the “Better Together” blog

South Sudan ceasefire must hold to avert famine: U.N. – REUTERS

Posted by on Jun 6, 2014 in Featured, the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

South Sudan ceasefire must hold to avert famine: U.N. – REUTERS

JUBA (Reuters) – South Sudan can only avoid famine if a shaky ceasefire holds and people displaced by more than five months of fighting are able to return home in the next few weeks to plant crops before the rains, a senior U.N. official said. Donors pledged more than $600 million in May to help avert a crisis which aid agencies said could be the biggest since the 1984 Ethiopian famine, with 3.5 million people already suffering from acute or emergency-level food shortages, including a million unable to meet basic needs, the United Nations says. This already meant the situation was desperate even if it did not meet the formal definition of famine, the South Sudan’s U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization head Sue Lautze said. “If you were a non-technical person and going to the community, you’d say, ‘Wow, this looks to me like a famine,’” she told Reuters. Read Complete...

Read More

Peace: South Sudan’s Way Forward and Hope for a Shared Future

Posted by on Feb 28, 2014 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

Our Beloved Community, We’re so thankful for you and your shared comments and prayers for South Sudan these past weeks! What amazing and precious sisters and brothers we serve alongside of. Please know how grateful we are for you. Know, also, you can expect further updates and ways you can help via our website in the days ahead with regard to what’s transitioned from isolated clashing in parts of South Sudan to more widespread violence and renewed warfare throughout many regions in this new nation. The saying ‘it’s complicated’ reigns true in so many contexts, and it’s very much the case with regard to South Sudan and the greater Sudan to which it was connected until 2011. South Sudan is a country that has lived in a state of sustained crisis and war for decades. The reasons for this are legion: resisting greater Sudan’s militant government and its hardline policies that led to southern-targeted mass violence and systematic destruction campaigns; the quest for vast southern natural resources; extreme poverty and its lack of opportunity; ethnic and religious differences. The list could continue but the bottom line is this: the 2005 peace agreement ending decades of civil war between Sudan’s north and south, the same agreement that paved the way for South Sudan’s cessation from greater Sudan in 2011, has not ended the clashings. The strife – some still between the two nations, and now the civil violence occurring along ethnic lines within South Sudan, continues. So does the suffering and consequences accompanying such violent cycles. With other friends and organizations serving in South Sudan, Sister Effect is evaluating paths forward to continue our female-centric development work in areas of clean water, better health, economic opportunity and care of orphans. These are important as each area meets human needs as we share the hope of the gospel. We are committed to such efforts. But just as importantly, we’re working to come alongside our sisters in this nation in the area of peace education. This sounds more complex and elusive than it is – and here’s why it’s really not either: We often surmise peace as the absence of direct violence. We tend to hail agreements ending wars as inaugurators of harmony and goodwill among a nation’s people. But ending violence is only peace’s beginning. Put simply, we often don’t remember real peace is holistic and positive. It’s constructive-dynamic. It gives-breathes life, offers hope of a shared future and carves paths toward forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. And this kind of peace, this “shalom” God speaks of, is what allows us to see others as ourselves. It transforms us so our shared humanity is common ground enough to live and work alongside one another in life-giving and sustainable ways. For those who try and follow the ways of Jesus, we know His peace in us causes us to love others (albeit imperfectly) in ways where we long for unity and work wholeheartedly to constructively transform conflict so violence isn’t given an opportunity. We also strive to address inequities in social, economic, and political structures that can eventually give way to more direct hostilities. So then, peace is a life force. It’s possibility-turned-way-of- life that encompasses addressing conflict and trauma and wrongdoing in ways that leave open the potential for forgiveness, restored relationships and a kind of boldness declaring hope of a new and different life together. The people of South Sudan are war-weary. They want peace. But years and relentless cycles of violence make it hard to grasp the constructs and reality of peace. Peace takes time and the understanding of it...

