Story from Sudan: A Bag of Leaves

Here’s a sobering story from Kimberly Smith, President of Make Way Partners, our partnering organization in Nyamlel, Sudan.  Mocha Club supports and helped build New Life Orphanage.

About 50 of our 100 acres in Nyamlel are fenced. It takes us 30-45 minutes of slow meditative walking to cover the exterior perimeter. We walk quietly in single file, praying for the protection and healing for those inside and outside the fence.

Inside the safety of our fence, orphans greet us with huge smiles and great hugs. We see them dance and play throughout the day. We hear them drumming and singing praise songs late into the night. We smell their food as it is cooked on open fires three times a day. From “within the fence,” it is difficult to imagine the harsh reality for orphans “outside the fence.”

A prayer walk we had with a team recently brought reality pretty close to home.

As we walked, I noticed a torn, dirty plastic bag on the ground. I asked the team if they knew what it was. In many ways it was an unfair question, because to people who are accustomed to full bellies, it looked like a torn, dirty plastic bag of rubbish. But, from what spilled out of it and from having seen it so many times before, I knew what it was.

I said, “It’s someone’s grocery bag.”


The scenario probably went something like this: a woman, more than likely a widow, with a number of children went out to the bush hoping to find some food. She would have had a jar or can in one or both of her hands, hoping against hope that even in this record-breaking drought she could find a well that still had enough water in it that she would be able to draw up enough of its reserve to boil whatever food she found. She would also have a baby strapped by a sheet on her back and a large cloth balanced on her head to bind up and carry home whatever food she hoped to find.

Like most of the widows and orphans in Sudan, her only food-find for the day was – once again – leaves. So, she gathered what she could stuff in her small, plastic bag which had obviously been used this way many times before. The only food her grocery store held for her today was a sack of leaves that would provide no nutrition for her young children, but she would boil them in water hoping to comfort her babies by bloating their bellies with leaves – at least they would feel full.

She would deal with the dysentery the leaves caused tomorrow; today she would focus on the only comfort she could provide – a sack of leaves.

She then took the dirty cloth from atop her head and placed the torn bag, now stuffed full of the fruit of her day’s labor, inside it. Next she tied the four corners of the cloth together and balanced it once again atop her head.

Imagine the several-mile walk back home after her long day of searching the wild countryside for food and water. Imagine her worry. Imagine her emotionally “checking out,” not paying attention to all the details so that she might not hurt for her children so deeply. Imagine her bending over to take her hungry, crying baby off her back to nurse him with what little milk her malnourished breast would offer.

Now, imagine with all the distraction, perhaps the knot she made with the four corners of her cloth was not tight enough, or perhaps a hole wore through it as the sticks and thorny leaves braised it as it bounced along her walk through the bristly bush. All we know for sure is that somehow, her only yield of the day, her only food offering for her children wriggled its way from her sack and fell to the ground.

As we the team, who almost all carry a few extra pounds from a few too many full grocery bags, stood around absorbing the sobering realities, a dozen orphans from outside the gate gathered around us. Some of them were about five-years-old carrying naked babies only a few months old. Some were half-naked, maybe wearing a shirt alone. All of them were stick-thin. Shaking the hands of the orphans, looking at the “grocery bag,” we each knew we had come to this place for more than ministry inside the safety of our fence, but to see what is outside.  And to tell the story.

Each night after our prayer walk, we close in a team devotion.  On this particular evening, we each explored what fear, doubt, selfishness keeps us at a far distance from those we are called to help – as it says in Matthew 25 in the Bible: “…I was naked, and you clothed me…hungry, and you fed me…thirsty, and you gave me drink…”

As we closed our devotion by sharing Communion, we spread the leaves from the bag on the table [see photo above].  They were a sobering reminder of our call to participate in both the suffering and beauty of Christ in this world.

Thank you for your sacrifice that provides real food and care to the orphans of Sudan.

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