Humans of South Sudan

Humans of South Sudan

The people you’ll meet in this story have survived the conflict in South Sudan. Now in refugee camps, they’re still in danger from disease and starvation. And there are thousands more like them.

Susan

A woman in a wheelchair outside a shack made out of straw.
Susan's joy is amazing. She lives an isolated life, yet her faith is unwavering.

After driving through shrubbery, we abandon the car and walk for almost an hour. We fight through the grass and branches as we head further away from civilisation. I am about a mile from the border with South Sudan. Surely no-one can be living here.

But I am amazed to find a hut, providing barely any protection from the rain. And inside, a solitary woman. Susan.

Susan has leprosy and her hands are beginning to curl in on themselves. I ask her how she ended up here. “I was chased by the government and the rebels,” she says. “I am not able to walk, so I started crawling. I never made it to the camps.”

Because Susan hasn’t made it to an official settlement to register as a refugee, she’s not eligible for UN food relief. You’ve been providing her with emergency food rations – support that has most likely saved her life.

Click here to watch South Sudan's Conflict Survivors

South Sudan's Conflict Survivors DVD featuring a group of boys high-fiving

You’ve also helped train the pastoral activists who found Susan. “I don’t get many visitors here. The team share the word of God with me, and they pray with me. That is how I get my strength.” As I walk away, I know we’re leaving her lonely, but never alone.

Joice

Family: Mother of four children, including five-month-old twins, Sarah and Sharon.

Location: Bidi Bidi, the world’s largest refugee camp with a quarter of a million South Sudanese refugees.

Condition: Suffered from edema and pre-eclampsia while pregnant with her twins. Untreated, these conditions can be fatal.

How you helped: Joice’s conditions were detected because you paid for a highly accurate blood pressure monitor to be given to a volunteer health worker in Joice’s community. The volunteer found out Joice had dangerously high blood pressure. He kept monitoring her throughout her pregnancy, and at eight months she was given a C-section which was vital for her survival.

What Joice says: “Without this device, I was going to face death. I am giving you thanks. I am now okay, and my children are okay.”

A South Sudanese mother hugs her twins in Uganda

Nancy

Fourteen-year-old Nancy hops up to us at impressive speed, her foot scuffing along ground. Her right foot is twisted and she can’t walk on it. The uneven ground is hard to move across. It’s clear Nancy can’t move far from the temporary home she is living in.

Because of her disability, Nancy couldn’t go to school. “Children would tease me because I’m not able to move,” Nancy says. You’ve helped BMS partner Hope Health Action transport wheelchairs to people like Nancy, and now Nancy can get to school.

“I am very happy with my wheelchair. It can take me anywhere,” says Nancy. “I want to be a nurse.” It’s the most confidently she’s spoken.

A South Sudanese girl in a blue wheel chair in front of a tree in Uganda.

We want the UK Church to be at the forefront of raising awareness of the conflict in South Sudan. You can help. Our 2019 appeal resource South Sudan’s Conflict Survivors is now available to share with friends and to run at your church’s harvest service this year. You can also download this story to share with others or subscribe to Engage to read more about the humans behind the South Sudan crisis. Together we can make sure these incredible conflict survivors are not forgotten.

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Original article featured in Issue 44 of Engage, the BMS World Mission Magazine. Edited for the website by Melanie Webb.

South Sudan: windows of prayer

South Sudan's Conflict Survivors

Your church can help refugees from South Sudan living in Uganda, this Harvest or at any time of year.

South Sudan:

windows of prayer

The peace deal signed by warring parties went unheeded. Hoping for harmony can feel naïve. But BMS World Mission’s supporters are armed with the power to pray.

Annet gave birth on the road. She was heavily pregnant when she was forced to flee from her home in South Sudan. “Our health facilities were closed. I didn’t have any tests,” she explained. Her mother boiled some water for her in a jug – that was all the help she had. With a newborn baby, she then faced the impossible task of finding enough food. “If the war had not broken out, I would not have gone through this,” said Annet. “Giving birth on the way. Not being able to feed my baby.”

If the war had not broken out, I would not have gone through this

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the world’s youngest nation, and the conflict rages on. South Sudan celebrated independence just seven years ago, but a dispute between the country’s President and his former deputy quickly developed into a broader conflict between ethnic groups. Since war broke out at the end of 2013, over one third of the population has been displaced.

