This week’s story is longer than most. It is the story of Mary Adut, the oldest girl in our school in Sudan. Mary knows that girls don’t have many opportunities in Sudan and has fought hard to be faithful with the privileges she receives through Make Way Partners, especially her education. Please read to see what a difference your support for the children of Sudan is making.
Kimberly L. Smith
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If you can’t save them all, what difference does saving
one child from slavery make?
(Kimberly Smith and Mary Adut)
I was the first white woman she had ever seen. It was my second trip to her school in Sudan, but my first visit was for just a few days, and I was with a large team of men. This time the word was out – the ‘white woman’ was there for two months, and alone.
The pilot of my small, chartered plane circled the dirt airstrip where I could see hundreds of Sudanese below waiting to greet me. The landing kicked up so much dust that I lost sight of them for several moments. As the pilot opened the door, it was their beautiful voices singing praises to Jesus that first greeted me.
From there on everything happened so fast. The crowd pressed in; everyone wanted to touch the ‘white woman’. Within moments of my foot leaving the last step of the pull-up ladder descending from the plane, the pilot threw my bag to the ground and started his engine to leave. As the crowd sang, cried, danced and grabbed at me, the plane took off. I now had no transportation, no satellite phone and no other American with whom to talk.
Soon, Mary made her move. A tall, strikingly beautiful girl, who I guessed to be about 12 years old, took the lead. With wide eyes blazing directly into mine, she put out her hand as if to take my hand and said in precise English, “My name is Mary.” Impressed, I started to take her hand. Just as our fingertips brushed, Mary withdrew her hand, threw back her head and laughed as if she had made the biggest joke of the year. The two girls with Mary cackled bravely along with her.
I figured, “12 year-old girls are 12 year-old girls all around the world.” They threw their arms around me, and we continued our walk together toward the compound and New life Ministry School. Several of the teachers (who are all male) and a horde of children walked with us. The singing and drumming set the pace and spirit as the girls laughed and danced around me.
Once we arrived at the schoolyard, the boys beat a massive drum while the other children gathered in a large circle around them. Mary and her two friends jumped to the center of the circle where the trio danced to the beat of the boys’ drumming. I stood on the inner fringe of the circle watching with pure joy and utter amazement. Suddenly, Mary rushed over, grabbed my arm and pulled me into the circle. I quickly learned that Mary’s precise English was limited to a few practiced phrases. However, it didn’t take verbal language to understand that she and her friends wanted the tindeet (old woman) to dance with them.
My first attempt at trying to acclimate myself to the Sudanese form of celebration and worship – I danced. Mary led the trio in laughing as only preteen girls can laugh at other females. I had to laugh at myself as well; I was certain that I was a ridiculous sight indeed! A three-day trip to get to them had surely taken its toll on my appearance even without the aid of my combat style hiking boots, filthy cargo pants and unruly, dirty hair! So, together, we danced, and laughed at me.
James came over to the dancing circle. As soon as he approached, he began to sternly scold Mary and her sidekicks. The gaiety died, and all the children were sent back to class. As we walked from the schoolyard, I asked James to explain to me what had just transpired. He told me that the girls were laughing at me and he could not tolerate that. They must be disciplined and learn to respect their elders.
I told James that all girls go through a time of challenging or competing with older women, just as boys do with men. But girls and women have a different style. I asked James if he would permit me some time with the young girls to earn their respect. This was a foreign thought to James – to earn respect. In his experience, you either respect the authority or be severely disciplined.
James desires to grow strong and healthy leaders among his people so he was open to my suggestion, but he told me he would not tolerate the girls laughing at me or being disrespectful in any way. Reiterating that I would need time and his patience as the girls and I learned one another, he agreed.
It didn’t take long for the girls to seek me out. With Mary in the lead, they found me in church. They found me in my tent. They found me on a walk. They found me in the latrine! Each time, the others would hide slightly behind Mary while she would first ‘invite’ me into some interchange so that she could get the upper hand by rebuffing my response to her. When we walked together, Mary would often run a few feet ahead so that she could mock the way I walked or carried a stick (to ward off rabid dogs).
Each time James caught Mary mocking me or displaying some form of disrespect, he intervened to discipline her. I again appealed to James to allow time and relationship building. I told him that young girls who have been through such unthinkable things as these girls have experienced could not be forced into submission, but they could be loved into healing and eventually, true service. Frustrated, but not knowing what else to do with females, James agreed to turn Mary and her ‘shadows’ over to me.
Then my big break came. All week long, the school was abuzz because of a soccer game being planned for Sunday evening. One of our donors had given 50 soccer balls for children in the area, and our school had kept several. I heard chatter about the ‘big game’ everyday.
