Stories of Hope from South Sudan

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Why Return to South Sudan?

3. Preparing to Leave

photo by Linda Poole

In the lights, camera and action of our 4-minute CNN interview, I missed the opportunity to explain something important to me.  I left out the reason why I am excited to return to South Sudan; the reason I look forward to getting back to a place I left in such a hurry. 

When making the decision to return, I knew the daily difficulties of living in South Sudan.  I was keenly aware, however, that I did not know life as a parent to a young child in South Sudan.  In the midst of what I knew and what I would discover in time, persisted a pull to the place that cries loudly of the need for more miracles. 

I will always think of my son’s birth story as a miracle that unfolded in front of my eyes.  Jordan Eman arrived 7 weeks early, 3 days before my flight back to the US, and he took his first breath in the country called “the worst place in the world to have a baby.”  In South Sudan, “90% of women give birth away from formal medical facilities and without the help of professionally trained assistants” (Small Arms Survey report quoted in IRIN News), yet Jordan was born in a new hospital which opened the first month of our pregnancy.  In South Sudan, 25% of children “die from common, often preventable childhood illnesses before they reach their fifth birthday” (International Medical Corps), yet Jordan overcame a premature birth, difficulties breathing and maintaining his body temperature, with the help of the only incubator in town and a make-shift breathing device.  I cannot pretend to understand or try to explain why God intervenes to sustain life in some situations and not others, yet I know that God intervened in Jordan’s life.

Hospital in South Sudan

photo by Linda Poole

His entrance into the world connected me in a unique way to the other mothers in the small hospital called Bet Eman (Juba Arabic for “House of Hope”).  The morning after I gave birth, I took a slow walk to the patient’s pit latrine located behind the hospital.  I will never forget the interactions with the women and children on the walkway on my first exit from the delivery room. 

For the children, there was the usual excitement of interacting with a foreigner.  For the mothers, I spoke with them for the first time as a mother myself.  For all, there seemed to be something special in the air, because they knew I gave birth on South Sudanese soil.  I was the first American they knew with that privilege. 

On the day that followed, however, I felt an enormous chasm dividing me from the patients waiting on the wooden benches in front of the hospital.  As I glanced at these women’s faces, my son, in an incubator, was packed in the back of a land cruiser headed to a plane preparing to evacuate us to Nairobi, Kenya for more medical care.  It was difficult to look at the patients that day, knowing that most likely, they lacked the opportunity to get the care for their children that Jordan would receive outside the country. 

The strong feeling of “connection with” and the intense hurt of “separation from” the mothers surrounding me, birthed the longing in my heart to return.  Between the deep desire for loving, human relationships and the reality of the great inequity in our world, I felt God’s Spirit pushing me forward, allowing me to follow the hope of making a difference.  By grace, the door re-opened for me to continue to work alongside South Sudanese for stability, and by extension development, in their nation. 

Mother's Love

photo by Carlton Mackey

As a new mother, I find myself continuously engaged in conversations about babies.  Experienced mothers ask me, “Have you ever loved anything so much?” or “Have you ever loved anything so instantly?” and they explain: “It is difficult to believe, but the love gets stronger and stronger.”  The love in my heart for my son feels overwhelming at times, and I have to pause and thank God for his little life.  And as I watch, now with greater intention, South Sudanese mothers interacting with their babies, I am convinced their hearts are also overflowing with love, gratitude and joy.  

The word “miracle” may be defined in various ways.  I see miracles when the Holy Spirit creates anew in our midst; when God our Creator breathes life again into the nostrils of a human being; when Jesus reaches His hand towards an ailing person and restores health.  Lord of life, I ask for more such miracles.  May we, Your people, work together to make the world peaceful and loving; a world able to embrace and sustain life more fully.  Amen