Posted on : Sunday August 2, 2009

By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent

LANHAM, Md.—Barbara Davis has a burden for the Sudanese refugee women who are living in perilous conditions in Egypt. She wants to make a difference.

The founder of the nonprofit Practical Living Institute, which seeks to improve the lives of the disenfranchised both domestically and internationally, Davis wants to provide the women refugees with spiritual guidance and training for developing sustainable living skills.

Davis, who also serves as co-director of Outreach Ministries (Missions) at New Song Bible Fellowship Church in Bowie, Md., has performed ministry in over 35 countries in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. She has been to Egypt three times, where she has met women refugees from Darfur and other parts of war torn Sudan.

In 2007, her first exposure to the displaced people was during a mission trip she led to Egypt and Congo in 2007. The next year, she led a mission trip with teenagers who ministered to displaced Sudanese children in Egypt.

By 2009, she felt God leading her to serve for a longer period of time. Ironically, Davis was sitting on the front row of her church listening to a guest speaker at a mission conference she organized.

His words rattled her.

“Are there hindrances in your life that are keeping you from doing what God is calling you to do?” the speaker from Atlanta had asked.

Davis, crying, realized that she was allowing her job and her family to stop her—a missions director—from doing the mission God had called her to do.

She began praying fervently. Several weeks later, God confirmed through her husband that she was to go to Egypt to serve the Sudanese women.

Davis, a systems engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will leave her job at the end of August to lead Project Destiny, which seeks to bring comfort and provide leadership training for the Sudanese refugee women. She will live in Egypt for nine months.

Davis explained that there are tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in Egypt, most of whom are seeking refuge from ongoing military conflicts in their home country.

In Sudan, the women were subject to atrocities, such as the systematic rape, murder, and starvation of over one million civilians belonging to the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.

Villages and crops have been repeatedly destroyed, leaving them uninhabitable and forcing the Sudanese to take up residence in the neighboring countries of Chad, Congo, Uganda and Egypt.

Davis said the biggest challenges faced by refugees to Egypt include unemployment, insufficient education opportunities, limited access to healthcare, high housing costs and integration difficulties.

“Most of these women have lost contact with family members and friends,” she added. “They are strangers in a foreign land with very little or no food or shelter. They are desperate for relationships and spiritual direction in order to make some sense out of all that has happened in their lives.”

She explained Project Destiny’s three-dimensional leadership training approach. In the autumn, Davis will begin by rebuilding the refugee women spiritually and emotionally.

In this phase, Davis and other volunteers also will teach leadership skills in decision-making, conflict resolution and understanding one’s emotions.

“I want the women to know that there is a God who understands what they are going through and loves them,” she said.

Then, Davis will concentrate efforts on redefining the refugee women for the workplace. Presently, she is recruiting other women who can volunteer to teach computer skills as well as cosmetology, jewelry making, and other marketable skills.

“The bottom line is that these women have to develop some kind of skill set to sustain themselves,” she said.

Thirdly, Davis will strive to reconnect the refugee woman to the community as a citizen and not as a refugee.

She seeks to define what “a good citizen looks like in Egypt” and will do whatever she can to facilitate that for these women. She knows that the majority of Sudanese refugees arrive with what little they can carry and are forced to live well below the poverty line. Many live in a tiny room housing seven or eight people with no air-conditioning.

“Although Egypt kindly opens its borders for the Sudanese to enter, it is unable to provide financial assistance to the refugees due to its own rapidly growing population,” Davis shared.

Though there are thousands of Sudanese refugee women, Davis will concentrate efforts on training 30 women at first. These women, in turn, will serve as mentors for other women.

Davis also will train two local deputy directors to operate the program next year.

The projected cost for the nine-month project is $45,000, which includes food for the refugee women, training materials, living expenses and other ministry expenses.

Urging prayer for the safety, health and prosperity of the program’s participants, Davis pledged, “Though the task may be difficult for the refugee women being served, it is a goal that can be achieved with diligence and perseverance.”

To learn more, visit online at www.practicallivinginstitute.org or contact Davis at (301) 794-0211, [email protected].