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Prayer for Sudan Wraps Up in April
March 27, 2006

This spring Calvin communication arts and sciences professor Linda Welker and her “Community-based Drama” class took “Prayer for Sudan,” a multimedia drama based on the stories of local Sudanese Lost Boys and others, on the road.

The production was a re-working of the drama of the same name, created by Welker’s former “Community-based Drama” class in the spring of 2005.

“I decided to put together a touring group, so I reprised it,” Welker says. The class has spent February and March taking the drama to Holland, Kalamazoo, Wyoming and Ypsilanti.

At 5 p.m. on April 2, the class will perform “Prayer for Sudan” at Woodlawn Christian Reformed Church and at 8 p.m. the same day at Christ Lutheran Church in Wyoming.

And at 8 p.m. on April 8, they will perform the piece at Taylor University in Indiana for the Central States Communication Association Conference.

"We’re an invited performance,” Welker says.

“Prayer for Sudan” was created from hours of interviews with Sudanese — including Calvin students Mayom Bol Achuk and Mayen Wol — who were relocated to the Grand Rapids area following the Sudanese genocide. Some of the interviewees were Lost Boys, a group of young refugees (some of them girls) famous for their tortured flight across the African wilderness to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Also included in the drama are stories of persecuted Sudanese who did not make the fabled “Lost Boys” trek

The drama is composed of three parts, the first of which deals with the survivors’ early lives in Sudan. The second part of the drama tells about the flight, including the harrowing Lost Boys scenario.

“‘They walked for months straight,’ is one of the lines that’s so powerful in our drama,” Welker says. “They had to cross a river and carry their clothes in a sack. Some of them couldn’t swim and would drown or were eaten by crocodiles. They were always fearful of the animals around them, especially the lions; the lions would attack the weak. They had to walk in the heat. Their feet were burnt. They had to keep walking because the dangers were behind them. They had scars on their feet and cuts on their legs. They had to walk for nine hours at a time, often walking at night because it was too hot and dangerous in the day.”

Equally compelling, she says, are the stories of relocation in the third part of the drama. This section deals with refugees being places in the U.S.: seeing their names on lists, relocating to unfamiliar climates, leaving behind spouses and families.

Welker has also included a political update in the revamped script: the story of John Garang, a former leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army who died in a suspicious helicopter crash one week after he was elected vice president of Sudan.

"It sent the Sudanese there and here into a tailspin,” she says. “He was a major figure in the revolt against the genocide. He was a savior, a God figure in their eyes, a very strong and valiant leader.”

“Prayer for Sudan” interweaves these spoken narratives with a continuous slideshow (which includes the photographs of Calvin alumnus Ryan Spencer Reed) and music. Several people from the local Sudanese community often accompany the show to its various stops. Among them are local Sudanese pastor, Matthew Riak, and the president of the Grand Rapids Lost Boys organization.

The audience reaction to the drama has been gratifying for the performers.

“People are moved to say things like 'I didn’t know about this. I didn’t know the depth of the suffering,'” Welker says. “They ask how they can help, how they can become involved. They want to know what the government is doing about it. Those themes run through every performance.”

The student performers have also been gratified by the reaction of the Sudanese who have attended “Prayer for Sudan.”

“When the students saw how the Sudanese reacted — so strongly and so appreciatively,” Welker says, “they felt that they had really done something worthwhile. It really gave back to them more than they could ever have imagined. You never know how people are going to receive the telling of their story."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson