2007-06-27 / Front Page
Ministry reaches out to care for Ugandan village
BY JESSICA SMITH
Over the past five years, the men of the nonprofit, Christian missions group have made the journey to Uganda seven times, and will be going again in October.
"It's a tough place," said Steve Chudkowski, director of ministry for the organization. "It's a place in need. The more you show that you are there to help them … they begin to realize that you're there because you care about them. That's what makes me happy."
The Sayreville-based organization is an offshoot of Calvary Chapel in Old Bridge. The goals of SONrise Missions are to provide evangelism, education, agricultural skills and construction to the people of Northern Uganda, as well as to the Sudanese refugees who live there.
"They're an area that has just come out of 20-plus years of war," Chudkowski said. "You have hundreds of thousands of displaced Sudanese people."
Many there live in fear of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel guerrilla army that is known for torture, rape and the abduction of children, often leaving burned villages in their wake. Young boys are forced to become soldiers, while girls are taken as sex slaves, Chudkowski said.
Droves of thousands of children, fearing abduction by the LRA, make a pilgrimage each day at dusk, leaving their villages before nightfall for the relative safety of more urban areas. Known as the "night walkers," these children do not return home until the light of day ensures their safety to some extent.
In past years, SONrise Missions has constructed an orphanage in Sudan to provide help for the many children whose parents were killed in the conflicts. Its volunteers also work at a hospital.
"The hospital was one of the most emotional things for me," Chudkowski said. "You're helpless, because what can you do?"
According to Chudkowski, there are major problems with education and agricultural skills in Northern Uganda, and the living conditions are beyond subpar. There is no electricity or paved roads, and water is obtained through pumps.
"Sometimes the women will spend the entire day pumping water," Chudkowski said. "It's a hard life."
Weather conditions compound the problems there, with six months of extreme heat, then six months of heavy rains each year, Chudkowski said. The heat makes it virtually impossible for the people in villages there to store what little food is grown, and the rain brings mold.
"Those extremes make it extremely difficult for the people to grow food," Chudkowski said. "We're in the United States, and as tough as things may get here, we're blessed."
Disease also runs rampant in the area, with health issues like yellow fever and malaria claiming lives.
To help the organization's efforts, the Ugandan government gave them 50 acres of land bordering the Nile River in Panjala. During their next trip in October, the group of 15 men from SONrise Missions plans to use the Nile for irrigation, something the natives have not done. Their hope is to extend the growing season to produce more food. The group is also promoting more fishing from the river, in order to provide more protein in the limited diets of the people.
Also during their October mission, the group will assist in the construction of a community center, which will serve several purposes, Chudkowski said. The people of Panjala have long gathered as a community under a large mango tree, having no structure to serve that purpose. During the day, the building will be used as a school for local children. At other times, it will serve as a gathering place and church.
"Our first goal was to go and bring Jesus Christ to these people," Chudkowski said. "I felt like the Lord was showing me this area."
Chudkowski said the area is predominantly Christian. Part of the organization's goal is to bring people into the
Christian faith, and train pastors in the area to lead churches. Although Chudkowski said evangelism plays a key role in the work of SONrise Missions, the group is there to offer aid to people, regardless of their beliefs.
"We don't say, 'Hey, believe or we won't help you,' " Chudkowski said.
The Ugandan government does what it can to help their people, according to Chudkowski, but the war has made it difficult for them to offer much assistance.
"Basically, when those things happen, it's the lack of hope that settles in," Chudkowski said.
SONrise has been gathering farming tools and irrigation supplies for their next trip there, because tools are hard to come by in Northern Uganda. They have to be shipped from other places, which is an expensive proposition, Chudkowski said.
The group is reaching out to raise funds for their efforts. Although the group holds fundraising events and seeks donations from the public, the men finance their own trips.
"The Lord provides for that, as well," Chudkowski said. "We're looking to do good things because of Jesus and the Gospel."
SONrise Missions is planning a scrap-booking fundraiser Nov. 3 at the First Friends School, 165 Route 34 in Matawan. For more information on the event, or how to get involved in the organization, visit their Web site at www.SONrisemissions.org, e-mail them at SONrisemissions@verizon.net, or call (732) 857-0131.