Friday, April 17, 2015

An Afternoon in an IDP (Internally Displaced) Camp

April 16, 2015 – POC Camp, Melut
      Everywhere we go with the boys, people stare. They see foreigners around town but it is a new and unusual thing for them to see kwadja (foreign/white) children.  The other day I sent Evan to a small shop with his friend to buy some rice. A UN guy pulled his car over to ask Evan questions because he thought it so peculiar to see a little white boy with his Sudanese buddy walking along.  A few days before, Isaac, Evan and Joshua went with some of their friends to buy mangoes from the mango grove about a half mile from our house. While walking along the river some men from the Indian battalion who were swimming in the river noticed the boys, rushed out of the water, grabbed their phones and started snapping photos with the boys! Again, it seemed strange and bizarre to them to see these three boys walking along with their friends. The question they’re asking is: “What are they doing here?!”
      Since December 2013, the Nuer tribe in Melut and its surrounding areas have had to hide in a small camp called the POC (Protection of Civilians) camp on the UN compound here in Melut. Today our family and teammate Claire went to visit the friends we have in the camp. Before we even got to the entrance of the camp, children started flooding out to see us. They were most excited to see the boys and crowded around, all wanting to shake our hands and ask our names. These dear people have lived in this small camp on the UN compound for 16 months! The women go out to go to market but the men do not leave. They keep themselves busy by volunteer teaching all their children (they have a small school set up in two canvas tents that teaches grade 1-6!) and holding prayer and worship meetings. We were so overjoyed to be reunited with many of our dear friends. It was immediately apparent that our tall, thin friends had somehow grown even thinner. Children ran around with reddish hair (a sign of malnourishment) and barely clothed. But their smiles were huge! They were thrilled to have 6 new visitors.
      Eli and the boys stayed in a makeshift tent with the men while Claire and I walked over to join the family of one of our college graduates’ family. We spent some time catching up and then they informed us that they were about to have a prayer meeting for a woman who was sick. We walked over to her house and found chairs set up outside. I knelt to get in the door and though the ground was swept clean, all that was inside was a mat with a woman lying on it. She couldn’t seem to open her eyes all the way and she looked very weak and dehydrated. We found out her name is Rebecca. Men and women from their local church body gathered and we sang a few songs and opened with prayer. Then a man, probably around 40 years old and already missing most of his teeth stood up and began to share what ailed this woman. His story broke my heart. 
      In December 2013, this man’s wife died.  Rebecca, this sick woman,  traveled from her home in Nasir (quite a distance), to come and visit/comfort the grieving family, leaving her husband and 4 children behind but pregnant with her 5th. While she was here, the fighting broke out between the Dinka and Nuer tribes and she had to seek refuge at the UN camp along with the rest of the Nuer. Since then she has been stuck here and gave birth to a little girl in the camp. She has been separated from her children and her husband and thus her sickness is a form of deep depression. She hardly eats or drinks and just lies on the mat all day. She has a nursing baby but by the sight of a baby bottle on the ground in her tent, I don’t think she’s able to produce the milk her baby needs. I was so deeply saddened to hear the story of this woman’s tragic separation from her family but also the guilt and sadness that this man carried because it was he and his family that this woman had come to visit.
The man leading the service asked if anyone had anything to share and then he directly asked me. I had been sitting there thinking of the verses from Hebrews 12:1-3 that I’d just read that morning and so, spur of the moment I agreed to share an encouragement from the Word of God. I wanted her to be able to hear, so I asked if we could duck into her tent to speak directly to her. The man came along to translate into Nuer language. Her eyes were open and she stared at me blankly as I encouraged her to press on, fixing her eyes on Jesus, remembering that He is with her, He will strengthen her and comfort her, and He is her hope.  The whole group of about 20 believers prayed earnestly for her. When we finished and got up to go I noticed tears falling down her face. I hope I can return again in a few days and check on her. There is not much I can say or do but I want her to know she is loved and she is not alone.
      Meanwhile, the whole time this little prayer service was going on, Isaac, Evan and Joshua were hanging out in a tent with a good friend of ours. Children kept huddling in the doorway to get a good look at them  and every few minutes an old man would swing a switch/whip around to scare the children away. I couldn’t believe how well the boys were doing after sitting in the tent for almost 3 hours with not much to entertain them! The sun was setting so we knew we had to hurry and leave so we could walk home before dark. Our boys shook hands with the children as we walked out of the camp and waved goodbye. I was so so proud of them. I know it wasn’t fun for them. I know they had to sit and wait in the heat. But they didn’t complain. I’m so thankful God gave us these amazing boys. They truly do serve right alongside us and are such a key part of our ministry!

     My feet are dusty and I’m exhausted but my heart is so full. God has given me such a deep love for these people and I am already thinking about how and when I can get back to see them. I’m not sure what good I can be and how I can help but I do know just my presence with them on a hot dusty afternoon was enough today.


Brian N Julia Wiewiora said...

Amazing stories! Praying for the woman.

Chris Daly said...

It has been more than 2 years since I've been in Bentiu. Reading this story has brought back memories and makes me long for the Nuer people knowing what they are going through. It must be equally bad for the Dinka and other people groups in different areas. Bethany, knowing that you are ministering to the people of South Sudan is a comfort. I pray for you and Eli and your children that God would continue to strengthen you as you are His hands and feet in Melut.