Read More

A Birthday Wish for Water

Posted by on Jan 20, 2014 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

Like most teenagers, 15 year-old Morgan loves her birthday. She loves the crazy fun of friends gathering, the mismatch of her favorite foods all in one place. She revels in the mystery of scavenger hunts planned by her mom – adventures that typically take Morgan and her friends all over town before they land back at her house and munch more treats and laugh until their sides ache. This year was different though. While she greatly anticipated her special day, Morgan had other ideas of how she wanted to celebrate – and give – for her birthday.   “It started when I went to the Give-a-Well celebration before Christmas. I learned so much. Then afterwards, my mom and some friends hung out for a late night snack. And as we went around the table and talked about ways we could help make a difference, I thought, ‘I think I know; I’ll use my birthday as a way to share.’” For Morgan, exposure to everyday female life in South Sudan was an eye-opener. The idea of girls her age becoming mothers, the fact that women and girls had minimal access to health care, education and opportunities to sustain themselves and their families felt life-changing. So was the idea that girls typically spent their days fetching water, often from contaminated sources. “All I could think was whenever I wanted water, I just turn it on,” she reflects, “and so many times I accidentally leave it running. Girls there have no water to turn on. They have to go miles to get it – and that can take up huge parts of their days.” So the ninth grader went to work. She asked her parents to include an idea on her party invitation: instead of gifts, Morgan asked for donations she would share with Sister Effect. She decided she wanted her gift devoted to giving clean water. “Water affects everything,” Morgan offers, “If people don’t have clean water, it’s really hard to survive.” When the evening of her party rolled around, Morgan and her mom, Staci, shared with Morgan’s friends a little about how Sister Effect comes alongside women and girls in South Sudan. Then they played Sister Effect’s intro video so the girls could see for themselves what female life is like. “I think the video was a good idea because I’d been telling my friends about South Sudan. But something clicked when they saw for themselves what people there face every day.” After a wild scavenger hunt that twisted and turned all over Houston, the girls’ final stop before heading back home was meeting up with part of SE’s team, where the girls shared their life-changing gifts and heard stories in the context of South Sudan’s searing heat as they shivered in Houston’s abnormally freezing weather outside Morgan’s home church. “I think it was good,” Morgan says, “I was hoping my friends and I could help make a difference. And I think we really did.” ### We couldn’t agree more, Morgan! You not only cared about sisters in South Sudan, you chose to take action and share their story with other friends. Those friends learned and began caring with you. We’re so convinced this is how deep and lasting change happens in the world – one life at a time, caring about those things that matter to God. And then passing this caring onto others. We couldn’t be more thankful for you. Happy Birthday, beautiful...

Read More

South Sudan: A Prayer for Peace

Posted by on Dec 23, 2013 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

Our Beloved Community, First, thank you for the outpouring of concern you’ve shown regarding the current conflict in South Sudan. Your inquiring emails, calls and messages have been beautiful reminders that we really are a human family – and God’s love in us moves us to deeply care for the suffering of others. I’m so grateful for this. As I write, South Sudan is, in fact, conflicted and aspects of the clashings have escalated in some of the nation’s states. Unfortunately, shifts in this region have long-occurred, especially prior to the formal end of civil war in 2005 between Sudan and what became South Sudan in 2011. The violence you’re hearing about has deep history and context – and it’s our heartfelt prayer that a holistic solution and formal steps toward a more comprehensive peace will soon make a lasting end to the conflict. Meanwhile, we grieve with and for those impacted by this situation. The current clashing began less than two weeks ago when what is speculated as an attempted coup occurred in South Sudan’s capital city of Juba. Thought to be fueled by existing and unaddressed ethnic tensions, and further intensified by deteriorating economic conditions, violence erupted and has continued to spread, in particular, along the nation’s two major tribes. Casualties have occurred and thousands of civilians have been displaced, many being sheltered by U.N. presence in the country. The South Sudan regions where Sister Effect serves by way of local partnerships have, fortunately, not been affected, and work in these areas continue. As we prepare this week to celebrate the birth and life of God’s greatest gift to mankind, let us join in praying for the lasting peace and reconciliation Christ offers – both to us and to those we love in South Sudan. Please pray wisdom and guidance for those leading peace efforts. Pray for conflicting parties’ hearts and minds to be receptive to transcendent ways of transforming conflict. Pray for ceasing of violence throughout the country and for national healing along ethnic lines. Pray for stability in South Sudan and protection of the nation’s people. Again, thank you again for caring and for being on this journey with us. It’s a privilege to partner with you as we together come alongside of those we dearly love in South...

