We left Werkok, South Sudan today. Leaving behind new friends and adopted family. No words can express the time we spent here. Thank you is not enough to convey the gratitude owed to the people that took us in and cared for us. Certainly, we have all been changed. To my new family, MCH staff, the five village chiefs, community leaders, countless villagers and adorable children, I LOVE YOU ALL!!!
Today is our last full day in South Sudan. It is bitter-sweet. I am sad to leave, knowing the great need here. On the other hand, I am excited to go back to New York and begin writing grants and finding ways to improve life on the grounds. With the hours I have left, I am going to use them to the fullest, which includes me finally going into the operating room to witness some surgeries. The first two surgeries were MCH family. Mary Garang's niece, Mary, had her vocal chords repaired and Michael underwent surgery to remove a goiter from his neck. I put on my blue dress scrub and went to take photos. Paula and Christi were there assisting the surgical team. Mary did well and was out and recovering quickly. She is a brilliant young girl who came all the way from Kenya to visit her Aunt Mary and be seen by the doctors. Seven months ago she lost the ability to speak and she suffered damage to her cornea. I am sure she will be fully recovered and speaking in no time. For now, she speakes with a soft whisper. She has great ideas and a helpful spirit and has become like my Sudanese sister:) I am going to miss her.
Michael will also be missed. On Monday, he let me ride his motorcycle to meet the medical team at the airstrip...well, he drove and I rode on back. It was so fun! He is the funny guy who always has jokes and smiles. He was even smiling as he lay on the operating table, hooked up to IV and preparing for his surgery! Then the drugs kicked in and he was out. The procedure was quite long and he was still recovering when we left, so we did not get a chance to say goodbye. Get well soon Michael!
Praise God I made it through the sight of blood and needles to take some good photos and be there to encourage my new friends. I am awaiting updates on the other surgeries from the day. I went to the village with Gabriel and Simon to collect plastic bottles with the kids for our recycled crafts project. We got three bags full and the kids got candy:) It was a good day!
Tuesday was a day of many victories. Before we could even finish our outside devotion and morning prayer, we saw truckloads of people being dropped off at the hospital. They came from near and far, many overcrowding vehicles just to be seen and hopefully healed of their ailment and or operated on. The line of patients leading up to the hospital lined both sides of the veranda's corridor. The doctors quickly dressed in their scrubs and the surgical team took on its first case of repairing a bilateral hernia, followed by the excision of a bullet and fragment that had been lodged in a man for a long time. After his surgery, they performed a complete right-sided mastectomy on a woman. As patients waited to be seen, I went over and greeted each one using my new Dinka vocabulary. "Ci Rujn," (Good morning). "Kudual" (Hello).
"Encol Dana" (My name is Dana). Oh how they got a kick out of this!
The American girl from Kalamazoo, MI speaking Dinka, lol! I must have been believable at first because some of the women wanted to continue the conversation, but lost me after the first few words. I resorted back to smiling and searching for a young person who knew a little English. "Ha Ha Ha!" There was such laughter in that waiting area. If only the hospital waiting areas in the U.S. were as entertaining and joyful as this! I wanted to serve them, as I went around asking if anyone wanted "pu" (water). With the heat being 122 Degrees Fahrenheit, it was a small courtesy to offer those who had braved the journey.
Back under the tree with the women, the numbers doubled from our first sewing and craft project interest meeting the day before. Those women went and told their daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts and friends. 46 women's names were written on our roll. Each woman was captured on video raising her hand in agreement of the terms. These women represent their household of daughters and daughter-in-laws that could not attend the meeting. Once we gather all of the women together, that number could more than double to include 100 women. There are exciting this happening under our modest tree of hope!
The doctors ended the day with an exploratory osteomyelitis of the right tibia. I admire their sacrifice and world renowned skill. All of them are volunteering their time and knowledge to be here helping the people. Stay tuned for the many success stories and pictures to come in our next PCC/MCH Newsletter.
Whitney, Margit and Aaron left Friday. We sent them off as the doctors from Tenwek Hospital arrived from Kenya. Dozens of children met us on the dirt airstrip for the send-off and welcoming party. Just as the plane brought us new friends, it turned around and went away with old friends. Margit and Whitney will be back for the CHE training on February 1st. Our team will be back in the U.S. by then. It was a pleasure meeting them and learning from the great work they are doing in the community. Aaron too will be missed, he is such a talented young man and made many constructions improvements to the compound. We wish them well. The team from Tenwek included surgeon Dr. Russ White, Grants Coordinator and Russ' nephew Gabriel Ellsworth, anesthetist Phillip Lamgat and surgical resident Elijah Mwaura. Before unloading their luggage, they joined PCC staff for a meeting with the County Commissioner to further express our security concerns and needs. Mary and I met with the women under their usual tree behind the hospital. I asked them their ideas and told them about the sewing and craft project. They clapped at ideas they liked. Every woman clapped as I explained how they could use their crafts to make money for themselves and their families. They said that even thought they heard last year that they would get sewing machines, they did not believe it until now. Eager to begin, I hope to get them to the machines to them within the next month or two, but definitely before the rainy season begins. In the rainy season it can rain all day with no breaks and they have nowhere to meet. We are praying that we can use one of the empty community buildings in the village until we have completed the construction of the Growth Center.
