Submitted by Jeannine Cauthen, Mason’s Chapel United Methodist Church, Hazel, Ky.
GRACE Home for Children was founded in 2013 as a response to the overwhelming number of orphaned, abandoned, and vulnerable children resulting from war and lack of medical services in the new nation of South Sudan. That year, the first home was completed by the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church in the village of Pukuka, and in 2015, a second home was built in the village of Kenyi through the efforts of people in the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church in cooperation with Holston. It has been a blessing to be a part of this ministry.
My involvement began in 2012 when I made my first trip to South Sudan with a VIM team from the Memphis Conference led by Rev. Michael Blake and Beth Brown. Rev. Richard Dowdy from our district was also on the trip. While there, we spent a good bit of our time in the village of Kenyi where we were installing a concrete floor in the United Methodist Church there. There were children everywhere!! In fact, more than 200 who were orphaned or vulnerable. Most of these children were living in the homes of extended family, but there were about a dozen children living behind the church in some abandoned huts. These huts had huge holes in their thatch roofs, and the children were sleeping on a dirty old blue tarp on the dirt floor. The church was trying to take care of them best they could, by at least providing some food. These children just stole my heart.
The youngest boy, Manasseh, was about five years old. He had been found crying on the roadside, abandoned by his mother. He was suffering from malnutrition—he was pot-bellied and had a dull, glassy-eyed look to him. The youngest girl, Grace, was about the same age. I took a picture of the two of them together in their tattered clothing. Grace was carrying another smaller child on her back, and she had beads of sweat rolling down her face. She had a haggard look in her eyes, one that had no place on the face of a five year old little girl.
Before we even left South Sudan, our team made a commitment to raise funds to meet the physical and educational needs of these children and to construct a home for them similar to the one already under construction in Pukuka. Through the generous donations of many people, this dream became a reality.
Our team, along with my husband, Joe, returned to South Sudan in 2014. The home in Kenyi was just about complete. The children looked so much better. I would hardly have known little Manasseh and little Grace. They looked nothing like the photo that was etched in my mind. They had beaming smiles, clean clothes, and looked so healthy and happy.
The children at both homes have thrived. All are healthier, more outgoing, and one girl is even first in her class in school. Through sleepovers and get-togethers, the 23 kids from Pukuka and the 13 kids from Kenyi have become family. Both groups have “mamas” that live with them 24 hours a day, making this a REAL home and not an institution. They have lots of father figures. The Director, the compound managers, and the guards all live there as well. The children’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are being met. Praise God!
Unfortunately, as civil war broke out last July, on the fifth anniversary of the struggling new nation, circumstances have changed. The children were forced to flee their homes to go to Uganda. They are currently living in tents in a refugee camp there. It was quite an ordeal for them. They had to spend several rainy days and nights in the bush, traveling on foot with no food. A couple of the boys sustained some very bad wounds, but they got the care they needed in Uganda and are healed. The GOOD news is that, while there are challenges for the kids in the camp, they are all 36 together as a family with their mamas. The commitment of the staff to the well-being and safety of these children is amazing.
Right now, the goal is to get the children out of the camp and into a new home in Uganda where we can continue our commitment to care for them and educate them. We want them to once again experience the stability they found at their homes in South Sudan. Hopefully, when peace is restored they can return to their homes. The future of this young nation depends on the youth.
If you are interested in more information, Joe and I would be happy to answer any questions or to give a presentation to your church or group. We can be reached at 270-293-4255 or 270-227-2704. In the meantime, please PRAY for these children and for PEACE in South Sudan.