Glenwood Pastor Evan Welcher has a vision.
“I want people to be obedient to Christ,” the senior pastor at Glenwood’s First Christian Church said.
Welcher and his wife, Danielle, are passionate about being disciples of Christ. In June, the couple took a mission trip to Emmanuel Christian Training Centre and Academy in Goli, South Sudan.
Sudan has essentially been at war since it gained independence from British-Egyptian rule in 1956. A civilian government was established in 1958, the same year Gen. Ibrahim Abboud led a military coup. In 1983, Islamic law was imposed and civil war broke out. Though a peace deal was signed in 2002, rebel forces in Darfur rose up in 2003.
The United Nations declared the Darfur conflict over in August 2009 - the same month Danielle first traveled to Sudan with Africa Inland Mission (AIM), an interdenominational mission service that provides opportunities for people to serve in Africa.
She helped start the secondary school at Emmanuel Christian Training Academy (ECTA) during her first trip to Africa from August 2009 to August 2010. A teacher by trade, she wrote the school's curriculum, taught fifth-grade social studies, and taught ninth through 11th grade history, social studies, drama and business studies.
Her first stint in Sudan was to be over after one year, but two weeks before her scheduled return to the U.S., her health determined it was time to leave. Danielle had to have her appendix removed.
To get to the hospital, she had to travel by car for two hours to the airport, where she boarded a plane for another two hours.
Following surgery and recovery, she came home to the U.S. and her future husband.
The Welchers met when both attended Emmaus Bible College in Dubuque, and were married July 9, 2011 – the same day South Sudan became independent from Sudan.
Although the couple made a life for themselves in the U.S., Sudan remained a place that was dear to Danielle’s heart.
Evan wants to spread a global message of Christianity, as does Danielle. Her passion for missionary work, combined with funding from AIM and other places, enabled the couple to travel back to Sudan this summer.
“I wanted Evan to see where I was,” Danielle said. “He’s never been on a mission trip out of the country.”
She also wanted her friends to see where she was in her current life.
In 2009 Danielle was considered an old maid at the age of 25. Girls in Sudan frequently get married by age 13. They often quit school after what is considered fourth grade, and Sudanese girls are made fun of if they are in high school and not married.
Being a woman in Sudan, even a married woman, is not always easy.
“I have a dear friend named Sukanema, or Lillian in English,” Danielle said. “She is a mother of four whose husband makes a practice of getting her pregnant and leaving for months at a time. He also drinks. She never has any money, because part of Sudanese culture is, if someone comes to you and says ‘I need money,’ you give it. Her family is always asking for money. Lillian goes for days or sometimes weeks without eating so her kids can eat.”
When Danielle left Sudan in August 2010, many of her Sudanese friends thought she had disappeared. In Sudan, people who disappear do not return.
But Danielle returned - with Evan.
Lillian, for one, was surprised when she came back.
“She was so happy to see me and meet my husband,” Danielle said.
Evan said he realized during the trip his wife is a very strong woman.
“This was great for our marriage, because I really had to trust my wife,” Evan said. “The worst thing that happened, for me, was the first day we were there. We were in the market at the center of the village. We were in a Land Cruiser, and a mentally-disabled man comes up and starts licking the vehicle. Then he came up and grabbed my wife.”
“I’d dealt with this man before,” Danielle said with a shrug. “I just yelled at him in Arabic and got him away.”
Danielle went back to work at the academy while Evan went to work for Emmanuel Christian Training Centre (ECTC), which was founded in 2001. The academy was started for the families that work for ECTC and the surrounding village.
The training center is a theological training center completely run by the Sudanese. Christianity has been in Sudan since the sixth century A.D. but Christians in Sudan have often been persecuted, especially during the time the country was under Islamic rule.
Evan’s main job was to organize a three-day pastors’ conference. He also spent a lot of time traveling to farms and seeing their development and progress.
“Even a world away, it’s amazing, because these farmers were concerned about the same things farmers are here,” Evan said.
Sudan traditionally has a rainy season from April to June, but this year there has been a drought. Farmers’ crops, which often consist of maize (corn), along with pumpkins, peanuts and a few other things, are in jeopardy just as they are in the U.S.
And the animals don’t help matters.
“We have deer, they have monkeys,” Evan said. “People are literally out in their fields with AK-47s shooting monkeys to protect their crops.”
Like many areas of Africa, South Sudan is a very poor country, with very impoverished people. Their yearly per capita income, according to a 2010 study, is $1,546 per person.
“We have poor people in America, but not nearly as much. That level of poverty has degraded the Sudanese’s humanity,” Evan said. “Pain is pain no matter what country you are from, but here in the states we have social services that can help. They literally have nothing.”
Through it all, Evan and Danielle said the people are the reason they were there.
“The Sudanese are the most amazing people,” Danielle said. “They have been through the most horrific experiences and so much pain, but they are always so happy.”
“I learned so much about them and their culture,” Evan said. “Their perseverance. I got the impression they do not blame God for anything.”
“We wanted to be a sense of encouragement to the people and be mobilized for them,” Danielle said.
She added, “I got to say goodbye to my friends. I did not get that before, because I had to leave in such a hurry. To be able to go back and introduce them to my husband was such a blessing.”