After the meeting, I found a large plastic bag and two sacks that I can use to collect empty plastic bottles. Following the Banana Box organization's model, we are going to use recycled materials, melt them down and mold them into strips to weave baskets, make toys, mats and other crafts. Mary helped me sew up one of the torn sacks. On Tuesday, we will go to town with the boys and pack up bottles. Please pray for this project. The women finally have hope and we want their efforts to yield results. With the crafts and garments, they can sell them in the markets in surrounding towns as well as in churches here and the U.S.
The day was full and what better way to unwind then a drive in movie? Or in our case, a laptop propped against the barn, as we sat enjoying the movie, “We Bought A Zoo,” with a huge tub of popcorn. Nature was our amphitheater and the half moon and stars were our audience.
Sunday morning church service was an exciting time of worship, prayer and praise. The Dinka songs are so upbeat! I found myself dancing as I recorded the congregation. Stuart delivered the sermon, as Deng Alier translated it into Dinka. I loved all of the colorful outfits the women and little girls wore. Some of the girls had on plaited and beaded wigs. They were so precious. Dismissing for Sunday school, under the tree outside, we handed out the paper and crayons I brought. The children had fun drawing to their hearts' content. The teachers told me they love to see the children happy. They asked if we could get more Dinka Bibles and children's Bible stories on felt. This would make them glad.
I told them we would send something from the U.S. There are no markets around with these materials. After church, we had lunch and rested. With only four more days, we knew the week would fly by.
Saturday was a sweet day because we got to sleep in. There are no devotions on the weekend. The compound was still busy at work. The young boys from the village came to move boxes and continue cleaning out the 40-foot container. Their reward for helping was a Jesus comic book. Two boys stayed after, sitting with David. It was such a sight to see them looking through the pictures. I wish the books were in Dinka so they could read the story. All the same, the pictures clearly shared the gospel. It was a pictorial story of true love. Our prayer is that these boys and all of the Sudanese will know just how much they are truly loved. I wanted to spend quality time with the two boys, so we played pictionary. I began drawing an animal with short ears, a round face, and stripes. “Cat!” One of the boys exclaimed. I congratulated him for guessing correctly. The two boys proceeded to copy my version of a cat. I then told them to draw a dog, like our MCH dog David. They did an excellent job portraying him. Then they drew a cow and a house. Two other boys joined us. I drew a man, all four boys guessed correctly and began drawing a man. They are so smart and eager to learn. If you know of any organizations donating school supplies, please let PCC know. We would especially love any Dinka language books. Thank you for partnering with us to provide for these dear children!
The devotion was led by Margit from Mark 5:24-34. It was a story of great faith, displayed by a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. In the midst of a large crowd, she believed that if she could just touch the hem of Jesus' garment, she would be healed. With all of the crowds pressing upon Him, Jesus felt virtue flow out of Him and asked, “who touched me?” He knew who had touched Him, because He felt he faith. In response, He called her 'daughter' and told her that her faith has made her well. Today, David, Stuart, Deng Alier, Deng Jong Kuch, Christi, Paula and I were like that woman with the issue of blood. We drove to Bor Town, crammed in a truck without brakes (the only one we had). We were on a mission to meet with the Government of Jonglei State to solve some of the many issues facing MCH. We had no appointment, but in faith we believed that not only would the Governor and County Commissioner see us, but we believed they would offer us tangible solutions and deliver on their promises. The road there was rocky, windy and unpaved, but we arrived safely to the gated Government headquarters. Armed soldiers stood on every side and United Nations trucks patrolled the area.
We tread confidently to the Governors office. His office representative, Manyang and his security guard welcomed us to sit, inquiring about the purpose of our visit. David told him of MCH and the insecurity of the Werkok area due to tribal attacks by the Merles. Many have fled the area and our patient numbers are being affected. Fear is trying to creep into the village. We requested security, but none had come. Additionally, we need vehicles to transport patients. The needs are great. Manyang empathized with our concerns. He shared that his uncle was cared for in MCH when Bor Hospital was unable to treat his Tuberculosis. He told us that MCH means a lot to him. He himself is one of the Lost Boys who was sent to Nashville, TN for a better life during the war and genocide. He was there for twenty-two years. Finding favor with him was God's hand at work. He sent a messenger to the Governor and the Commissioner, who were tied up in meetings. Although it seemed they would be unable to meet us, we knew God would make a way.
