I left Yei on Monday morning to travel to Juba, the current capital city of South Sudan, the seat of the current government. I was dropped at the “taxi park” and found a ride in a Landcruiser with 11 other passengers. We were packed in like sardines, it was crazy. At one point the guy was going to shove another passenger to sit on a two person jumpseat where two people already were, one of them being myself! I got out and demanded my money back and wanted to go in another vehicle. The guy refused! Simply refused. That’s how it is here. Corruption! The guy finally relented and didn’t put another person in probably because he got tired of my persistence. They don’t usually give up the making of more money that easily.
The taxi park in Juba is out of control crazy. There were so many taxi vans that I couldn’t begin to count them. The city is also slowly paving its roads and it felt so nice to be on a smooth surface after 10 weeks on dirt roads. I am staying at a guesthouse where the owner also has a street kid ministry on property. The area where they bathe and eat and play at small desks is literally one step outside of my bedroom door. The girls are here for bathing and breakfast at 0730 and then off to school except for two smaller ones. They all return a little after 1200 for lunch and stay until after dinner, going home before dark.
These girls then go home at night to severe poverty, to parents who beat them, neglect them, or are drunks and/or prostitutes or all of the above and some go to shacks made of tin or old tarps and care for themselves. There are two sisters currently with us in Yei who were living alone, ages nine and three years old. Three of the smallest girls at this Drop In Center live in “The Dying Place”, which I will tell you about later in this update, and Abuba, the resident grandma, cares for them as best she can. One of the girls I am pretty sure has some form of cerebral palsy or something like it and has just started walking this last year. She is seven years old. She came to us yesterday with a 2 Sudanese Pound note, which is about 30 cents USD. She said that a man gave it to her after he had sex with her on her way home. That is the going rate for sex on the street, 30 cents. She left for the Iris Children’s Village the very next morning. She is now safe.
Today I went to visit these slums all morning and then again tonight. There are shacks and hovels everywhere and the people are living in filth. We went to this one area where a little girl sat and there were so many flies on her I could not count them. I peered into another hovel and there were twin baby boys sleeping, covered with flies, and small piles of feces next to them and even on the foam mattress. These boys were not even two years old and their mother was nowhere to be found. She leaves them all day alone because she can’t cope and who knows where she goes.
We visited another place where, again, the kids were so covered in flies it was hard for me to hold them, but I did. I found one little treasure and carried her around and had flies all over my face because she had them. I couldn’t put her down though and I hugged her even closer so she could bury her face in my clean shirt. It broke my heart and I fought to control my emotions. The people here don’t understand crying publicly and it wouldn’t help things and so you have to hold on to your heart tightly. In this place there was a hovel that had beds and sleeping mats and nicer cloth throws. It was the brothel where young girls earned their money at night.
There was also a tarp and tin structure with a grandmother sitting inside holding a severely malnourished baby, who was on his last breaths. She said that her daughter, the mother of the little baby, was a drunk and didn’t care to stick around to breast feed the baby boy and so they are just waiting for him to die. He had flies all over him and he was so weak that he couldn’t even cry, just a tiny squeak. I almost lost it right then.
And then a very old looking grandma came hobbling up on a cane, barely moving, her shirt unbuttoned. She was wrinkled and emaciated, and she sat down in the tiniest of hovels. You couldn’t even kneel in it because it was so tiny. This was her house, about three feet by five feet. She sat on the front mat in the muddy pathway, half in and half out, puking her guts out, her daughter helping to wipe her mouth. I wanted to just cry and cry and cry at the injustice of it all! I have seen such poverty and filth all over Africa. The filth is mostly due to no sanitation because there is no sewage, water or trash disposal system in place. We left the grandma and visited another place in the market. There are so many back alleys in the market that one could so easily get lost.
We made our way back to what Cathy calls, “The Dying Place”. This is a small area, about 20 x 25 square yards, enclosed by a ragged bamboo fence with one large covered area under a ragged tin roof and mats strewn about. This is where the older alcoholics come to drink until they die. They come here to just die. There are three old men who lie on mats outside and when it rains, they just stay there soaking in the mud. They don’t care anymore. Inside there is a wonderful lady, very healthy (fat) and jolly, called Abuba, which means grandma. She takes care of everyone. She lives here in this poverty stricken place to care for everyone! She loves these people and stays with them.
