Have you ever had an experience that was so life-changing that you had trouble putting it into words? Every time I come home from a trip with World Concern to a difficult place – exhausted, jetlagged, and emotionally spent – I have this experience. It’s called re-entry culture shock, and I only experience a fraction of what others who have lived or worked for longer periods of time in hard places experience. But it’s real, nonetheless.
It’s usually my husband who picks me up at Sea-Tac airport. He graciously heaves my dusty, overloaded bags into the car and hugs me tightly after not seeing me for several weeks.
“You need a shower!” he usually jokes, knowing I’m coming off 24+ hours of flying after several weeks of limited bathing.
“Yes, and a nap,” I usually mumble.
He’s gotten better at honoring the silence on the drive home, knowing I’m still processing what I’ve experienced. Everything I see out the window looks strange. Drive-through restaurants, people going about their daily activities, traffic without the sound of horns blowing (that one is nonexistent in most of the places I’ve visited).
But eventually, maybe later that day, or the next day, he asks me about the trip. The jet lag has worn off and the exhaustion has started to subside and that’s when the amazing experiences and beautiful people and places I saw start to come into focus. I show him some photos, and try to describe the highlights, and ever-present lowlights, but it’s so hard to explain.
“I wish you could have been there,” I say.
The Podcast Vision
The truth is, these places and the people there changed me. I want my life partner—as well as my friends, family members, acquaintances, everyone I know—to see, first-hand, what life is like in other parts of the world. Everyone should meet the people I met and interact with the amazing World Concern staff around the world. I want to tell everyone that there is a massive world out there that is so different from what we know. And I want to tell the world how real and how present and active God is in these places. Maybe it’s being away from the routine and familiarity of daily life, but I always experience God’s presence in profound ways at the end of the road. And I want to share that.
We want to invite others along for the journey and offer a glimpse into the remote, mostly forgotten, unknown parts of the world. We want to introduce you to the people there through the stories and experiences of those who live and work at the end of the road. That’s really the vision behind The End of the Road podcast and why we started it.
Some of these places take days to reach by plane, car, boat, and then—on foot. And many of them are not safe for the average Westerner. Some require special visas and letters of invitation. Getting there without a local host to navigate the journey with you would be next to impossible.
Our hope is that through this podcast, you’ll get to journey to these remote places through our guests and in turn, the world might feel a little smaller. When we experience other cultures, we realize we’re all human – moms, dads, students, workers, people – who have the same desires, same needs, similar dreams, and hopes for the future, it connects us as “humanity.” I believe it removes much of the fear and lack of understanding that makes us critical of people we don’t know. We write a story in our heads about why they’re poor or why their culture is the way it is. But that’s not what our world needs right now. Our world needs hope, unity, and most of all, God.
Through the interviews and stories on the podcast, our prayer is that your mind and heart are opened up a bit and you feel more connected to your brothers and sisters around the world and to what God is doing in these places.
We hope you’ll come along for the ride and that along the way, you’ll be changed by the people you meet and the stories you hear.
Life as a woman at the end of the road requires bravery, but bravery does not come without fear. It just means you step into it anyways, moving forward amidst the overwhelming opposition you feel within. We recently sat down with Maggie and Kate, two humanitarians and World Concern staff members who both spent several years resisting the call in their hearts to do what they get to do now in some of the most remote and challenging places on the planet.
Though sometimes terror-stricken at the thought of moving, living, and working in such remote places, they moved forward and embraced the call on their lives by journeying to the end of the road.
Living and working in places like Cairo, Egypt, and Kabul, Afghanistan, both women had the opportunity to experience many facets and layers of life in these remote places. From the richness of culture and genuine relationships to some of the challenging and dangerous situations they faced, it’s no surprise that life as a woman in these places is unique and life changing.
A Glimpse of Katie’s Life
During Katie’s time in Afghanistan, she enjoyed the way the white snow covered the brown land and the fields of flowers that bloom, creating such stunning scenery. A prominent reflection she shared was of the people and community she encountered while she was there. The relationships were so genuine and special and she started to truly be known by others.
The empathy and compassion many of them showed to Katie were contagious. One of the most heartfelt and inspiring truths she shared of those she encountered was, “if you are feeling something, they will feel it with you and if you’re crying, they will cry with you. You will never cry alone.” There’s an incredible way that communities come together through thick and thin. The people she met had a vested interest in her well-being. “When I think about the love, care, and empathy shown, it is revolutionary,” said Katie.
