A caring crusade

Fishtown’s liberti chuch east raised enough money to dig three wa­ter wells in South Su­dan, where the wa­ter crisis is ex­treme. Liberti’s lead pas­tor, North­ern Liber­ties’ Steve Huber, re­flects on his re­cent vis­it to the de­vel­op­ing coun­try in Africa.

  • Liberti church’s Pastor Steve Huber looks at the portrait of a South Sudanese child painted on a ‘jerry can,’ the canteens South Sudanese people fill several times per day to bring water to their families. A jerry can weighs 45 pounds when full. MIKALA JAMISON / STAR PHOTO

  • A few of the South Sudanese villagers Steve Huber met during his trip to the city of Yei, where liberti church raised funds to dig three water wells. One of the wells is at left. Huber said the people were immensely grateful for the wells. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE HUBER

In Phil­adelphia, where the as­phalt roads that cris­scross the city are warmed by the sun each morn­ing, it’s not all that un­com­mon to see a burst fire hy­drant or wa­ter main spray­ing wa­ter onto the streets, cre­at­ing ankle-deep puddles next to the side­walks. It’s be­come a com­mon im­age — chil­dren play in the cool, wet stream that’s the urb­an ver­sion of a wa­ter­fall.

Far away in Africa, in the Re­pub­lic of South Su­dan, you can go a week without see­ing a paved road, and there’s hardly enough safe, drink­able wa­ter for a fam­ily of four to share for hy­dra­tion, let alone to let pour over them in the street on a hot day. And for most chil­dren there, wa­ter is not for play, it’s for life — if they’re lucky.

That’s what pas­tor Steve Huber came to know as real­ity for the South Su­danese dur­ing his trip to the na­tion in May. South Su­dan is a re­l­at­ively new coun­try, and is sep­ar­ate from Su­dan, some­times called North Su­dan. On Ju­ly 9, the Re­pub­lic of South Su­dan will cel­eb­rate its second an­niversary as an in­de­pend­ent state in Africa.

Huber, who lives in North­ern Liber­ties, is lead pas­tor of Fishtown’s liberti church east, 2424 York St. In a June 13 in­ter­view at liberti east, Huber said that in South Su­dan, one in five chil­dren will die be­fore age five. Half of those deaths are a res­ult of wa­ter­borne ill­nesses. Half of the people in South Su­danese hos­pit­als, he said, are ad­mit­ted be­cause of wa­ter­borne ill­nesses.

“It’s one thing to know the stats,” Huber said, “But it’s an­oth­er thing to meet moms, hold­ing their ba­bies in their arms … some have had to bury their chil­dren,” he said.

Liberti, which has a net­work of six churches across the city, held its an­nu­al East­er Out­reach pro­ject earli­er this year, and raised more than $65,000 and gave away 2,000 meals to loc­al fam­il­ies in need.

Liberti partnered with the or­gan­iz­a­tion Wa­ter is Ba­sic to use some of those funds to dig three wa­ter wells in South Su­dan. The three wells this year are in ad­di­tion to the three wells the church fun­ded in South Su­dan in 2012.

Huber vis­ited South Su­dan along with his 14-year-old son, Lu­kas, and oth­er church rep­res­ent­at­ives to see the three wells in the city of Yei that had been dug by South Su­danese laborers. Rais­ing the money, but hav­ing South Su­danese work­ers dig the wells, Huber said, em­powers South Su­danese busi­ness.

Dur­ing the trip, Huber and oth­ers also con­duc­ted pas­tor­al train­ing with as­pir­ing faith lead­ers there. Last sum­mer, he said a team of teach­ers from liberti went to South Su­dan to do teach­er train­ing, and the church hopes to have med­ic­al pro­fes­sion­als con­duct med­ic­al train­ing there in the fu­ture.

“In the de­vel­op­ing world, if you look on lists of what are the best ways to help, dig­ging wa­ter wells is num­ber one,” Huber said. “It’s a game changer for health, time and re­sources.”

The ex­per­i­ence of liv­ing in South Su­dan for a couple weeks, Huber said, deeply shook him.