Men building with red bricks
South Sudanese people are having to rebuild their lives in refugee camps, like this one in Uganda.

Scrolling through the figures in endless news cycles is dispiriting. It seems impossible to help when thousands of miles separate you from those in need. And when the news seems oblivious to the suffering, it can even be hard to know how to pray. Thankfully, BMS local workers are in the refugee camps. They’re sharing stories of the individuals behind the overwhelming statistics, so that we can pray for people by name.

We can pray for mothers like Annet. Annet doesn’t want any mother to experience the trauma she did. Let’s pray that BMS workers can get healthy, sustaining food to babies at risk of malnourishment. These workers are providing health checks to pregnant women – the kind of prenatal tests that Annet desperately needed. We need to pray that these checks can reach every woman who needs them.

A woman holds a baby and smiles.
Annet gave birth to her baby on the road. BMS-funded projects will mean that pregnant women can access vital health checks.

We can pray for people with disabilities, like Abbe Rose. She escaped, along with her husband and children, after some of their family members were killed. The journey they made is unimaginable: Abbe Rose wasn’t even able to bring her wheelchair. But, Abbe was given a wheelchair by her new church – South Sudanese Christians living in the camps and helping themselves – as well as each other. Abbe Rose can now get to church meetings and medical appointments and meet with friends – things that were previously impossible. “If I’m sick or my child is sick, she can push me,” Abbe explains. “We can go together.” Please pray for more people like Abbe to be given the mobility they have been denied.

A woman sits in a wheelchair
Abbe Rose’s wheelchair means she can get to medical appointments and church meetings.

These stories are windows into a conflict that is overwhelming in its severity and scope.

We can be overwhelmed by them, or we can use them both to pray for the challenges ahead and to thank God for the blessings BMS workers have seen. “I had no choice but to leave it to God,” says Annet of her struggles. It is a privilege to bring her situation, and that of others too, to God in prayer. Please pray right now with us:

  1. Please pray that malnourished babies get the nourishing food they desperately need.
  2. Please pray for people with disabilities, that their needs would not be overlooked. Pray for wheelchairs and other liberating blessings for those who need them.
  3. Many South Sudanese parents are concerned for their children’s education – the key to a secure future. Pray that families would be able to continue their children’s schooling.
  4. Pray for our BMS workers, that they are encouraged as they continue to deliver projects and interventions for those in need.
  5. Pray for peace between warring factions in South Sudan, that all fighting would come to an end.

Why not download these prayers and save them to your favourite device? All you need to do is hit the button below.

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‘Bring me a teacher’- the Syrian girl who demanded an education

‘Bring me a teacher’

The Syrian girl who demanded an education

BMS World Mission supporters like you are helping to get Syrian children back to school.

Bombing, fighting and the threat of being kidnapped forced Shakala* and her family from their home in Syria. When they arrived in Lebanon, Shakala spent two years out of school because her mum was too scared to let her leave the house. But now, she goes to class and has dreams of becoming a detective. This letter she wrote to her teacher shows how much her life has changed.

“My beloved teacher, despite the distance between us, your image is in my heart and in my mind and it will never leave.”

Shakala didn’t know if she would survive until nightfall most days when she and her family lived in Aleppo, Syria. Bombings, fighting and kidnappings were part of daily life. In all the chaos, Shakala herself was almost kidnapped. A man tried to carry her away, but her mother found her and took her back just in time. “It took her four years to get over that,” said Ashti*, Shakala’s mother. “She started having nightmares and crying at night saying, ‘They came for me.’”
Ashti had to lock her children in the house whenever she went out to buy food to stop people getting in and taking them. Eventually, they were forced to flee Syria and try and make a new life in Lebanon.

Shakala and her family live in a single room in Lebanon. Y
Shakala and her family live in a single room in Lebanon. Your support is giving her hope of a future different from her past.

“As hard as the days might be on us… you are healing my wounds.”

Shakala and her family left Aleppo in 2012, when she was just eight years old. They were supposed to find a better life. But life in Lebanon was almost as hard as the one they’d left. When Shakala’s mother found work, she wasn’t accepted by the people she worked with. “They started saying bad things about me and I used to come home and cry,” she says. Only the hope of finding a better life for her children could convince her to stay. But Shakala and her siblings weren’t finding their new life any easier than their mum. Haunted by Shakala’s attempted kidnapping, Ashti kept her children in the house without education for two years. But Shakala was determined to go to school.

