric said.
For their first week in South Sudan, the Porterfields accompanied other Baptist pastors and their families; then, they were on their own.
Only an independent nation for a little more than a year, South Sudan is still a difficult place to visit. There is no running water, electricity only works a few hours a day, getting directions anywhere is almost impossible.
“We would ask for help in finding something, and the people would say something like, ‘Take that path there, and turn left at the third mango tree,’” Jessica recalled.
Conditions were not ideal for a blind minister in an unfamiliar country, but Eric said he was blessed beyond belief.
“The one thing you would think would be my biggest hindrance was actually my best friend, other than my wife. Because of my blindness, I think the people in South Sudan believed that they could trust me and knew that I was there to help,” he said. “I can’t explain how the Lord takes the things you think will hinder you the most and uses them for His glory, but I truly think my blindness opened doors for us in South Sudan.”
There, the Porterfields seized every opportunity to preach in schools, villages, homes, military barracks, orphanages and more. They also planted a church called Shadow of the Mountain, and Porterfield baptized some of the new believers in the Nile River.
“The way those things got accomplished was because God opened those doors,” he said.
He and Jessica estimate that up to 3,000 people were saved spiritually during their six-week trip earlier this year.
The couple hated leaving their newfound friends who had meager resources but gave everything they could to support the pastor who led them to the Lord.
“It’s very poor there. The poorest places in this country are still like paradise to most of the people in South Sudan,” Eric Porterfield said. “I can’t see, but I could feel poverty all around me. I can’t ignore that. If people like us don’t get over there to help them, nobody is going to do it.”
Out of money themselves and facing potential travel difficulties due to Eric’s expired visa, the Porterfield’s left South Sudan in mid-July.
Their friends pooled their few assets and hosted a going-away party for the couple.
“As little as they have, everybody has a role to play or something they can contribute to their communities,” Jessica said. “Our hearts broke for them, but I think it broke their hearts that somebody with what they saw as a serious handicap cared enough to come minister to them. They couldn’t believe we had left America, and everything we have here, to come to them. During the trip, we all got to see love in action — on both sides.”
“That’s what Jesus did for us. He didn’t’ tell us He loved us. He showed us He loved us,” Eric added.
The Porterfields pledged they would return to South Sudan, and they believe that time has come. Eric and Jessica are planning a return trip to South Sudan, where they hope to establish a structure at Shadow of the Mountain Church and possibly a school.
To do that, they need help from their neighbors, friends and churches who support their mission.
Eric estimates they will need $40,000 to $50,000 to employ South Sudanese people to build each permanent structure, and the couple will need $30,000 in travel expenses to get them to the country and support them for the six months they plan to stay.
“It’s a lot of money. That’s why we need the people who support our mission to get behind us in prayer and financially, if they can,” he said. “We just want to do God’s work and to help.”
They expressed appreciation to the people and organizations that have helped immensely already, particularly Pastor Ralph Calfee and the Rich Creek Baptist Church and Roy Ellison, Eric’s boss, who has been generous with his time away from Southern Insurance, Inc.
“Without them, we would not have been able to do what we have so far,” Eric said.
In a bid to share their ministries with their hometown and people in the United States, the Porterfields have established a website, www.blind-faith-ministries.com, and they will host an outreach event Oct. 8, at the Chuck Mathena Center. The program will begin at 7 p.m. No admission fee is required to attend, but donations will be accepted.
— Contact Tammie Toler at email@example.com.