“I’m a guy with a flex­ible com­fort zone,” he said. “Most people think of Kenya as shock­ing in terms of the needs there and lack of in­fra­struc­ture. South Su­dan makes Kenya look like Ep­cot Cen­ter.”

In South Su­dan, most roads aren’t paved and turn in­to muddy pits when it rains. Hos­pit­als are few and far between, traffic is pan­de­moni­um, and plumb­ing and elec­tri­city are rare, Huber said.

People are, gen­er­ally, very poor, but the cost of liv­ing is very high, since products and re­sources have to be trucked in­to small vil­lages from far away. A gal­lon of gas, Huber said, is $15.

Ill­ness is rampant as well. Many die from mal­aria, and Huber saw his fair share of enorm­ous bugs, he said, dur­ing his trip. To pre­pare to spend time in Africa, he and the oth­ers who traveled had to take sev­er­al rounds of anti-mal­aria and oth­er medi­cines — medi­cines not avail­able to people who ac­tu­ally live in South Su­dan.

“It’s a hum­bling thing,” Huber said, “I know I’m not go­ing to get mal­aria or typhoid be­cause I have the money to pay for medi­cine.”

The wa­ter crisis in South Su­dan is stun­ning, said Huber, call­ing it a “justice is­sue.” Mostly wo­men — or, Huber said, chil­dren, since many chil­dren sup­port their fam­il­ies be­cause their par­ents have died — travel to rivers and streams sev­er­al times per day with large canteens to fill for their fam­il­ies’ needs.

The wa­ter sources, however, are tain­ted by an­im­al waste and oth­er con­tam­in­ants. Fam­il­ies have to use river or stream wa­ter for drink­ing, bathing, wash­ing and cook­ing.

It’s a crisis that may be more eas­ily solved than one could ima­gine.

“Forty mil­lion dol­lars would bring clean wa­ter to every­one in South Su­dan,” Huber said. “Last year, Amer­ic­ans spent 370 mil­lion on Hal­loween cos­tumes for their pets.”

Hold­ing up the five-gal­lon yel­low canteens wo­men use to bring wa­ter to their fam­il­ies — they’re known as ‘jerry cans’ and weigh 45 pounds when full — Huber said one can filled with loose change could bring clean wa­ter to 1,000 people.

Des­pite the tra­gic cir­cum­stances of their life­styles, Huber said, the South Su­danese are a warm, kind, re­la­tion­ship-based people.

“They’re just walk­ing to a dif­fer­ent rhythm,” he said. “Their greet­ings are longer, their eye con­tact is longer, they’re hos­pit­able and gen­er­ous. We have a lot to learn from them.”

Re­flect­ing upon the ex­per­i­ence of be­ing in South Su­dan and hav­ing his church en­act pos­it­ive change there, Huber said his emo­tions are mixed.

“I’m su­per glad we did it, but we don’t want to break our arms pat­ting ourselves on the back,” Huber said. “It’s like, ‘Well, what do we do now?’”

In the fu­ture, Huber said the church will “def­in­itely” raise money for more wells in South Su­dan. It’s a large prob­lem the church is fo­cused on help­ing, bit by bit, he said.  

“Our mis­sion is to live, speak and serve as the very pres­ence of Je­sus Christ, here in the neigh­bor­hood and around the world,” he said.

Huber said that as a pas­tor, he feels con­nec­ted to the way the South Su­danese live.

“Churches are the artery of mak­ing people’s lives bet­ter there,” he said. Church lead­ers help provide food and wa­ter to loc­als, and small churches are of­ten packed with hun­dreds of pa­rish­ion­ers.

Huber said he hopes learn­ing of the wa­ter crisis in South Su­dan will in­spire people to help in small ways, no mat­ter their re­li­gious back­grounds.

“Des­pite what we be­lieve, can’t we agree to part­ner to­geth­er for these kinds of justice is­sues? Who’s not go­ing to be ‘for’ clean wa­ter?”

Learn more about the South Su­danese wa­ter crisis and donate at wa­teris­basic.org. Watch a trail­er for the in­de­pend­ent film about the South Su­danese wa­ter crisis, “Ru: Wa­ter is Life,” at ruthefilm.com.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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