Presbyterians have stuff in their garages that can save lives in the world’s newest nation.

The Rev. Heidi McGinness told Synod of Lakes and Prairies Synod School participants Monday (July 25) that even though South Sudan gained independence on July 9, there’s still  much work to be done, including freeing an estimated 200,000 of its people from slavery.

That’s the most pressing work of McGinness and her colleagues at Christian Solidarity International, a Swiss-based human rights organization that campaigns for religious liberty and human dignity.

When the group liberates a slave, it equips that person with a sack of hope, a $50 kit that includes a tarp, mosquito tent, wool blanket, cooking pot, sickle, fish hooks, 5-gallon water container, sorghum and seeds for planting. Sacks of hope are provided strictly by donations.

McGinness, who’s honorably retired from Denver Presbytery, plans to return to South Sudan in September at the conclusion of the rainy season.

In the meantime, she’s educating Presbyterians about the atrocities suffered by Christians in South Sudan at the hands of what she called “radicalized” Muslims in the north. She’s met people blinded because they refused to attend services at a mosque.

Despite the atrocities, many people, including McGinness, are optimistic that the South Sudanese will blossom with their new-found independence.

South Sudan has topsoil “like I’ve never seen before,” she said, and is blessed with great mineral wealth. McGinness said she’s encouraged that even freed slaves will be able to govern themselves.

“They’re brave, tenacious, bright, resourceful people of faith,” she said. “I’m very proud of the South Sudanese people who have returned home to dig wells and build schools.”

She said one day she was walking with some Sudanese pastors who were growing alarmed that she was walking too fast. They preferred to set the pace, they told her.


“There are a lot of landmines along this road,” they said. “Better we should lose our leg or our life than you.”

While the media may have been slow to document South Sudan’s terrible problems, McGinness and her colleagues are working to keep the nation’s next chapter in the public eye.

“Sometimes we all want to just throw in the towel,” she said. “Please don’t.”

Mike Ferguson is a member of the United Presbyterian Church in Lone Tree, Iowa, and a reporter for the “Muscatine Journal,” the newspaper where Mark Twain got his start. He is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.