Just as we left the office and were getting into the truck, Manyang stood in the courtyard with the Governor and some of his cabinet members, The Minister of Small Government and the Minister of Law to name a few. He motioned for us to return. We spent the next fourty-five minutes sitting with the Governor and the Minister of Small Government, telling him of the young mother and newborn baby who's lives MCH saved by performing and emergency C-Section when Bor Hospital could not. We told him of the other 3-month old baby who's life was spared after suffering from malnourishment and neglect. She had a yeast infection that would not allow her urine to be released. Unable to find a catheterizing tool small enough to fit her, the MCH staff had to send her back to home untreated. The staff later thought of a solution and Deng Jong Kuch had to drive around at night, in our truck with no brakes, from house to house until he found the mother and her baby. He brought them back to the hospital and Dr. Guy had to suck .5 liters of urine from the baby using a syringe. She could hardly move before being treated, but is now recovering well.
The Governors eyes welled up, he fought back tears. When he spoke, his voice filled with compassion and frustration. He wants to help us and so many. There are countless demands on him. He told us of the difficulties South Sudan has of running a country with no money. The North-South oil controversy has devastated the potential of the South Sudanese economy. There are insurmountable obstacles and not enough resources or people to help. I could feel his betrayal as he told us of the Lost Boys that he sent off to America with hopes that they would return and help their country. However, many of them have gone to school, gotten good jobs, made money and spent it on big houses, fancy cars and expensive clothes, but have not given back anything to their homeland. He spoke like a father whose prodigal son had spent all he had on wordly goods, but if that son would just return home, he would welcome him with open arms.
He showed kindness to us and told us he would pay to have the brakes fixed on our truck. He also ordered the County Commissioner to return to Werkok permanently and provide security to be stationed at MCH. This will bring the people peace of mind. David introduced each of us. The Governor said he would give letters of recommendation for the grants we weill be writing to bring aid and development to MCH, including USAID funding. I told him of the small business and sewing project we are starting with the women. He said it was very good and would support our efforts. We showed him the new site plan for MCH, with plans of a year round airstrip, the Growth Center, expanded housing quarters, a soccer field and the memorial garden. He was impressed and excited for this future 5-10 year expansion.
When the commissioner arrived, the Governor gave an overview of our plans and needs, telling him of his role to be sure that we are taken care of. We showed him the site plan and planned a time for him to visit us next week. We shook hands and proceeded outside for a group photo.
With much accomplished, all spirits were high! We took a drive past the Nile River and then went to the Bor market to refresh ourselves at the best juice bar in town. I got the lemon and pineapple mix. It was so good, fresh squeezed. The ladies went out shopping with Stuart as our chaperone, while the guys found some items for the compound. In my search for the perfect dress, I came across several women sewing designer Sudanese outfits. They were each sitting at a black sewing machine. African fabric of various prints draped the back wooden wall partition. The women were so lovely and sweet. One of them spoke English and told me they were in a sewing program. I told her I was from New York, visiting Werkok. She knew the area. I asked her if she would come to teach the women how to sew. She smiled brightly and said, “Yes, I will come.” I was so happy, I asked if I could take a picture. They all smiled and I snapped my camera. They liked the photo and laughed aloud, commenting on their images on the screen. I want the women of Werkok to see this photo and know that they too can make beautiful garments like these women. I hated to leave so quickly, but we had to get back to MCH and I still had not found a dress.
I returned to a shop I visited before, where I found a beautiful canary yellow dress with an adorning beaded necklace attached. Costing 65ssp, I bought it. Christie got a creatively dyed yellow lawa.
We met up with the guys, got a new volleyball:) and began our drive back. We stopped to visit Pastor Stevens at the Mission Garden of Christ, marveling at his developing property. He now has a school. After sitting with him a while, we went by the radio station to ask about announcing the doctors coming next week. At 300ssp, it was too expensive. The Government sent out letters announcing the news, so we trust God will do the rest in bringing the people.
The only noteworthy event on our drive home was when the two Dengs' jumped out of the truck and chased a family of Baboons into the bush They resurfaced with a dead and bloody baby goat that had been killed by the baboons. They were just dragging it away when the Dengs' went to retrieve it. We drove up to the closest house and returned it to the mother there. She knew who's family it belonged to. Such a tight-nit community, the Dinka's believe in working together. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Driving back into Werkok, I saw a tukel colorfully painted with a pale pink stripe going all around it. Zig zags of color outlined it and the greeting said, “Welcom to New Yerk.” I laughed at the irony and humor. Surely, this place is no place like home, but it sure is growing on me:)
This morning we began with devotion led by David Bowman. He shared the story of generous giving in II Corinthians 8. He urged us to give ourselves in the work we are doing here and to put in all we had, working as if unto God and not men. He reminded us that everything we have belongs to God—our time, our talents, our temples and our treasures. With this in mind, we must be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us. Mary Garang closed in prayer and we continued our day, meditating on these practical Biblical truths. Mary shared great wisdom with me. She remembers old Sudan. She has seen a lot of suffering. Yet, she has joy, hope and expectancy. She has such a thankful spirit. Speaking as a woman of wisdom, equipped with the role of teaching the women the Dinka language, the Bible and helping them improve their lives. Humbly, she asks God to lead her and says, “If I am not the one to help these women, may God send another, but if I am the one to help them, may He enable me to do it.” I learn so much from her. Every time we speak, she teaches me something new. Including Dinka, she gave me a mini lesson so now I can introduce myself, ask someone's name and use greetings for the morning, afternoon and evening. Baby steps to becoming fluent:)
We had a visit from USAID, which proved very beneficial to expanding our network of contacts and funding sources. We are greatly in need of the following:
- 2 Toyota 10-passenger trucks
- Additional funding for the Growth Center we are planning to build
- Sewing machines
- Solar Powered Panels
- Digital X-Ray Machine
- More Staff
- More housing on the compound
We are trusting God for these things.
