There is so much that can be said but ill try and focus. First I want to thank everyone who has given of their time, talents, and treasure to help further the cause. And there IS a cause. Sometimes I get so caught up in all the crazy logistics that I need to be reminded of the "why". Why are we doing this?
This past Sunday we had the privilege of listening to Awan Ater, a Sudanese refugee and the chairman of Hope Sudan Charity Organization, tell his story. Awan has been in the United States for over 12 years. Like many others he had to flee South Sudan to an Egyptian refugee camp due to the war. He spent many years there and over time he was granted passage to the U.S. and eventually his family joined him. He was the first refugee we made contact with many years ago. From the very beginning he showed himself to be a man of integrity. Although extremely poor himself, he always seemed to lead us to those who were a little "less fortunate" than himself. He assisted in directing any relief that was brought to the local community. Over many years he proved himself a faithful man and a selfless servant to the local refugees and the Dinka worldwide. It was Awan who first approached us about going to South Sudan.
We first went to the Gok community in October of 2007. Everything that Awan had told us about his people was right on. This group of Southern Sudanese called the Gok Dinka simply stole our hearts. I will never forget the kindness and acceptance we were shown. In a country completely ravaged by war and indifference we found a people with an unmatched resiliency. From the Governor to the girls fetching water, Members of Parliament to military personal, everyone welcomed us with open arms. Awan's reputation allowed us to walk into a closed nation and immediately receive great favor. We came as strangers and left as family.
We planned our next trip for January of 08, this time Awan was to return with us. Due to his refugee status he had to travel through different routes to reach Sudan. I remember being in Cuibet and seeing him approach for the first time. In the U.S. Awan lives in the inner city, works night and day and is just as stressed as any of us trying to make ends meet. But in Sudan he is a hero, a living legend, one of the first ever educated, and a great teacher for many years before his exile. We were sitting in the Commissioners compound trying to hide from the heat and i saw him from a distance. There was an elderly man next to me who had the look of one who had endured much but who's eyes were as youthful as a child's. This old man stood to his feet to receive Awan with an embrace that did not end quickly. As these two men continued to shake hands and exchange words of endearment I began to realize the love and respect in their ancient friendship never ceased to be. It challenged me in many ways.
As the next few days passed we went with Awan to many villages all the way back to his "hometown". Nothing short of a hero's welcome. To call it a wild party would be a gross understatement. Another story for another time.
After the days of celebration, the trip took on a much more sober undertone. We had been here before but had not truly immersed ourselves in the culture. We began to meet with the local chiefs and listen to the desperate cries for help. Water, Education, Food... all the things that come so easily for us are ,more often than not, non existent for them. It was at this point we really were able to see the clear need for basic necessities. There are over 400,000 people in Cueibet county and humanitarian aid is almost non existent. There are very few wells, no secondary education, and the ONLY medical presence is pulling out in December. Is there not a cause? Standing in the midst of the bombed out structure that used to be a school and hearing story after story of the total chaos and terror of war, I could not help but feel a bit overwhelmed. What can I do? I'm just a wood floor installer from Kansas. What do I know about humanitarian aid? What do I know about rebuilding a nation? With all these questions plaguing my mind there was still a small voice that was saying "Why cant you change a nation?" "If you don't then who will?" It was decided there that I would do whatever it took to help these people. Awan is the one who birthed Hope Sudan Charity Organization, we are just coming along side to help him in any way possible. This vision is much greater that just the mission at hand. The delivery of this Land Rover is just a small step is the master plan to establish a community of agriculture and to create an economy so the local people will be self sufficient. This is worth sacrificing for. This is worth being exhausted over. We have a chance to alter the the future of a specific people for many generations to come.
I am forever grateful to Awan for introducing us to these beautiful people and for his heart to see this through. This is only the beginning. There is so much work to be done. If I think too far ahead I actually get exhausted. We can do this though. No, we must do this. We have been united with the Gok DinkaGok Dinka. There will be a day when water is easy, education is local, and food is in plenty. But until then, we have a lot of wok to do. Thank you all for your consideration.
Posted by Ham-Phist at 8:46 PM
|The great Pagor Akot|
We have had some things fall in line with our plan of getting the Land Rover to Mombasa. Through multiple contacts and phone calls with those on the other side of this lovely rock we call Earth, we have found out the best process for getting our vehicle to Africa, and encountering the least amount of hassles once we are in Sudan. This involves registering the vehicle under Hope Sudan Charities PRIOR to our voyaging over there, and more specifically it involves 1200 bucks like 30 seconds ago. It has been brought to our attention that we would be much better off having the vehicle pre-registered vs. trying to get that done days before the country tries to vote for it's independence. It will likely be busy, chaotic and we won't want to be in Juba (the capital of S. Sudan) for too long during this time. We will be working to raise these funds over the next few days and will be happy to see how it comes about and falls in our lap just like every other little step of this adventure. God is good!
