Changing Your World with the Gifts You Bring
by Jeff Ritchie
I met John Jock in 2013 when he was a teacher at the flagship school of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, Good Shepherd School. John was a teacher in the school; he had been trained in education and theology; on the side he worked in the Department of Education of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS).
The next time I met him was in Gambella, Ethiopia in 2015. In-between meetings, the civil war had happened. John’s family was in an internally displaced persons camp inside South Sudan, and he was living with an uncle in Gambella, Ethiopia.
John had no income and had lost most of his belongings. Over the next months he was able to be reunited with his family, but then had to move them again for economic reasons. As a refugee who was not assigned to a camp, he had no access to the ordinary provisions given to residents of United Nations-run refugee camps – food, cooking oil, housing.
But John wanted to make a difference through his calling as a teacher. When The Outreach Foundation team visited the refugee camps in Gambella that year, John was part of a leadership group from inside and outside the camps to whom we introduced some teaching aids called “Big Books.”
We wondered what the follow-up to our training would be. Some months passed, and then John sent us a proposal to establish preschools in three of the parishes of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan in the camps. The target group would be almost 400 children. Additionally adult literacy classes would be started. All the classes would be taught by volunteer teachers.
The plan was ambitious, and the budget was beyond the means of The Outreach Foundation to help. But the program began. Classes were held under trees as it was the dry season. Six months later we received some funds to be able to provide the children with paper, notebooks, pencils, and crayons. We were able to provide the teachers with blackboards, chalk, chairs, tables, and a token “thank you gift” in appreciation of their service.
We returned to the Kule 1 and Kule 2 refugee camps in May to see how the schools were going. It was a success beyond imagining. Three year-olds were learning their ABC’s. Adults were able to write their names for the first time. Teachers with nothing but time on their hands were now making a difference. The churches in one place were building stick and mud classrooms for the coming rainy season.
I heard a quote from someone that captures the spirit I see in John Jock: “One person…committed to a worthy cause…fully engaged…can change the world.” John Jock has become fully engaged in this worthy cause of bringing hope and learning to fellow refugees. The larger “world” of South Sudan may still be a world of non-peace. For three refugee camps in Ethiopia, however, John Jock and his team are changing that world.
Associate Director for Mission