A vicar's son has escaped from war-torn South Sudan in time to spend Christmas with his family.
After five days of trying to flee the fighting in the country’s capital Juba, Ben Bartlett, son of Rev Canon Alan Bartlett, was welcomed home.
Amidst growing fear of the country plunging into civil war Mr Bartlett, 23, had tried on four separate occasions to leave the country with his Tearfund charity colleagues, each time being restrained at the last minute.
But on Saturday the 23-year-old landed back at Newcastle Airport.
He was due to fly back on Tuesday this week for Christmas leave but was woken last Sunday to the sound of heavy weapons near the Tearfund compound in Juba.
The project support officer said: “I couldn’t understand what was happening, I was woken by the sound of heavy gunfire and shelling, and buildings were shaking from the vibrations of tank and mortar fire.”
Mr Bartlett, who graduated from York University in September, has been in South Sudan since October, where he has worked on clean water and sanitation projects.
His father, a vicar at St Giles, in Gilesgate, near Durham City, said: “The first we knew of this was talking with him on Skype on Monday morning with the sound of machine gun fire in the background. It was very scary for him and for us.”
Mr Bartlett and his colleagues spent a day hunkered down in their compound, eating emergency rations of luncheon meat and tinned pineapple, before starting to try to get out on the Wednesday.
The airport closed and just 30 minutes before he was due to leave an incoming plane crashed on the runway.
Mr Bartlett, who has already served in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is used to dangerous places but said that his time in South Sudan was the worst.
Rev Bartlett said: “It has been very tough going carol singing, celebrating Christmas with our schools, all the while worrying about his safety – and that of many of his friends in South Sudan.
“But Christmas reminds us that God lives in this fragile world with us and shares all we go through. The love and prayers of many friends have got us through. We hope and pray that peace will soon be restored and South Sudan resume its progress.”
His mother Helen said: “It’s been so hard, to nearly get him out twice and then something go wrong. When he came through those arrivals doors at the airport it was amazing.
“God just holds you in everything and He has certainly held us this last week and brought Ben home to us for Christmas.”