Last night I had the following vision just as I closed my eyes to sleep: I saw the field just outside the hospital gates. The tall grass glowed golden. There were children playing in the grass, then they just stood there starting towards me. Waiting for an answer. Their faces were so piercing. I vowed to do whatever I could to help them. The dead grass went on for miles. Then there was a stopping point, a straight line where the dead became alive. Green grass had sprouted and filled the rest of the field. It was lush, bright green with nutrients and moisture. “How long will it be until this time of restoration?” I asked. “In time. You will see.” He would not tell me the time, but I felt that it would be soon.
I met with Mary Garang to discuss plans for the women. We want to start a sewing program and need at least four manual sewing machines and some fabric and thread to start. Hopefully we can get these things donated to help the women. They already have basic entrepreneurship skills, as Mary has started with collecting money from each women and buying a bulk of sugar and oil for each women to sell. The first round of sales brought in 100 South Sudanese Pounds (ssp) of profit, the second round brought in 300ssp of profit. The third round will be completed this month and I am sure the profit will be even greater. With the clothing and crafts that are created from the sewing project, the women hope to make enough money to care for their families and get out of extreme poverty.
Christi, Paula and I worked on organizing the Operating Room in the hospital, preparing for the surgical team arriving on January 21st from Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. We sorted IV supplies, bandages, gloves, operating tools and boxes of other miscellaneous supplies. The four doctors that will be coming are well trained to perform almost any general surgery, except eye, heart and neurological—because we do not have the proper equipment. It is our prayer that one day we can offer every type of surgery with several full-time doctors on staff. Until that time, we have Dr. Gai, Nurse Abraham, Pharmacist John and Lab Tech Simon. All are South Sudanese and serving their people with skilful hands and generous hearts.
After work, some of the staff went over to the secondary school to play volleyball with the kids. Christi and Paula went and then Margit, Whitney and I trailed them. Walking through downtown, we stopped at the small market and bought mango juices. They were sweet to taste, a tantalizing treat to the water we'd been drinking since our arrival. We greeted the men playing chess, speaking broken Dinka greetings, but smiling to make up for it. “Yin Ca leec,” Thank you, I said to the vendor. He laughed and spoke English to me. I laughed with him.
Almost to the school, we saw Christi and Paula walking towards us. They were heading back to the compound because Deng Alier had accidentally popped the volleyball...he does not know his own strength! That was the only volleyball we had. I decided to pass out the paper and crayons I had brought with me for the children. There were already some running to my side. They wanted photos. I snapped a few, then pulled out my gifts for them. Kids from across the village saw this and came sprinting towards us. I was instructed by Whitney and Margit to give them to the mother and let her distribute them to the children. We all went into the yard of tukels and she passed out a sheet of paper and a crayon for each child. The children did not know what to do with them, so I drew a simple drawing of a stick person and a flower in pink crayon. The kids followed suite, drawing and laughing, smiling all around. I took pictures of their masterpieces, encouraging them with a thumbs up, “very good,” I said. On boy drew a warrior figurine with a sidekick in no time at all. A little artist. I was so proud of him and all of them.
The elder woman enjoyed the sight of their playful banter and stood crushing peanuts to make peanut butter. She posed for a photo to show off her creation. Whitney had engaged in another game with the kids, similar to Mancala. They had dug the board out of the ground, small grooves where the round homemade game pellets nestled. Such creativity found in these young ones speaks of the hope and promise of their generation.
I felt like a kid again. We made faces and posed for pictures hanging on to the clothes line. The boys posed in front of the tukel where they used rocks to write letters on it, like a chalkboard. One of the girls ran out to Whitney wearing the same skirt as her. She saw Whitney's skirt and went inside to change into hers. They took a picture together. So smart and adorable was this little girl. The mother also went and got dressed up. She took a regal photo with her oldest daughter, her crimson red as bright as a blooming rose. I promise, when I return to the U.S. and am able to upload photos, you will see all of these stories for yourself. Until then, close your eyes and imagine the clear blue sky, sun beaming down and thirty Kool-Aid smiles circling you. This is worth celebrating!
