Building for the Future in Southern Sudan...

Posted by CMS Ireland on Wed, 08 Jul 2009 | 1 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to Post this to Facebook

In the Summer 2009 edition of inMission magazine David Gough, CMS Ireland’s Regional Mission Partner for Northern and Central Africa, explained how funding from two large international donors was making a huge difference to the work of the local church in Southern Sudan.

He explained: “At the end of last year, we secured funding from the Sudan Recovery Fund (administered by the UNDP) and the Basic Services Fund for Southern Sudan (supported by a range of international donors, including DfiD).

“When we submitted the applications, we weren’t sure if we would be successful – after all we’d never received funding from either of these donors before. But God has amazed us.”

David’s obvious delight is well founded. The generosity of these two donors alone means more than £1,400,000 will be spent in direct support of communities in CMS Ireland’s partner dioceses of Yei, Rokon, Kajokeji and Lainya before the end of 2010. And this in addition to existing programmes in Maridi and the wider Province. But, as David stresses, it’s not all about the money.

“This is about supporting people on the ground. These programmes are the natural outworking of relationships that have been developing for many years. These partnerships mean that, with our support, the local church is now in a position to ensure, amongst other things, the vocational training of more than 200 students, the establishment of new micro-credit schemes, the development of village saving and loan associations, the completion of a new health care centre and two primary schools, the training of over 40 teachers and the provision of more than 20 trained health care workers.”

“In addition, a new mobile clinic will serve 5 rural communities and a refugee camp, clean water will be provided through the drilling of 9 boreholes and community latrines will be built in local villages.”

“These are initiatives that will make a massive difference, right at the heart of local communities devastated by more than 20 years of civil war. They are things that will enable the church to demonstrate Christian love and compassion as they seek to respond to the biblical imperative to look after the vulnerable and the oppressed. They are things that will support a church in mission.”

CMS Ireland Associates, John and Poppy Spens are playing a key role as these programmes are brought to life in Southern Sudan. We spoke to them recently to find out a little bit more about their story and to discuss how they were helping to make a difference in this most troubled of lands.

Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you have been doing for the past few years?

Until 2006, we lived and worked in Hampshire. John worked for 25 years in local government housing and from 2000 he was Chief Executive of a housing association. Poppy worked as a health visitor and triage nurse in Primary Care for 30 years in and around Winchester. We have three sons and when our youngest was at university, we decided that when he had completed his studies, we would go and do something “different”.

In June 2006 we went to Yei in South Sudan on a CMS Ireland short-term experience placement (STEP). We volunteered for one year, but circumstances in Yei resulted in us being in this role for just over 2 years. During this time, John managed the Yei Vocational Training College and Poppy managed the ECS Martha clinic.

Poppy arrived in Yei just as CMS Ireland secured funding from Irish Aid for a new Primary Health Care Centre. She has had a busy but fulfilling time and it is great to see the clinic is now running well with 20 Sudanese staff. Thousands of local people are now able to access medical care each month as a result of this clinic. John had no technical skills but was able to guide the college through a period of growth, with new courses, new buildings and new staff and was encouraged to see how God provided for the College’s financial needs. In addition, he really enjoyed leading devotions and having the opportunity to teach systematically through several books of the Bible to the students.

How did you end up going to Sudan in the first place?

Our vicar knew that we were interested in working abroad and he invited us to join him on a trip to Yei. Jenny Smyth, a former CMS Ireland Mission Partner, used to be a member of our church, and the church had continued to support the Smyth family. So we went on a short visit in February 2005. John was sick for some of the time so his memories of Yei were not too pleasant!

Anyway, after we returned, Poppy enrolled for the Diploma in Tropical Nursing at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and we wrote to CMS Ireland to enquire about any possibilities of service. The reply from Cecil Wilson was lost in the post and so we heard nothing. However, John had a strong impression that we would not know what we would be doing until he had given in his notice. His notice period was 6 months, so one evening in faith, in November 2005, he typed out his notice and put it in his briefcase. Within a few minutes, the phone rang. It was Cecil wondering why we had not replied to his letter…would we be willing to go to Yei? This was great confirmation that we were on the right path.

As you reflect on your time living there what are the things that have encouraged and excited you?

There are many things that have really encouraged us – almost too many to mention! But if we had to pick a few they would probably be:

• The wonderful welcome we received and the friendship and care of so many people, both local and ex-patriate;
• Our surprise at the fact that our skills seem to be transferable in a very different context;
• Being able to share our faith and teach the Bible;
• The enormous support and visits from CMS Ireland and Christ Church Winchester, our home church;
• Seeing God use us, despite our mistakes and inadequacies;
• Feeling we can help to make a difference;
• The way God has provided finances for both projects.

