Eugene Cho

These feet walked over 300 kilometers for safety, food, and water. Will you walk with her?

I had intended to write my reflections from my Horn of Africa assessment trip immediately after I returned.

But I couldn’t.

I wanted to but I couldn’t. There was too much to process.

First, let me encourage you to please read a post I wrote earlier entitled, “Africa is beautiful: The danger of how we frame the story of other people and nations.” I want to make sure that I don’t perpetuate this monolithic perspective where people only think of poverty as synonymous with Africa.

Now, I’m not a newbie to travels to difficult areas of the world. As part of my work as the founder and visionary of One Day’s Wages, I’ve seen my share of suffering and pain.

But the image that stood out the most for me from this trip were these feet (above). [You can click it to see the high-res picture].

Sahara’s story

These feet belong to a woman named Sahara. Through our translator, I received permission to share her story. Sahara and those two feet traveled 300 kilometers (a little under 200 miles) – some by cart and some by foot – as they sought to escape the worst drought that has impacted East Africa (Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia) in the past 60 years.

This is not a misprint.

She traveled about 200 miles on cart and foot. She did not travel alone. She traveled with her husband who I was not able to meet because he was staying with one of his other wives in this polygamist community.  She did not travel alone. She also traveled with her six children – the youngest being about 1 and the oldest being around 8. She had just given birth to her sixth child when they began her journey. Her youngest was severely malnourished when they arrived to this new settlement in a town called Benane.

There’s good news and bad news.

Sahara survived her journey in search – literally – of greener pastures, humanitarian aid, and resources. There’s good news and bad news:

  • Her children – all six of them – survived this journey. According to some organizations and resources, her children were fortunate. It is estimated that over 30,000 children died as they traveled for safety, food, aid, and water  – most taking place in Somalia.
  • Her children survived but couple were severely malnourished – especially her youngest child – who she just gave birth to before they embarked on this 200 mile journey. Through aid and relief work, food vouchers and rations have helped this young baby progress in her health. When I checked her health with a local NGO workers/nurse, the baby was now only “moderately malnourished”.
  • Sahara has personal medical issues that she’ll likely not able to get assistance for. One of the first things I noticed in my conversation with her was the large lump in her throat. As not to embarrass her but I did not ask her for the details but I fear that it may be a large cancerous tumor.
  • This family lost nearly all of their livestock which included, in her estimation, 100 cows, 100 goats, and 100 camels. They were now left with…one goat. For such a pastoralist community (livestock and grazing dependent), this crisis was life changing. This family – like so many – lost everything.

There’s still work to be done.

Aid, relief work, and development are always complex and messy.

Anyone that tells you different is lying, selling something, doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and/or all of the above.

But in spending a work – traveling with other relief workers – and hosted by one of our Horn of Africa partner, World Concern, I can assure you that – in the midst of pain, tragedy, and a lot of complexities and messiness – lives are being impacted and empowered. I am humbled that so many gave generously to ODW’s Horn of Africa Fund.

But there’s more work to be done.

From United Nations’ recent report on the Horn of Africa, progress has certainly been made. At its peak, over 13 million people were impacted by this crisis. The “worse” is over but as the world turns its attention to other events, we forget that there’s still a deep humanitarian need. In fact, about 9.1 million people are still in need of assistance.

So, I ask you to join me in doing three things:

  1. Pray for the situation and for those affected. Pray for the relief workers that are on the ground.
  2. Please help share this story – far and wide.
  3. As you’re able, convicted, or led, I want to invite you to consider giving to the relief and rebuilding work via ODW’s Horn of Africa Relief Fund. 100% of your donations (minus credit card fees) will go to support our NGO partners (World Concern, Adeso, and Concern Worldwide). You can give a donation, donate your upcoming birthday to this fund, start an Idea for a Cause, create a church or group campaign, etc.

Will you walk with those who are suffering?

For some reason, I was drawn to Sahara’s feet. Not instantly but when she shared that she had traveled about 300 kilometers, I was drawn to her feet.

Perhaps…as a reminder to commiserate what it must have felt to be in her shoes or rather… feet.

It’s not guilt, fear, or shame…but I invite you to join me in walking with those who are suffering around the world.

