Sunday, February 25, 2007
Darfur Heroics: Edward Lyons
Allison Brophy Champion
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Some 50,000 men, women and children exist in a refugee camp in the village of Jach in southern Sudan. They’ve fled their homes to save their lives and subsist on just the very basics.
“Their stories are all the same,” said Edward Lyons, ministry advancement coordinator with the Persecution Project Foundation of Culpeper.
“The Janjaweed militia comes into their village in the Darfur area - men killed, women raped, children abducted and sold into slavery, villages burned.”
For three decades, the northern African country has been wracked by civil war and the Janjaweed, backed by the Sudan government, has killed at least 200,000 people in the past several years.
Another 2 million Darfurians have fled their homes, most of them crowding into refugee camps like the one in Jach.
The crisis is so substantial that some might believe there is little that can be done to bring relief to those who are suffering, but not the Persecution Project Foundation, founded 1997.
“You know the story of the little boy with the starfish? A man sees him picking them up from the shore and throwing back them into the ocean, and says, ‘You’ll never save them all,” and the boy says, ‘Well, I can save this one.’
“That’s how we feel,” said 40-year-old Lyons, who left a career as a math teacher at St. Luke’s Lutheran School in Culpeper to work full-time with PPF, a Christian relief organization.
This month, the husband and father of two joined other PPF workers on a relief trip to Sudan. During their two weeks in Africa, the group spent time in Jach in the refugee camp established 2005 by the Culpeper-based organization.
They arrived in an Antonov-32 airplane filled with five-tons of supplies - tarps, mosquito nets (to provide protection from malaria), medicine, maize, solar-powered/hand-cranked radios, Bibles in Arabic and more.
In the weeks before, PPF delivered other planeloads of necessities for the 50,000 refugees including well-drilling equipment, other foodstuffs and simple things like pots for cooking or fishing hooks for those who live close enough to a river.
Jach is “very barren with very little food or water,” Lyons said, but the people make due with what they have.
Arriving Darfurians use a tarpaulin for shelter and sleep on the ground while others, who have been in the camp for longer, build “permanent” shelters made of broken tree branches and elephant grass for the roof.
PPF, working with the people, has drilled five completed wells in the area and has contracted for another 10. The women will line up and wait for as long as six hours to fill their jugs with clean water, Lyons said.
A dirt airstrip separates the Muslims from Christians, he said, and the two religious groups drink from different wells. However, there is no fighting among the refugees, Lyons said, unlike religious-based persecution elsewhere in Sudan.
Because the landing strip is dirt, PPF can’t fly into the area year-round, especially during the rainy season June through October. The evangelistic organization, however, hopes to raise the $30,000 or so that it will take to convert the runway into an all weather surface, Lyons said.
PPF also offers medical services through a small clinic in Jach, and recently hired a trained nurse named Peter.
“The days we were there he was seeing about 120 people a day,” Lyons said, mentioning the primary, mostly waterborne ailments suffered by refugees: upper respiratory illnesses, typhoid, malaria and dysentery.
In addition, PPF runs a school in southern Sudan, located in close proximity to Kenya. About 750 boys and girls - orphans of the country’s civil war - attend the Nakwatom Heritage Academy, which goes up to the eighth grade. The school also provides training in carpentry, masonry, and the like, Lyons said.
The students are extremely well behaved, eager to learn and not distracted by the large classes - about 60 per pupils per class, he said.
Upon finishing the eighth grade, they take a test and - if they excel - are given the opportunity to continue their education in Kenya.
“That’s their way out,” Lyons said.
In Jach, likewise, young people crave education and are not hindered by a lack of supplies. Absent a chalkboard, students peeled back the bark from a big tree for that purpose. It just so happened that Lyons had brought some chalk and the tree blackboard worked just fine.
He visited various areas around Sudan during his two-week visit in an experience that he described as “eye-opening.” Besides meeting the people’s essential needs, PPF workers took every opportunity to spread Christianity.
It on this rock that the organization is founded.
“Even though we can’t be in all the villages, maybe we can train 20 pastors and they will go to 20 different villages, and who knows what will happen?” Lyons said. “God is in the order of multiplication.”
Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at 825-0771 ext. 101 or firstname.lastname@example.org