Tears Run From My Eyes

I’m a pretty emotional guy but lately tears seem to run from my eyes even more often.

I cried the day our Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act and then again when they ruled on Same Sex Marriage.

I cried the day the Confederate Flag came down over the state house in South Carolina.

I cried while watching Woman in Gold.

I cried when my daughter drove off to Vermont for her last year of college.

That was just last week.

It could be the stage of life in which I find myself, in fact I’m sure that has something to do with it, but I’m beginning to see that it is has much more to do with the events going on around me. I am moved by our ability to resolve intensely partisan issues in America followed up by dog walking, dinner out, So You Think You Can Dance and a sound night's sleep. Meanwhile our friends in South Sudan are again watching peace and opportunity dissolve into the horizon.

I’m used to crying whenever my plane takes off from Yei South Sudan with emotions and thoughts whirling around my head and heart- I’m used to it now. I mean these are my people, my friends. They have suffered for years, most from the day they were born, through agonizing war, unspeakable atrocities, and middle of the night deaths of children, parents and friends. A good week is a week where a meal is eaten once daily. A good year, where enough funds were available for everyone to attend school, whether under a mango tree or a scorching hot corrugated roof.

My life toggles back and forth between The United States and South Sudan; between “success” and “failure;” between hope and despair.

It’s that back and forth physically and emotionally that takes a toll. Why do some people suffer so much?

I wonder why I won the grand prize in the Longitude and Latitude birth lottery?

Why my home country makes decisions on divisive issues dividing “tribes” for decades yet life moves on peacefully, while theirs never seems to get past conflict.

The last 35 years of the 19th century, the post-Civil War years, were years of unprecedented industrial growth and economic expansion in the United States. For Sudan it was those same years that they began to fully experience the oppression of “colonization” by Britain through Egypt. America prepared for her century while Sudan slid into oblivion.

The average South Sudanese lives no differently today than they did in 1865.

In 1956 when my good friend Bishop Taban was born, Sudan exploded into fighting that is still going on today. In the year that Elvis Presley burst onto the music charts, SONY invented small electronics, and portable TVs catalyzed our infatuation with television, Sudan began a long slide that we have all been working hard to arrest, sometimes with great success and sometimes with great frustration.

Lots of questions bounce around my soul; I think ultimately that is why I find my cheeks stained in these days.

I was born into plenty where food is so available I actually grow bored of the choices. Americans now throw away three times as much food as we did in 1956. Two thirds of the population of South Sudan is now facing severe food shortages, one notch down from starvation.

In 2005 peace came to Sudan when the CPA was signed. A year later the vision for Water is Basic grew from a gathering of religious leaders who knew water was essential to peace and prosperity. By the time South Sudan was birthed in July of 2011 we had already completed 350 wells and the world’s hearts were full of hope for this newest nation on earth.

Over the last decade I have travelled more than 1,000,000 miles, spending nearly 3 months of my life on planes, just to do what I can to connect the people of the United States, my highly blessed birth country, to the people of my adopted country South Sudan.

Great headway has been made in education, commerce, clean water, life expectancy and most importantly hope.

But all of that is on the line right now. In fact things are worse today than they were in 2011 when Bishop Taban wrote his op-ed piece for the New York Times. South Sudan is in a terrible place where death and fear is creating massive displacement (IDPs). When you aren’t home to plant or harvest, well, that leads to food shortages. Wells that have been giving life for years are abandoned while other wells are groaning under the pressure of giving up their precious water to so many homeless people.

To be honest we could all be a bit discouraged and ready to give up. Some are. Many are not. Inflation is crazy, food costs are skyrocketing and fuel is scarce but people from all over the world who have committed their lives to birthing this new nation are hanging tough. Just like the people of South Sudan are doing.

Just like the Water is Basic crew is doing. They have drilled and repaired 61 wells so far this year. Our first new land cruiser truck will arrive this week. We are working on a well rehabilitation program with several partners. Dale Carnegie said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” The people that make up Water is Basic keep on trying.

Unfortunately last week I had to ask our team to slow down on repairs. We simply don’t have the funds to go at the pace they are now capable of moving at. My eyes welled up sending that email.

In South Sudan there is hope. These are a resourceful, determined, hard working lot. They are people of great faith and I believe a people with a great future. We will not abandon them now and we fully expect to see water as a normal part of everyone’s life one day.

I live in a land of plenty where what Americans collectively spend every 30 minutes would wipe out the water problem for good in South Sudan. We have money, they have determination, and together we make a damn good team.  

We are grateful for your support, but please consider now how you will help even more. Will you encourage one person to join you in supporting our work? Will you consider increasing your giving during this crucial time? Will you connect me to those who just need to know a bit more before jumping in? Honestly I can’t be everywhere all the time, we need all of us to spread the news, to give that old car or boat or ring to summon the call.

Now is the time

Steve Roese