When Ken Smith took a trip to visit churches in Cairo, Egypt 10 years ago, he had no idea what to expect. He discovered an entirely new mission field and a passion to use his skills to help local churches reach out to refugees in Sudan and Chad. It marked the beginning of a long adventure for Ken.
On the trip, Ken visited a South Sudanese church made up of refugees who had fled the persecution in Sudan. As he sat and listened to their stories, he began to feel their pain and his heart broke for them.
“Some had been tortured and there were terrible hunger and malnutrition issues,” Ken said. “They all basically had to flee for their life.”
Even once his trip ended and he returned home to the United States, Ken couldn’t stop thinking about the dire situation of the Sudanese people. Something more had to be done. Ken decided to make several visits to assist the refugees, this time returning with Saddleback Church PEACE teams. The PEACE plan, one of Saddleback Church’s signature ministries, exists to work with and support local churches around the world to bring lasting change in their communities.
“We returned to assist the refugees with things as broad as Purpose Driven Church, seminars on spiritual topics, discussions on nutrition and health issues—basically how to do all of life,” said Ken.
As time and visits passed, Ken began to develop strong relationships with the refugees at the church. When South Sudan broke away from Sudan and declared independence in 2011, Ken felt an urge to visit the new country. We wanted to evaluate their situation to provide appropriate resources that the young nation desperately needed. What Ken found was that the country had an appalling lack of basic necessities.
“Everything there started from scratch,” he explained. “There is no infrastructure, no power, no running water.”
During his first visit to South Sudan, Ken headed to the nation’s capital city, Juba, to discuss the problems with church leaders. It was obvious that all of the local leaders were desperate for change. Another sobering reality was that South Sudan and the neighboring country of Chad had more Unengaged Unreached People Groups (UUPGs) than anywhere else in the world. Ken knew immediately that in addition to providing resources to help the country build its infrastructure, he needed to help train South Sudanese churches to effectively reach the tribes who had never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“If I can train the churches here to reach out to neighboring groups who have never heard about Jesus Christ, I can help them reach others for Jesus Christ in a country where there is no hope, and I have a little bit to offer,” Ken said.
Ken wasn’t searching for the South Sudanese people when he embarked on his first visit to Northern Africa. But all along, God knew that Ken could impact a region so desperately in need of help and hope. By putting Ken in the right place at the right time, God was able to use him in the quest to reach all nations, near and far.