Beverly Pegues, CEO of Window International Network (win1040.com) of Colorado Springs; volunteer and retired OSU professor Martha Cooper of Fayette County; and Gabriel Lagu Nicholas, South Sudanese pastor and the country director for Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) spent three weeks during April visiting education Learning Centers, distributing food to students, and encouraging volunteer teachers in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
The three team members then visited pastors and potential teachers at a large South Sudanese refugee camp in northern Uganda.
Martha shared her experiences with the Words of Life Sunday school class at First Presbyterian Church in Washington Court House. It was Beverly’s sixth and Martha’s fifth trip to South Sudan since the country obtained its independence in July 2011. Martha spent her 13th year in Khartoum, Sudan, along with sister, Maryann, and mother, Jean, while her father, CE Rhoad, was serving as USAID Agricultural Advisor. Brother John Rhoad visited for a few weeks before starting college.
The north and south were at war for nearly 60 years between The Sudan’s independence from Great Britain and South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Unfortunately, tribal warfare broke out in December, 2013, after the new president fired the vice president and several cabinet members in July.
The new country declared English as the official language whereas Arabic was the language when it was part of The Sudan. The literacy level in South Sudan is estimated at 27 percent, so an education project is teaching all ages how to read, write, and speak English. Teachers add other courses as materials are available. Learning Centers are established at churches or schools. The program grew to 25 Learning Centers since it was started in late 2014. The phrase, “We were born in war, grew up in war, and are still at war” has been repeated by many who never were able to go to school but now have a chance to learn.
The US government, the EU, and other countries, along with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have invested considerable time and money since 2011 to help improve the economy, government functions, and infrastructure. The US government alone has spent more than $2 billion during 2014-2017. The government teachers receive as little as $3 per month at current exchange rates, if paid (This Day, April 13, 2017, Vol. 2, Issue No. 70). Many government workers are not paid regularly.
Previous trips have focused on teaching leadership and starting the education program with volunteer teachers. The education project is direct, hands-on, and there is accountability back to the donors of how the money is being spent. The project provides a book for teaching English (Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), chalk, and money to build blackboards. Classes meet in existing buildings or under trees.
Two trainings were held this trip. On April 18, Pastor Gabriel, Beverly, and Martha team taught the 7 Mountains That Transform Society to teachers and pastors. This concept was coined in 1975 by the late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth with a Mission. They felt that in order to positively bring nation transformation that the following mountains need to be headed by Christ: Arts, Entertainment and Sports; Business and Finance; Education; Family; Government; Media; and Religion. The hope is that teachers and students will pray for one mountain a day. Suggested scriptures were passed out on prayer cards. Students and teachers developed prayers for the different mountains.
With the worsening economy, the focus has expanded to teaching people how to grow their own food for sustainability and to possibly earn an income if the plots are large enough. Dan Janzen, who moved from Michigan to South Sudan with his wife Teresa in late 2016, taught the teachers and students at several Learning Centers about what to plant, crop rotation, and how to market the crops, based on his experience with several kinds of crops in the US. He will continue to help from there.
The soil is rich along the Nile River if used properly. He emphasized taking things people throw away and reusing them as farming tools. Dan showed them how to make water drip lines with materials provided by Global Aid Network (GAiN) and/or from discarded materials to irrigate during the dry season. Seeds provided by Window International Network partners and CRU were distributed, including okra, tomatoes, collards, eggplant, pumpkin and maize (corn). The rains started at the end of the trip so the timing was perfect.
Water filters provided by a church in southern California were distributed to each Learning Center. These filters are amazing. Each filter package weighs only three ounces, but it cleans one million gallons of water when cleaned properly! Pastor Gabriel taught the leaders how to assemble the filters using covered buckets, purchased locally.
Donations from Window International Network partners permitted distribution of three to four weeks’ supply of food to about 1,100 students and their families. Unfortunately, the inflation was so high that only about half of the anticipated food could be bought. The students were grateful.
The city was tense the night before the distribution started. There was an incident on Sunday of soldiers looting one of the markets. They have not been paid for months. People are desperate…inflation has gone through the roof. People are afraid. They do not know how they are going to survive. The official exchange rate was 3.61 South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) to one US Dollar (USD) in March 2013 but was hovering around 200 to one in the open market in April 2017. The people persevere in spite of the severe hardships.
The next stop was Pagirinya, a South Sudanese UN Refugee camp in the Adjumani District of northern Uganda. The concept of the 7 Mountains was covered with 100 pastors and teachers. About 30 volunteer teachers were trained to start 14 new Learning Centers. God used the prayers of the intercessors for the trip to do things beyond the original planning.