What a day! I am excited about all that was accomplished today. The entire compound started with prayer at 8:15am. They had doughnuts and bananas for breakfast, followed by introductions (I missed this because I slept in, exhausted from the busy week and jet lag, but I heard it was great!). After breakfast, various teams set out to do their tasks for the day. Margit and Whitney went with Deng into Bor Town and surrounding areas to conduct a study for Community Health Evangelism (CHE). Paula went to do research for her Grad School Capstone Project. Christi went to work in the hospital. Stuart worked on fixing the water filter and cleaning out the 40 foot container of medical supplies. Some of the young boys from the village came to help. Dave met with some of the staff and oversaw various projects on the compound.
I met with Mary Garang regarding the women’s savings bank and sewing project. Mary said she would announce the two initiatives in church on Sunday and then we would meet on Monday. She is going to translate for me. After our meeting, Mary went to a village to visit a woman who had lost her son in a motor accident just before Christmas. She walked down the long main road with Bible in hand to bring some encouragement to the grieving family.
I went to the hospital to find the young woman I had promised my yellow dress. I saw her preparing to leave just after she was discharged. I greeted her warmly and she smiled big. I gave her the dress and she smiled even bigger. It melted my heart. The older women with her did not forget that I had promised to find her something too. I pulled out two spools of thread, one pink and one blue, then handed them to her, along with two sewing needles. She and the young woman laughed with cheer and thanked me. I replied back, “Shukran,” thank you in Arabic. They appreciated my gesture and nodded in acceptance. I really like this little town, so community driven and simply loving. At the core is hospitality and a servant’s heart.
With all of God’s beauty around us, how could we not be grateful. It is sad that it takes us going to the humblest state to be thankful for the humblest things. I spent the day learning from my hosts, taking video of the tomato gardens and hearing from an MCH staff person how the gardens started with a tiny seed that sprouted into a great harvest. Tomato salad has quickly become one of my favorite dishes here thus far. That and the homemade yeast rolls. The shredded cabbage is good too. I’m really looking forward to the beans and rice as well. The women are great cooks and so hardworking.
I found two ladies washing clothes at one of the back buildings. They scrubbed away in their round tubs so jubilantly. Singing harmonious songs, laughing and talking. Such sisterhood. They beckoned me to come take their picture. I happily obliged and took video footage of them hard at work. They let me sit between them and share what they’d created on film. For a moment, I was able to share in their language, breaking barriers of communication through media. I hope one day to learn Dinka, so I may hear their stories, unfiltered by an interpreter and unhindered by my limited speech. Until that day, I will show my love and friendship through hugs, smiles and the lens of my camera.
Driving over South Sudan, you could see desolate land for miles, mostly dry, dead grass with a scattering of trees. It bore the face of war. Undeveloped and stripped bare. My heart resorted to prayer. This song spilled from my lips on behalf of South Sudan, proclaiming that this will be their song of praise up to God: "Your grace is enough More than I need At Your Word I will believe I wait for You Draw near again Let Your Spirit make me new
And I will fall at Your feet I will fall at Your feet And I will worship You here I will worship You here
Your presence in me Jesus light the way By the power of Your word I am restored I am redeemed By Your spirit I am free
And I will fall at Your feet I will fall at Your feet And I will worship You Here I will worship You here
Freely You gave it all for us Surrendered Your life upon that cross Great is Your love Poured out for all This is our God
Lifted on high from death to life Forever our God is glorified Servant and King Rescued the world This is our God"
Arriving in Juba International Airport was a test of patience. Our connecting private plane was nowhere to be found. I visited the airport gift shop run by an organization called The Roots South Sudan, empowering women to provide for themselves and their families using the arts. I spoke with the woman running the store, many of the beadwork and jewelry was her own. This reaffirmed the vision I have for the women in Werkok. To start a savings bank and see them trained to use their skills to start their own business. Teaching them how to fish for a lifetime.
I used the rest of our layover time to read up on the history of South Sudan, as told in the book, They Poured Fire On Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan. The stories of first hand accounts from the evil atrocities done by the government supported janjaweed militia. It brought tears to my eyes. I had to push myself to read on. I would recommend you read it for yourself, my summary cannot do it justice.
Four hours after our arrival, the private plane arrived. Thirty minutes later, we drove out to the airstrip. We loaded the plane and the pilot prayed for our flight and work to come. Just before the plane fully taxied and turned onto the runway, it swerved to the right with a screeching stop. Steel grinding upon pavement. The U.N. workers pointed to the tire in an urgent sweep of their pointer fingers. The pilot got out to confirm that it was indeed completely flat. Thank God they caught it! Where would we be if not for His grace!
