Reading for the Future

A military tank crawled by in the background. We all stole glances at each other. I was down to my last interview question with Rebecca and it seemed that it was time to hit the road for other reasons too.

For two days we had been in and out of Rebecca’s life. A single mother living outside Wau, South Sudan, who was to be the focus of a World Concern video. Her smile was full and sincere but heavy. When something made her laugh, she didn’t hold back. She laughed till the lines on her face seemed to hold themselves in place. But, like for many of us, there was a somber reality on the other side of things.

dsc_6797-webIn our initial conversation I asked her about the adult literacy classes World Concern was helping to provide for the community. She said that many people were interested in joining the class, not just children.

“I will buy a phone to call and text people when I earn some more money,” she said. In an area where cell phone coverage can be spotty, the ability to communicate via text would be extremely valuable.

Rebecca has experienced a lot of death and loss in her life. Four of her brothers were killed in front of her. Her father. Her friends. Four of her children. Her husband. Despite the suffering, losing her husband was the last step in bringing her back to her faith.

“When he married me, he was not baptized so I had no chance to be committed to church,” she said.

Her mother was a pastor, which inspired Rebecca’s faith at a young age. After she got married, even though she wasn’t able to attend church, she tried to hold on to her faith.

At one point, her whole family was sick so she went to a traditional witch doctor to help. She had lost two children in the same day. In the hopes of finding the cause of the deaths, she gave the witchdoctor 18 goats and 29 chickens. In the end he wasn’t able to help.

Then of her friends said, “Yom, if you didn’t find any success through the witchdoctor, try it through the church.” This became the start of her journey back towards her faith.

“That is when I knelt before God and said thank you and forgive me for all the bad things I did,” she said. “I want to be with God alone, nothing else.”

Even though she has lost so many people in her life she feels like the church has become a new family for her. They have supported her in many ways—taking her to the hospital, helping her with clothes—even helping her build a house.

“I go to school because I need to know how to read the Bible,” she said. “The Bible is what changed me.”

World Concern is dedicated to working with the local church in order to also empower members of the community. With this method in mind, support is given to the community in a holistic manner through agriculture training and seed loans, creation of a clean water supply, spiritual development, savings groups and literacy classes.

“I cannot read. It is a person who can read who knows about the future, but for us we are like blind people. We just look up to God for everything,” she said. “I wish God would guide us to not have the same war situation again.”

As we walked away we told her that there was news of warfare in the region and asked her to be careful.

A week after I left Wau, fighting broke out nearby and hasn’t really stopped since. Many have died. Many have been displaced. And in the quiet spaces I wonder how Rebecca is and if she’s still learning to read. Maybe soon she’ll be able to send me a text herself and tell me how she’s doing.

Photos and text by Christena Dowsett