“Cry, cry Africa, only cry for southern Sudan.” (The refrain of a song sung by the children of Amazing Grace Orphanage, in southern Sudan.)
We had been warned that some times the Sudanese government sent Antonov bombers across the border into the skies over Adjumani refugee camp, in northern Uganda. It was a place I had the good fortune of leaving- unlike my new-found friends for whom this drill of “run for cover” had become a way of life. Their new normal.
We didn’t really think it would happen- at least while we four Americans, standing out like sore thumbs in a sea of emory-colored south Sudanese, were there.
Then one morning we heard the drone-like sound overhead and saw the giant wasp roll in. We didn’t check to see its stinger. We did the only thing we knew to do: we ran for cover, our bodies hitting the ground of our little, mud huts (tukuls), then lying very still as we waited for the monster to pass us by.
The next day one of the refugees took us to her tukul about a half-mile away from the compound where we were staying. (A compound, by the way, where widows who have lost their husbands in five decades of Sudan’s civil war now care for some of the 1.7 million children left orphaned by the genocide there.) The woman showed us the big, crater-like hole in the ground maybe fifty feet from her home. In this case, the crater had been the result of another Antonov bombing expedition- all part of the north Sudanese government’s ongoing campaign of terror against its own civilians.
That was ten years ago. When I read the news yesterday that Sudanese military aircraft had again crossed an international border to drop bombs on refugees, this time in the newly established South Sudan, those memories came flooding back. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I haven’t had the chance to return to my friends in Adjumani, northern Uganda. Life has gotten in the way, young children being the biggest development these days. But I think often of these dear ones and the tenaciousness of their faith, hope and love in an otherwise hellish place. Their names and faces come to mind when headlines about the Lord’s Resistance Army (the other specter of terror in that part of the world), or news like the above, catch my eye.
One day I hope to be with them again. To introduce them to my husband and my children. In African terms, and as Christians, we are extended family, after all.
“Mama Susan,” as she is affectionately called, has run Amazing Grace Orphanage now for nearly fifteen years. Her “thorn in the side” is that she is almost totally deaf: even with the help of an aid, she can barely hear. But ever since she met the first child she would care for- a baby girl whom Susan found abandoned in one of the camp’s garbage dumps, so hungry she was eating human feces for breakfast- Susan has opened her heart and arms to take in and care for more and more children.
Now the orphanage provides a redemptive oasis to nearly thirty children. Every night they gather under the stars for bedtime prayers and to sing songs of praise. When they pray, they simply lift up their needs, most of them very tangible, in the form of medicine for Josephine who struggles with the after effects of polio, or for money to pay the tuition fees for Maurice. Somehow God always seems to provide. They pray for friends across the seas like me and the small team of seminary students I took with me ten years ago. We have all stayed in touch with Mama Susan and her helpers over the years, doing the little we can to help, be it in the form of an annual financial gift, or advocacy in our churches and with our representatives in government.
These days the biggest need and opportunity are primary and secondary education for tomorrow’s leaders of this fledgling country. Mama Susan recently sent me a proposal for a new nursery school in Adjumani. With news like yesterday’s, which suggests that South Sudan’s new independence has done little to bring a sure-fire end to a very old war, it is no wonder that Susan and our friends at Amazing Grace remain cautiously hopeful that one day they will return to their country. For now, they prefer the familiar (life as refugees) to the unknown (uncertain times in their own country), dreaming of a day when they can live peacefully in a homeland where the mangoes are plentiful. All the while, they cry for help through the bars of a song, somehow in the miracle and mystery of faith knowing that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). What would happen if we cried with them?
If you have ideas about how to help Susan and the enterprising widows and orphans of Amazing Grace Orphanage, in Adjumani, Uganda raise more money to train the next generation of teachers, doctors, ministers and educated citizens of South Sudan, please leave your thoughts here or drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.