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November 26, 1999
Column #952


     While memories of a Thanksgiving feast are still fresh, perhaps it is time to think about Sudan. I know. You don't want to think about Sudan. However, Jesus said we must consider ''the least of these.''

     ''I'm on my way back to Sudan next week,'' Dr. Clive Calver, President of World Relief, told me by phone. ''The country is the size of the United States east of the Mississippi and it has ten miles of paved roads and no gas stations, no electricity, no running water, very little food and medical supplies.''

     According to the latest report of the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), ''Sudan accounts for the largest number of the world's uprooted people. More than 4.3 million Sudanese have been forced to flee because of the continuing bloody civil war. One out of every eight refugees and displaced persons in the world are Sudanese.'' The war has killed 1.9 million people, mostly in the southern part of the country where there are sizable and growing numbers of Christians.

     The Muslim government in Khartoum, the capital, has bombed civilian targets in the south 40 times in 1998, including displaced persons, camps and hospitals. The government has also blocked or harassed humanitarian relief operations, triggering a massive famine that killed 70,000 in early 1998. The government has largely kept reporters away from this horror, but USCR smuggled some media into the sad nation, such as ABC's ''Nightline,'' which reported on World Relief's efforts to help.

     In one area, the agency built three health clinics and eight schools in the last six months.  One school, with 360 students, aged 5-25, just hired its second teacher. Supplies are so limited that children sit on the ground using their fingers to write in the dust. World Relief has flown in supplies to build classrooms and books.

     World Relief, the compassion arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, channels its most of its $3 million of support through the New Sudan Council of Churches, to help build churches as people are aided. Calver told me that in his last visit, he came to Leithnom, a village where World Relief had rebuilt a bombed health clinic, and started model farms and a fishing cooperative. Veterinary programs are improving the livestock. Wells had been dug.

     There were 200 people sitting under a large spreading tree. Calver asked, ''What are you doing?'' They replied, ''We are worshiping Jesus. Have you heard of him? We have heard there is a book about him. Have you ever seen one?''

     In October, churches baptized 500 new believers in Pochalla, In another town there were 10,400 families and no Christians. Now 10,000 families are Christian. Working through the New Sudan Council of Churches, World Relief's grassroots peace initiatives are establishing peace between tribes who have battled each other for years.

     World Vision has a larger presence in Sudan. During the height of the 1998 famine, it air dropped 2,000 tons of food benefitting an estimated 160,000 people. By land, it took in another 6,000 tons to another 125,000 since January, 1999. Its agricultural specialists provide training in the use of early maturity seed varieties. In a Local Grain Purchase Program, farm families generate much needed income by selling surplus grain to World Vision that is transported to people in regions where the drought is severe.

     For war-displaced families who have returned home to find crops and animals plundered, World Vision has given 14,600 family survival kits that include a water container, a tarp, blankets, cooking pots, plates, cups, salt, laundry soap and a sewing kit.

Peace-making activities brought three groups of the Lou Nuer people together who agreed to cease hostilities, unify political and military operations and support the work of aid agencies. World Vision has 800 staff members in Sudan, 700 of whom are Sudanese, 46 are Kenyans and the rest are internationals.

     The villages are predominantly women and children, because the men are off at war or have been killed. One of those who have been helped is Apjew Aphjumaran, who tries to hold back tears as she tells of the death of her husband and her long flight to a World Vision feeding center. ''I lost five of my nine children because I had nothing to feed them Hunger was my biggest fear. But now I know my other four babies won't starve anymore.'' She now works on a farm in exchange for food and shelter.

     To contribute, call World Relief (800 535-LIFE) or World Vision (800 56-CHILD).

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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