It was all very informal. Two of our school helpers arranged the game; whoever showed up could play. We waited until late in the evening, a couple of hours before sunset, so that the heat was not so intense. I had never played soccer, but I wanted to join in. So, without thinking much about it, I joined in.
Our ‘soccer field’ was an area in the bush where the children had worked with relentless vigor to clear out all thorns, debris and roots. With only small tools, not much more effective than spoons, it had been taxing work!
Once on the ‘field’, I noticed there were no girls. I asked James about it; he told me that the girls didn’t like soccer, only volleyball. I was heartbroken! I had only been told about the love of soccer in Sudan so I had only asked our donors for soccer balls. Had I known girls loved volleyball, I would have asked for volleyballs also. I was confused because I had seen the girls working just as hard to clear the field, as had the boys.
After some initial jockeying among the boys over who was on whose team, the game began. I was amazed at how good the boys were! I ran the best I could and played as hard as I could for nearly an hour. Spent, I went to the edge of the ‘field’ to sit on a mahogany tree branch lying on the ground. Other late-arriving boys joined in or out of the game without interruption to the play.
Within moments I saw Mary and several other girls walking toward me. I was accustomed to basking in their high spirit; I had never seen them so crestfallen. I watched cautiously as the girls found a place beside me on the mahogany branch. After a few moments of pregnant silence, I asked Mary what was wrong. She moaned, “We want to play soccer.” I was delighted. I said, “Great! Go ahead.” A wide smile consumed her face, “Really?” “Sure!” I said.
Mary and several of the girls got up and took off. About 20 feet away from me, they stopped in their tracks and turned to me, “You come with us. You play, too.” Still tired, I simply could not run in the heat one more step. “Sorry. You go ahead.” Satisfied, they ran onto the field.
Immediately the game came to an abrupt halt. Hoping to avoid hoisting myself from my perch, I tried to discern what was going on. I could hear shouting but could not make out the words. Then pushing began. I ran to the center of the field.
The main spokespersons for the dispute were Mary and a young boy Deng for whom moments earlier I had fought for his right to play. When Deng first showed up, none of the boys wanted to let him join the game; they said he was too small. I defended his right to play since it was a game for all the school. The larger boys relented. Deng ended up being a tremendous player and both sides now wanted him on their team.
However, none of the boys wanted girls to play, and Deng was the ringleader in keeping them off the field. I looked at the school staff (all male) who stood on the boys’ side without speaking. I addressed them. “The girls would like to join the game. Are you going to let them play?” The men looked at the ground, kicking it like little boys and said, “Girls don’t play soccer. They only like Volleyball.”
“These girls say they love soccer and want to play. Are you going to let them play?” They answered, “In Sudan, girls don’t play soccer.” I reminded them that I played and no one complained, which set precedence. I said, “How can we tell them they can’t play? I need your support on this. Can the girls play?”
As Deng felt the male staff crumbling, he had held his peace about as long as he could and shouted, “Girls can’t play soccer!” I reminded Deng of what the larger boys said about him just moments before that; and if I hadn’t fought for his right to play, he would still be crying on the bench. “Don’t you want to help someone else who is being sidelined also?” I asked. Deng shook his head, “No! If girls are going to play, then I quit!” I said, “Fine, but you can watch us from your seat on the mahogany bench if you like!” Suddenly, the staff laughed. The boys jokingly punched Deng in the arm and said, “Let’s just play.” The game was on.
Exhausted, but filled with joy for Mary and her friends, I made my way back to the mahogany bench where I was better suited. It only took a few moments for me to figure out why the boys didn’t want the girls to play. They ran like the wind and had far better coordination at this age than did the boys. I knew, in time, the boys would out maneuver them for they had much more practiced skill since the girls never got to play. But for now, the girls surely gave the boys a run for their pride.
From that moment on, Mary has never laughed at me or mocked me. She still seeks me out but now it is for a hug, to practice her English reading or to paint our toenails.
For three years now I have watched Mary grow in stature and in wisdom. I have seen her struggle to leave behind the rebellious girl-child and grow into a woman of wise council and leadership. She has fought with and for those same girls, who used to just follow her around to make fun of others, to help them understand their value and responsibility to become educated, Christian women leading their people to freedom in Christ.
When the meningitis outbreak hit us this winter, we almost lost Mary. She became the sickest of any meningitis survivor that we had. Without your prayers and financial support to provide food, medicine and medical help, I believe Mary would have died. Then, the people of Sudan would have been denied a powerful woman of the Lord, which I have no doubt, with your continued prayers and support, will remain faithful in the Lord’s work to set the captives free!
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Make Way Partners
P.O. Box 26367
Birmingham, AL 35260 U.S.A