(Being a culture that prefers media over the written word, I’m including this video (which you can find elsewhere on this blog) to accompany Kimberly’s letter. Kimberly is the President of Make Way Partners)
Dear Fellow Missioners,
I am confident that I will spend the next many “Wednesday Reports” (as well as time on my blog) pouring out all the experiences from my most recent time on the ground in Sudan. I made it home about 4 a.m. this past Monday. (The reasons for which I will explain through this letter.)
First, let me tell you that I have certainly experienced God’s love, mercy, presence and provision throughout my life. Yet, never before have I felt His presence going before, preparing the way and literally parting the waters for the work laid out before us as I have these last few weeks. It seemed as though every step we took had been especially carved out and prepared for the exact fitting of our foot. Angels truly tended us on Holy Ground.
I will share the important things learned, decisions made and blessings received in the “Wednesday Reports” to come. But for today, God has laid a burden on my heart that I must speak to as paving the way for the things you will read in the weeks to come.
Fred Blackwell (a MWP Board Member), Kevin Massie (MWP Project Manager) and I went to three different regions of the country and we were blessed to meet up with other partners (old and new alike) along the way. These regions were Eastern Equatoria – still haunted by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), then at Nyamlel, where our New Life Ministry school, church, orphanage and widows ministry is located, and deep into Darfur where attacks have occurred as resent as just a few days before we arrived. We were the first Christian or secular NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) to ever visit them. Neither had the United Nations visited or sent any kind of aid whatsoever. We were certainly the first White people.
In the Darfur camp, we meet with leaders and commoners alike. Both groups told us that at least two babies per day were dying simply from lack of pure water, or at times water of any kind. Three of the four children were orphans. Seven in ten women were widows. Most people who walked all day to get to us would not be able to eat anything at all that day because they had forfeited their opportunity to gather anything all in order to be able to spend their time and energy to meet with us. Muslim and Christian alike (And yes, there were a small number of Christians in the Muslim camp who had been persecuted but now simply lived among the African Muslim in peace as they all suffered together under the Arab Muslim, trying to avoid the slave raiding, genocidal Janjaweed.)
My heart was simply broken as woman after woman kept pushing her baby into my arms. One cried, “Please give us medicine so my baby won’t die like his sister did.” The mother of this baby (pictured on left) said that her baby’s (Thomas) stomach was so bloated from water-borne disease and starvation that the local witchdoctor told her that if she would burn Thomas’ stomach in these four locations it would rid him of his illness. Now, baby Thomas is at risk of infection setting in his new open wounds in addition to his other maladies. Baby Thomas was only one of at least 50 babies I held praying over them before putting them back into the mothers’ shaking arms – still with no medication.
Praise God! One of our partners who witnessed much of this has committed to help us to send a large amount of medication up to these precious people. But, that is just the first step. God also moved in another man (Phillip “The Evangelist” trained by African Leadership) who was accompanying us from Kenya (and who “happens” to speak Arabic). We were preparing to send Phillip (pictured below left) to another much safer and more comfortable location when he came to Fred saying: “These people are desperate for the Word and I want to live here preaching the Gospel and overseeing whatever supplies you can send.”
I questioned him, “Phillip, are you sure? There is no security here. There are no homes or camps here. Janjaweed attacks, rapes and slavery takes place routinely here.” Philip was certain he wanted to share the Hope of the Living Word with the desperate Muslims and persecuted Christians squatting in the desert. There are 22,000 in this one “camp”! Phillip is now in Kenya in the process of gathering the medicine and other supplies he will need. God willing, we will have him back on a plane within the month to share both the Word and the incarnational love of the Word.
Please juxtapose this story to my Stateside re-entry; there is a message for us here that all of creation is groaning to correct. Within hours of leaving Phillip behind, Fred and I headed for our return to the US. We flew one whole day out of Sudan to get to Nairobi. Praise God! We had time for a quick shower and dinner before boarding a late night flight where we flew another day’s travel to Amsterdam. We waited in Amsterdam for a number of hours before we departed for another days worth of travel. Fred for Detroit; me for Memphis.
In Memphis, I had several hours of waiting before I was to board a late night (but short) flight to Birmingham. However, once we began to taxi down the runway, our stewardesses heard a loud noise at the door and sent a distress call to our pilot to abort take off. We returned to the gate where we waited an hour or so for mechanics to fix the problem. After an hour or so, they asked us to deplane while the mechanics worked further. During our wait, I heard several side-bar conversations about being “Christian” and glad that God had intervened from us being hurt in a crash. An hour or so passed before we re-boarded. Once again, we began our taxi. The stewardesses (and this time some passengers) heard the same noise. Again, we aborted our take off. We immediately deplaned and were told to wait while the airline decided what to do.
It was finally decided that the flight was officially cancelled and that we had two choices. Go to a hotel and return for a 6 a.m. flight for Atlanta and then wait for a connection or to take a bus which would arrive in Memphis in about an hour (now midnight) for the drive onto Birmingham. I was ready to be home so opted to wait for the bus and get home as soon as possible. Those who joined me in that decision were about 50. Each of us was given a $13 voucher to spend on food in the airport. The problem was all restaurants were now closed save one: an Arby’s which had only one very young person attending it at that hour. Nearly half of our motley crew headed in bee-line fashion for the Arby’s. Keep in mind it was midnight and a time when none of us would normally be eating anyway.
I have noticed that when I travel “all dressed up”, I tend to get special attention from both flight crews and gentleman offering to carry a bag or help to put away my overhead. However, when I travel rather worn and tattered looking with clothes dirty and hair askew donning a makeup-less face, men ignore me even if I am struggling with a 75 pound box of Child Sponsorship letters. While it may be a commentary on our culture, this is a good thing in the “special vantage point” it affords me. I watched from afar as people grew angrier and angrier that their food was not forthcoming. The poor girl behind the counter was overwhelmed and there was nowhere near the volume of food pre-prepared to meet the demands being placed upon her.
The long-awaited bus arrived. But people who had waited in line for an hour to redeem their $13 voucher refused to leave without the food they “deserved.” The airline tried to assure them the drive to Birmingham was only three hours and they would be home soon. Tempers flew, words thrashed about like arrows at the gods who dared to break our sense of entitlement and a riot nearing the proportion of Darfurees over a water bottle emerged. Finally, the young woman behind the counter offered all the bottled water and potato chips that anyone could carry in compensation of the sandwiches ordered. Begrudgingly a peace treaty had been reached.
Folks with arms cradling water bottles like a mother trying to carry newly-born octuplets boarded our bus. We rode our three hours in silence save the tears a few of us shed over the spirit of entitlement that seems to have invaded our country, our Church.
Please ponder these things in your heart as I write of the persecuted, starving and enslaved these next few weeks with a special prayer for what is your appropriate response to their oppression and suffering.
Your fellow laborer,
Kimberly L. Smith