4th March, 2009
KIMBERLY L. SMITH
Sudan has approximately one million orphans at extreme risk to slavery from both the Northern Islamic Sudan Government (Government of Sudan, "GOS") as well as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) from neighboring Uganda, which the GOS funds.
MAKESHIFT HOMES: The camp Kimberly Smith and her companions stumbled across in southern Sudan.
"Suddenly, we came upon a clearing. We were stunned to see that, in the middle of the bush, 11 women, nearly 20 children and three men had hacked out a piece of bush hiding from the world, or to be more exact, the LRA. It was their own private refugee camp."
Make Way Partners has the only indigenous orphanages in the country and it has long been a God-size dream to build a network around the country to protect, raise and win for Christ these precious children.
I have just returned from visiting our current work in Sudan while seeking God's direction over its expansion. The day after landing in Torit (near the border of Uganda), we had confirmation that the dreams, visions and hopes of our hearts were to become reality. Through a new partnership (much more information on that to come), we now have 200 additional acres in Sudan to expand the Make Way Partners' Orphan-Care Network.
We, a small band of brothers and I, were pushing our way through that uncharted land trying to find a small river, which we believed bordered our land. At one point, we were totally lost. At many points, the bush was taller than our heads and it made it impossible to get a land-bearing reference. Our fearless Sudanese leaders decided to have some fun by making "race" for the river by dividing us into two parts; the first to find the river, of course, was the victor.
"My" team took their challenge very seriously and boisterously made haste of whacking weeds and claiming victory long before the race was done. Suddenly, we came upon a clearing. We were stunned to see that, in the middle of the bush, 11 women, nearly 20 children and three men had hacked out a piece of bush hiding from the world, or to be more exact, the LRA.
It was their own private refugee camp.
We meandered among the citizens of this strange site for a few moments while we tried to comprehend what exactly we had stumbled upon. It was decided that the men of our team would wander over to where the three men of the camp sat, while I would sit with the women and ask them to share with me what was going on in this place. At first, it was slow going with very little dialogue exchanged.
Just a lot of stares and stilted laughter. It was slow going. Finally, something broke through.
One of the older women, Chenin, began to take charge of the process. She said, "When we first heard you coming, we could tell you where more than one in number and we were scared. We thought of running. We figured you were the LRA coming back for us."
I knew now we were getting to the heart of their story and sat silent as she began to unfold their story for me. I felt weak as if a sacred event was happening all around me and it took all my energy to stay engaged. Daniel falling at the river's side and the angel had to help him up, reminding him to take courage. She unfolded her sacred linen of story with grace, never shedding a tear but always holding her head with dignity as I have grown accustomed to seeing many Sudanese do as they speak of the horror done unto them.
Chenin began to tell me that the reason we only saw three men among so many women and children was that LRA had come into their village, raped the women, killed the men and captured most of their children. The few seated around us were all that remained of their entire village. So, together they ran for many days until they stopped in this place where they cleared out a small piece of land to sit.and wait.
I asked Chenin for what they waited.
"Help. The LRA. Death. Whichever comes first," she answered
I learned that they lived out in the Bush because to go into town would mean acknowledging from where they came along with all the shame and stigma of rape and slavery. They had nothing to go back to for their entire village had been burned to the ground and no people remained there.
"Chenin began to tell me that the reason we only saw three men among so many women and children was that LRA had come into their village, raped the women, killed the men and captured most of their children. The few seated around us were all that remained of their entire village."
Speechlessly, we studied one another's faces. Two women of similar age and little else in common yet something bound us in that moment as if a gap in time.
Finally, I asked, "You said you nearly ran when you heard us coming. Why didn't you?"
Chenin pointed to her daughter, Ikang. A little younger than my youngest, Ikang may have been all of 18-years-old. Chenin said, "About an hour before you arrived we buried Ikang's baby. It was her fourth baby that we have buried since we have been hiding in this place, and it was Ikang's last living child. When we heard you coming, we all wanted to run. But, my daughter is in mourning and refused to leave her baby - there in the ground. (Chenin pointed perhaps 20 feet away from where we sat.) So, we women decided, 'We are sisters. If we are raped, we are raped together. If we die, we die together.'"
Chenin told me, "We drink from the river (the one which our team was trying to find) but the water is so full of parasites and other water-borne diseases that our children die every month. We don't know what else to do, so we drink it, but one-by-one it is killing us."
She called Ikang to us. She would not talk but they wanted to show me where they had buried her child. I asked no more questions. I only walked as they directed. Once we knelt beside the tiny grave, I did all I knew to do in that moment: call on the mercy of Jesus. I know this is a hard photo to take in, but they wanted me (thus, us) to see it so that we might better understand.
That evening, we hired a truck to take food and supplies out to "Chenin's Clearing". We also introduced them to a pastor, Romano Oguma. Romano is a graduate of African Leadership's discipleship training and is now the Make Way Partners indigenous director for the next phase of development for our Orphan-Care Network. James Lual Atak, of course, is the indigenous director for our work on the border of Darfur, in Nyamlel.
Torit is several hundred miles away and is where the Northern Islamic government hires the LRA to enslave and terrorise the people of Sudan. This year, Romano will be doing practical and discipleship ministry in the area as we prepare to build on our new land next year. (If you are not familiar with the LRA, please go to this link for detailed information: www.makewaypartners.org/LRA06.htm)
Watch for further articles or routinely check my blog (http://kimberlylsmithblog.blogspot.com/) to learn more of how God is raising this exciting network to protect the orphans from slave raiders and be Christ's love in a lawless land.
Kimberly L. Smith is president and co-founder of Make Way Partners. She has spent most of the last decade working to end human trafficking through the mission organization she and her husband, Milton, co-founded. This article was first published on Assist New Service.
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