A Visit to the Sudan:
Great Need, and Glimmers of Hope

March 26th, 2008 • Category: Helping Those in Need

In January, Becca Huttsell, a member of Jesus MCC’s Missions Board, took a two-week trek to the country of Sudan, Africa. She went at the invitation of New Community Project (NCP), a nonprofit Christian organization that provides assistance to people and communities in need around the world.

David Radcliff is the Founder and Director of NCP. He visited Jesus MCC in September 2007, as we began to explore ways Jesus MCC can make a positive difference for some of the neediest people around the world.

Becca says about her trip, “What I learned is that the people in southern Sudan require continued aid, protection and humanitarian assistance due to injustice and atrocities. They have suffered in silence and invisibility for too long. I pray that we, the congregation of Jesus MCC, will find a way to bring hope to the people in this troubled land.”

New Community Project has found a way to be the hands and feet of God in action. Heads are now raised that once bowed low.

After we have gathered enough information, the Missions Board will prepare a proposal for how we can help. Continue reading for Becca’s complete report.

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My Journey To Africa With New Community Project, January 2008
by Becca Huttsell

This opportunity arose quickly, so I didn’t have time to worry or wonder. And off I went with my camera and a constant prayer. We arrived in Sudan after twenty hours of flight travel and nine hours of bone jarring, teeth rattling bus travel on decimated dirt roads. We were exuberantly greeted by a representative of the New Sudan Council of Churches, who would serve as our host. Other community leaders were there to welcome us, including a Solidarity Worker named Emily. Her ability to work for change through developing relationships and instilling hope in the people was evident. Emily began to educate us with an historical overview of the people and country of Sudan.

Ethnically, there are 597 tribes that speak 400 languages in Sudan. The country is politically, ethnically, and culturally divided between the north and south regions. They have suffered through fifty years of civil war. The warfare has resulted in the destruction of the region’s economic stability, natural resources, food supplies, and the educational and health care systems. Four million people have been displaced and two million killed. Today, the governmental dictatorship still seeks to impose their religious beliefs on all the people and regions in Sudan, deepening the feelings of hatred and distrust.

NCP has a unique method of providing aid and support. Their approach is not about doing, but rather being. This perspective helps people help themselves and is based upon the belief that they know best what is needed. It’s an attempt to help restore their integrity and self worth by asking them to be an active part of the solution. It is completely based on maximizing their strengths, increasing capacity building, and empowering them to invest in a positive future for themselves. Most of all it is rooted in relationship development.

In the first community of Nimule, we met with groups of women who had taken an NCP sewing class. They can now sell their sewn goods in the market and are able to feed their children. Without electricity, they use old fashioned pedal-style sewing machines. We visited their shops in the market and even purchased local styled apparel from them. Yet there is still much to be done. They still struggle financially with the rental fees on their sewing machines, and there are many other communities that could benefit from this sewing training model.

We traveled to Maridi, where the Women’s Association described their need for more woodworking and carpentry tools for furniture crafting. They are also in need of new sewing machines, as theirs had been destroyed in the war. This group has designed a charcoal burning stove. Many have been crafted and are ready to sell in the village.

The Mboroko village, with help from NCP, had built a store in order to sell items locally. Keeping commerce local also decreases the need for women to walk several miles to a bigger community and place themselves in jeopardy of attack or rape. They were eager to showcase the building and are now are in need of funds to stock the store with products. This same village has a charcoal production project.

The NCP has supported the village of Mokobundi with a soap-making project. This remote area had no other reliable source for this essential commodity.

In many of these locations, NCP also provides educational scholarships, making the it possible for the children to attend school. It was an incredible experience to see boys — some as young as eight and ten — walk several miles to inquire of us how they could receive scholarships in order to attend school.

NCP also supports reforestation efforts, which are well underway. There is great passion to restore the landscape in order to grow crops to support or supplement the food supply.

We listened, via our hosts serving as translators, to local people as they told their stories. We were met with skepticism, doubt, and even anger at times with pointed questions as to why they should believe we would return and help. Other aid and relief agencies had made these promises before. I understood their skepticism. I made a commitment to return home, share their stories and assist in generating the needed funds. That commitment includes educating the world about what they are experiencing and responding to their need for connectedness, support, and prayer.

Of course, what I have described here hasn’t even scratched the surface of my experience. It is still difficult to articulate my experience. Words to describe it still escape me. I spent the first day in Sudan in sensory overload. I walked with my camera in hand but unable to lift it to my eye as I was too overwhelmed. Nor did it feel respectful to shoot the scenes I did witness. It was too personal, too raw and intimate to expose these people to the probing eye of a stranger. I did indeed see starving children in Africa. I saw their bloated bellies, runny noses, dirty bodies and tattered clothing. I saw some in their nakedness due to poverty. I saw trash and filth littering the ground. I observed AK47’s strapped to the frail bodies of ten year olds, the light of youth long absent from their eyes. I saw a multitude of scars and missing limbs. I witnessed a man being beaten with a metal strap, toppling over on us as he tried to escape the blows. I observed the oppression and restrictions that hover over these struggling people. In my tiny mind of often small faith, it would be easy to wonder why God has forsaken these suffering people. Yet for most their faith remains strong.

It is an understatement to say that the experience of traversing Sudan afforded a multitude of challenges. Travel in public vehicles on axel-breaking dirt roads proved consistently unreliable. We experienced flat tires with no spares, radiator leaks, blown engine hoses, doors and windows that wouldn’t open. We were bumped and thrown into each other, as well as the ceiling of the vehicle. We rode in the back of a truck with a bullet-riddled windshield as it rained on us and lightening arched across the sky. Then there was the bridge that collapsed, the landmines around us being removed, and a mentally ill man swallowing the key to the bus that was to take us out of Sudan. The final day of travel included getting through security roadblocks and checkpoints. The last road block proved to live up to its name, as we arrived at the border to find no one being allowed to cross and leave the country. This little incident contributed toward leaving Sudan forty hours after our scheduled departure as we missed our homeward bound flight.

What I learned is that the people in southern Sudan do require continued aid, protection and humanitarian assistance due to injustice and atrocities. They have suffered in silence and invisibility for too long. I pray that we, the congregation of Jesus MCC, will find a way to bring healing and hope to the people in this troubled land.

David Radcliff and New Community Project have a way to be the hands and feet of God in action. Relationships are strong and this approach to empowerment is succeeding. Heads are now raised that once were bowed low. Resiliency is reviving as we talk to them, listen to them, and come back home to tell their stories to anyone who will listen. I hope you are listening. They deserve nothing less than your utmost attention.

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