There was a lady sitting behind a thin curtain who was in labor. It was the mom of one of our children in Yei. Saida’s mom….. I went to pray for her and we found that she was bleeding out. The Abuba and a couple of other ladies said that they could do nothing for her and she will probably die there. We asked someone to go get a taxi and take her to the hospital. I paid 100 Sudanese pounds for the pick up truck and the hospital birthing fees. That is about $31.00 USD. So this bleeding pregnant lady has to walk through alleys to get to the truck and then climb in back. Not a whimper or grimace. I prayed over her and the baby and off they went.
We then made our way back through the market and stopped to buy some clothes for the children. I also purchased two skirts and two blouses for the old grandma in her small tent. We came back to the guesthouse and I spent the afternoon doing beads with the girls. After the girls ate their dinner, we went back to the market to see about Saida’s mom and if she had the baby. The Abuba told us that she had the baby but it was born not breathing. They were able to resuscitate him and mother and baby are okay, praise God. Now I am praying for Saida’s mom who is an alcoholic. She couldn’t even care for Saida and her sister and now she has a baby boy.
I cannot look at all of this and think, “What the heck can I do to make any difference when we get the kids away from these people and they just have more????” I have to take one child at a time and believe it makes a huge difference. I see the transformation in the kids we save. Until something drastic happens, one kid at a time is the only way to survive and keep my mind and heart intact. Otherwise I would fill up with grief and despair.
Wednesday I hopped on a minivan bus and headed further into the city to the ZAIN office to get my modem fixed which I bought last September that has never worked. I arrived in the inner city and got out and just walked, asking for directions until I found the place. Problem solved and now out to explore some of the city. I walked all over, down trash littered dirt alleys where the real treasures are hiding and up paved roads, by myself. There was a group of old people sitting on the side of one road in the dirt, eight or nine of them. They were all missing limbs or were blind or deformed. They obviously lived on that corner as they had ragged tarps and basins for washing and a small cook stove and some pots. I knelt and visited with them for a bit and left them with some money for food. My heart again wrenched and broke for these broken people.
I then hopped in a minivan bus and actually found my way back to the guesthouse without asking directions. I was amazed because all the streets look the same, filled with trucks and cars and rubbish and razor wired walls and all the side roads are still dirt. I am so glad that God has given me a spirit of boldness to go places by myself, yet common sense to know where not to go. In all my travels I never see white people walking anywhere. I am not exaggerating here. I am just so amazed because you miss so much of what is going on and who the people are. The white people mostly go from point A to point B in a taxi or organizational vehicle. I guess what I am saying is this, don’t be afraid to get out and walk among the people in a foreign country, even a place like Sudan. That’s where real life is happening, not behind the glass window of a car. Ah there is so much life on the streets. And death…..for those who are dying there.
Last night Cathy and I actually did the unthinkable. We went in her car to the market to visit a couple of children’s hovels. The streets were practically lined with groups of chairs in half circles to form makeshift drinking places. The streets are alive with alcohol and very loud music being blasted distortedly from generator powered speakers. We drove down back alleys where the little car barely fit and parked and got out and walked a little ways to our destination. People come up and ask for money to buy alcohol and are almost in shock to find us in their midst, especially me, the kawaja, and we go on our way untouched and even respected. Some places were so dark that you couldn’t make out facial features. The people were actually friendly toward us. I never once feared because I knew God was with me.
This afternoon, Wednesday, I hung out with the girls and we made African clay stuff. A guy comes once a week and brings his dirt mix which is the mud here and water mixed to a consistency resembling clay. It was quite cool. I have been watching the girls and am almost shocked by their behavior sometimes. I don’t show it but inside I cringe. They change here and wash their street clothes and hang them to dry each day. A few of them pose and shake their hips in front of the mirror acting like they are dancing for men, real sexy. These are girls that are only ten years old and a little older. They hang out at the street bars at night and dance and sell their bodies for money and attention. I tell the girls that they are beautiful to God and they don’t have to do this. I hug them and tell them they are treasured no matter what. They smile and let me love them.