Landing in Werkok, we were greeted by a crowd of smiling children. A welcome party fit for kings and queens! What a joy it was to see them:) I immediately took to hugging each of them, taking pictures and showing them their beautiful faces on the screen. How they loved this!
They huddled around me to watch the plane take off to return to Juba, cheering as it flew away in the clear blue sky. I adored them already. We would have so many fun moments ahead of us.
Walking toward the village, I took video of two girls pumping water from the well like a seesaw. Once they discovered video, they all wanted a moment on film. Even the older women. The children flocked to me wherever I went, posing for pictures, laughing and listening closely to my words to repeat them back to me. "Smile," they'd say, as that was always my preface before pictures.
They had such bright eyes, wide and curious. Children so talented and kind. We met up with two boys playing with homemade tonka trucks along the way. They'd used scraps of sheet metal, cardboard and blue tea-light candles. I was captivated by their ingenuity, little engineers in the making. One of them had a string attached and I challenged him to race it for me. I filmed him as he ran up the path before being stopped by one of the women. She rallied the children to return to pumping water and leaving me to go along my way. I greeted her, showing my respect and said farewell to the children.
I took so many photos before I finally arrived at the hospital compound. I greeted everyone with a handshake and a hug, when they initiated. The South Sudanese are so kind and inviting. They welcomed me right in.
By late afternoon, I had met most of the MCH staff, toured the grounds, greeted patients and was sitting with five women having girl talk, as one of the younger women played with my hair. I promised to give her the yellow dress I was wearing. I told the older woman that I would find something for her. I brought sewing kits for the women and I told them I want a dress like theirs.
They taught me how to say "hello" and "goodbye" in Dinka. I waved and used my new goodbye greeting as I journeyed to the main yard. One of the young men took me to see downtown. Though undeveloped, it still offered three shops and a small chess club. I challenged them to a match later in the week. They accepted. I know they'll probably beat me, but I'll give it a fighting chance;)
I saw the tukel houses made of mud, sticks and reeds. There were two schools, primary and secondary. I saw the commissioners house, a community center and two churches, one is shaped like a cross. There was a blazing fire in the distance. This was to clear the tall grass, for security reasons. They keep the grass low in order to see any intruders afar off. Remnant defense strategies from years of raids, attacks and massacres.
I saw so much potential in this town. There was an empty shop built with simple tree-limb posts that the women could use to sell craft items. I found out they have great skills, like making lasas, mats and tukel art.
We walked back to the compound as the crescent moon rested nestled in the sky, ending the night eating dinner under the stars. With nature surrounding us, I smiled at the contrast of New York City and its sirens compared to Werkok and its crickets. I'd prefer a symphony of music over horns any day.
He followed Christi, Dave and Stuart in a focused pursuit. I saw him from a distance as I walked with Pattie, a missionary who had served in South Sudan for five years before her new assignment in Bristol, UK. With gentle endearment, Christi ushered him away from the speeding transit buses of Nairobi's rush hour. He wore a yellow shirt that from the back said, "KEEP THE PROMISE," in black capital letters. The shirt was frayed and dusty. His sandals worn and torn. Catching up with them, I told him I liked his shirt and asked him what the front if it said. He turned proudly to show me, "STOP AIDS." It compelled me...where did he get a shirt like that? And did he realize what a powerful message he was spreading..."Can I take a picture of you and your shirt? He smiled and posed. His friends showed up by his side too, just in time for a snapshot. I showed them the result and they smiled with glee, laughing, enjoying the sight of themselves in the digital screen. More onlookers came to sneak a peek. All of them were labeled beggars, but I saw them as jubilant children. They shouldn't have to stand on the side of the street looking for their next meal. In their eyes, I saw God's purpose for them. Beggars, no. They are so much more than that. Christi and Stuart took the boy to get some food. They said he ate half of the chicken and rice, saving the rest to take home to his family. He hadn't eaten in three days. This should not be. I wonder what will become of the boy in the yellow shirt and tattered sandals...I believe that one day, he'll become God's messenger. In many ways, he already is.
I love how the sunlight floods the church. Light of the eyes shining forth the dawn of a new day. (The choir sings) "I fix my eyes on You The author of my faith Casting aside every sin and every weight Letting the cares of this world go away One thing I ask, One thing I seek That I may dwell in Your house Oh Lord, my King All the days of my life, I want to gaze upon your beauty And seek You in this holy place."
The blessed oil was dispersed and the elders were set in place for prayer. A sweet spirit of worship fell over the sanctuary, as songs of praise went up to Heaven. The anointing of the Holy Spirit could be felt all over. Like a tingly sensation tugging at my heart, rest enveloped me. I was home.
(The choir sings) "Create in me a clean heart And purify me Create in me a clean heart So that I may worship You."
