Children of War

Photo by Christena Dowsett
Photo by Christena Dowsett

I woke up last Saturday morning in my 72 degree house, safe in my cozy bed. Birds chirping outside my window and thoughts of doing yard work today on this peaceful Saturday.

Little did I know, at that very moment, gunfire was erupting in a town in South Sudan. Bodies were strewn in the streets and families were running for their lives to the bush.

But God knew, and He redirected my thoughts. I had fallen asleep the night before reading an intense book about World War II. My pleasant early-morning meditations were interrupted by images of the horrors people suffer in war—especially children, who don’t understand what’s happening around them. All they know is that their parents are scared, chaos surrounds them, and “home” is wherever they can find a place to curl up and sleep that night.

These images haunted me as I got up to pour a cup of coffee. As a mom, I have such a strong instinct to protect my children. My heart aches for moms who are unable to keep their children safe. And it’s happening to millions of children around the world today.

Working at World Concern, I have to be mindful not to become anesthetized to the circumstances I hear about every day. A mother scooping up her child and fleeing gunfire in terror. Waking up the next day on the hard ground, enveloped in sweltering heat to hear her child crying because of hunger pains. Panic when she realizes the child is not just hungry, but sick with fever.

I can’t ever let this become “normal” to me.

14-year-old Mary waits for a hole in the ground to fill with muddy water so she can fill her water can.
14-year-old Mary waits for a hole in the ground to fill with muddy water so she can fill her water can.

I took a sip of my coffee and thought of the people in South Sudan whose tragic circumstances seem to get worse each day. A colleague who had recently returned from a visit told me he saw children picking leaves off of trees to eat to quell the hunger pains. I felt sick. He showed me a video he’d shot on his iPhone of a 14-year-old girl scooping scum-covered water from a hole in the ground, bees swirling around her head as she waited for the hole to fill up again.

“Sometimes I wait several hours for enough water to fill the hole again so I can scoop more,” she told him.

The water Mary collects each day is filthy.
The water Mary collects each day is filthy.

I pondered this as I sipped my cream-sweetened coffee, which suddenly tasted extraordinarily decadent.

And then I pick up my phone to see an email that our team was evacuated as violence erupted in Wau town, the base for several new villages in our One Village Transformed program. I prayed for the hundreds of families who lost loved ones in the fighting and for those who had fled in terror.

Earlier this month, I had barely noticed the automatic withdrawal from my checking account. $33. That’s my humble gift each month to that 14-year-old girl’s village outside of Wau.

It’s not much. I spent about that on a new shower curtain liner and cat litter at Fred Meyer yesterday.

Photo by Christena Dowsett
Photo by Christena Dowsett

But I felt a twinge of relief when I thought about that gift this morning. God reminded me I was doing something. That $33, combined with yours and someone else’s and others, is enough to do some amazing things in this one village. Not just a meal far better than leaves for today, but empowerment for the parents in her village to plant colorful, vibrant vegetable gardens that will supply many nutritious meals. It will help them dig a well where she can collect cool, fresh, disease-free water every day—without having to wait for a mud puddle to fill up. It will enable her to attend school, learn to read and write. And she’ll be introduced to a group of neighbors who meet twice a week under the shade of a giant tree to sing worship songs and study the Bible in her native language, allowing this child of war to experience peace in the midst of turmoil.

Village prayer. Photo by Christena Dowsett.
Village prayer. Photo by Christena Dowsett.

She will see her neighbors working and starting small businesses and thinking about the future, and it will all be new and different and hope-filled. She will begin to see the possibility for a better life and focus beyond waiting for the water hole to fill or picking leaves from a tree to eat.

I’ll never miss that $33 from my checking account each month. But it will mean a child of war is fed and cared for and a village in South Sudan is transformed.

5 Key Principles for Working with the Poor: # 5 Transformation through Relationships

This is the last of five posts covering key principles in ministry with the poor intended to help churches move from transactional to transformational ministry.  In the previous post, we discussed the fact that we are all created to be creative.

5. Transformation through Relationships

“The tasks we think are so critical are not more important than the people God has entrusted to us.” – Sherwood Lingenfelter

Are you like me at work and keep your “To-Do” list within arm’s reach? I’m probably a little weird, but I find it cathartic to scratch stuff off that list. Sometimes I keep scratching through it a little longer than I need to.

Unfortunately, I think we often treat ministry with the poor like a “To-Do” list. We make it more about crossing things off our list than we do about the people themselves. In your church, is it more common to see drives for shoeboxes and back packs full of schools supplies, or mentor programs that focus on being with people? Ask most outreach pastors and they’ll tell you that close to 100 people will sign up to provide a shoebox for every one person who agrees to volunteer for a weekly mentor program.

We forget that poverty is ultimately about people, and ministry is relational. We tend to focus on the material problems rather than the people themselves. “See a problem, Fix a problem.”  If ministry with the poor is relational in nature like other types of ministry, shouldn’t it look more like small groups at our churches?

Community members and leaders in the village of Harako, Chad, meet with World Concern staff to share their needs and their goals for transforming their own village.
Community members and leaders in the village of Harako, Chad, meet with World Concern staff to share their needs and their goals for transforming their own village.

At World Concern, our community development process starts, in most cases, with several months of meeting with the community and its leaders. We want to hear the story of their village, ask them about their vision for the future and their struggles that keep them being where they want to be.

Then, we begin to work with them on the goals they’ve set by building on what they already do well. Seeing lives transformed in this way takes time and requires walking with people patiently through the ups and downs of life. It’s not a quick fix, but it is lasting.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about how World Concern pulls these five principles together in our community development process by telling you the story of one village.