Every week day this past week Carissa, David Campbell, our driver Charlie (his name sounded like Carl-ee-sue-a, but I have no idea how it is spelled, and his English was not great) and I drove to Lora Orphanage. The distance is only 24 miles, but the drive takes us about an hour and 45 minutes one way to get there. We leave about 8:45 and get there by 10:30. During the drive, I kept repeating some variations on these phrases – “The Lord is better than a safe road”, or “I compare nothing, not even this ridiculously bumpy, aggravating, tedious road, to the glory of God and the Gospel of Jesus.” It truly was a mental effort to get through those drives, and by the time we got to the orphanage, 30% of my mental and physical energy was gone! But the Lord is gracious, and granted us energy to teach these orphans about the Gospel of Jesus every day.
The first day, we did a general tour of the orphanage, met the children, discussed our teaching schedule for the week, and got to play with the children. We drove up and saw some of the boys playing soccer by their classrooms, so I decided to join in the fun. They typically play on their soccer “field” which has no grass, but is very big and has wooden goal posts, but sometimes they just all crowd around and try to hold onto the ball as long as they can in the middle of a swarm of other kids, and that is what was happening the first day. Also, just fyi, the kid is lying on the ground not because I knocked him over or hockey-checked him, but because he literally ran at me, ran into me, and found me to be heavier than I look. I don’t take pride in it, but I’m just trying to walk transparently here…
The orphans have a lot more than I was expecting. A lot of good food, great care from the Lora widows who they call “Mothers”, good sleeping quarters, mosquito nets to keep the malaria at bay, water from a clean well, chalk boards… They even had soccer balls, but they also made their own toys. The soccer ball they were playing with when we drove up is a good example of this. It was garbage stuffed into a plastic grocery sack, and wrapped with string. And the crazy thing is that is worked great!
We met the Head school master and the Head Teacher on the first day. The Head teacher’s name is Jocelyn, and she was also our translator during the week. She did an incredible job helping us and translating for 3 hours a day, on top of her other duties of teaching classes, preparing food for the children, and advising the other teachers. She truly loved the children at Lora.
But these are children who remember the war. They remember surviving in the jungle, drinking rain off of leaves or out of puddles, making hats out of tree leaves to keep the sun away, seeing death…Some of these children saw their parents murdered and their sisters raped by the murahaleen or northern troops, their homes burned down and their friends shot, and all that they had dissolve away into uncertainty. Here’s the crazy thing, though – they welcomed us with 3 hours of songs, played games, and laughed and smiled all day. We are prayerful that Jesus would work in their hearts and save them!
The children were very shy at first, but the great thing about soccer is that every kid there plays, most of them are very good, and it requires no verbal language skills to play together. So that was the first ice breaker. I was immediately cool, which was a nice change. In the US, if I told people growing up that I played soccer, that did not give me a cool status. The second ice breaker was our camera. There were no mirrors at Lora (or even at the compound where we were staying! It’s weird not seeing yourself for 12 days…) so when I took a picture of them, I showed them the display on the back, and they all loved it. Once we started doing this, the kids really opened up and wanted to see their picture, thus explaining why this boy is grabbing for the camera.
Really all it took was smiling at the children – they would fight it, but eventually crack, smile, then bust out laughing with their friends at the silly Americans. But we also saw a few of the boys and girls who would not smile no matter what we did, and I wondered what horrible things they had seen or experienced in this war. It made me weep and hurt to think about it. But I trust that the Gospel that we taught these children during the week is all they hope for and need in order to be healed from the horrors of their past, and to live a life of joy and purpose. For a few boys, we did not have to guess what had happened to them, because it was quite evident. A few of the boys were missing legs because they had stepped on landmines. The northern government and murahaleen buried an unfathomable and still unknown number of landmines all over southern Sudan (we saw UN trucks and personnel clearing roads of landmines while we were there, and the war has been over for 5 years now!). People rarely venture off of cleared paths, roads, or into the jungle because they know there are landmines everywhere. One boy was in a wheelchair because he lost both of his legs. I did not ask him about his story and he really didn’t talk much. I could not imagine being bound to a wheelchair in Sudan, because there are no asphalt or concrete sidewalks in Yei, none buildings are wheelchair accessible, and if war does ever break out again, the only place to go is into the jungle. I asked him his name 3 different times, but every time he mumbled and I could not understand what he said. He was very shy and introverted, but I know that he wants to be a scientist when he leaves the orphanage. Also, he is 17 years old and very bright.
There is another boy had lost his left leg to a landmine, and his name is Daniel. He is in P4, which means he is around 9-12 years old, and he is such a cute little boy. He was a big talker too. He liked his classes, he liked what we taught them about (Jesus and the Gospel), and he liked soccer. Daniel is a reminder to me of the suffering and pain in Sudan, but also the hope and joy that can be found in the midst of it all. He smiled and laughed a lot, and he gave me such joy.
The weather was very hot, and playing soccer only made it worse. We got to the orphanage at 10 am, met everyone, were greeted by the children through song and dance, had lunch around 1 pm, and then played soccer. After an hour of running around playing soccer in my long pants and dress shirt, we decided to call it a day. I was soaked!
We drove back to the EPC compound excited about our week of teaching at Lora Orphanage, excited to teach these children about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and prayerful that they would see the hope, joy, power, and provision that is only found in the Gospel.