I am only here a week and so I love them as much as I can, giving so many hugs and holds, and pray for them and spend the days with them. They all want to go back to Yei with me but that is not possible. We can’t just take them from their families, and they bring in money so their families won’t let them go. And so I continue to pray and love.
Yesterday, we went back to visit the dying baby who’s mother is a drunk and won’t feed him, to bring him some formula. We arrived after dark because of the urgency of the situation. We found that the baby was taken to the hospital as he was on his last breaths. I thank God that the mother at least did that, or maybe it was the grandmother. We also brought some food for the grandma who is living in the small tent. She is also blind and so she didn’t even see me standing there waiting to hand her the bag. I had to say, “Abuba, inni”, Grandmother, here. She then took it with a grateful smile.
I am amazed at the places I found myself this week after dark. I never saw any white people in these places in the daytime, much less after dark when the drinking starts and such. The people were so nice and welcoming to me. I felt safer in these places than most places in downtown USA at night. I never felt threatened or frightened. I even had to be outside by myself to guide the car in the dark for it to back up and not get stuck. People would come and shake my hand and kids would run up and hug me. When Jesus sends you on a mission, He goes with you. The people know it and they welcome you most times.
We also went to visit the mom of the twins and found her very pleasant and sober, which was a very good thing. So, I don’t think she left the babies to go and drink. I think she just goes to find work and find ways to earn money to support herself and the babies and has no choice but to leave them. They looked happy and I tried to hold one but the flies were so bad that I had to set this one down. They were trying to go up my nose. Had to draw the line. We also learned that the lady who was in labor that we rescued, well the baby is still in hospital.
Tonight is Saturday night and there is one of the small girls from this Drop In Center standing outside my window literally wailing because she does not want to go home. It is now dark and she is still wailing loudly and I am sitting here with my heart in pieces tears running down my face because I DON’T know what to do! All I can do is think about the terrors that will now face her on her walk home. I don’t have a car. She won’t tell me where she lives. She won’t quit crying. I can’t have her here in my room because she has to learn not to do this. Then the lady who I have been working with all week comes to my room and says, “Let’s go and take her home”.
I hurry out to the dark street and scoop her in my arms and we are crying together. We take her deep into the market where there are so many drunk and mean people. There is a man in the middle of the path, pants down to his ankles, and he is scooting along in the dirt because he is too drunk to stand. There are a group of men fighting and swinging beer bottles. We get to her alley and there are three men standing there. I have been praying the whole time for Jesus’ angels to surround us, and the little girl, because these are the mean streets. We tell the little one to run down the dark alley to her home, “Jeri jeri, guam, Jesu rua itta!” Run, run quickly, Jesus goes with you! As soon as she gets out of the car, the three men are already leaving down the trail, totally unaware of us, and her. Jesus is already there. As we are driving out, the man scooting on the ground is still there trying to pull his pants up, still sitting in the dirt, people still walking casually by him. It is impossible to describe the craziness here in this place.
I am so upset inside for these babies. I even feel somewhat depressed and so terribly sad. I have to keep my gaze upon Jesus and His grace or I couldn’t continue to do this. My heart can’t contain this hurt for them. I am so angry with the adults who are so negligent, from the government down to the parents to the drunks and pedophiles. I literally felt helpless tonight and I hated that. I hated that I couldn’t help her and I put my hands to my face and cried, asking Jesus what can I do and He came. Jesus is breaking my heart all over again for these broken lives. Even the drunks who are so addicted that they would leave their babies in filth to go party or crawl naked through the street. I am asking God to break me even more. I don’t ever want to become immune to all this or to harden my heart toward anyone, whether the adult in the wrong or the victims, the tiniest ones.
Today I am spending the day with 17 girls singing and making beads and dancing and watching one last movie before I go. Tomorrow I head back to Yei, back to paradise compared to here, but I know that soon I must come back to this type environment and stay and minister. The Lord and your prayers strengthen me. I love and bless you all in the mighty name of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is able where no man is.