Our team of four was safely united in Amsterdam. We quickly acclimated to the six hour time difference and found a lounge space to rest and catch up before our connecting flight to Nairobi. By the time we boarded our next flight, everyone was in high spirits and eager to see what the trip would hold. Knowing that God has His hand in all things, I was not surprised to discover that my new seat mate was an anaesthesiologist on mission to Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya. This same hospital will be sending a surgical team to MCH on January 21st. Mr. Bowman knows several of the doctors and staff well, as they have visited MCH before. Again, new connections were being made and we marvelled at what a small world it truly is.
Landing in Nairobi, we said goodbye to our new friends and made our way to the Mayfield Guesthouse where we will be staying until Monday morning. The local time here as I write this is 1:00am. We have breakfast at 8am and church at 10:45am. After a long and eventful travel day, it is time to turn in. Until next time, keep us in your prayers!
1) For healing rivers to flow through and revitalize the barren land.
2) For hope to arise among the people.
3) For successful surgeries to be performed by the surgical team coming from Kenya.
4) That the hearts of the people would be inviting to the gospel message and many will be saved and rededicate their lives to Christ.
5) That God would give me the words to say when talking with the people and country leaders.
6) That I would be receiving of the lessons God wants to teach me there.
7) That my heart would be full of compassion for the children, especially those orphaned and abandoned by their parents due to the war and genocide.
As the rain fell outside my airplane window, the realization hit me...In 7.5 hours I will be halfway around the world in Amsterdam meeting the rest of the team, David Bowman, Stuart Bowman, and Christi Benting. In another 11 hours, we will be in Nairobi. Two days more, we will be in South Sudan, on our way to Memorial Christian Hospital in Werkok. My first encounter with the crisis happening in Southern Sudan occurred on July 18, 2006. It all started with a dream. You can find an excerpt from my journal here: www.razoo.com/story/Serving-South-Sudan
I met David Bowman August 2012 through a friend's contact with Samaritan's Purse. My dad and I met with him in Grand Rapids, MI and he decided then that I would be going with him to Werkok in January.
A dream six years in the making, I stand at the point of destiny and purpose...what awaits me there? Will I be ready? It seems the years leading up to this mission 'snailed' by, but now the time is racing past me like the frantic beat of my heart...3...2...1...take off!
Beginning my departure, New York City seems so small from 1600 feet above ground. Or maybe its just that I don't feel so small anymore.
With all of the prayers of friends, family, church leaders and worship team members, I know that God has equipped me and our team for this work. He has given us everything we need to accomplish it and be changed in the process. I walk with Him on the straight and narrow path, unaware of what lies ahead, but knowing that He is with me. And honestly, that's all that matters. Join me, as we explore together...
Paul here with some final thoughts. As was mentioned earlier today was a day of lasts. Our last chance to accomplish tasks, our last meal of rice and beans, our last cool shower in the evening.
I must admit it's been a trip with its share of ups and downs. There are frustrations and hardships here not encountered elsewhere. But there are people here, generous and kind, full of good humor, introspective and wondering how to improve their country. Dr. Gai is excellent example. A surgeon in South Sudan is a rare thing and to have good Sudanese surgeon on our staff is a real blessing. I assure you that he could do much better for himself financially if he wanted to.
I took a moment today to sit with him and learn more about his life and how he came to be with us. I thought the result might be of general interest.
Dr Gai has been working at MCH since the first of June 2012. Previous to that he was in Yeman for 11 years and then previous to that in Khartoum. His father was the general director of health services in Jonglei state. Because of the first civil war he left for the North to practice in the Blue Nile province as a medical inspector.
Dr Gai was born in Bor in 1962. He primary schooling was in Upper Nile province and then Aljazera. After the signing of the first cease fire his family moved back to Bor and he went to secondary school in Rumbeck. Following that he attended college at Alexandria University in Egypt. He starting studying in Gynecology but then moved to Yeman and finished his diploma work there as a surgeon. After that he spent time working in the private sector and doing volunteer work in the state hospital in Dhamar.
He also worked in Khartoum serving the South Sudanese ethnic minority there. In Khartoum South Sudanese are not allowed to live in the central areas and few physicians are willing to travel out to serve their needs. Dr. Gai said that there was a great need for his services there.
With the end of the civil war he came back to Juba to do volunteer work in 2010 in an effort to do his part in helping South Sudan begin as a new nation. He was living off of savings while living with his relatives in Juba.
Deng Jongkuch approached him through a relative about the possibility of coming to MCH. He was initially very skeptical about the idea but changed his mind when he learned that it was a non-profit Christian hospital. Dr. Gai talked to me several times about his faith and his conviction that he must walk in the path of Christ in all that he does. Living his convictions and avoiding immorality are central to his walk.
Dr Gai has never traveled to the USA but feels he knows a lot about America based on the books he has read and movies he has seen. He mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger as a favorite actor. When I asked him what in the USA he would like to visit he mentioned the Great Lakes because he does not know as much about them.
