As Diane mentioned on Monday, her friend Lopez Lomong runs in the 5000m qualifier for the London Olympics today. We hope you’ll be cheering on Lopez during the broadcast tonight. In the meantime, we snagged an interview with a mutual friend, Steve Haas, who worked with Lopez to launch 4 South Sudan.
4word: How did you meet Lopez?
Steve: Lopez had shared a plenary dias with the omnipresent Diane Paddison. Following the lunch gathering, she discerned that he had a deep heart for the people of his birth country, the new nation of South Sudan. Being the connector that she is, Diane introduced him to an old Harvard Business School classmate who happens to be the President of World Vision International, Kevin Jenkins.
Not to make this sound like telephone tag, but Kevin spoke with his wife Helen who had just returned from a trip to Palestine, where I had served as host to a large group of religious and professional leaders. I was somewhat aware of the Lomong story, and with a title at World Vision of “Chief Catalyst,” I had some idea of what to do … but it was only “some” idea.
4word: Is that your real title, “Chief Catalyst?”
Steve: Yes, it allows me to do things like this (connecting Lopez to World Vision).
4word: What made you want to work with Lopez?
Steve: In many ways his story is unique. Have you heard of any other Lost Boy who spent 10 years in a refugee camp toeing the line in London? But at the same time, it’s repeated thousands of times over in many places on our planet.
World Vision works with kids whose “forced” daily experience could be anything from trafficking, abuse, civil conflict, neglect or extreme poverty. Lopez’s story is the story of any child who through no fault of his own finds himself in a vulnerable position. His is a story of hope as he, with God’s help, transcended the incredible obstacles before him.
It didn’t hurt that Lopez’s dream was to assist South Sudan, one of the most difficult places to raise awareness or economic support for due to the vice-grip of violence and extreme poverty. Lopez loves challenges; so does World Vision. You might say it was a marriage arranged by God. In this case, Diane played the role of “Yenta.”
4word: This week on the blog, we’ve been talking about the amazing ways God can use us to help others when we act on the opportunities He gives us. How have you seen this to be true in Lopez’ life?
Steve: I’m amazed by what happens when faithful people just do what is laid out before them and create something so much larger than themselves. Diane could have kept Lopez’s heartfelt need to give back to his homeland to herself. After all, her friend Kevin is a very busy global executive, and Lopez is just one athlete amongst many. But Diane chose to act. She says it was a small thing, an email, but it was the match that got the fire going.
World Vision had not worked closely with an Olympic athlete before, and my plate was already overflowing with current projects. It took a team effort from a variety of departments to pull this off. None of us can do everything, but that should never be an impediment to doing something. Lopez’s sponsor, Nike, says it most succinctly, “Just Do It!”
4word: And what about in your own life?
Steve: 13 years ago I traveled to Sudan with a US congressional delegation. The experience marked me for life. I have never seen a level of human devastation like I did during those harrowing three days. I strongly believed then, as I do now, that human transformation is possible. I pleaded silently with God to allow me to make a difference in this land others had left for dead.
Again and again, God proves his faithfulness to me. Getting that email invitation from Helen Jenkins asking if I had heard of a Sudanese Lost Boy who had run in the Beijing Olympics confirmed a couple of things for me.
Even when we forget the quiet pledges of our hearts, God remembers. This partnership has shown me not only the extent of God’s love but that the joy in His love was “born a twin.” God loves to use His gifts to bless far more than the one he gives the gift to. Lopez says that he is blessed in this partnership, I and my colleagues say we’re blessed, and the people of South Sudan speak of their blessing. Powerful stuff!
4word: So how can our readers get involved?
Steve: If you wish to be a part of this growing story of life and hope, you can do so by visiting 4SouthSudan.org. This is an exciting initiative of the Lopez Lomong Foundation, and 100% of the funds raised go toward World Vision’s development work in South Sudan.