That being said, we've all made a bit of a sacrifice so far to have this thing done. The thing most people mention when talking about going to the third world is something like this: "man, I bet once you see what it's like over there, you're never the same..." - or something to that effect.
And it is the truth. I remember on my first trip to Kenya in 2007 when I was riding a van back to get on an airplane and go home. I had enjoyed my visit but the whole time I was fighting what you would probably call common anxieties: "am I safe? am I going to make it to the airport? is this old van going to break down? will we get robbed? what is this that I'm eating?" Me, me, me.
We were driving through some town and I saw along the side of the road, some kid playing with a bicycle rim and a stick- I have no idea what the fun is in that but then again, I've never tried it. For some reason, seeing him so happy with so little caused me to well up with tears inside. In fact, it was all I could to do to keep from bawling right there in the van. Just typing about it brings it all back.
And then there's this plastic Starbuck's cup to the left of my keyboard right now. Venti Iced Coffee with two pumps of Classic Syrup and just a SPLASH of two percent milk. If you put too much milk in it, I'm going to ask for another one. After all, I'm shelling out 2.91 a pop for it. When I order it in the drive-thru, the manager of the Starbuck's (Tony) tells me that we've been over this, and I need to just say I want the "Randy Special." It's pathetic.
And here I am, asking everyone to give of themselves for this thing. "Surely you can spare 5 bucks- it's nothing to us! It's everything to them." Yet I turn right around and think to myself "if I don't get a coffee, I'm going to have a rough morning." I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. I need to have my heart changed and live a bit more sacrificial.
I guess it's not totally selfish. I am about to pass out and face-dive into the keyboard because I'm trying to design a logo with a 15 year old version of photoshop and powerpoint and I think the 300 mg of rocket fuel is the only thing keeping me going at this point... so tired. I'll probably review this post tomorrow and it won't make any sense because I was half asleep and in a dream. I better wrap this up because I have a lunch meeting with LBJ and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Anyway, enough reflection. I hope some of you feel called to join us and drink a little less Starbuck's, maybe eat out one less time a month or something like that. I hope more people feel called to give to this thing because that is what's going to have to happen. As we stated, it's become far too large for us to sustain now.
We really appreciate all of the assistance and donations. You have no idea how much it means to the people in Sudan that there are those who care enough to part with their hard-earned money and time to make their lives better. Thanks to everyone who's been contacting us about this and telling their friends. Please spread the word!
Until next time
-Randy on behalf of the group (except for the stuff about LBJ and Sonic the Hedgehog of course)
Posted by Ham-Phist at 9:08 PM
The guys at the dealership were great. We spent some time talking with them. We expected the same crazy look we had been getting all along when we gave the spiel. Instead, we got confirmation. They were digging what we were about and were prepared to help out in any way they could.
And help they did. They have given of themselves to make this happen for these people. Fast forward 24 hours later to today. Jason and I are driving out of All American Autos in a beautiful 2000 Land Rover Discovery II. All leather, 2 sunroofs, low miles, power everything and a 6 CD changer.
This is definitely a surreal feeling. Going to a place like Sudan is surreal enough; but to know that this January, these people who had NOTHING two years ago are going to have a well drilled, agriculture, and now the nicest ride in all of Southern Sudan... this just plain doesn't feel real. We spent a good hour at Tim's place freakin' out about how cool this all was.
So, what was originally just a wild idea is QUICKLY becoming a reality. We still have a long way to go, but what was seemingly the biggest part of it- getting a vehicle- is DONE! So, here's a mock-up of "the list."
Get a vehicle DONE
- Outfit it to travel across Africa (beef up suspension, tires, add plates under motor, etc)
- Arrange to have it shipped (drive it to NY or Houston, get it on the boat)
- Get plane tickets and arrange logistics of getting US to Africa
- Get money for the "Lost Boys'" tuition (also a major part of the trip)
Needless to say, we have a ways to go. But tonight shows us that this thing is going to come to fruition. We aren't gonna lie- we need your help. Pray for this thing to happen, and if you feel led to part with ANYTHING to go to these people, then get in touch with us or come and get your car washed.
But just in case you are wondering if this is possible... peep the pictures again. We got the sweet ride now. It's on.
Posted by Ham-Phist at 9:24 PM
Jason begins. "I'm going to lay this all out for you. We're involved with a charity group, Hope Sudan, that has been involved with a group of people in Southern Sudan for a few years. We are looking for a vehicle that we can ship to Mombasa, Kenya, and drive through Kenya, Uganda and up into South Sudan to leave with the people there."
Car salesman gets a little wide-eyed and sizes us up a bit. "Wow. Well, what do you have in mind?"
"Well, that's a bit tricky. First of all, we need something that is within 8 years old, is EXTREMELY reliable as I have a wife and two kids and WILL be coming back home, is four-wheel-drive, and under 10,000 dollars as the more money we have to spend on the car, the less we can leave with the people."