He was married in 1994 in Khartoum and separated in 2006. He has a son, 13 years old living with his Aunt in Khartoum. He considers his Aunt his second Mother as both his mother and father have passed away. He hopes to move his son locally as soon as he can get him a South Sudanese passport.
Well folks, this will be the last of my posts from Werkok. Firstly because we are leaving but also because the computer I am using will be remaining here. Lord willing we will be in Nairobi tomorrow night and back in the USA on Monday.
Take care and thanks for your thoughts and prayers.
Today is Thursday and it is already our last full day here in Werkok except for Thom who is staying on for a couple of weeks. It is hard to believe that 10 days have already gone by since we first came. Much has been accomplished but there is more that we had hoped to accomplish. Much to do and so little time! In the afternoons of this week I have been privileged to spend time with the women in Bible Study. On Tuesday Mary asked me if I would preach. I told her that I don't preach but I would be happy to share a Scripture with them and tell them what it meant to me. Having never done anything like this before I began praying and asking God to show me what He would have me share with them. Philippians 4:4-9 is what I read from and when I was finished reading, one of the women named Naomi, thanked me for reading that and said that God had told me to share that with them. As she said, they are a people with many difficulties and hardships but God is in control and we don't have to be anxious about anything. The women have taught me a lot! They are amazing and wonderful women of God!
The airfield has been cleared and there is no reason now for a plane not to land here! It looks entirely different than when we first started on it. It looked pretty overwhelming when we first started but with hard work of many and Thom on the bobcat it was finished. By the way, I now call Thom “catman”. We are hoping and planning on the fact that since the airstrip has been cleared our MAF flight will leave from here rather than us having to be driven to Bor and flying out of there to Juba. From Juba we will fly on Kenyan Air to Nairobi.
Yesterday afternoon we had a brief but welcome thundershower. We got a bit of rain and the air cooled down to give us a cooler night to sleep. Today it looks like another shower is possible again but it has often looked that way and nothing happens. The crops are already suffering here and every night buckets of water are carried to the gardens where a hose cannot reach. The dry season has just started so they have to wait again several months for sufficient rain. The problem is once it starts it just keeps raining.
Today's picture is of Dr. Gai treating a male patient. I have rambled on long enough and so I'll turn it over to Paul for the next post. Shirlene
In Michigan the faint glow of grassfires on the horizon are not common in my experience. We have been observing them here for several nights running. We are told that this activity is for security. The thinking is that it would be harder for the bad guys to hide in the burnt grass than the original tall field grass. There is a lot of discussion about security issues here because over the last year a number of Dinka have turned up dead and their cattle gone. Last night things got more interesting because the fires raged up to the Hospital complex itself. This caused some excitement from the locals and panic from some Americans. The fire raged on three sides of our complex filling the air with smoke. Thankfully the fire did not enter inside of the fence due to the garden plots and generally greener grass we have inside. After an hour or so it became clear that we were not going to be engulfed in flames and nerves began to mend. Later we sat around in the evening and thought about events.
The Sudanese have a different sense of responsibility than Americans do when it comes to fires. Property damage that comes from fires is the responsibility of the property owner and not the person who set the fire. This means that property owners take care to situate their property to be immune from such fires and that they are always prepared to defend important property if necessary. Makes some sense when you think about it.
One of the features of Werkok is the brilliance of the night sky. Tonight was no exception and we were in position to watch the International Space Station pass overhead. Yes there is an app for that and it works here as well as it does in the SA. It's what passes for entertainment in the absence of much else to do at night.
Another thought that came to mind this week was about chickens. There are several dozen here in the compound doing what chickens do. I spent some time on a farm as a boy but I had forgotten how active the life of a chicken is and how important the pecking order is. They days here start off to a chorus of crowing around 5AM so little sleeping in can be done. There is always a dispute to be resolved, cruel act to be avenged or a some sort of domination to demonstrate. A particular fuss occurred when one of the neighborhood hawks took a dive on the flock. The intended target dove under the coop and avoided death but nerves were frayed and the roosters seemed particularly incensed. Reminds me of another species I am familiar with which is prone to making much ado about nothing.
Work on the airfield is complete. We have 830 meters of cleared runway which is 22 meters wide. All that remains is for the MAF pilot to agree. The final verdict will be on Friday morning 8:30AM. Hopefully all our hard work will pay off.
One disturbing development yesterday was the failure of the welder generator we just bought and brought with us from Nairobi. It's always a frustration when something new fails but even more so when the hopes for an effective warranted repair are dim. We will ponder on it over the next day, perhaps something simple will be found.
Solar system work continues. The interior work is complete and the remaining work will be outside in the hot sun. Hopefully all will be complete tomorrow and we can test the system. That is going to be tricky since the batteries I was planning to use for this system failed last month in the Hospital. New batteries are in the container but that is not expected here for some time. We are looking to get something flown in on Friday but prospects do not seem so good. Looks like serious improvement in the power situation here will have to wait until after the container comes.