When facing an unusual experience in Afghanistan, Katie shared a story about a situation where local men in the area she was staying in made sure she was safe and protected. Also, during this time, there was a local family that offered to take Katie in and ensure she was safe, despite potentially placing themselves at risk for housing a foreigner. That’s the testament of ongoing love and care she experienced while in Afghanistan.
A Glimpse of Maggie’s Life
Stories of empathy, compassion, and community don’t stop there, Maggie also gives us a glimpse of her experience while in Iraq. Describing Iraq as a beautiful place of diversity, diverse in people and religion. It’s very welcoming and people are genuinely curious to know you as a person and there is a richness in friendships that is present.
There also isn’t a homogenous faith. There are different faiths, different ways of practicing. Maggie was able to enter that space and experience the beauty of their practices and the long history of those places and see the courage and care extended to people who didn’t share the same religion but were all able to work together toward one goal, which was very special for her to experience.
Through the stories of these two humanitarians, there are many challenges and narratives that extend beyond borders and are relatable around the world. From women who are excluded from decision-making spaces, challenges women face and having limited routes of receiving justice, to the richness of sisterhood and community despite it all.
As with any experience, there are always things learned along the way and things you will never forget. For Katie, she came to deeply appreciate the faith of her neighbors. She learned things that helped enrich her own faith and develop a deep sense of commitment. Maggie was reminded of the beauty and importance of hospitality and showing kindness to strangers. Her experience made her even more curious about her faith and set her on a journey of deepening her encounters with others through her faith.
Welcome, friends! I’m so excited to welcome you to the End of the Road podcast! My name is Cathy and I’ll be your host and “tour guide” as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet.
I’m a Seattle native, loyal Sounders fan, wife of the best third grade teacher – quite possibly – on the planet, and mom to three amazing humans.
I’ve worked with World Concern, a faith-based humanitarian organization headquartered in Seattle, for the past 11 years and had the privilege of traveling to some of the places where World Concern serves… Places where I’ve never felt so far from home in my life. Places where absolutely nothing is familiar. Places I fell in love with, and that changed me forever.
I cannot tell you how excited I am to see this podcast come to life. I know this sounds cliché, but it truly is a dream come true.
The vision behind this podcast is to take you – our listeners – to some of these places through the stories and experiences of our guests. They have lived and worked far beyond the end of the road … from a village that takes an entire day to reach by canoe through the Congo jungle … to a war-torn city in the Middle East, you’re going to hear, first hand, what life is like in some of these places, and how God is present and active in these places and in the lives of people who live there – moms, dad, kids, families – just like yours, only they live at the end of the road.
You’re going to hear from some incredible peoplewho have sacrificed so much to serve, live, and work in some of the toughest places on earth. They’ve experienced unimaginable things, and met people you’ll get to meet too, through their stories here on the podcast. I can’t wait to introduce you to these selfless humanitarians – our guests on the podcast. I’ve handpicked each one, because I know tidbits of their stories, but even I learned so much in my conversations with them. You’ll be amazed.
I want to share with you some of the things I’ve learned in my experiences in places like Bangladesh, where 165 million people live in crowded urban slums and bustling rural villages. Or northeastern Kenya, where Samburu tribespeople have survived as pastoralists in the bush for centuries… or the mountains of Haiti, far above the teal waters of the Caribbean and far from the chaos of Port au Prince, where families live in tiny villages with no running water, electricity, or infrastructure of any kind.
As I mentioned, these places – and more so, the people I met there, changed me.Now, these places are not the places you’d go on a typical church mission trip. That’s why I want to take you there – virtually – through these stories.
I want to introduce you to people like the 13-year-old girl in Bangladesh who sobbed and told me through her tears that she was about to be forced to marry a much older man, because it was the only option her parents felt they had in order to feed her siblings. Her name was Rima… I remember sitting down on the steps of a school to talk with her and hear her story. She was about 13, but she looked very young. She was wearing a school uniform – the only thing keeping her from being married off to a family friend, a man in his mid-30s.
I want to tell you about walking 5 miles through the dry, barren desert of Eastern Kenya for water with a strong, beautiful, resilient Samburu mother who made this walk every morning of her life. During this moment, I realized we shared something… We were both moms, both working women, both human. And we shared a deep desire to make the best life for our kids as possible.