Read More

With a Grateful Heart…

Posted by on Nov 27, 2013 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

With a Grateful Heart…

As this holiday season begins, I’m so grateful it does so with Thanksgiving. Not only is Thanksgiving my favorite holiday, it reminds me just how powerful is the heart overflowing with appreciation and gratitude. “In everything, give thanks…,” God prompts us. In all circumstances, all life seasons. In times of light and laughter and wonder. In stretches where the music of our worlds grinds to a halt and everything around us fades to black. And in those infinite moments in between. Being grateful matters. Choosing the way of thanksgiving sets us up to enjoy lives of contentment, lives focused on the abundance of God’s always-present goodness and grace. Because when we’re truly thankful, our perspectives change. We see all we we’ve been given, all we have within us to give. We realize the things of this life are passing. But people and relationships are lasting treasures. Before long, the thankful heart sees obstacles as God-opportunities. It celebrates the beauty and uniqueness of others. It overlooks imperfections. And it registers human suffering in our midst as a call to personal action because such a heart realizes God’s love for this world makes us a human family – and when one of us hurts or has unmet needs, coming alongside to help and empower is just and transformational for all. I want to live a life like this, a life that stretches wide and deep to love wholly – both in local and global communities. I long to be full of thanks regardless of circumstances and seasons. And this Thanksgiving season reminds me of this and, among countless other blessings, how grateful I am to be serving alongside of incredible sisters and brothers like you as we work for peace and lasting change in South Sudan. On a similar note, I want to be sure to invite you to our upcoming Give a Well, a time of thanksgiving and celebration on December 19th. Amid the holiday hustle and bustle, come rest in the company of friends – old and new, sample tasty treats, listen to live music, hear stories and even browse a little market for meaningful, last-minute gifts. Finally, remember with us the meaning of Christmas as we share the empowering gift of clean water with sisters across the world! Download the invitation card or click the image above, and plan to join us! 100% of Give a Well proceeds will be donated to bring clean water to a South Sudan village. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Our team couldn’t be more thankful for the privilege of serving our great God and loving others with you. Without doubt, our lives are far richer, more complete for being on this journey with you. With love, Elizabeth Hankins Executive Director, Sister...

Read More

Jillian

Posted by on Nov 11, 2013 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

Jillian

Meet Jillian. Still a couple inches shy of five feet, this eleven year-old dynamo is one of our greatest champions for female life change in South Sudan. The busy fifth grader totes around a notebook of ideas, which she regularly tries out. From saving up her allowance to advocating the story of women and girls at her school (and then in after-school group) to putting together weekend garage sales with her mom, Jilli has embraced “doing her thing” in ways that keep bringing change to South Sudan – and to the community of people who know and love her! More than five years ago, Jilli’s mom began sharing with her about the people of South Sudan. She explained just how much the people there were like the people Jillian knew. These friends lived far away, but the children there liked to play and have fun like Jilli did. They liked to eat when they were hungry, sleep when they grew tired – and they loved to learn new things. But Jilli’s mom explained some other things to her, some things that evoked a passion for both justice and deep compassion. When Jillian learned that girls like her often spent days helping collect water instead of going to school if one was available, she felt sad. But when she learned the water they collected was often dirty and caused children and families to get sick, Jilli wasn’t just sad. She was inspired to help. And she also wanted to help bring better health to communities without access to medical care and small business opportunities to women in local villages. So she got busy. And she’s stayed busy, continually coming up with imaginative ventures that share the story of female life in South Sudan and benefit the work of developing communities. Jilli explains it’s something she and her mom like to do together, and a glance at her frayed-about-the-edges notebook suggests she’s got more plans in the works – all kinds of ideas, she says, that are fun and hopefully helpful to women and girls in South Sudan. We’re so thankful, Jilli! You’re an amazing girl with an enormous heart and dazzling mind – both of which you’re always using to share God’s love and grace with others. We love you and thank God for the treasure of your life and...