“From you I’ve learnt that everything is possible.”

“Bring me a teacher!” Shakala asked her mother over and over again. Her mother didn’t know what to do. She knew how important it was that her children had an education and that school would bring some stability to their lives. But she was terrified of letting her children go. For two years, Shakala asked for school and her mother had to say no. But then some neighbours told her about a BMS-supported learning centre, held at a nearby church. This was the chance that Shakala had been dreaming about. She started school. And she thrived. She loved it so much that she asked for school during the holidays, and the church was able to set up camps for the children to go to. Her teachers didn’t just teach her about maths and English, but about commitment and working hard. Things were starting to look up for Shakala. But her future was still uncertain.

“You’ve taught me a lot about perseverance and sacrifice.”

From Shakala’s letter you might think that she was leaving school. The reality is that she knows it’s likely she will leave the area soon and have to say goodbye to her beloved teachers forever. Her letter shows how uncertain her life still is. Her father and extended family are still in Syria, but if Shakala were to go back there, she might be forced to abandon her education and marry her cousin. She is 14 years old. Her mum doesn’t want that to happen: “I want her to study and pursue her dreams,” she says.

“I will go with my head up to face the world.”

Shakala is determined to achieve her dreams. “She wants to continue studying and travel abroad and become a detective,” says Ashti. Shakala’s letter shows how much her school means to her. They’ve taught her to believe in herself. Because of Christians like you across the UK, this learning centre can employ more teachers to inspire children every day. Your support is bringing stability back into the life of a child who would otherwise have been forgotten. Your support has allowed her to have dreams and has given her the ability to make them a reality. But there are still children that need help.
“I want to thank you a lot for not forgetting us,” says Ashti. “I wish that you would continue and maybe make the projects bigger because there are some students that are not registered and there’s no place for them.” With your continued support the learning centre can be expanded. And more forgotten children can be found again.

A letter of thanks written from a student to her teacher
Shakala’s beautifully written thank you letter to her teacher. She wrote it in Arabic, but we’ve translated it into English for you below.

“You will always be my teacher, the one that I love, and I will never forget what you’ve done for me.”

Please pray

  1. For peace and justice in Syria.
  2. That all the Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, and across the world, receive education, and that they will be as passionate about learning as Shakala is.
  3. For the teachers at the learning centre in Lebanon. Pray that they know that the hard work they are doing has an amazing impact on the children they teach.
  4. That the learning centre will be able to expand and that more teachers will be trained so that they will be able to accept all the children that come to them and give them the education they deserve.
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You can see from Shakala’s letter how much her teacher means to her. With your continued prayer and support, more children will be able to write letters like Shakala’s. Because more children will be getting the education they deserve.

Download below the prayer points and a full English translation of Shakala’s letter, and use them as a daily reminder to pray.

*Names changed

Their homes have been destroyed. Don’t let that happen to their education.

Their homes have been destroyed

Don’t let that happen to their education

Christians like you are giving hope to Syrian refugee children. But much more can still be done.

We can’t help them. The situation’s hopeless. Syria – it’s a basket case. The people who’ve left it are best not thought about: unfortunate, sure, but not our problem. Not like us. Them. Refugees.

Praise God, most Christians BMS World Mission knows don’t feel this way – nor do they think of refugees as ‘swarms’ or terrorists. But it’s easy to fall into the habit of obscuring human beings with that word: refugees. And it’s easy to think there’s nothing you can do.

But there is. You can help refugee children today.

Children with names and personalities and potential. We’re excited because we have the privilege of introducing you to two of them.

We asked their teachers (who you can help support) to introduce us. We asked their parents if they’d let you get a glimpse of two funny, charming, big-hearted boys from Syria called Gabi and Maher.

Gabi and Maher are half-brothers. Gabi is ten and Maher is 11. They come from Homs in Syria and today they live outside Beirut in Lebanon – a country they’ve been living in for seven years.

Two Syrian refugee boys sit in a classroom in Lebanon
So many Syrian children like Gabi and Maher have had their school years ripped apart. You can give them hope of a better life.

Our temptation when we meet children like Gabi and Maher is to treat them like statistics. Case studies, defined by the worst parts of their stories and the story of their country: the bombings and beheadings, the murdered family members. That’s not what we want. Gabi is not a victim, he’s hilarious. He loves English and learning new words, and while he likes playing football, he’s not nearly as good at it as Maher. And Maher is cheeky. And confident. And says he gets in trouble a little more than his brother – but their teacher tells me they’re both good boys.