And I want to share with you how God was so present, right beside me, in each of these situations – reminding me that he is with them too – every person…
3 Things I’ve Learned
I’ve learned some things in my time at the end of the road – about myself, about people, and about God. Let me share a few thoughts with you as we prepare to travel together…
First of all, I learned that I have a lot to learn. I know so little about the world, beyond my own familiar surroundings. I had no idea how mind and heart-opening it would be to visit places I thought would be scary, uncomfortable, and disturbing (spoiler alert: they are mostly all those things!).
I remember right before my first trip to Haiti, I was telling my mom where I was going. Her naïve response was, “Why in the world would you want to go to a place like that? It sounds awful!” Now, my mom has lost her filter a bit in her older years, but I wonder if most of us, deep down inside, think the same thing about these places. They sound awful. And I’ll admit, I thought that way.
After working a few years for World Concern, I was sifting through photos of Bangladesh for a project I was working on, and I remember looking at the crowded streets – there was literally garbage piled up so high on either side of the street, it was like a 10-foot wall. In one of the photos, there was a cow standing on top of this pile, eating the garbage. And in another photo… much more heartbreaking. In fact, it’s a photo that has stuck with me ever since. It was of a young boy, maybe 8 years old, shirtless, but wearing a pair of adult pants that were cinched up around his waist and tied with a piece of rope or string. He was picking up a piece of rotten fruit from the garbage pile and smelling it – I’m sure to check if it was safe to eat…
So I was looking through these photos, and I thought to myself, that is NOT a place I ever want to go. I’d go to some of the other places World Concern works, but not Bangladesh.
Well, God has a sense of humor, you know? My very next trip, I was assigned to go to Bangladesh to interview and capture stories of young girls who were at risk of becoming child brides. Bangladesh has a longstanding and harmful practice of child marriage. I was like, really, God? After I said that’s the last place I’d want to go? Yes, really, He said.
That trip, and subsequent trips to Bangladesh, changed my heart for that place. Yes, it was hard. Yes, it was so foreign to me, and yes, it was hot, stinky, indescribably crowded, and all the hard things. But I prayed for God to help me see the people there the way He sees them. I prayed a dangerous prayer – for Him to break my heart for the things that break His. And He did – into a million tiny pieces.
Another thing I learned is that I have a much greater capacity for empathy and compassion than I thought I did. We can become so consumed with the struggles of our own lives that we forget how important, and I’d even say, freeing (from self-absorption) it is to consider the needs of others before your own.
I’ve also learned about people in my journeys. I’ve learned that people are essentially the same, when you get down to the heart and soul. We have the same needs, desires, and even similar dreams.
Lastly, I’ve learned a ton about God at the end of the road. Mostly that He is there. Always. Constantly. He is present in the hard places, and He loves the people there – those who by chance were born into such hard places.
God was always present with me there, but He used the hard places I’ve been to show me how utterly alone I am in the world, and how much I need Him.
The Evidence of His Presence
I remember one time, in a very remote part of Northern Kenya – I’m talking 8 hours by car from Nairobi, the last hour and a half on very bumpy dirt roads (so bumpy I’m shocked I didn’t break a tooth!), and the last half hour beyond where the dirt road ends and goes into the bush! That’s how remote we were.
We stayed in a guest house that was basically a concrete room with bars over a square cut out in the concrete wall to make a window and bugs were everywhere. And for the first time, I got sick with a stomach bug in the field, and I was down for the count. So, I didn’t travel with the team out to the field that day. I stayed back at the guest room. Alone. No cell coverage. No internet. No nothing. Just me in that concrete room. And I didn’t feel well at all.
God was there, and eventually showed me through two angels—World Concern staff who checked in on me—that He was right there with me. He heard my cries for help, and He sent them. I was able to rest peacefully the remainder of the day.
I hope this gives you a little taste of what it’s like at the end of the road. There is pain and there is beauty. And we can learn so much about ourselves, about people, and about God, if we’re willing to make the journey. I’m so glad you’re joining me!
So buckle up, my friend, this is not a podcast about your average church mission trip… Are you ready? Prepare for takeoff … we’re going to The End of the Road.
