Presbyterians Today

FEB-MAR 2018

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Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay | FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018 39 A frica is a continent brimming with natural resources, a rapidly growing Christian community and some of the most difficult challenges seen anywhere in the world, including war, HIV/AIDS, lack of clean water, famine and il- literacy. But 38 Presbyterian mission co-workers in 11 African countries are working with global partners, helping to build a brighter future through education, peace building and com- munity health evangelism. Education: a 'critical issue' Presbyterians have engaged in mission for more than 180 years and from the beginning have believed that education is the foundation on which healthy people, communities and countries are built. "When I ask women church leaders in Africa about the critical issues, the need for education is always at the top of the list," said the Rev. Janet Guyer, mission co-worker and facilita- tor for women and children's interests in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Quality education begins with teachers, but many African teachers lack even the most basic profes- sional training and are seldom paid. They are often tasked with teaching classrooms of more than 70 children with limited materials, and school facilities can range from poor to nonexistent. Veteran educator Leisa Wagstaff, a mission co-worker in Africa since 1984, moved to South Sudan from Cameroon in July 2013. Through the South Sudan Education and Peacebuilding Project, she is working with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan to provide basic training to teachers and educational administrators in the most margin- alized areas. Since so many South Sudanese have been displaced by violence, Wagstaff has conducted training sessions inside IDP (inter- nally displaced persons) camps and under trees. It is in these makeshift training centers that Wagstaff sees the hope of those being trained. Stephen is one such example. At first one notices his maturity, intelligence and energy that belie his youthfulness. A closer look and you notice that the 28-year-old uses his hands to walk. During the heart-rending years of internal conflict, a rapid onslaught of "paralysis without sickness" attacked Stephen's body. With war all around, there were no doctors, clinics or even medicines to help Stephen. Even if they had been available, "there was no money with which to buy," said the young Sudanese educator. "Stephen is not unique," Wagstaff said. "All our school persons are traumatized; each has lost a piece of themselves. But all are pushing forward, hoping, wanting, dreaming and waiting for peace to one day come to their country." Wagstaff said Stephen often depends on others to help him cover long distances, for his 18-year-old hand-propelled tricycle is beyond repair. When no one is available to help, he doesn't allow it to stop him. On those days, he may arrive a bit late to school, but he arrives ready to educate, inspire and challenge others to not see violence and conflict as their only choices in life. "If you lived, that was the miracle," Stephen once said to Wagstaff. "I see that, especially today," Wagstaff said. "Life continues to be so hard for the South Sudanese, both young and old, differently-abled and able-bodied, teachers and preachers and all others. They are very busy just trying to survive. The 'miracle,' however, can only come through our prayers, gifts of time, energy and material support, loving and forgiv- ing one another." In Madagascar, mission co- worker Jan Heckler is improving the quality of education for elemen- tary school children and building a solid foundation for future learning through Evidence-Based Methods GETTY IMAGE

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