Romano, director of a Make Way Partners orphanage in a dangerous area of Sudan, was nearing the Kenyan-(South) Sudan border. Attacks from bandits are commonplace in this no-man’s land. They target the driver first and once the vehicle stops, they kill everyone inside the vehicle and then take all of their belongings. In this area, there is no political agenda to it; they are only “opportunists” looking for money by taking advantage of the influx in traffic including refugees coming from Sudan and humanitarian aid workers going to Sudan. The problem is, many people in that region carry a gun, some are bandits, and others use their gun to protect themselves and their cattle from the bandits. It is hard to tell the difference until it is too late.
Riding in the car with him was an “escort” (an armed soldier whose job it is to protect and ward off any ambushes from the bandits) along with a few passengers he had picked up along the way needing a ride from one region to another. His agenda today was to pick up his colleague and friend, Peter (a man who designs and constructs orphanages and safe-houses in Sudan for Make Way Partners), and bring him back to where he had come from.
Suddenly, there was a CRACK as a shot rang out in the sky, followed by another, which was accompanied by a scorching pain in his upper abdomen. He had been shot. Romano’s escort ducked, hiding himself and forgetting his duty. One of the passengers grabbed the escort’s gun and fired four shots back scaring the bandits and making them flee. Another passenger knew how to drive and resumed Romano’s driving and drove them away to safety. What a miracle to have such brave and knowledgeable passengers!
Meanwhile, in Nairobi, Eugenio, a logistician for Make Way Partners, received a phone call from Peter saying that Romano had not arrived. There was also a report that the driver of a car in the area had been shot by bandits. Eugenio did not know that this same driver in the report was Romano, but he had an urgent sense that it was. He called Phillip, a colleague and lifelong friend of Romano, who happened to be in a northwestern city of Kenya. Phillip is an evangelist for Make Way Partners who brings the hope of the gospel, and provides aid to hurting people in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and other unstable areas in Sudan. After Eugenio explained what he knew to Phillip, he and Phillip decided Phillip should go try to find this car with the driver who was shot. Phillip went out from the city and indeed, he found the car and the driver was Romano.
Romano had lost a lot of blood and was fading in and out of consciousness. He needed to be taken to a hospital quickly. In order to get him the care he needed, Eugenio chartered a flight through a friend and AIM mission pilot, Kelly. Kelly and Eugenia flew to northern Kenya and picked up Romano, Phillip, Peter, and a nurse to tend to Romano. They hoped to fly to Tenwek hospital, the closest mission hospital with an airstrip, but the sun was quickly setting and landing a plane on a rough, unpaved, unlit runway in the dark is not exactly safe. If they didn’t make it in time to Tenwek, their only other option was to press on to Kijabe, another mission hospital. Kijabe does not have an airstrip nearby like Tenwek, and Romano would have to survive a rough ambulance mountain drive to get to Kijabe. Nairobi was out of the question because the hospitals there would not treat Romano (especially a Sudanese) without upfront payment upon admission and by the time Eugenio would be able to get enough cash together, Romano could bleed to death on a stretcher. Tenwek was by far the preferred option.
The sun had set, but the pilot felt the urgency to get Romano admitted into a hospital fast. He decided to try and land at Tenwek anyway. As they landed, one of the tires on the plane exploded as they met the runway, making for a very rough landing. Praise God, everyone on board was ok. Romano was bought to Tenwek and operated upon last night. He is currently recovering well in Tenwek’s ICU. Please continue to keep him in your prayers. He and his wife have two young boys and his wife is weeks away from delivering their third child.
This account was told to Scott, myself, and Steve (another Duke resident) by Eugenio, Phillip, Peter, and Kelly across the guesthouse’s community kitchen table at 10:00 at night as they ate their first meal of the day. Amazed at their story, I asked them if they would be able to continue their orphanage work in Sudan since it seemed, to me, so dangerous to get there. (They have started three orphanages there, one 650 kid orphanage in Darfur, one 250 kid orphanage near the border of Uganda, and their newest one in the Nuba Mountains where Sudan rains bombs down daily.) In response to my question, they laughed. Of course they would continue. The danger in the region where Romano was shot seemed little in comparison to what they have already, and are currently, living through in the places where they have built orphanages in Sudan. In awe, I just stared back with my right eyebrow raised at these Super Men, these warriors. Ever humble, their reply was, “We are only following God.”
Prompted and prodded by our questions, these men patiently and humbly shared many stories with us about the daily dangers they face, the miraculous stories of God’s healing and protection, the thousands of orphans that have been saved, as well as the countless orphans and sex slaves yet to be rescued. These men are an incredible example to all of us of what it means to follow Jesus no matter what the cost (even if the cost is life itself), and to seek justice for the poor, wounded, and vulnerable people of the world. These men exemplify James 1:27: “Religion that God our father considers pure and blameless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. Please continue to pray for the amazing work they are doing!