Monday, April 14, 2014

Conclusion (Part 8 of 8)

By: John Jefferson
In summary, after arriving in Melut on Tuesday the 4th at 3:30 PM, by Thursday morning I was on the cusp of boarding a boat loaded with 150 100kg bags of Sorghum after spending all of Wednesday in meetings, changing money, and praying for one miracle after another. By Thursday afternoon, we had watched the tax man fight with the boat man for almost two hours, unloaders carry scores of bags onto the boat, thousands of S. Sudan Pounds pass through my nervous hands, and the sun move across the horizon burning relentlessly as the day sped along. By 3PM that same day, we were gliding along the Nile. The last 24 hours (from Thursday to Friday evening) in Kodok were a mix of intolerable waiting periods, informative meetings and interviews, and grateful moments with the brave and resilient people of Nuba Mountains.

The efforts of not a few organizations mentioned in the body of this email all contributed to the success of the mission, which was indeed successful. The churches, nonprofits, NGOs, and GOs represented all played a part either directly or indirectly, both knowingly and sometimes unknowingly.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

At the Camp (Part 7 of 8)

At the Camp
By John Jefferson

At the Camp, continued…..

An interesting thing about finding the MSF tent in the refugee camp was that Dr. Kelley had to work with them to gain access to the IDP camps where he was doing the clinics. Dr. Marta Cazole, who is running the MSF operation in Melut, became a key contact for me upon my return from Kodok. She "happened" to come by our compound the morning we were leaving, and I showed her my pictures of the people at the camp and the empty tent. I told her about our mission and she conferred with Dr. K. She was glad to know it was still possible to get to the camp, and more than a bit interested in the contacts who helped me to get there, which I freely shared along with a plea for MSF to return to the refugee camp ASAP. 

Access to the Plumpynut was all due to one member of the team, a missionary with the Bible Translators. He had a contact with UNMISS in Doro, so when our AIM flight stopped there for refueling, there were several boxes waiting for us. They had run out in Nairobi, so this improbable way of getting the precious stuff was again another example of how God's plan was way beyond our ability. He was orchestrating this thing, and we were along for the ride. “Sobeit,” I said to myself.

I had a chance to meet with the King of the K-N area of the Nuba mountains. While very approachable, he did not speak English with me, although I got the feeling he could have.  He became the key contact inside the camp, and I caught some good interview footage of him and some of his people in the precious few minutes I there. The people in the camp were at first were getting help from the locals, but then the conflict in RoSS broke out and as IDPs (about 5K or more) flooded into Kodok, that support dried up along with NGOs that fled. Who knows what's happening with WFP. Tarps were the only evidence the UN had been there. Purportedly, the UN tried to get the Kao-Nyaro people to consent to getting barged four hours down the river to Malakal, then driven around the bottom of South Kordofan to Unity State, eventually reaching Yida Camp.  This location would put them well out of striking distance of their homes and families, which they were unwilling to do.  Thus, the UN and WFP aid dried up.  Bottom line, the women said they had been reduced to eating grass and roots for some time, and thus very happy this food arrived.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Arrival. (Part 6 of 8)

By: John Jefferson

Arriving at the Camp

More vehicles were leaving Kodok loaded with people than were waiting around to be hired to take grain from the docks.  In fact, we were the only ones looking for such a service.  Thus, it was not easy to hire a lorry.  In addition, we had to get loaders from the market while meeting with various officials.  Part of the time pressure was the fact that our only option to get back to Melut was to meet the team doing clinic in Rom, a short ride across the river and 45-minute walk, or so we thought.

As we approached the camp, a patchwork makeshift Tukuls with tarps and grass rooftops appeared, flanked by fields of dry grass on one side and dense vegetation of the Nile’s edge on the other. The only "modern" structure was a large, white MSF (Doctors Without Borders) tent that stood empty save a few boxes of Plumpynut with nothing in them. We filled those boxes with 600 packets (4 boxes worth) of the nutritive paste. The only medicine available was the bottle of deworming pills Dr. Kelley gave me, which contained about 200 doses. A small crowd gathered after we pulled the truck up and started unloading the sorghum.  There are just over 3,000 people in the refugee camp. Through interviews, I ascertained that they have not had basic foodstuffs for a period of time and had been forced to revert to foraging for food in the fields. 

