South Sudan: An invitation to pray

South Sudan: An invitation to pray | World Vision Blog

Dr. Joel Smith spoon feeds a starving baby in a World Vision feeding center. (Photo: 1998 Jon Warren/World Vision)

After a severe famine in 1998 and a 2011 war for independence, the people of the new South Sudan remain in extreme vulnerability through renewed conflict and food insecurity.

On Sunday, our writer/photographer team Kari Costanza and Jon Warren fly to Juba to visit our work among the families displaced by conflict.

See what they're expecting and hoping to find on this visit, and how you can help support them.


In 1998, it felt as if the world was falling apart. Kosovo was at war—a war that would cost more than 13,000 lives. Hurricane Mitch had pummeled Honduras and Nicaragua, taking 19,000 more. Southern Sudan was gripped in famine and the death toll was devastating. More than 70,000 men, women, and children died of starvation.

As a video producer for World Vision, 1998 was supremely challenging with my heart catapulting between joy and sorrow—joy at home and sorrow in what I was seeing every day at work. We had a new life in our family. Our daughter Claire was born in August 1998, a beautiful baby girl.

The World Vision video department had the feel of a newsroom in 1998. We received so much videotape from around the world. I would look through the raw footage and edit it into pieces to send to news stations and to donors to call attention to the crises around the world.

The video from southern Sudan was especially hard to watch.  The children were emaciated and lifeless. But I still felt hope. In the middle of it all was Dr. Joel Smith, a doctor from the Seattle area (shown above).

In every video, Dr. Joel would be cradling one or two children as he talked about the crisis and how the world needed to respond. His voice was soft and gentle. He wasn’t just a doctor for those children. He was their comforter.

I would sit in my editing room with the light from the screen filling the darkness and think about how Dr. Joel was light to those children in their darkest hours. I didn’t know him but I admired him immensely. He was the hands and feet of Jesus.

South Sudan: An invitation | World Vision Blog
Girl huddles in her dress for warmth while waiting for food at a World Vision feeding center. (Photo: 1998 Jon Warren/World Vision)

World Vision sent photographer Jon Warren to Sudan to cover the famine. It was a difficult assignment for Jon as he explains in his Life Frames piece: Suffering, Sudan.

Jon had never seen suffering on such a wide scale. He cried as he took pictures. He struggled to create photographs that would tell the story in a way that would make people care and not look away.

In the last 17 years, much has changed in the world. Kosovo is at peace. Honduras and Nicaragua have rebuilt after Hurricane Mitch. The area of southern Sudan that was wracked by famine is now the world’s newest country: South Sudan.

Since its birth, the country has been devastated by conflict that has forced two million people from their homes and left 1.5 million people wondering where their next meal will come from.

My daughter Claire is in high school with a year left to go.

On Sunday, Jon and I will fly to Juba, South Sudan, to report on how World Vision is still in the middle of it all and has been since 1989. We will see our work in hospitals, nutrition clinics, water projects, and Child-Friendly Spaces where children have an opportunity to go to school.

We will surely witness suffering that makes our hearts ache. But along the way, we may come across people like Dr. Joel Smith—those who give up personal comfort to work in the hardest of places with the children who need them most.

Will you pray for us as we spend time in South Sudan, covering the story of how Jesus is working in the margins—the places where the most vulnerable of His people need the mightiest acts of love?

Join us in the margins as we work to alleviate the suffering of some of the most vulnerable people. Thanks to grants, your gift will multiply three times in impact to help families displaced by conflict in South Sudan. Give today.


    I love you guys. Your work is so amazing and it inspires me to do what I can and go the distance to love people like Jesus loved them. I need to see the pictures of poverty to remind me continually of what's really important in life and how I can serve the Lord better. I am in need of being humbled continually. I need God to humble me and show me what is important and the work that you do continually reminds me of my responsibility to God and to people everywhere. A picture is worth a thousand words and the pictures you take of the situations around the world impact me in a way that words could never do. Some things you need to see to believe. Thank you for everything you do and may God bless you with His wonderful presence.

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