Car salesman looks at us like were psychos. We kind of are. Some of them chuckled, some looked a bit dumbfounded. One or two just plain said we weren't going to find that. Most were friendly, some were not.
After talking to a few, we walked right into one of the dealerships and the guy tells us he knows exactly what we need. At the other location, there is a burgundy Land Rover that he knows has a recently worked-on engine that is "bulletproof," and invites us to go check it out.
Two hours later we are sitting in a nice, swanky, air-conditioned dealership in Merriam. Jason is plainly telling the saleslady that we intend on getting bottom dollar for this vehicle as we have to have it lifted, suspension and tires beefed up and steel plates welded underneath to protect the motor. He also mentions that we've been planning this for about a week and we don't have any money yet. The look on hers and the sales manager's face is pretty priceless.
If these people knew the history our group has with this work in Sudan, they might have understood our attitude about this a little bit better, and not thought we were nuts. If they knew that a rag-tag group of 3-4 Americans made a seemingly random journey to Sudan in 2007 (a place you don't go uninvited) and since then have won the favor of the local people, tribal and governmental leadership, had a small part in establishing a thriving community and church amongst the people there and come back to tell about it, they might see it differently. We know that all the necessary pieces are going to fall into place for this to happen, and that there are specific things that are to take place along the way. Otherwise, we'd just have 20-large and wouldn't be blogging about this.
"Everything happens for a reason," says the saleswoman as she shakes our hands and we leave. Indeed.
Please stay with us as we tell you more about this whole deal. We'll try to weave in some history of this deal and some good stories. Check out Ross' blog in the links section and go to the earliest entries to read about Jason's time there. We'll be visiting there again! Please pray for favor for this trip and get in touch with us if you have any questions!
Randy on behalf of the criznew
Posted by Ham-Phist at 8:08 PM
As the title says- where do we even start? We really appreciate you taking the time to check out what we are part of here. The "long and short" of it is that we have a calling to make these people's lives a part of ours, and we invite you to join us.
Since our first trip in 2007, we have seen many things happen for the Gok Dinka in the Cuiebet area of Lakes State. Each time we have gone, there has been a specific mission in sight and different connections are made that open up amazing new possibilities beyond any of that which we could ever imagine.
Right now, we are planning for a trip in January of 2011. The specific group we have been visiting has been granted (by the government!) a nice plot of land, and anonymous donors have supplied the finances necessary to drill a well on their property. This is to be completed in September/October and will open up limitless possibilities for them- agriculture, brick making, drinking water, etc. It's like winning the lottery.
Our mission this time has become clear to us through a nice chain of events. We are in the process of obtaining a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to be shipped to Mombasa, Kenya, where we will pick it up and drive it through Kenya, Uganda and up into Southern Sudan. We intend on loading the vehicle with spare parts, tools, and other necessities prior to shipping it. We also plan to have the suspension outfitted for the conditions in Africa (very bad roads) and the undercarriage fortified for protection.
There is additional need for a group of young men from Cuiebet who are living in Nairobi, Kenya, attending school. Often times, you will hear them referred to as "lost boys." Well, we FOUND them in Nairobi and took up their cause as well. These young men all intend to return to Sudan when school is completed and will be working in positions of leadership and teaching.
We have tabulated these costs of getting us, the vehicle and the supplies over to Kenya and into Sudan and the cost is roughly 11k. The cost of the boys' tuition is about 3k every four months.
Until now, these trips have been funded by us working extra nights and weekends and by gracious few-and-far-between donations. This is quickly becoming bigger than just our little rag-tag group of people.
We are at the literal beginning of the rebuilding of a nation here. In January of 2011, Southern Sudan will have a referendum to vote whether to become an independent nation, and we plan on being there! In this area, there is literally NO ONE ELSE investing in these people. There is no humanitarian aid and the only medical presence in the area will be leaving in December of this year. This is your chance to make a real difference!
We are not the Red Cross, the UN, or UNICEF. Your donations don’t go to someone who you don’t know, but to people who are taking the money applying it directly to the people. There are no administrative fees and no salaries to be paid to anyone. ALL OF THE MONEY GOES TO BETTER THE GOK COMMUNITY. In fact, we accept that this is going to cost us as it always has, but we humbly ask for your help in any way possible, starting with your prayers.
On August 21st, we will be doing a free car wash in the bank parking lot on the corner of Santa Fe and Ridgeview in Olathe, KS, from 8 AM to 1 PM. We will be taking donations for this trip.
It is our desire to be 100% transparent in everything we do on this trip, and keeping everyone updated on the details. We are equipped to update this blog while on the road in Africa. Join us!
Thanks for reading,
-Jason and Randy on behalf of the group
Posted by Ham-Phist at 8:39 PM