Their family lives in a tent. That’s not life for all refugees, but it is for their family. They sleep on mattresses on the floor and when I ask them to describe the tent, Gabi looks impatient, like I’m a little slow: “It’s just a normal tent,” he says. And to him it is.

A Syrian refugee boy stands in front of a classroom whiteboard
We want to help more refugee children like Maher get back into the classroom, where they can learn, be inspired, and get their childhood back.

Children like Gabi and Maher have had their entire lives disrupted and uprooted by war. They’re living in a country that was once invaded by Syria. They’re in danger of missing years of school, of losing all hope for a future of employment and fulfilled potential. And that’s where you come in.

You can give right now to help us support the learning centre that is changing their lives. You can make sure other children get the chance they’re getting.

There are so many Syrian children who we haven’t yet been able to help. So many not yet blessed with what BMS supporters have given Gabi and Maher: a supportive, caring environment where they can learn and grow and hear about God’s love.

Here's what you can do

Give £15 – this can pay for a desk and chair for a child

Give £32 – this can pay for one child’s school transport for half a term

Give £113 – this can pay for a teacher for a week

By giving now you can make a real difference, stepping into the gap and helping children like Gabi and Maher, as well as children and adults around the world whose lives God is transforming through BMS work and UK Christian support. And you can help other human beings in need around the world, too.

Be a part of that miraculous story today. Reject the message of hopelessness and make a donation – every amount makes a difference – and show that no child, no human being, should be defined by a label.

Gabi and Maher’s names were changed by request.

Coming to the aid of pregnant refugees

Technology and mission:

Coming to the aid of pregnant refugees

Women in refugee camps in Uganda are in danger of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. That threat is about to change for thousands of them, thanks to an electronic device and your support for BMS World Mission.

They’ve fled a civil war, trekking for days to cross the border from South Sudan into Uganda, seeking sanctuary from crippling food shortages and men with guns and machetes. They’ve fled to save themselves, their loved ones, and the ones yet to be born.

The South Sudanese women who make it to the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda find a settlement of tents and mud-brick huts that sprawls for miles. The number of people living there, roughly 280,000, is higher than the population of many a British city, and most of them are women and children.

Refugee women and children walk along a dirt track in northern Uganda
Women and children have walked for miles to escape conflict in South Sudan.

Left behind because they were killed, abducted, forced to fight, or too weak to travel, are brothers, sisters, grandparents, children… and future fathers. An estimated one in five women of childbearing age in humanitarian emergencies like this are likely to be pregnant. Keep that in mind when you read the following:

– An estimated 830 women die every day from pregnancy and birth-related causes around the world.

– Of these maternal deaths, 99 per cent happen in developing countries.

– More than 50 per cent of maternal deaths are caused by conditions that could be detected if vital signs were assessed.

A £20 handheld device that measures blood pressure and heart rate can change these statistics. It is called the Microlife Cradle VSA (Vital Signs Alert), and from March, hundreds will be used in the Bidi Bidi camp, and the Nakivale refugee settlement in south west Uganda.

A patient in Haiti has her blood pressure and heart rate checked.
The device has already been used to help pregnant women in Haiti. Picture by Hope Health Action.

How does the device work?

The device needs minimal training to operate and uses a traffic light warning system that shows the risk of shock or high blood pressure in a patient.

– A green light shows the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate are normal, and they are likely to be well.

– A yellow light shows the blood pressure is high, and the patient could have pre-eclampsia, a condition that occurs in pregnancy, or soon after delivery. If untreated, it can cause a pregnant woman to suffer a seizure, stroke or even die.

– A red light shows that blood pressure is very high and the patient could have severe pre-eclampsia, or may have severe bleeding or infection.

Watch a step by step guide to using the device

Thanks to your gifts, at least 7,000 pregnant women will receive a medical check that could save both their lives, and the life of their unborn children. The device will alert volunteer health workers to a problem that can then be referred to a doctor or nurse.

BMS funding of £18,000 will help partner organisation Hope Health Action (working with King’s College London and the United Nations refugee agency) distribute more than 700 of these devices into the two camps from March and train people to use them.

South Sudanese refugees climb a hill at the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in Uganda.

