Evangelicals help war-ravaged community in Southern Sudan recover from violence, civil war
All of sudden, gunfire erupted in the distance in the southern Sudan community of Boma.
Everyone went outside to see what the fuss was about.
Turns out, it was a cattle raid - and the Rev. Micheal Harris of Boring was there to see it.
Harris, a former pastor, has worked at Gresham's East Hill Church and Family Fellowship Church, and now attends Gresham Bible Church. His latest job is serving as executive director of Sudan Evangelical Alliance Partners, an international organization based in Dallas.
The organization works with the Sudan Evangelical Alliance, a group of churches in the African country seeking to help restore Sudan after decades of civil war between the Muslim dominated north and the non-Muslim south, where animists, or traditional tribal religion believers, as well as Christians live. The alliance's goals are to educate people, create food security through teaching farming techniques, facilitate the procurement of clean water, improve health and evangelize.
Harris traveled to Sudan from March 12 to April 15 and spent some time teaching in an elementary school in Boma, a community of 40,000, home to the Murle, Jie and Kachipo tribes. When the cattle raid occurred, 10 people were killed, including members of the Jie tribe as well as their enemies in the neighboring Taposa tribe. He says that many Boma residents belong to Sudan People's Liberation Army, which fought the government during the civil war, and own AK-47 automatic rifles.
'You'd hear them going off in the middle of the night,' Harris says. 'It was kind of a distraction.'
The dangerous nature of the region is exemplified by the fact that truck drivers are among the highest paid people there, he says, because they also have to act as mechanics as well as armed security guards protecting their cargoes.
Yet, interestingly enough, compared to what has happened to Boma in the past, the cattle raid was a relatively low-level incident of violence. Boma was a battleground during the civil war, Harris says, and every family in the region lost members to the violence.
A peace agreement in 2005 ended the civil war, in which more than 2 million people died. But peace has a fragile foothold in Sudan. Darfur, a western region of Sudan, has drawn international attention for its ongoing struggle with the government in the capital city of Khartoum. Meanwhile relations between the north and south remain tenuous at best, Harris says, adding that fears of a renewed north/south war loom.
Still, there is hope in Boma, he says, noting that the partners have helped the locals build a school and a church, dig water wells and plant and harvest corn through the last two years. The alliance wants the locals to empower themselves after years of living off the largesse of the United Nations and various relief agencies, he says.
'A whole generation lost the motivation to farm. We're helping them become more self-sustainable,' he said.
He adds that 90 children attend the school, which houses kindergarten and first grade, and 200 people attend the church.
He stresses, however, that no one is required to convert to Christianity in order to receive education or other services. Future projects include the establishment of a health clinic.
'Everything we do is showing who God is through our love and actions,' he said.
While in Sudan, Harris says he was treated with great hospitality, despite the impoverishment of the locals. He was proud to note a tribal chief even gave him a new name - 'Korok' or 'Home.' It's a fitting name, he says, because after four trips to Sudan, the country has become his second home.
What keeps him coming back is the bright promise he sees in the children. Although many children have only one set of clothes - or no clothes at all - and suffer from malnourishment, they are eager to learn. He relates a number of funny stories, including a time all the little ones ran screaming from a classroom because they thought they had seen a snake in a gable. Turns out it was actually the hand of a construction worker on top of the school roof.
Another time, the children wouldn't stop laughing when he put on a puppet show for them. It wasn't that he was incredibly comedic, he says - the children just couldn't get over the fact he was putting his hand up what would be the puppet's derriere.
Harris notes that Sudan's great suffering makes him grateful for what he has in America - and inspires him to want to do more for the people of Boma.
'To be a part of people living with some element of hope has been a real joy,' he said.
Rosemary Khamati, a Kenyan woman who serves as Africa director for the Sudan Evangelical Alliance Partners, will be speaking in the following East County churches in May:
7 p.m. Saturday, May 10, Abundant Life Church, 17241 S.E. Hemrick Road, Happy Valley.
10:30 to 11 a.m. Sunday, May 11, Cornerstone Church, which meets at Powell Valley Grade School, 4825 E. Powell Valley Road, followed by an appearance from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. at Gresham Bible Church, which meets at Dexter McCarty Middle School, 1400 S.E. Fifth St.
For more information about Sudan Evangelical Alliance Partners, visit www.sea-partners