Help in the Face of War

by Gerry Lynch last modified 01 Dec, 2016 10:20 PM

Sudan Medical Link representatives visit Juba and Wau

Two representatives of the Diocese’s Sudan Medical Link have recently returned from South Sudan, where they spent a fortnight in training, monitoring and getting to know people on the ground.

The Revd Dr John Rennie, a surgeon who is also a priest and deanery misisoner for Sherborne, and Dr Robin Sadler, who is a worshipper and Lay Worship Leader in Horton and Chalbury, departed for the East African country in some trepidation as large parts are in the grip of civil war.

“It was with a real sense of foreboding that we approached the runway at Juba”, wrote John, “After weeks of planning and dreadful reports of insecurity across the land , the thick clouds and bumpy approach certainly didn't help calm our nerves.”

After a chaotic passage through immigration and baggage reclaim, however, the brace of medics found a warm welcome from Bishop Samuel of the Diocese of Nzara and a team of local medics. That warm welcome would continue throughout the visit, and lightened the mood considerably.

That is not to say there is not a real crisis in many parts of South Sudan. In Juba, the visitors saw people queueing for petrol for up to two days; travel after dark is dangerous, and is so even during the day in some areas. For safety reasons, planned visits to Maridi and Yambio had to be cancelled, and some bishops have not been to their dioceses for two years. 90% have sent their families abroad for safety.

The team did manage a two day visit to Wau, in the west of the country, where among other things they taught the basics of surgery at a local hospital. They made the trip in a ten seater plane flying at 10,000ft.

There are several hundred thousands of refugees in and around Wau, 4,000 alone on the compound of the Roman Catholic Cathedral. With a local Roman Catholic priest, they visited villages around the city which had been abandoned after incidents of ethnic cleansing.

“It was like the Marie Celeste”, said Dr John, “Doors were fixed open, contents had disappeared, many were burnt, some to the ground … it was a real scorched earth punishment.”

Across the country, they found frustration among South Sudanese at the ethnic divisions bedevilling their country and political obsession with them. They also felt unable to discuss some of the most difficult challenges facing the country, especially a view sometimes expressed that the army is out of control and behind most of the misery across the country.

Amid the strife there is real compassion: in Wau, the team stayed with Sr Gracie, a Roman Catholic nun from Kerala with a remarkable ministry at the hospital, key to ensuring medical skills are spread. In Juba, they visited a home where eighty abandoned or orphaned children are educated, fed and loved.

One of only two orthopaedic surgeons in the country has returned to his native land from what had been a very comfortable life settled in Bergen in Norway; other talented people had returned from the UK, across Europe and the New World to try to rebuild their homeland.

The team was able to visit people key to the Sudan Medical Links’ work, such as Rama, an Indian businessman in Juba who is responsible for importing the drugs the Link provides for clinics.

There was time for fellowship with fellow Christians in and out of the medical world as well as for work. The visitors attended Synod of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, and worshipped with local parishes on Sunday – inspired by the energetic local worship style and magnificent congregational singing.

The Sudan Medical Link was set up in 1983 by Bishop John and Jill Baker as an offshoot to the Sudan Link. It funds the training of clinical officers, nurses, midwives and other clinical staff to provide high quality care, working with the bishops of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, providing funding for services to dioceses ravaged by years of civil war. This includes purchasing and distributing basic medicines to clinics.

The Sudan Medical Link is entirely dependent on the support of the communities in the Diocese of Salisbury. Have a look at their webpage here.

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