'With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth- yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in the shade.'
Mark 4:30-32

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South Sudan Then and Now: An Update

Posted by: sreese on 3/30/2017

by Anna Wadsworth


Thirty years ago, a militia attacked a Sudanese village, sending a man running into the fields to round up his cattle. His six-year-old son, Daniel Majook Gai, tore off in the opposite direction, fleeing for miles and meeting up with others who were struggling to escape. He became one of 30,000 children and youths who fled the encroaching civil war, hiding in forests and swimming across rivers to dodge wild animals and marauding soldiers. Many children died from dehydration and poor sanitation. Others joined the flood of young people who became known as the Lost Boys and Girls of the Sudan—many of them orphaned.

            Daniel survived and spent 14 years, mostly in refugee camps, separated from his family. Then one day, a friend announced that Daniel’s name was listed on the camp’s bulletin board, and that meant the time had finally come. At age 20, he traveled to Nairobi and then on to Denver, Colorado. And so began a connection between Saint John’s Cathedral and what would become South Sudan. As several hundred Lost Boys began arriving in Denver in 2001, parishioners offered tutoring, helped find jobs for the young men, and collected furniture, storing it in an old warehouse until the refugees found apartments.

           

            Among the volunteers, parishioners Ray and Marilyn Stranske served as table leaders at the catechumenate where they came to know another of the Lost Boys, Isaac Kohr Behr. Isaac eventually discovered that his mother had survived the war. The Stranskes, Carol Rinehart, and other parishioners began raising funds to send Isaac to the Sudan for several weeks to reunite with his mother. In 2005, Carol accompanied him on the trip, and together they found his mother. They were followed in the coming years by groups of Saint John’s volunteers eager to help in the region’s efforts to reconstruct itself.

            Travel in the Sudan remained dicey, and the groups had to be shepherded from place to place by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (the opposition to the government of the Sudan). In decimated villages—with no roads, clean water, or hospitals—the Saint John’s groups met with the elders to ask about their top priority for redevelopment. Given the apparent lack of basic infrastructure, the visitors were surprised to hear that the villagers most wanted education for their children.

            When Isaac and Carol returned to Denver, they co-founded a non-profit organization, Project Education South Sudan (PESS). For most of the past eleven years, Ray has served as chair of its board. Born in Khartoum to missionary parents, Ray lived as a child in the part of the Sudan that later split off to become South Sudan. In more recent years, he has made a number of trips there along with several Saint John’s parishioners and others from Denver. Under his leadership, PESS has built four schools and drilled eight wells to provide clean water in areas where water-borne illnesses flourish.

            To build new schools, volunteers taught locals the latex concrete construction method, which requires stretching fiberglass window-screening over a structure and painting it with a latex-concrete mixture. Ray said that he had to import building materials,” so on his flight over, he carried rolls of screen and latex.” With a smile, he said that he carefully labeled the bottles of white powder with mixing instructions so they wouldn’t be mistaken for drugs.

            At present, PESS focuses on education for girls, appropriately enough as the literacy rate of 16  percent for women in South Sudan is the lowest in the world. PESS’s man on the ground is Daniel, who at age six fled into the bush to escape the advancing militia. Because of PESS’s work, young women who have never before held a pencil learn to read and write. The government-sponsored schools in South Sudan don’t always pay teachers, who consequently show up for work sporadically. For this reason, most of PESS’s funds now support scholarships for girls to attend private school.

            Families often discourage education of girls, preferring them to cook, haul water, and work at household chores. When girls come home from school in the afternoon, they are expected to attend to these chores. Darkness comes early in the evening, and without electricity, students can’t complete homework at night. To address the problem, PESS hires teachers who offer after-school tutoring. To encourage girls to stick with their schooling, PESS sends them to a monthly discussion group on global awareness, where they receive leadership training and peer support.

            Each fall, Daniel returns to Denver to report on progress at a large fundraising gathering for PESS. At other times during the year, the organization offers free educational events to the public to promote awareness of South Sudan. Meanwhile, PESS’s work in the world’s youngest country continues despite alarming circumstances there. Tribal warfare prevails, threatening genocide, and in parts of South Sudan, severe famine is rampant. More than 4.9 million people, almost half of the country’s population, urgently need food assistance.

You Can Help

       Use your organizational skills to help Project Education South Sudan with fundraising, accounting, or communications, especially by establishing a presence on social media. For more information, contact Ray Stranske (raystranske@gmail.com).

       Attend the free panel discussion addressing human rights and the threat of genocide from  6:30 to 8 pm on April 11 at Denver University, Sie Complex, Maglione Hall. Panelists are Ken Scott, UN Commissioner on Human Rights in South Sudan; Pa’gan Amum Okiech, South Sudan’s chief negotiator with the Sudan on post-independence issues; Tamara Banks, Emmy Award–winning journalist; and Ved Nanda, who writes for The Denver Post and directs the Center for International Law at Denver University. DU’s Korbel School of International Studies will co-sponsor the event with PESS.

       Contact your members of Congress. The Episcopal Public Policy Network has made an appeal for Episcopalians to ask Congress to provide funding to help address the food crisis in South Sudan. Watch a recent report on famine in South Sudan available at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/fighting-south-sudan-famine/, then make a call or write an email. Your members’ websites allow you to submit your own message:

Senator Michael Bennet                      Senator Cory Gardner

www.bennet.senate.gov                       www.gardner.senate.gov

303-455-7600                                     303-391-5777

            If you live in the city of Denver, your member in the House of Representatives is:

Representative Diana DeGette

degette.house.gov

303-844-4988

Resources

EPPN: Help Address Famine in South Sudan,” available at episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/03/03/eppn-help-address-famine-in-south-sudan.

National Public Radio, “He Fled Sudan and Made a New Life in the U.S. So Why Go Back?” July 9, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/07/09/420905804/he-fled-sudan-and-made-a-new-life-in-the-u-s-so-why-go-back

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1 Comment

    • Apr 06 2017, 7:51 AM mary
    • it might take long but it's never going to to be forever.i have been a mother of an addict for a couple of years now, which wasn't funny.it caused a lot of loss to me and my mind not been settled.we got him rehabilitated twice, but all to no avail.fortunately i came across this testimony of a woman online who also battled with a similar issue with her sister until she got prayed for by diviner moses. i also contacted him for prayers regarding my son. he did prayed for him and now my son is free from addiction in less than 4 days of prayer. i oblige anyone with similar problem or any one, as the case maybe. to contact him via email;greatfulhands@gmail.com

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" it might take long but it's never going to to be forever.i have been a mother of an addict for a couple of years now, which wasn't funny.it caused a lot of loss to me and my mind not been settled.we got him rehabilitated twice, but all to no avail.fortunately i came across this testimony of a woman online who also battled with a similar issue with her sister until she got prayed for by diviner moses. i also contacted him for prayers regarding my son. he did prayed for him and now my son is free from addiction in less than 4 days of prayer. i oblige anyone with similar problem or any one, as the case maybe. to contact him via email;greatfulhands@gmail.com " Read more
by mary on South Sudan Then and Now: An Update

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