World Concern snapshots of 2019 could fill a book. You gave so much, and we are so thankful for you! Enjoy these photos that show a few of the many ways you transformed the lives of children, women, and men who live in poverty beyond the end of the road.
Your gifts resulted in 8,717 lives being reconciled to Christ
Honoring our friend and country director of Bangladesh
We want to thank you for giving generously this year! Because of you, practical needs were met for families, and that was life changing. Meeting those needs opened the hearts of men, women and children to hear about the love of Christ and receive His grace. That transformed everything for them—both now, and for eternity.
Pushing my shopping cart hurriedly through the supermarket aisles, I paused briefly to glance at my watch.
Four-thirty. Great, I still had time to get what I needed and make my doctor’s appointment.
Weaving past carts filled with food, expertly avoiding strollers,
and randomly placed boxes, I barely slowed down to grab each item off the shelf and toss it in my cart. I was on a roll; a can of peanuts, lightly salted of course … a bag of washed potatoes … risotto rice … a bunch of fresh celery … a dozen free-range eggs … and the list went on.
Within ten minutes I’d finished my shopping, proudly looking at the pile of groceries that now spilled over the side of my cart. I’d checked off every item on my list, and managed to find a checkout aisle with less than four people waiting. I am the greatest shopper in the world.
Out of breath, I now stood impatiently in the checkout line, waiting to now unload everything that I’d just put in. Well, at least they would repack it for me. It was around the time I was contemplating whether I wanted the 2 for 1 candy bar offer that I thought of April. Not the month, but a little one-year-old girl I’d been reading about earlier that afternoon.
Before my frantic trip to the grocery store, I’d spent a few hours with little April. She lives with her mom in a small village in Myanmar. I wasn’t physically sitting with her, but reading her story it sure felt like it. I read about how this precious one had been sick for over six months. That’s half her life.
Her mother shared April’s story with a colleague of mine, and told of how hungry they both were. She earned enough to buy the very basics; rice, and a few vegetables every now and then. But they were never fresh, and something always had to be sacrificed in order to afford them. It was clearly April’s health.
I unpacked my cart, haphazardly placing each item on the belt as the checker scanned, and dropped them in a paper bag. My thoughts were not on whether my eggs were cracked, but firmly focused on April, and the dire situation she was in.
April and her mom had been screened for malnutrition, and the results were not good. In villages across Myanmar (and elsewhere in Asia and Africa), World Concern staff visit children like April and test them for malnutrition and other illnesses. It’s a free service, and the results (while often shocking) can save a child’s life.
I read about how April’s mom carried her to the mobile clinic, sitting quietly on a chair and waiting for the volunteer to call them. April did nothing but cry; not a wail or an impatient tear, but a whimper, as if there was simply nothing left to cry about. Her mom did everything she could to comfort April—making faces, singing, and bouncing her on her knee—nothing worked. So she sat there, totally defeated, and waited for her daughter’s name to be called.
When it was April’s turn to be seen, the nurse first weighed April in a sling, kind of like a hammock, recording her weight before moving onto the next, and most
important test. The nurse delicately threaded a paper tape around April’s upper arm. This measures the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and diagnoses the level of malnourishment according to a color scale—green is considered healthy, yellow shows that the child is malnourished, and red indicates severe and acute malnutrition.
April’s arm was in the red. And by a long way.
The cheerful grocery checker had almost finished packing my groceries, but at this stage all I could think about was April, and all I could hear was the beep … beep … beep … beep … of my food being scanned. Then I saw my total.
I quickly moved my eyes to my two bags of groceries. How is that $181.91?
Little April was starving, and here I am buying $181.91 worth of groceries. Her tiny immune system simply didn’t have the energy to keep on fighting, and so it was slowly giving up. She needed nutritious food, and quickly.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what World Concern is doing for hungry children in Myanmar and other communities like April’s. So after the clinic visit April’s mom was given an emergency food kit and told lovingly to come back when the basket was empty to receive more.
The basket they carried home that day was filled with locally-sourced, highly nutritious, fresh food—a bag of potatoes … nuts and beans … rice … fresh vegetables … free-range eggs—pretty much everything that I’d just bought.
And the cost of the emergency food kit? Only $22. I could feed 8 hungry children with what I just bought.
Collecting my receipt and trudging out to the car, I cringed at the abundance that was around me. Food was readily available. I had money to buy it. And I was about to visit my family doctor.