Read More

Joy

Posted by on Oct 17, 2013 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

Joy

Many times, I am asked the question of why I love the South Sudanese people. A related question is why Sister Effect works among the South Sudanese people. There are many reasons, but one jumps at me regularly. Joy. It’s joy… in the South Sudanese when they realize God loves them. It’s joy… in the South Sudanese when they realize you love them. It’s joy… in you when you realize they love you in return. It’s joy… in the people’s faces when they get their first gulp of clean drinking water… ever. It’s joy… in new friends when they get desperately-needed medical care. It’s joy… in the villages when economic opportunity arrives for the first time. It’s joy… in the country when they receive a fresh dose of hope. It’s joy… in you when you point them to Jesus, our eternal hope. It’s joy… in you when you recognize the gift of being a part of God’s plan. It’s joy… in you in just getting to be with the people you love so much. It may be easy at times to think of this type of ministry as tough, and demanding, and exhausting. At times it is those things, but it’s also radiating with joy. It’s a gift, and a cherished one. God lets us in on what He’s doing, and there’s no better place to be. So, out of the joy in us, and for the joy of the South Sudanese, we engage them with all that we have for the glory of the One who is Himself our greatest joy. by Peter...

Read More

What We Really Own

Posted by on Sep 19, 2013 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

By: Elizabeth Hankins Sometimes I think about this, this idea of what’s really ours. Especially as a mom trying to filter and pass along lasting values to my kids. And as a disciple of Jesus trying best I can to wrap my brain around what’s in his heart. After all, how many times a day do I say things like “my this” or “my that”? And is it just me, or does it not seem like the more and bigger our “my” collections grow, the more impressive and important we seem to others? Like millions in our Western hemisphere, I’ve spent years rolling out of bed and pulling on clothes before docking in a school carpool line where I coax sleepy children to unload themselves and do good things for the next seven hours. Then I’ve gulped coffee, done some work, shopped for stuff before retrieving those noble kids and coming back to a home complete with running water, electricity and the sacred chatter of people I love and do life with. It’s a great life – and I’m seriously grateful… But back to the question about what is it I really own. What do I have that belongs to me? I’ve pondered this most often upon returning from South Sudan. The contrasts are starkest then. I have clean water. Mostly my sisters and friends there don’t. They typically walk miles for it. I sleep in a bed in a house with rooms. They often lay on mud floors of teensy, crowded huts atop reedy mats. I have a closet of clothes. In most villages, garments, when present, are sparse, ragged. The list spins on. So do my thoughts. I live in a world of universal excess. And my sister-friends and their families don’t even have what they need. But more I think about it, what comes clear is I really don’t own what I call mine. Oh sure, I claim (much to my kids’ mortification) the clankety, (mind you, paid-for), Suburban that prevails despite two wrecks and daily-more-pungent odors from toting toddlers-that-somehow-became-sweaty adolescents over the past decade. And I’d say the usual JC Penney jeans and major on-sale t-shirts I pull on nearly every morning were mine, mostly because they fit but also the conversation about what’s really ours maybe should stop short of disowning what covers us. That could get a little scary if we got literal in that department. But my point is I don’t own any THING at all. Not really. I was squeezed and stretched into this world, a wailing and empty-handed little alien. Someday I’ll pass out of here taking nothing in these same hands that now touch and hold a zillion things and people all the time. Nothing really belongs to me. Not my beautiful, loving, patient husband (when I get to heaven, bet I learn he was this earth-grounded archangel who did really adventurous and cool things before being commissioned and then pre-awarded major celestial kudos for enduring me). Not our awesome one-of-a-kind kids. Not our precious friends, our house, our church. Not my car, my computer. Not any of the people or things we pretty much count on to always be there. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”* Yep. We don’t really possess a thing. Human lives, objects, whatever – they’re for sure within our reach, in our midst. We may treasure them, hold them, watch over them… give them away. But since we didn’t tote them in and we won’t be hauling them out, we don’t really own them. Which...

Read More

Suffering: Who Wants It?

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

Suffering: Who Wants It?

Suffering… none of us want it. In fact, we avoid it at all costs. Headaches get medicine, hunger gets food, and fatigue gets sleep. Whatever the symptom, we have a remedy. Few times are we unable to repair our issue. We have an aversion to suffering, and for the most part, an inability to meet it. The South Sudanese have no such mindset. For them it’s not if they’ll suffer, it’s how much. There is little medicine for headaches, not enough food for hunger, and sleep – that’s tough on hard ground. Some South Sudanese have more these days, with medicine or food or a bed. But they are the blessed ones. What we take for granted here is a cherished blessing there. This incongruency is one of the hardest parts of what we do. I grew up in Africa. I know their suffering well. But half my life has been in America. And here we know what it means to have much. At the same time, we feel there is never enough. They want for survival; we want just to want. Yet there is hope. There is truth. There is transformation. It’s seen in Scripture, where Jesus models suffering. He wants not, He suffers well. He longs not for comfort, nor for possessions. He longs for souls. His passion is the Father’s passion. His heart is pure, his motives are clean. And all around Him are changed. That’s the heartbeat of Sister Effect’s ministry. It’s not about alleviating suffering by getting just one more thing. It’s not about accumulating more stuff. It’s not about what’s coming in. It is, however, about what’s going out. It’s about valuing purpose rather than comfort so others may have purpose and comfort in Him. In the process, the South Sudanese are being changed. In the process, we are being changed. Suffering… none of us want it. But it’s worth it for the sake of our King, and worth it for the sake of those He...

