The Sudans: Notes from the Parish Nurse

(Written for the Scroll for December, 2009)

Deb Goldfeder, RN, FCN

As you read this, I will be preparing to return to St. Louis from a mission to Southern Sudan.  You will hear me talk about drought, hunger, thirst and human misery there as a nation strives toward the election that will finally put in place either their first elected government or plunge the country back into civil war.  It is, as last week’s lectionary reminded me, the birthing pains that are just beginning. 

Parish Nursing in Sudan could bring health, healing and wholeness to people who have not experienced it in body, mind or spirit.  Nutritional problems can be addressed, people can be referred to the physicians more quickly, problems with high blood pressure can be identified before people develop kidney failure or heart disease, and children might be vaccinated against the diseases that most of have not seen in decades.  That’s all to the good and I appreciate the support of First Congregational Church in allowing me to go to see about bringing this type of care to a part of the world that desperately needs it.  But… 

I have been in several food pantries lately.  I volunteer at one and visited another because I wanted to speak with their parish nurse about the needs of that community, too.  What I discovered is that she and I are taking care of some of the same people!  A woman I had counseled about her blood pressure at one food pantry, was being lectured to by THEIR parish nurse!  When she received her bag, we looked at the foods she received to identify their sodium content and to talk about ways to make her meals a bit lower calorie and lower sodium.  We read labels as she pulled out the meager offerings from the pantry.  There were almost no vegetables that day.  She told me she had managed to feed her family by going to three different pantries every month—one visit a month to each one.  She had to arrange her days to be at each site when the pantry opened because food was scarce and if she wasn’t close to the front of the line, she might not receive food.  That day at that pantry, they only had bags of food for thirty people and those weren’t full bags, either.  This woman went to three pantries because she had to walk—these were the three she could walk to. 

We have people who are suffering, homeless, hungry and going without health care because they have no money.  Food pantry shelves are empty.  As you buy for your family, throw in some non-perishable food items for someone else and bring them with you to church.  People often say to me, “Why are you going all the way to Sudan to work when there are people here who are suffering?”  I struggle with that question especially when I think how much it costs to go to Sudan but what I know is this: there are Sudans all over the world and there are Sudans right here in St. Louis.  Mission changes the missioner much more that those to whom they mission and, in my opinion, showing up is most of the work! 

I may not be able to fix anything in Sudan and I may not be able to cure hunger or poverty right here in St. Louis but I promise that I will tell you the stories and together we might make a difference to that one…and that one…and maybe that one, too.

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