Thirty-five-year-old Mary grew up as an orphan in a war-ravaged South Sudan in the 1990s. In a poor refugee camp, going to school was just a distant dream.
Story by Odd Arild Nessa. Photos by Jill Vine
We met Mary at Across, one of MAF's partners in Arua, Northern Uganda where MAF flies several times a week. 2.2 million refugees live in this area on the border with war-torn South Sudan.
Australian couple Rhys and Rhonda have been working with Pioneers and Across since 1984. They speak very highly of Mary and tell us that it's been almost 10 years since she came to them. In fact, she was the reason they relocated Across to Arua, where Mary had already settled after the war.
'Our life project in this vulnerable area of the world has been to see a spiritual, social, mental and physical change in human life. We believe that all these elements must be in order for people to have a better life and to create peace. Mary is a good example of such a change' says Rhys.
'I have experienced a lot of war in my life, and war is still part of life here, but to me, the story of Jesus born into poverty is a message that can bring peace and hope to our earth. I will spend my future to pass on that message.' Mary
It's early morning and the sun is biting. The young mother is now married and has three young children. Her son is playing around her legs.
Mary spoke of how her life has become so much more meaningful, which was something she could only dream of as a child in a refugee camp. 'My childhood was hard,' she says. 'I was abandoned by my parents as an 11-year-old. They were separated because of the conflict. My father was active in the struggle for independence in South Sudan and my mother struggled to take care of us. My brother and I grew up with our grandfather in a refugee camp near Yei.'
Mary talks fast and is clearly inspired when she tells of how the road opened up for her.
'I was ambitious in my childhood, but also lucky,' says Mary with a spark in her eye. 'My story could have been completely different, but with the support of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), they opened an opportunity for me to graduate, resulting in a master's degree in logistics. Now I work with books and radio to share knowledge and hope for change for children affected by today's conflict.'
One morning eight years ago, Mary heard a sermon by a local pastor which gave her deeper meaning to life. 'My life was completely changed. I met with God. I felt an overwhelming love that I can hardly describe. I have experienced a lot of war in my life, and war is still part of life here, but to me, the story of Jesus born into poverty is a message that can bring peace and hope to our earth. I will spend my future to pass on that message.'
With thanks to Across for their assistance with this story.