South Sudan became the world's newest nation last year when it gained its independence from Sudan. In recent months, Sudan has threatened war against South Sudan over oil-rich border territories, and Sudan's warplanes have been bombing defenceless villages in the Nuba Mountains region. International Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan’s Purse headed by Franklin Graham has been working in Jesus Name for almost 20 years in Sudan and South Sudan. The organization has helped provide medical care, water, agricultural support, Bibles, and other assistance for people displaced by fighting. Operation Christmas Child has distributed gift-filled shoe boxes to over 357,000 children in Sudan and South Sudan since 1998.Since 2005, Samaritan's Purse has built over 450 churches in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains of Sudan to replace church buildings that were destroyed in the war. Several of those churches—as well as a pastor training school built by Samaritan's Purse—have been targeted by bombers in recent months. Graham has travelled to Khartoum, Sudan, three times to personally meet with Sudan President Omar al-Bashir on behalf of the persecuted Christians in Sudan. He was a guest of honour at last year's independence ceremonies in South Sudan, and he is planning to return to the capital city of Juba later this year to hold citywide evangelistic meetings. ANS Europe Bureau Chief Peter Wooding recently travelled to South Sudan to report from refugee camps, a hospital, and other ministries operated by Samaritan's Purse:
As our small 12 seater plane touched down on the dirt land strip in the middle of the remote Doro refugee camp in Mbane State in North East, South Sudan, I had mixed feelings of fear and excitement of what I would see and experience during the next 5 days on this reporting trip with Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse.
Just before landing I was struck by how barren this area was, the sheer size of this refugee camp, which was home to more than 50,000 refugees and wondered how on earth these displaced civilians had walked for days through this desolate land.
During this short flight from Juba the capital of South Sudan, I reflected on how just a few weeks ago I’d been asked to join this trip to see first hand how Samaritan’s Purse was responding to the refugee crisis. I knew what lay ahead would most likely be heart breaking as well as inspiring.
As I stepped off our plane I was hit by the intense heat as crowds of children gathered to watch the novelty of the commotion of our arrival and the offloading of supplies.
We were then driven straight to the Samaritan’s Purse compound, which would become our home for the next two nights. After dropping off my luggage in my tent, we were quickly taken to the first project, the only hospital in the Doro region, which is run by the charity’s dedicated medical team.
But then when I started to interview Dr Atar I felt like I was hearing the script from an action film as he described the journey that led him here to this hospital. He’d previously run the Samaritan’s Purse Kurmuk hospital, in an area that came under intense fighting.With my squeamish stomach I struggled to watch back surgery being completed on a two week old baby, but I was then met by the amazing smile of Dr Evan Atar who emerged from the operating theatre to come and greet us. He then took us around the facilities including one of the wards, where he told us the stories of the patients they were treating.
Each day he and his staff would often have to abandon surgeries and run to take cover in trenches as bombs were being dropped in the area. Then once the shelling had stopped they would carry on with treating the same patient.
But when the fighting became too intense to stay, Dr Atar and his team had to abandon Kurmuk and make the hazardous journey to Doro through heavy rain and continuous bombing. Dr Atar has since converted what was a primary health care centre in Doro into a fully functional hospital that is providing various surgeries, an outpatient clinic treating malaria and a stabilisation centre for those with acute malnutrition.
So when I asked him why he’s overcome so much to continue providing this vital medical care, he simply said with his infectious, beaming smile: “It’s my faith in Christ that has motivated me to be in this place in God’s right timing.”
Later that day I heard another remarkable story that also could’ve come straight out of another action film, when David Phillips country director for Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan told me how they discovered some of the very first refugees last year.
In August 2011, David was taken by plane to a remote land strip and with the sounds of bombs dropping in the distance; he pulled off on a quad bike into the swamps and five hours later found 2,000 refugees, who were sleeping under the trees. He said they were digging roots off the ground and pulling leaves of the trees for food.
So because the area was so remote they then dug up a drop zone for aeroplanes to drop food packages and David had to stay for another four weeks living on meagre rations along with these newly found refugees until he could be flown back.
Now at Doro and Jamam refugee camps Samaritan’s Purse has taken on the logistical challenge of feeding 90,000 refugees. Later that day we were taken around their food distribution area and one of their team James Malukei told me it can take them up to 12 hours in the intense heat to hand out their monthly rations, which include maize or sorghum, beans and some oil to cook with.