Later that evening I spoke with my son about April, and how we could give a hungry child basically everything I’d bought at the supermarket, for just $22.
My son is seven, and his response to me was exactly what ours should be:
I sat down on the steps of a small rural high school in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh, expectantly waiting to talk with some of the girls who have received scholarships from World Concern. Dressed in her blue and white uniform, 16-year-old Rima sat down next to me. I started asking questions about school – what she enjoys studying and her future plans.
With her first words, tears spilled down her cheeks. Staring off into the distance and weeping, she told me that from the time she was 14, her father has been trying to marry her off.
“My father works as a guard at the hospital. He works all night, but only earns 4,000 taka ($52) per month,” Rima explained through her tears.
The oldest of four children, Rima carries an emotional burden for the constant struggle her family experiences living in such poverty.
“We don’t eat well,” she said.
“My father keeps telling my mom, ‘I am only earning so little, how can I afford to pay for education? I want to get Rima married,’ but my mom says, ‘No, no, no, she must go to school.’”
“My dad says, ‘There is no use of her studies because she is going to get married anyway and go to the house of her husband and she will end up washing dishes in the kitchen…’”
Rima’s mother was married to her father at just 13. She knows the reality of being a child bride and bearing children far too young. She wants Rima to have a better life than she’s had.
“My mom is preventing him from marrying me off,” Rima said. “I don’t want to get married, but my dad keeps telling me, ‘If you left, then I would be able to take care of my other children better.’”
In Bangladeshi culture—especially amongst the poorest people—it is common for girls as young as 10 or 12 years to be married off to men in their thirties or forties.
Rima is at such a tender age. She dreams of finishing high school, going to college, and becoming a teacher one day.
“I want to be a teacher and teach poor children in my area, free of cost,” she said.
But instead of dreaming about her future, she lives under the constant threat of being sent to live with a man she doesn’t even know. Some of her friends have already gotten married. And some already have babies.
“Please don’t cross my name off the [scholarship] list,” she pleaded. “If World Concern didn’t help us, I would have gotten married a long time ago, and my life would have been in the darkness.”
No adolescent girl should have to live in fear of being forced to get married. An educated girl is six times less likely to be married off during her teen years. You can provide a scholarship for a girl like Rima for an entire year for just $50 and change her future.
When Karima was just 8 years-old, her father left. And she took it hard.
She had not lived a day without him by her side. This man had protected her, and worked to keep her in school. So when he abandoned her mother and two sisters, Karima’s world came crashing down. Nobody came to console her. Nobody was there to wipe away her tears.
And sadly things would only get worse.
Karima’s village is in Bangladesh, and while she was too young to know it, it’s a country where many young girls are married off as child brides. Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world, where 1 in every 5 girls is married before they turn 15.
Mired in poverty after her husband left, Karima’s mother managed to survive in a small dilapidated shack, no bigger than your average kitchen. She fiercely protected Karima, and fought to keep her in school, knowing that an education was the only thing that would help her escape this life.
So she did what any mother would—she worked to find a way.
But with no money, and never having worked before, it was close to impossible. She finally found a day laboring job but the wage was small, barely enough to pay for food. There were days when the family would go without just so Karima could stay in school. It was an overwhelming sacrifice and money was quickly running out.
In Bangladesh, stories like this are far too common. In this article, a 15-year-old child bride sadly reflects on her situation saying, “We were very poor. Sometimes we would eat every two or three days,” she says. “Even though they [parents] really wanted all three of their daughter to study, it wasn’t possible –so they got me married.” Her older sisters married at 11 and 12.
So for Karima’s mother, it was no surprise when a friend suggested her daughter be married off as a child bride. This is the shocking reality for girls like Karima. They have no say, no choice. Their only hope of avoiding this terrifying prospect is to stay in school.
At World Concern, we consider every child precious. And for that reason we’re focusing our efforts on preventing girls like Karima from becoming child brides, by doing all we can to keep them in school.
We do this by providing scholarships for girls like Karima. The scholarship gives them an education and keeps them from being married off too young.
I recently visited remote villages in South Sudan; a brief visit that has left me journeying through unexplored trails in my own heart.
One experience especially stands out.
It started during a village meeting, in which several ladies in Mayen offered to take me to their homes, to witness the impact of our projects – each terming her household as the “most transformed.” So I settled on visiting just three who stated that their houses were nearby.