One incident broke my heart. While some of the kids ran away from the camera, a young boy rolled up in his little faded green smock and looked at me with the sweetest face as I noticed his puss filled eyes. He just looked up at me as I touched his head, and then he rubbed his left eye as a white substance oozed out of it. I immediately took a picture for Dr. K. (and later showed it to the MSF doctor also) I then put my hand on his back and prayed for his healing. Sometimes the kids in that situation look at the camera like it may give them some relief. That's even more heartbreaking. I hate feeling that helpless when it really matters. I prayed again all the more fervently. Later the doc told me a few days of some relatively inexpensive drops would cure the malady. One more thing on the list to return with God willing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kodok at Last (Part 5 of 8)

Kodok at Last
By: John Jefferson
Kodok at Last, Kodok at Last, Thank God Almighty, Kodok at Last!

The UN Mission in South Sudan compound in Kodok is not set up for visitors per say.  It does have a generator that provides one of the few lights in the city after dark, but it is very small and stark compared to many UN facilities.  Kodok is really a small port village along the Nile, which more than doubled in size as a result of people fleeing from Malakal and other places closer to the fighting.  Our arrival late at night caused the local army officials to be concerns about my safety and thus, the request for the UN to take us in.  There were a few nervous moments as we waited outside the very secure compound gate to see if we would be allowed to bed there for the night.  By the grace of God we were, and even had the chance to take a bucket shower before hitting the rack.

After a comfortable stay at the very basic and suitable UNMISS accommodations, we embarked upon what became a bit of a frustrating chapter in the story.  Though only 4 KM from Kodok , it took all day to reach the refugee camp and complete the last phase of the mission before starting the return journey to Melut. (We didn’t arrive at the refugee camp until after 2:30PM on Friday to distribute the food and other supplies) The logistics involved in finalizing the food delivery took precious time from the efforts to record the events, document the condition of the people, share the reason and purpose of ENG with the population, and articulate the spiritual element driving these efforts.  In other words, if it were just about dropping off food, then the phase from Kodok to the camp would have been a bit simpler, but all those other elements had to be crammed into the remainder of the time. (By God’s grace all was accomplished, but next time allowances should be made to maximize time in the camp vs. in the city)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Begging Permission (Part 4 of 8)

Begging Permission
By: John Jefferson
Much of what happens in South Sudan occurs through consensus and cooperation.  The human element is essential and without the right contacts and connections the gears grind to a halt quickly.  As mentioned, Pastor John provided two persons of peace in the form of Pastors Ayat and Daniel, from Melut and Baliet, respectively.  After taking advantage of a key meeting with the Commissioner of Melut (arranged by the MTWW team), we secured permission to attempt the trip to Kodok.  We had previously heard that it may be too dangerous and our efforts should focus on the local population of IDPs and residents of Melut.  Though unacceptable for this mission, the fact we were asked to stay in Melut and help their people was completely understandable and reasonable under the circumstances.  The whole conversation shifted when, after the formal meeting, Pastor Ayat and I approached the commissioner to explain the mission’s purpose and the plight of the Nuba refugees and asked for permission to go.  Inexplicably, permission was granted on the spot! 

Onward and Up[stream]ward

The security situation was very precarious. Thousands of people were flooding into Melut, there were rumors of impending military action, and there were virtually no non-Sudanese left in town. Therefore, acting alone to move south with 16 tons of sorghum was a tough ask, which might have been impossible were it not for the South Sudanese partners and grace beyond measure.
We ultimately purchased 16.2 tons of Sorghum (150 100KG sacks) and loaded them onto a large barge chartered to go to Kodok 4-5 hours south by river.  After having arrived in Melut on Tuesday, holding meetings, nailing down agreements, and closing contracts on Wednesday, we were poised to leave within a little over 24 hours, thanks mainly to Pastor Ayat who is well connected to God and men in a way that makes the improbable possible. We changed money, coordinated phone communications, expedited numerous processes outside of cultural norms, and renegotiated ever-changing, previously-agreed-upon prices, until just minutes before our Thursday departure.  
We departed around 2PM after much travail with government officials, numerous negotiations, and other obstacles, landing in Kodok that night around 9PM. (a long 6.5 hrs. after departure) We had no place to stay, as our contacts expected us hours earlier. In the end, we found ourselves at a compound (UNMISS) with an initially reluctant, but gracious, host.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mobilization & Arrival (Part 3 of 8)

