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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One Day’s Wages

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Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it. I don't care if it sounds mushy but sunsets are one of my love languages. Seoul, Korea was amazing but WOW...what a breathtaking welcome back sunset by Seattle. Not ready to let go of summer. Seattle. 7:00pm. Desperately holding on to summer. #goldengardenpark #nofilter Happy Birthday, Minhee! I'm so grateful for you. You radiate faith, hope, and love.  No...you don't complete me. That would be silly and simply humanly impossible but you keep pointing me and our family to Christ who informs and transforms our lives, marriage, family, and ministry. Thanks for being so faithful. I love you so much. (* And what a gift to be in Korea together.)

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