Strapped for energy and time, my plan was to make a quick dash and back; but some plans don’t unwind as neatly – at least not in the field.
In an entourage of about 10, composed of residents and World Concern staff, we set off and immediately picked pace.
We walked and walked, trudging through snaky paths set on brownish grass amidst isolated huts and trees as the hot South Sudan sun stared down at us.
After a non-stop 45 minute walk, I let my protests be known. “I will go no further,” I swore. “Let’s turn back now!”
“But we’re just near,” the translator said, a line he repeated whenever I aired my calls of surrender, which was several times more.
It would be an eternity before Angelina Mir’s house came over to meet us. By then I had protested a handful more times hesitatingly agreeing to keep going each time. What’s the use of walking all this way and returning without a story? I kept thinking.
We finally arrived, worn and dusty. My interior was that of an angry man.
Angry at myself for suggesting the trek, angry at myself for forgetting to carry a water bottle, angry at the residents for ‘lying’ about the distance, angry at our vehicle for being unable to snake through the slender paths, and thorny shrubs – places never before driven on. . .
Then it dawned on me.
This heavy trudge for me was a normal walk for residents. My discomfort at having no drinking water for just a few hours, was a way of life for them (we only came across only two shallow wells, whose water we wouldn’t pour on our heads let alone drink). The hunger I felt was a lifestyle for them.
The people we serve live with these inconveniences every day.
Yet under the seemingly hopeless situation, they are determined to make their lives beautiful.
Angelina for instance borrowed a loan of 200 SSP ($36) from a micro-finance group started through World Concern. That loan ended up saving her son’s life. Four-year-old Marco Anae urgently needed surgery. His stomach had swelled and become intolerably painful from an intestinal blockage. He vomited spurts of blood and lost consciousness as it swelled on.
Although the normal reaction for community members is to sell livestock when in need of money, being a member of the Buak kukopadh (Let us go after something good) micro-finance group saved her income, as well as her son’s life. “I didn’t sell a goat. It’s a long process which involves taking the goat to the town center where it may stay for up to two days before anyone purchases it,” she explained.
Within only a day of borrowing, she was on her way to hospital – a journey that entailed a two hour long trek carrying Marco before boarding a vehicle to the next town. The loan helped facilitate expenses to the hospital and Marco’s new nutritional demands as the surgery was offered at no charge.
Her group of 21 women has so far saved 2205 SSP ($400) from which they borrow loans to boost their business and repay with interest. Angelina owns a total of 13 goats, one cow and lots of chickens. Besides boosting individual finances, some of the members have their spiritual lives nourished at nearby Pascal Catholic church. Through afternoon adult literacy classes at the church, Angelina is now able to write all her group members’ names!
Some views along the way:
On our way back, my mind was heavy in thought contemplating how impatient I have been whenever residents show up an hour or two later than scheduled. I realized it takes them just as long to walk to our meeting areas – even longer when rain falls; and mostly they come with parched mouths, empty stomachs, having already handled hundreds of roles, that especially make a woman who she is in the areas we work.
Yet they smile.
They have a strong will to keep going no matter how rough the trudge is.
This experience has brought me face to face with myself. Until now I thought I was patient, determined and perseverant among other countless virtues, but the people I met in South Sudan beat me at it. They roundly beat me at it.
Through One Village Transformed, World Concern and several partner churches are supporting Mayen village through protection of clean water, food production, livelihoods and robust microfinance. The project is a journey we’re taking alongside the community. You can be part of it. Here’s how.
Dust flies as the boys’ feet shuffle across the dirt, their laughter piercing through the quiet late afternoon. The lush green bushes sway with the slight breeze, the sun beating down on their backs as they pass a worn soccer ball to each other. There’s nothing unusual about this playful pick up game – soccer has been played all over the world for centuries. But there’s one small detail that makes this scene extraordinary. The boys are from the Dinka and Nuer tribes – two tribes that have been at conflict with each other for generations.
In South Sudan, the main tribal groups include the Dinka and the Nuer. These nomadic tribes highly value strong warrior ethics. In fact, young men primarily achieve social status by raiding each other’s cattle herds. Young men in these communities, raised to make up a bulk of South Sudan’s guerrilla armies, grew up in a generation of brutal war and tribal tension. This tension is especially prevalent between young people that were educated in the North and those that grew up in the rural villages of the South. Many young people in the South resent those that had the opportunity to attend school in the North, away from the harsh realities of the war.
