"It was one of the greatest experiences in my life. As soon as the plane landed in Nairobi I could just feel Africa."
The speaker is Mark Dewitt of Syracuse, a carpenter, who devoted his considerable skills to help build a medical clinic for some of the poorest people in the world, the Dinka tribe of the Southern Sudan in Africa.
Central New Yorkers in the past several years have heard of the heroic experiences of the Dinkas through the Lost Boys of the Sudan who have come to America.
The program Mark participated in is partially sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church of Skaneateles. Ted Kinder, a member of the church and a well-known Central New York builder, took two of his employees, Mark Dewitt and Dan Cross on the trip to Africa. They spent seven weeks in February and March in a country that has been wracked by civil war and poverty.
The story of the Lost Boys itself is amazing. Dinkas nearly starved to death as they were routed from their homelands and spent several months roaming the desert of the Sudan before they finally found refuge in Nairobi, Kenya.
John Dau, one of the leaders of the Lost Boys, met Kinder in Skaneateles. It was that friendship that led to Kinder and Dewitt and Cross ending up in the Sudan and volunteering their work to build the clinic.
I had a chance last week to interview Dewitt and his friend, the Rev. Peter Major, a Mill Hill order Catholic priest. Father Major, the brother of Judge Charles Major of Skaneateles, is home in Skaneateles recovering from a recent surgery. He plans to return to the Sudan after he spends some time at the headquarters of his order in Montreal.
Father Major and Dewitt met recently and had an animated conversation talking about the Sudan. Father Major spent several years in the Sudan and Borneo as a missionary. He was imprisoned in Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan by one faction in the civil war.