Five years ago, Diocese of Bethlehem Bishop Paul Marshall asked Charlie Barebo to help spearhead a capital campaign to develop a camp and conference center for the diocese.
"A funny thing happened on the way," said Barebo. "I woke up one morning in the Sudan."
It was a "life-changing event that has deepened my faith and forever altered my outlook on this world and the next," said Barebo, a global traveler as chief executive officer of Otterbine Barebo, which makes aerating fountains and industrial aerators.
Parishes throughout the 14-county northeastern Pennsylvania diocese launched the New Hope campaign during the last two Sundays of September. By then, more than half of a $3.6 million goal already had been raised through advance gifts -- but not for a camp and conference center, said Barebo who chairs New Hope.
"We have begun something unique," said Marshall, "a capital campaign for others and an extra mile toward the [U.N.] Millennium Development Goals. Some 75 percent of the money raised will help the destitute in Sudan; 25 percent will provide grants to enable parishes in our diocese to expand projects and develop new initiatives to serve the needy in northeastern Pennsylvania. Our diocese, institutionally, will not benefit from this effort."
"We are responding to the request of the Diocese of Kajo Keji for assistance in building the educational and organizational centers that will allow them to provide for their own future," said Marshall. "Through revolving ‘micro-finance' funds, enterprising individuals, largely women, will be able to make a new start in a war-torn country."
Seeking a vision
Bethlehem has had a partnership relationship with the Diocese of Kajo Keji for seven years. Ten missioners have been deeply affected by their visits to Southern Sudan.
"Since 2000, I and others from our diocese have gone to Africa several times to seek a vision for Bethlehem among the suffering and those who care for them, in a place where the Holy Spirit can work," said Marshall.
Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow was one of four, including Barebo, who woke up one morning in January 2007 in Sudan.
"While I have known people in my native Tennessee and in rural South Carolina who had not either running water or electricity, I have never lived in those circumstances before this trip," said Stringfellow. "Telephone connection was available in only one location, and we saw a total of nine automobiles, one an abandoned tractor-trailer, in several days."
"The dirt roads have ravines, remainders and reminders of the rainy season and 50 years of civil war," he said. "Few are privileged to have motorcycles and bicycles, whose speed often surpasses the three or eight miles an hour we were able to achieve in the ‘sport' utility vehicle provided by the people of the Diocese of Bethlehem for the bishop of Kajo Keji to visit his people."
A new view of hardship
Former Archdeacon of Bethlehem Rick Cluett has visited Kajo Keji several times. "Their life has changed my life," he said. "Their faith has changed my faith."
Cluett said he had lived most of his life in a ghetto of comfort and privilege. "I have forayed from time to time into places and times of poverty -- deep deprivation of wealth, opportunity, spirit -- in urban and rural America, affecting people who are white-, black-, brown- and red-skinned. And I thought I knew how hard life could be.
"When I went to Southern Sudan, I discovered I had no idea. I thank God for them and for the opportunity to assist them in reclaiming their lives and their church."
Connie Fegley, a member of Christ Episcopal Church, Reading, and chair of the diocesan world mission committee, visited Kajo Keji refugees in Adjumani in northern Uganda in 2000. She likened it to "a very hot and dusty Cursillo.
"I was physically uncomfortable," she said, "but my spirit was soaring in that spiritually alive place."
In July 2007, she and Cluett represented the Diocese of Bethlehem at the enthronement of Anthony Poggo as bishop of Kajo Keji.
"The people are trying so hard under circumstances I fear would flatten me," she said. "I was struck time and again by how hopeful they are about the future and how lacking in bitterness and the desire for revenge they appear to be regarding all these many years of destruction of their homeland."