S.C. "Curt" Iles, a Beauregard Parish native and author of 12 books, has just returned to Louisiana after spending three years in Africa, where he and his wife DeDe served with the International Mission Board (IMB).

The writer's twelfth, and most recent, book, Trampled Grass: Stories of Courage and Hope, is "full of courageous African heroes and their tales. Set against the backdrop of the recent South Sudanese civil war, this collection of forty short stories celebrates the unsung men and women who rose above the pettiness and tribalism to reach out to refugees who'd lost everything," according to the back cover of the book. It is a mixture of stories about friendship, sorrow, humor, and the resiliency of the human spirit.

This Saturday, October 29th from 9 AM- 12 PM, Curt Iles will be signing books outdoors during the Sally in the Alley event, hosted by Vintage Girl, which is across the street from Cecil's Cajun Kitchen on West 1st Street in DeRidder.

The IMB's mission is evangelizing, discipling and planting reproducing churches among all peoples in fulfillment of the Great Commission. When asked what inspired them to go to Africa for three years, Iles stated, "my wife and I had always been interested in going longer term," as they had been doing one- and two-week trips for approximately a decade.

 "In our denomination," he said, "there is a two-year program for people over 50, so we learned more about it." DeDe retired from teaching in Beauregard Parish, their kids were all on their own, and the next thing they knew, they were selling their house in Dry Creek.

 The couple went to Africa for two years and decided to stay a third. "We felt compelled to go," explained Iles. "We felt a calling and we had to obey it."

Upon return to the United States, Iles said, there was culture shock on both ends. Even though they had "great training, nothing can prepare you for being immersed in an entirely different culture." He feels that "returning has maybe been harder than going." Specifically, the "moral direction of our country has changed since we left," and the "general business of life."

According to the author, other people who return to the United States after similar missions have reported an overwhelming feeling particularly in stores' pet food aisles, which he related to. "We have hundreds of items for animals, and I love my animals, but after seeing people in complete poverty, it's surreal."

Iles pointed out that the "key to missions in Africa is that the 'Mzungu' (meaning, someone with white skin) work as a partner with Christian nationals. We partner with them in the continuation of growing the work which was already started." They aim to provide training, resources, and encouragement.

Up to 30,000 people are estimated to have been killed in this civil war. More than one million people have been displaced inside South Sudan and more than 400,000 people have fled to neighboring countries, mainly, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda, as a result of the conflict.

Most of the refugees fleeing South Sudan are women and children. They include "survivors of violent attacks, sexual assault, children who have been separated from their parents or travelled alone, the disabled, the elderly, and people in need of urgent medical care," according to Leo Dobbs, spokesman for the United Nations (UN) refugee agency.

Going beyond the headlines and statistics of the current crisis in South Sudan, the stories take readers into the hearts and lives of real people.

Curt wrote in his book that "most of the stories take place in a part of Uganda called 'Up Country,' a place where you're made to feel welcome."

"The hospitality of the African people," was most memorable to Iles. He said, "my family has been in Beauregard Parish for 200 years and I grew up on stories of hospitality, taking care of and helping neighbors. That is still a very big part of African culture."

He explained, "I saw the very best of people and the very worst of people. I hope the book brings that out. It's not meant to be pessimistic but realistic." This sentiment is noted where he wrote "it's a place where babies burst out crying at the sight of a white man. Where we are showered with rural hospitality and kindness. Where we are often startled, surprised, and delighted. At other times [we are] shocked, disgusted, and disappointed." These bittersweet observations and experiences convey a dichotomy which is true of the human experience everywhere, however, unique based on geography and culture.

One of the most difficult parts of Iles' mission was "dealing with corruption in the government. It's just part of Africa. That corruption is everywhere, especially when we started working in the [refugee] camps." For example, he elaborated, "trying to get water wells drilled. We had to go through local officials who might want a bribe or tell us where to put [the well]." They managed to drill seven wells while there.

The author, who lived in Uganda while in Africa, chronicled these human interest stories throughout 2014, concluding, "it was a wonderfully difficult experience."

 Iles' other books are historical fiction about Western Louisiana. Of this topic, he mentioned, "I love everything about our area," particularly Piney Woods where he grew up and spent the majority of his adult life.