Mobilization & Arrival:
By: John Jefferson

After a Few Small Miracles - Mobilization and Arrival in Melut

First the Miracles…Having made many inquiries to people involved in South Sudan relief and missions, in the last week of February I decided I was eventually going to find a way in, and needed to get a visa.  I sent my passport to D.C. via Fedex Monday A.M. just so I’d have in and avoid panic during the minimum 4 or 5 day waiting time to get it processed and sent back in case something happened sooner than expected.  Well, sooner was Tuesday when Alan Kelley of MedteamsWorldWide contacted me about the possibility of being able to fly in with his team as opposed to using the March 9th flight just to get to Melut.  This mean leaving that Saturday or Sunday at the latest.  He asked if I had my passport.  I told him I sent it in Monday, but had a contact in the embassy that was trying to help me expedite things.  As it turned out, while I was talking to Dr. Kelley the next morning, my wife texted me and told me my passport had arrived! (36 hours after sending it in, a new record!)  I was now on a charter flight in and out of Melut, and just had to trust God that the rest…all the rest of the plan would fall into place.

Once in Melut, the team met with several of the local contacts arranged by MTWW, which benefitted both missions. (Medical and food distribution)  Working from Juba, the capitol city, Pastor John Monychol also provided references to  two men of God, Pastor Daniel and Reverend Ayat Deng, who provided me with indispensable help in arranging for permissions, transport logistics, and foodstuffs.  Pastor John made tireless efforts to communicate with key contacts in Kodok to ensure that commissioners, officials, pastors, and even the King of the Kao-Nyaro people of Nuba Mts knew of our plan.  From the onset, the mission’s goal to purchase as much sorghum as possible and accompany it by land or river toward the zone of conflict with a three-day turnaround time was met with a bit of speculation.  Working primarily with pastors from Melut, Baliet, and Malakal (the latter two cities having been destroyed by the recent conflict), it was easier to insist that this was God’s plan rather than try to use any kind of logic or reason to justify such an impractical time line. Primarily because there really was no logical or reasonable explanation for why it would succeed given the known obstacles and many unknowns!

We began by getting permission to undertake the task and as well as an agreement from the rest of the team (MTWW) that it could be supported as an integral part of the overall mission.  This integration of missions beyond just allowing me to get a place on the plane turned out to be a critical success factor as already pointed out.  Dr. Alan Kelley and Tim Dillard were indispensable assets, along with the local NGO/church partners.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Beginnings of a Plan (Part 2 of 8)

The Beginnings of a Plan  
By: John Jefferson

The Beginnings of a Plan Start to Form in January

As we all watched with a combination of horror, disbelief, and dismay at the situation transpiring before our eyes concerning our brothers and sisters in South Sudan, three tense weeks passed before local contacts could safely communicate and help devise plans to begin the long path to some level of normalcy.  This led to colleagues and partners of ENG - such as David Hicks of e3 and Mike Congrove of Empower Sudan, along with their Sudanese counterparts - to devise plans and itineraries to assess the conditions on the ground and initiate biblically-based trainings to support outreach to IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and refugees in both South Sudan and Uganda.  The efforts of both gentlemen to get to South Sudan within weeks of the conflict created a vital link to local knowledge of the situation, and the beginnings of a plan to bring aid to the northern part of the country where the violence was intensifying and the needs were even greater.

The Two Options

Based on initial intelligence from numerous sources, accessing any location north of Juba, which itself was at first very unstable, did not look good. As January turned into February, two options to access the Nuba Mountains refugees concentrated in Kodok emerged.  The two options involved reaching the town of Melut, where it was believed sorghum could be purchased and transported to Kodok (refugee camp location.  Option 1:  Flying in on a charter from Nairobi that was picking up a team from MedicalTeamsWorldWide (MTWW) on the 9th of March.  Option 2: Meeting Pastor Monychol of Empower Sudan in Juba and flying up on an oil company transport plane.  Neither option offered a guaranteed exit.  The goal of delivering urgently needed aid to refugees could at least be achieved, however, devising an exit plan then became a focus.  Ultimately, flying in via the charter MTWW (Med Teams) was both the optimal and only real choice.