"I was sick and you looked after me."
Matthew 25:36

Upper Nile, Sudan - May 2001

Southern West Virginians again went to Southern Sudan in May of 2001. We went under the auspices of Westminster Medical Missions of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bluefield, WV who have helped to sponsor regular mission trips to Uganda as well as our trip to Sudan last year.

This trip came about on the spur of the moment. We went with the organization known as the "Blue Nile Project" (as of now being renamed "Servant's Heart" because it they no longer just work in the Blue Nile Province) run by Dennis Bennett from Seattle, Washington. Dennis (who is active in an EPC church in Washington) has been working with Sudan several years and has traveled back and forth providing Bibles, food relief, metal detectors to detect land mines, and other support and ministry. This is in the rebel-controlled territory of this civil war divided country, and a large part of the population is Christian. It is considered one of the most major persecuted church areas in the world.

Dennis had received a call from the rebel government (SPLA) authorities informing him of the area just south of the Blue Nile (the Upper Nile Province) being in great need. This area has received essentially no outside help, and war has caused starvation, destruction of all crops and domestic animals, and major health needs. The people have no tools and supplies with which to rebuild their lives. Lots of severe illness was reported, and urgent help was requested. With rainy season approaching increasing urgency had developed, since it is impossible to travel once the airstrip gets soft and the weather rises.

Dennis and Diane Bennett went the following week, which was too short-notice for me to go. However, he reported back to me on his observations, and we quickly formed a team and went. 5 of us ended up going, including me (the only doctor), Mike Geiger (pharmacist), Steve Vail (computer webmaster, attorney, hairdresser), Nancy Shrewsbury (former Bible in the schools teacher, farmer, software company worker, housewife), and Betsy Hopper (college student, Church youth worker, day care worker). British Air gave permission for a 3rd bag each. We carried with us 15 bags 70 pounds each, as well as our personal stuff concisely in a pack to carry on board. We took locally gathered medications and supplies, purchased American vitamins and antibiotics and analgesics and other basic medications, tents, sleeping bags, etc. We purchased a large amount of worm and malaria medication through a missionary friend (Dick Bransford) in Kenya. We had enough money left over to arrange to pay for an airplane of grain (5 tons maximum on the small plane, delivered the day after our arrival) to be taken in to these people who were living on roots, leaves, and the land.

We got there safely, though Betsy developed abdominal pain and vomiting in route, and I had to make the hard decision not to let her enter Sudan. The AIM-Air/Samaritan's Purse plane that took us into Sudan picked her up in northern Kenya and took her to our friends the Bransfords. We camped just outside a little village near the border of Ethiopia. There we saw patients and fellowshipped with the people. We probably treated about a thousand patients, many with the routine malaria and worms and often starving. I amputated a badly infected toe, drained some abscesses. We were successful in reducing a severely prolapsed rectum of an infant. Other things such as pneumonias, rashes, ulcers, infections were treated.

We did not see some of the worse illnesses that were often reported to be in surrounding villages. I think this was for several reasons. The villages are spread out, streams flowing from the mountains of Ethiopia had begun rising, and warring in the distance (we could hear the thunder of heavy artillery in the distance at times) made them reluctant or fearful to travel. One large group of 2-300 people who had walked from a village 8 hours away reported 5 deaths from meningitis the preceding week, and urged us to come help their people out, but this place was too far for us to walk to in our limited time. (We saw all of them, but obviously it was the healthy ones who had walked 8 hours.) The 3 evangelists from their community urged us to help them get Bibles, hymnals, materials for teaching children, and people to help train their Christian leaders.

There was a young man named Peter who had a 9-month course in being a village health worker through the World Health Organization. He had no medications or supplies, but was quite intelligent and had studied his textbook thoroughly and knew the basic diseases and medications for Africa, as well as the names of the main medications and their doses. I spent a lot of time with him instructing about the medications I had and their use for basic infections, malaria, and worms, as well as showing him what we had in the way of dressings and supplies. We left him a basic formulary of medications and supplies, but had to take out with us many of the medications that are harder to use and/or have more risks and side effects. With the blessings of the local officials he and 2 other young men plan to form a health care team to travel into the area villages and help provide care. I think they are capable of this, and can greatly extend the healthcare work we provided. We left a lot of medications, including enough to treat 6-8000 people for malaria and worms.

We had some heavy rain while we were there, and there was fear the airstrip might get so we couldn't fly out. Therefore we had to leave a day early in order to give some leeway. We went on to Kenya and were able to get to Kijabe where we met Betsy and got to see Dr. and Mrs. Bransford and the Bethany Crippled Children's Hospital as well as attend morning worship at the Rift Valley Academy school for missionary kids.

The whole trip was very worthwhile, and although very brief I believe we were able to accomplish a lot.

Please pray for the people of Sudan. Pray for peace, food, and healthcare for them. Especially pray for them to be able to get Bibles and teaching so the many young Christians of the country can grow in their spiritual walk.

I hope to be able to return after the turn of the year to follow-up on things. If any of you or your churches want to help further with your resources I will help send things on to Dennis Bennett (Servant's Heart). I assure you overhead is minimal and the work is good.