Read More

I SEE You!!

Posted by on Aug 9, 2013 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

Our girls used to love endless games of peek-a-boo when they were little. I’ve no idea how many hours we logged over the years chanting, “Where’s Leelee” or “Where’s Maddy,” only to inevitably end the mock quest with, “THERE you are! I see you!” To which they would squeal and squirm and demand another round of the same. The game never grew old until they got older and just outgrew it. Whether Dave and I played it with them five or forty times in sequence, being found and seen never lost its thrill, its appeal for yet another identical game. There must be something in us that delights in being seen – discovered and celebrated when we thought maybe we were otherwise invisible… It’s like peek-a-boo is this earliest example of what becomes a lifelong yearning. From our beginnings until the time we part Earth, we long to be seen. We ache to be noticed, called by name and thought worthy of sharing our stories with people who will see and hear and care about us. Because when someone sees us – I mean really sees us – it’s this reminder that we exist and have value outside of our own personal space. I think about my times in South Sudan. Times when I’ve been privileged to sit with women and girls and hear their stories, their dreams. Moments when they’ve asked my name, told me theirs and then begun revealing things deep in their hearts – the longing for peace, the ache for clean water and food and safety from violence. Such instances could never grow old. Glimpses of a sister’s humanity is always compelling, a dazzling reminder of how much we’re alike despite harsh odds of her living in a world where attaining basic human needs is still epic while I reside in a universe of often lavish excess. In such moments, I’ve prayed. I’ve tried to stay fixed on her gaze and tell her that I hear and see her. I see her, not just her need and longing, but her incredible strength and dignity. I see her tenacity and creativity that keeps her walking for water and nursing her babies and cooking sparse meals over a fire. The kind of persistence and vision that will keep her today and help her rise again tomorrow to do the same. Better than this, I continue to take those I’ve seen to One who sees all. The One who says things like “I know you by name” and “I love you; you’re Mine” and “Look! I make all things new.” Keenly aware of my weakness and limitations, I go to this great God of ours and ask Him to help us partner with these beautiful sisters in ways that build peace, develop communities and strengthen us all in His Son’s name. Because when we truly see someone, see things in their deepest places, their yearnings somehow etch into us and begin mattering in ways that change...

Read More

Before it Gets Easy…

Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 in the "Better Together" blog | 0 comments

Before it Gets Easy…

I moved a couple of weeks ago. Moving is hard work! The packing alone feels like an endless task. I can remember after working for quite some time, looking around and thinking to myself with satisfaction, “I must be close to 90% done by now… just little odds and ends left…” Only then, the strangest thing started happening. I can’t prove it, but I would swear my stuff began to multiply. Like, magically. It’s like the story with Elijah and the widow, where she only has a handful of flour and a little oil in a jug,. But she does what Elijah asks her and the flour and the oil multiply and just keep on coming. Remember that story? (1 Kings 17:7-16) It was like that. OK… so maybe it wasn’t just like that. Maybe I just have a lot of STUFF. I certainly have more than I need. I was driving in the car the other day, listening to Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis on CD, and heard this quote about charitable giving: “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…” If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them. I think this must be right. I also think this is very hard. It’s much easier to think about giving out of excess. The problem is that if we are waiting for the time when we have all we need (and want) before giving to others, that day may never come. Our appetites tend to grow along with our resources. The more that we have, the more we tend to think that we need. Rather than embracing this cycle-paradigm of needing more and more, I wonder what would happen if we began living our lives in a state of thanksgiving for all the good things God has given us to enjoy. I can’t help but think that if we let Him, God would gently loosen our grip on the things we have and allow us to begin giving differently… before it gets easy....

Read More