Up until this point in my visit it’s been hard to put a face to these 90,000 refugees struggling to survive in Mbane State, but then James takes us to meet a family at their shelter and I’m incredibly moved as the father tells me the story of how they walked 7 days, with his wife, and 18 month old and 3 year old daughters, to get to this camp.
We’re taken round their modest make-shift shelter with their rations and very few possessions and I’m shown where they sleep on the dirt floor with just a few blankets for their bed. Sweat is pouring off me as I set up my camera equipment to interview the father, and I’m struggling to hold in my emotions as I start to understand the reality of what these people have been through.
On our final morning at Doro I am overwhelmed with emotion as we attend one of several worship services taking place every Sunday morning at these refugee camps. Under the shade of a tree more than 300 men, women and children proceed into the church area where they sit on logs. Very few have Bibles and there are no musical instruments as the choir sings. But as they start to sing hymns I recognise in their own language I’m deeply moved to be part of this amazing moment.
The previous day we’d interviewed Pastor Abraham Rehan, who’d walked 9 days to get to Doro after having to abandon his church. When we asked him what was their greatest prayer need he simply said: “Please pray for peace so we can return home and we desperately need Bibles as we had to leave everything behind.”
Pastor Abraham meets up every week with other pastors and church leaders to pray together and plan how they can meet both the spiritual and physical needs of these desperately needy people they’re now living with.
I’m inspired that this is the very ethos of Samaritan’s Purse to not only feed these thousands of refugees physically but also spiritually. I learn that Samaritan’s Purse has built more than 450 churches over the years and has provided Bibles as well. In all their projects they offer prayer and Christian counselling to the people they help and run discipleship programs as well.
So many of these pastors fleeing to the camps have been helped before by Samaritan’s Purse, which is doing everything in Christ’s name.
Two days later we leave Doro, to fly to Yida refugee camp, where more than 30,000 displaced civilians have fled the Nuba Mountains. I’m told the Nuban people are very respectful, hard working and well organised, which is clearly evident as I walk around the camp to see they’ve even set up their own market place and some resourceful families are planting crops in their small compounds.
As we’re being taken around Yida I’m asked if I want to see the un-detonated bomb that sits under a tree on the edge of the camp. I’m told the miraculous story of how this bomb was intended to hit a school, but amazingly it hit a tree before landing, which prevented it from exploding, but still sits there as a stark reminder of the dangers these people have faced.
From there we go to the registration area, where hundreds arrive daily. We interview two mothers surrounded by their children all looking malnourished and shell shocked.
Samaritan’s Purse distributes food rations here for these people when they arrive, so they immediately have enough supplies for the next two weeks.
The final two projects we visit are incredibly inspiring. First of all we’re taken to the entrance of the child protection centre, a compound for 561 un-accompanied girls. We discover many of them had to flee their boarding school that was being bombed.
Child protection officer Gaby Ovington tells me that as well as providing, food, water and shelter to these vulnerable girls they’re also teaching them life skills and providing Christian counselling to help them deal with the trauma they’ve been through.
Hundreds of malnourished children are also brought to the Samaritan’s Purse nutrition centre, where many times these young lives are being saved. We see babies and infants looking lethargic and some looking very frail. But then we’re told the story of little Tabitha, who was brought to the clinic by her mother just two weeks ago with pneumonia and malaria. But after receiving treatment and being fed nutrients, she is now healthy again playing and running around.
This moves me so much to see first hand that despite all of the suffering and sadness, Samaritan’s Purse is providing such life-saving treatment.
From all the Samaritan’s Purse workers I’ve met I’m amazed by their continued passion to serve with such compassion and enthusiasm despite such intense conditions and challenges.
So as our plane takes off from the dirt runway at Yida refugee camp and we begin our long journey back to the UK I leave both heart-broken and inspired by what I’ve seen.
I am heart broken to imagine what future awaits these thousands of refugees, with no end in sight to the bombing and the rainy season approaching that could destroy their fragile shelters and make the roads impassable to continue getting supplies to them. But I’m also inspired by the dedicated Samaritan’s Purse teams who will stay despite the huge challenges they face to continue saving lives in South Sudan and bringing to the hope of Christ to such a hopeless place.
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This article was originally published on Assist News http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2012/s12050071.htm
23 May 2012 at 11:52