By giving to BMS, you’re making a life-saving difference to women in the Bidi Bidi and Nakivale refugee settlements.

But it could lead to so many others being helped, as it’s hoped a successful programme will prompt the Ugandan health ministry to distribute the device to other refugee camps.

We give thanks for your gifts. Amazing things are happening because of you.

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Refugees are like you and me

Ann MacFarlane:

Refugees are like you and me

They step off the boats praising God for their safe arrival in Italy, but many refugees have been through unspeakable horrors on their journey. BMS World Mission worker Ann MacFarlane witnessed first-hand the people coming ashore, and has seen God at work in their lives.

Blessing arrived in such a state, she had to be sedated. It broke my heart. She’d travelled across the ocean with a group of people in a small dinghy, including her children, a five and a six-year-old. As they approached the Italian coast, a boat came to rescue them. The refugees started to stand and cheer. In the excitement, the dinghy capsized, throwing everyone into the sea. In the panic, Blessing saw her two boys drown in front of her. Their bodies were never recovered.

When she arrived at the port, there was nowhere for Blessing to go. There was no way the authorities could put her in a mother and child facility, so my husband David and I took her into our home. Blessing ended up staying with us for three weeks until they found a place for her to go, a place where she could get the counselling and psychological help she needed.

Ann and David MacFarlane, who have been serving the Church in Italy for 24 years

People like Blessing kept arriving, almost daily. The boats kept coming, and to begin with I felt helpless. I felt like there was nothing I could do. But as a Christian, I believed that I couldn’t follow a living God and not do something. So, I started to do whatever I could to help the refugees who were arriving every day. I would welcome them as they came off the boats. Alongside an army of volunteers and people from our church, we would offer water. We would give them snacks, work alongside the doctors and help to translate. We would do anything we could to help.

Preparing snacks and drinks to give to refugees arriving on the coast of Italy
Volunteers preparing snacks and drinks to give to refugees arriving on the coast of Italy

Some of the people arriving had been raped or tortured, others had terrible injuries, and the majority had travelled through desert and ocean just to get somewhere safe. The people we met had been through horrific things. Things that no-one should be put through.

But we’ve seen God at work. We’ve seen miracles happen and I’m constantly reminded of his greatness. I’ve sat with a woman giving birth in a hospital the very same day she came ashore. I’ve sat with that very same woman in church, praying for months on end for her husband to arrive, unsure of where he was. And I’ve rejoiced as I’ve seen them reunited. I’ve listened to a man desperate to see his wife again after they were separated on their way to Europe. And I’ve seen him, months later, overjoyed, as they were reunited. We celebrated the birth of their baby boy and dedicated him a few months later. Throughout all of this, we saw God’s provision. We saw God’s hand in everything.

A refugee with hew newborn baby
One of the courageous refugees Ann met with her newborn baby

God has taught me that the people arriving on boats are no different from you or me. Christ doesn’t see us as different. To him, we’re all the same. We have blood that runs through our veins. We all have souls. And I can’t help but praise God for all that he does for these people. Through all the horrible things that have gone on, God has been there. It’s heart-wrenching to see what people have been through. I can’t really put it into words how I personally feel, except that I am humbled to have been there alongside them.

Ann MacFarlane tells us what you can be praying for:

To him, we’re all the same. We have blood that runs through our veins. We all have souls.

I’d like to ask you to keep praying for the people at the heart of the ongoing refugee crisis in southern Italy. Pray for our church fellowship in Reggio Calabria, who have opened their hearts to what’s going on and have been so faithful in serving God. Pray for the new leaders and volunteers of the church who are taking over from us, that they would continue to welcome refugees and be there for them. And finally, pray for David and me, that as we leave Italy, we would know where God is wanting us to go next.

We have come to the end of our time with BMS in Italy, and it has been a privilege. Thank you so much for your prayers and support during our time with BMS. Knowing we had people back home praying for us daily and supporting our work was humbling, and made us know that we weren’t alone in all that God was doing in Reggio Calabria. We know that God has plenty of things for us to do to continue bringing glory to him.

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Thank you

Ann and David MacFarlane worked with BMS World Mission in Italy for 24 years, pastoring various churches and getting involved with social action projects. They’ve done an amazing job and will be missed by their church in Reggio Calabria. Thank you so much for supporting them. And thank you Ann and David for all the work you’ve done!