But among the thorns there are always wildflowers of hope peeking through. In Kuajok, South Sudan, one young man’s passion for loving others – and soccer – is sparking incredible ethnic reconciliation.
After receiving an education in the North, Akol Akol returned to his home village of Kuajok to work as a World Concern staff member. Rather than becoming discouraged by the fighting and disunity he saw in his community, Akol saw an opportunity to use his experiences to pour into the lives of others – and decided to take action.
Inspired by his passion for soccer, Akol organized two neighborhood soccer teams and began meeting with the community’s youth every afternoon for practice, as well as organize tournaments on the weekends. The tension between the Dinka and Nuer youth eased as relationships were built, and soon the constant fighting greatly declined.
The older kids, inspired by Akol’s gentle spirit, began to recognize their responsibility to look after the younger children. The cycle of hate and prejudice began to break down, being replaced with one of acceptance and teamwork.
“He felt that soccer could be a form of reconciliation because they don’t need to be able to talk a lot, they just need to be able to understand the rules of the game and play together as a team,” explains Jane Gunningham, a World Concern staff member that worked closely with Akol. “He just had a heart for peace. He saw something specific he could do, something he knew how to do, and he just did it.”
Changing the world isn’t as hard as you may think. It doesn’t require daunting, expensive, over-the-top plans. It only requires a willingness to practice sincere kindness and invest in others at an individual level.
But sometimes, in a world with so much suffering and brokenness, it can be hard to know which action to take. That’s where World Concern comes in. Through World Concern’s numerous programs, hope isn’t just a distant idea; it’s a tangible reality. Through campaigns such as One Village Transformed, World Concern is committed to pursuing reconciliation and empowering the poor, so that they may in turn share with others.
One of my favorite quotes is by a 20th century cultural anthropologist named Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” How true and encouraging that is.
Just like the way a single skipped stone creates dozens of ripples, it only takes a one act of kindness to set off a tidal wave of reconciliation throughout a hurting world. Whatever cause it may be that tugs at your heartstrings, I encourage you to consider taking a step of faith and seeing where your passions take you – it’ll be worth the risk, I promise.
It’s not a particularly artistic or perfectly composed photo. It’s even a little hard to tell what’s happening in this photo, which is probably why I paused for a moment while browsing through photos of Bangladesh’s slums.
It was my first week at World Concern, four years ago, and I had looked at thousands of photos of the places World Concern works as part of my orientation. There were many stunning photos of beautiful people, faces, families, and extreme poverty. But this is the one I’ll never forget, because it’s the one I was looking at when it “clicked” for me.
I stared at the image of a little boy, not more than 8 or 9 years old, wearing pants that are cinched at the waist so they won’t fall down, standing in the midst of a sea of garbage. He is smelling what appears to be a piece of rotten fruit. He was doing this, I’m sure, to try to determine if it was edible.
My stomach turned.
Several thoughts slammed into my mind as I stared at the boy in the slum:
He is a real person.
He is hungry enough to consider eating from that pile of garbage.
I must do something.
When I came to work at World Concern, I considered myself a compassionate, caring Christian. I gave regularly to my church, donated to our food bank, and supported a few charities, including humanitarian organizations.
But at that moment, my heart broke for the hungry, the poor, the forgotten ones in the world. I felt compelled to help. I believe God used that photo to break my heart for what breaks His.
I wiped my tears away, glancing around my new office to see if anyone was looking. Then I whispered a prayer: “Lord, help this little boy. Please reach down into that horrible slum and rescue him.”
I felt like God responded, “I will. And you will.”
I knew that didn’t mean I would hop on a plane to Bangladesh and find that one little boy out of the 162 million people in Bangladesh. It meant I would pour myself wholeheartedly into the mission and work of World Concern so that the experts in ending extreme poverty and rescuing children like this boy from its clutches can do their jobs.
Our 234 Bangladeshi staff members, along with our Kenyan staff, our Haitian staff, and all the others in the poorest countries in the world are pouring themselves wholeheartedly into this work. With our support, they provide real, tangible, lasting ways out of poverty. And my job is to spread the word about this cause, this mission, so people like you and I can do something too.