————————————————————–

* Sahara was generous in welcoming me and my colleagues to her home. They lost everything and so resources like blankets, malaria nets, cookies supplies, jerry cans, etc. were supplied through our NGO partners. Food vouchers and access to water and medicine were also made accessible.


I don’t remember her name but this is one of Sahara’s six children. In response to what she dreamed for her children, “Education. I want them to be teachers, doctors, or police officers…in the future.”

The youngest child arrived “severely malnourished” to the new settlement. Thankfully, her health has been improving and was recently assessed “moderately malnourished.”

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7 Responses

  1. steph chang says:

    Pastor Eugene, Thank you so much for taking the time to share. So humbling, so convicting.

  2. I, myself, have never traveled to Africa or other third-world areas of the world, but I’ve always wanted to, and your blog post just deepens that desire. Sahara’s story is inspiring and sad, and one that I’ll be sure to share with fellow ministers and friends and family members alike. Thank you so much for taking the time to share her story—and thanks to Sahara for sharing her struggles.

  3. Elizabeth P says:

    Dear Pastor Cho,

    While you made a nod to not wanting to perpetuate the stereotype that Africa is a continent of poverty, your subsequent story does exactly that. And your earlier post, while featuring some lovely photos and a discussion of the strength of community values, also perpetuates another stereotype, the stereotype that the continent is “beautiful” but troubled.

    May I suggest your next trip to the continent – and some of your reading in the meantime – focus on the incredible economic growth that many parts of sub-Saharan Africa has seen in the face of a worldwide economic downturn?

    If you want to think about some of the nuances and ways to pray for African economic growth, you might want to look at this interesting Economist article talking about the strengths and weaknesses of African entrepreneurs: http://www.economist.com/node/21557373. And to hear about the strengths of African businesspeople, check out this one from the Harvard Business Review: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/03/what_africas_entrepreneurs_can.html.

    Peace,

    Elizabeth

  4. […] how about the story of Sahara, a woman I met in Kenya who walked nearly 200 miles to escape a devastating […]

  5. Miranda Lane says:

    Check out Walk 4 Water on Facebook. My friend Amy and some others are walking across Africa for women like Sahara.

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She was a devoted wife until she lost her husband to cancer, mother to three daughters, and later became a pastor. She became a follower of Christ as an adult and as such, led her her family to Christ. In her late 50s, she obeyed God's calling to go to seminary and be a leader in the church. She graduated #1 in her class and reminded us that it's never too late to follow a new dream or calling.

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Someday, I hope that when my kids speak of Minhee and I...above all, they would say with integrity that their parents prayed for them and kept pointing them to Christ. On this Mother's Day, I want to take a few words to honor mother.

There’s a moment from a few years ago that will stick with me until the day I die. It’s regarding Sung Wha, my mother.

Minhee and I were at a point of transition, between working at an ethnic Korean church in the northern suburbs of Seattle called Lynnwood and launching Quest in urban Seattle. As I shared earlier, I was in desperate need of a job. I had a mortgage to pay. A pregnant wife. A kid at home. 
Then, praise God, after months without work, I finally landed a job.

My mom was in between jobs at this point in her life. She was in her late fifties, but she had such bad knees and degenerative hips that it was, and is, difficult for her to walk. My mom is like a human barometer—when a storm is coming and when it rains, her hips throb. Although my parents lived in San Francisco, she was visiting us in Seattle to encourage us in this difficult season.

As I prepared to go to work one early morning, I walked downstairs to put on my jacket and shoes, and forgot that my mother woke up early every morning to pray. In fact, she had been praying for months that I would find a job. “Eugene, where are you going?” she said when she saw me.

I hadn’t told my mother the news that I had just recently been hired for the janitorial gig at Barnes and Noble. I chose not to because I thought she and my father would be devastated. I didn’t want them to think that after laboring, sacrificing, and doing so much for us over all those years that their son had failed them.

But I couldn’t lie to her, so eventually I told my mom that I got a job and was going to work. “Great! What job? What are you doing?” “Um, I’m working at Barnes and Noble as their custodian,” I said finally.

Without asking another question, my mother got up from the dining table where she had been reading her Bible and praying. She slowly walked slowly toward me.

She approached me, then walked past me without saying a word, and I realized she was headed toward the closet. She opened the closet door, put on her jacket, turned around and said to me (in Korean), “Eugene, let’s go together. I will help you.” This is my mother.

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