What challenges do you see in the next few years as Southern Sudan begins to rebuild itself?

The peace is fragile and the challenges are immense. A country that has known only war for 21 years is now trying to recover.

2 million died in the war. 4 million of its people fled to other countries. Those who fled to other countries are slowly coming home and the Government of Southern Sudan is trying to show that it is worth returning.

Southern Sudan is a place of building – offices, shops, businesses, schools and, of course, new homes. In February 2010 there will be elections and in 2011 there will be a referendum on the future of Southern Sudan. We need to pray for the Government and for the Church that the peace will last.

This is a huge opportunity for the church to be united and help develop the nation. The church is in an good position with its infrastructure to help development both spiritually and physically, caring for the whole person in holistic mission. But as prosperity comes, what will be the impact of materialism on the church? Could this also be a big threat?

What’s the situation for you now? You no longer live in Sudan on a full time basis so how are you maintaining your connections?

In 2009, we are working in Sudan for the majority of our time, but returning to the UK three times during the year to spend time with family. We have a Dutch assistant in Yei who keeps the work going while we are away and we can keep in touch with her almost daily through email. We may be away from Yei but our work continues almost constantly and there is much we can do from our home in Winchester. It may not be the traditional mission model but we
feel that it works well for us. It is also a model that is understood by our Sudanese colleagues because many of them have their partner or children in Uganda and they return home when they can to see them.

Being at home from time to time is so helpful in terms of prayer support from our home church, family and friends. They can support us in prayer much better when they see us regularly and are up to date with what we are doing in Sudan.

Apart from giving us a break after 2 or 3 months’ intensive work in Yei, being at home keeps us in touch with our family (we have just become grandparents!) and is so helpful in terms of prayer support from our home church, from our family and other friends. They can support us in prayer so much better when they see us regularly and are up to date with what we are doing in Sudan.

The role of ‘Affiliate’ is a new one for CMS Ireland – what does it look like for you?

Because our new way of working does not fit with the more familiar title of ‘Mission Partner’, we are grateful to CMS Ireland for allowing us to continue working with them with a new title of mission ‘affiliate’. We still feel as much connected with CMS Ireland as ever and want to maintain close links. We particularly appreciate the excellent support and help given us by David Gough, our Regional Mission Partner.

What are your hopes for your continued ministry as you take on this new role and way of working?

Poppy does not feel her future role is very different from before, except she is moving on from working solely with the Martha Clinic in Yei. CMS Ireland has been granted funding from Irish Aid for another clinic in Lainya (next door Diocese to Yei) and she is now working with the Bishop of Lainya and the Lainya Health Committee to facilitate this, based on the “Martha” model developed in Yei. Also she will be involved with developing a mobile clinic to go out to villages from Yei on a daily basis. This has been made possible by funding from the Basic Services Fund.

John’s role is very different from what it was. Until the latter part of 2008, he was very heavily involved in the management of the vocational training college. He has passed these responsibilities to local staff and he now has a less formal role as adviser / fund raiser / financial adviser. That has not been an easy role as, for the second quarter of 2009, the College had no access to its local bank account. That crisis is now over and John is spending most of his time coordinating the two major projects for which CMS Ireland secured the funding. It involves close liaison withfour Dioceses and with the County authorities particularly in Yei, Morobo and Lainya. John has taken on a particular responsibility for the construction of two primary schools, on behalf of the Diocese of Yei.

In effect, our home in Yei has become the CMS Ireland “presence” in Southern Sudan and we are the face of CMS Ireland in Sudan so far as the donors are concerned. We are in constant contact with CMS Ireland in Belfast and hardly a day goes by without a dozen emails flying back and forth. This would not have been possible even 10 years ago!

Apart from all this “work”, both of us want to serve the church in any way we can. On Easter Day 2009, John was licensed by the Bishop of Yei as a Lay Reader and has enjoyed several preaching opportunities since then and will be helping the Cathedral’s new PCC. Poppy is developing some work with the Mothers’ Union and is hoping to run some training courses with them over the coming months.

Finally, is there anything in particular that you would value prayer support for?

➢ Strength for all the tasks and discernment about when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’;
➢ Safety in all our travelling;
➢ For Bishop Hilary, the Diocese of Yei and for the spiritual health and growth of local congregations;
➢ Practical details in the implementation of the increasing number, size and complexity of projects;
➢ Continuing good health;
➢ Continuing good relationships with Sudanese people and the local government departments with whom we liase;
➢ Safety during times of insecurity.

Click here for more information on our work in Southern Sudan or here if John and Poppy’s story has encouraged you to think about working with CMS Ireland.