Adaptability Amidst Challenges

A Letter from Jim and Jodi McGill, serving in Niger and South Sudan

February 2018

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Dear friends and family,

We celebrated our first Christmas in Niger with a 3-hour Christmas service at our small church, followed by a potluck-style feast — which was primarily meat, as the many herder groups within Niger love to celebrate with lots of meat. On that day, the gates of the Church remained open throughout the day and during the feast, so whoever passed by was welcome to come and participate in the Christmas feast. There were therefore many young men and children who joined, and all shared together without signs of any discrimination or hesitation.

It was our first Christmas without Michael and Jason, who spent Christmas with the Frank Dimmock Family (19 of them) at Mission Haven. They were also able to visit with Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather and kids, who serve in South Sudan, as they were at Mission Haven during the holiday. Thanks to a family group chat, we were able to share celebrations of the day together in real-time.

Ten years ago, Jim was first invited to Akobo in South Sudan to support the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan’s (PCOSS) Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency (PRDA) and the PC(USA) in getting water to the hospital. Since that visit, how to best support the PRDA in its development work in water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) has been a calling, an opportunity and a challenge. One major challenge to working in South Sudan is that Juba is currently not an appropriate place for our family to live. We have found that the place that does work for the family is here in Niamey, Niger. Indeed, the Health and WaSH work of our partner church here, the Eglise Evangelique de la Republic du Niger (EERN), is another calling and another opportunity, and it also holds additional challenges for both Jim and Jodi.

Jim is to spend 25% of his time with the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency (PRDA) in South Sudan, and 75% of his time with the EERN in Niger. This means two or three trips a year to South Sudan working with the PRDA to assist in establishing some long-term interventions for WaSH. Key to sustainable interventions is national staff with whom to work, at least one person who can be a stable central contact for a WaSH Department, whom his work will support. Hiring staff means salaries, and salaries come from proposals that are submitted and accepted, so Jim is working with others to write proposals for programs to begin.

Last November and December, Jim returned to Juba. During his previous visit in April/May 2017, he spent much effort to establish a location for building a workshop, a permanent location from which the PRDA could base its WaSH work. At that time, it appeared that the same property on which the Nile Theological College is based could be used to construct the WaSH workshop. However, when Jim arrived back in Juba to proceed with the construction of the workshop, we learned that young men who had grown up within the orphanage that is located on the property were laying claim to the land. They had stolen our diesel generator during the interim, and began threatening the builders we hired to construct the workshop. While in many places law enforcement would be expected to handle this situation, that was not an option. After much discussion, our partners agreed that it would be best to shift the workshop to a property that is entirely and legally owned by the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, so we are now prepared to build the workshop during the next visit planned for this April/May.

Doug with Issaka.

Image 1 of 3

Although the workshop could not be constructed as planned, the visit was beneficial to the overall planning. The SMART Centre Group founder, Mr. Henk Holtslag, arrived from the Netherlands to train local fabricators in the production of low-cost WaSH products, to help continue with the training of manual drillers, to support the Household Water Filter Project, and to promote the WaSH development work of the PRDA in Juba through a workshop with the Juba WaSH cluster. Although the plan to use the workshop for these trainings was thwarted, the trainings were able to go forward at the fabricators’ personal workshops. Thanks to the adaptability of Henk, all of the activities other than the construction of the workshop that were planned for the trip were accomplished.

So while the work is challenging and slow, we know this is the nature of development work. With time, we believe people’s lives will begin to benefit from this holistic work of the Church. In the case of South Sudan, one long-term effect of development is adding stability in situations where there has been so much instability for so long. Any progress towards stability is certainly worth the efforts.

The opening of the EERN nursing school, H.E.S.P., is delayed as we await approval from the government. In the meantime, Jodi is using the time to continue to deepen and widen contacts in Niamey — contacts that can benefit the school’s students in terms of training and being able to offer training to the nursing staff at local facilities where the students will be doing their practical training. The school will be bilingual, French and English, so we are also working out the details of that.

In early February, we were pleased to receive our first visitor, Doug West, from Chestertown, MD, who brought the first supplies for the school’s practical room. Thank you to Huntingdon Presbyterian Church for helping to start us out with a teaching stethoscope, baby practice models for resuscitation, a heart and lung sound CD, plus other equipment. They also sent some supplies for the clinic and money to be used to purchase a baby scale.

As with implementing WaSH in South Sudan, a pressing need is finding staff with whom we can work together to move the nursing school forward. Most church functions are carried out by people who work full-time, and their church duties are on top of their already full lives. H.E.S.P. needs to find resources to be able to hire three key staff people who can carry forward the vision and work of the church through the school. Then after a couple of years, as the numbers of students increase, the school will be self-sufficient and can hire more teachers one by one.

In addition to staffing needs, we continue to ask for prayers for all of our children and for Sahel Academy and the American International School, as both schools will need to replace nearly two-thirds of their teaching staff. Plus, the Christian school’s (Sahel Academy) director of the school and the one special needs teacher are retiring.

Thank you for walking with us and our partners in Niger and S. Sudan.

Jodi and Jim


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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