Lu Crandall, the associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Cleveland, said she heard about a ministry happening in Sudan at a United Methodist district leadership training event in January 2007.
“I thought I would learn about the Sudanese people and the ministries happening there and then tell people here what was going on in Sudan,” said Crandall ,who lives in Cleveland with her husband who is also a Methodist pastor.
Having type 1 diabetes, Crandall did not think there was any chance she could go to a Third World country that had no refrigeration or medical care. Still, she felt herself drawn to a people, a country and a cause she knew little about.
“It seemed every time I turned around I heard something about Sudan,” she said. “In June of 2008, I heard of a young adult team going to Sudan. I felt God was nudging me, saying this is the time. I talked with my doctor to see if it was even an option.”
Her doctor surprised her, telling her to “go for it.” Crandall applied and was accepted in March 2009. But nothing could prepare her for what she saw with her own eyes in a country that barely had electricity for a few hours each day.
“I saw children that were just roaming the streets. There was no one to care for them,” said Crandall. “They did not get to go to school because they did not have the money for school fees. Their stomachs were puffed out because of malnutrition.
“Many had diseases from unclean water and unsanitary practices. It was heartbreaking to see these children who were not well-fed or taken care of by anyone.”
As her eyes soaked up images of poverty and agony in a country still trying to rebuild from the ravages of civil war — seeing children left to fend for themselves in squalor and despair — Crandall noticed a sparkle of encouragement in the eyes of the children who were privileged to attend a vacation Bible School at a Methodist School in Yei, Sudan.
“These children were so excited to be at school to learn. They sang to us as we entered their classroom to teach Bible stories,” Crandall said. “During the school day, I saw children learning and playing together. I saw smiles on the children’s faces while they were in school.”
According to Crandall, homeless and deprived youths of Yei view school as a great privilege since they have virtually no opportunity to change their lives without an education. Even during the rainy season and dry season, when temperatures reach 115 degrees, children value their education.
Crandall explained that in the 15 days of her first visit and the 12 days of her second journey to Sudan, what she saw became both heartwarming and heartbreaking. To see so many hungry children with hungry minds among the 171,000 inhabitants of Yei, where life seems so fragile, was a life-changing experience.
Crandall and her youth mission team endured the scorching heat, poor infrastructure and ate rice, goat meat and beans for dinner while breakfast was always the same — bland rolls and hard boiled eggs. At times the school’s principal, a Sudanese woman named Edina, would not eat so the children would have enough to eat, according to Crandall.
“Edina is a very giving person,” she said. “She’s always helpful, encouraging and appreciative. She greets everyone with a hug. She’s a remarkable woman with good leadership qualities. Edina has taken a lot of children into her home who have no family and no place to go. Everyone there looks to her for guidance and direction.”
Working with Edina, her team and other Sudanese people created a powerful bond Crandall did not expect.
“Some days I ache to be there,” Crandall admits. “I never would have imagined I would ever be friends with people halfway around the world. I grew up in East Tennessee and anything past Nashville was like foreign land. Growing up in a small town, this was not something I really thought about.”
The Kingsport native said during her two visits to the Sudan in March and November 2009, she worked on a nursery building, did sewing, hoeing, teaching and visited three different Methodist churches in the surrounding villages.
“We heard reports from the chiefs of the villages and the top three needs were a need for clean water, help with orphans and widows and a need for education,” said Crandall.
“We are hoping to dig wells in each of the villages with Methodist churches. It cost $8,200 for each well. That’s where our ‘Well Walks’ come in. We have been collecting money in the states to be able to send aid there for these wells.”
When asked why should people in Bradley County be concerned about the life and struggles of people in the Sudan, Crandall said, “As a believer in Jesus Christ, I feel we are called to care for our neighbors next door, across the street and around the world.
“The Sudanese people are our neighbors. During this time, we have an opportunity to help this country that has been torn by war for so many years. We, who have much more than we ever need, have a chance to help the Sudanese restrength and rebuild their country.”
Crandall, 30, said there are many ways in which volunteers in Cleveland and other areas can help.
“We can help with the wells and education. Wells will help them physically and keep them healthy, while education will help them to move forward in the years ahead. Christians can just go and share the love of Jesus Christ with them, letting them know they have not been forgotten.”
During both trips Crandall said she never had a problem with her diabetes and although she has no plans to return to Sudan anytime soon, the associate pastor said, “Sudan has taken a place in my heart that will never go away.”
“For me, one of the things I learned is that God sometimes calls us to something much bigger than we are,” said Crandall. “Even though I cannot do it all on my own, He is the leader and I have to realize even though it’s huge, God can still complete the task no matter how large or small it is.”
“But there’s something about getting out of your comfort zone — going somewhere you may not be able to get everything you want. It allows you to become aware of the presence of God because you have to rely on Him for all of your needs. You also get to share an experience with people you hardly know and the camaraderie bonds you.”
Sudan is the largest country in Africa and the Arab world. Among Sudan’s population of 42 million people, Sunni Islam is the official and largest religion, while Arabic and English are the official languages.
To contribute to the wells in Yei, Sudan, mail checks or money orders to FUMC, % First United Methodist Church, 3425 Ocoee St. N.W., Cleveland, TN. 37312. Memo line: Well fund.