When Rob Davis first heard about the suffering of the people in war-ravaged Southern Sudan and Uganda, he wanted to help.
He has been there twice as part of missions teams that ministered to children and freshened buildings with a coat of paint.
Davis was inspired to visit the area several years ago after listening to a message by Sam Childers, founder of Angels of East Africa, a children's village for orphans in Southern Sudan.
Youths at Children’s Village orphanage in Southern Sudan attend a church service on campus. Many of the children were rescued from the Lord’s Resistance Army. (Courtesy photo)
Rob Davis of Altoona (right) poses with Angela and her brother, Walter, in Kampala, Uganda. The children witnessed the murders of their parents and the gang rape and fire torture of their sister by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Angela was shot in the neck and Walter in the face as they fled. Sam Childers, founder of Angels of East Africa, rescued them and arranged for their medical treatment at a Pittsburgh hospital. (Courtesy photo)
Childers, pastor of Shekinah Fellowship in Central City, started an orphange 10 years ago to house children who were at risk of being forced into becoming soldiers or slaves at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA, led by warlord Joseph Kony, was formed in 1987.
According to the Angels of East Africa Web site, the LRA is the primary rebel group in northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. After a presidential coup in Uganda, former rebel leader Odong Letak taught Kony to use guerilla warfare tactics to instill fear into innocent citizens.
The objective was to demonstrate the ineptitude of the Ugandan government forces in defending its people, the Web site states.
"They ravish villages and indiscriminately kill people," Davis said.
The LRA is notorious for brutalizing and mutilating civilians who fail to comply with their demands. School-age children are primary targets, with more than 20,000 kidnapped since 1988, he said.
LRA soldiers come into the villages at night, kill parents and carry the young boys off to be soldiers and the young girls to be slaves or prostitutes, Davis said. The girls are given to men as wives and the boys are forced to carry supplies.
Davis, who served in the National Guard, approached Childers about helping with his work after Childers spoke at a church Davis was attending in Altoona.
Childers told him he would be a good candidate for a missions trip. Davis compared the trip to living in the field on a military assignment.
Davis said it takes five or six hours of travel over rough terrain in a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to the orphanage. When they arrive at their destination, missions volunteers can't drink the water and it's 90 degrees every day.
"It's Africa. It's not a vacation. It's rough on you," he said.
Davis first went to Southern Sudan and northern Uganda in May 2008 with seven others and in August 2009 with a group of eight.
The cost of a trip is about $4,000 a person with airfare being the major expense.
Davis raised funds for his first trip, and his second was funded by his sister-in-law, friends and people from different churches.
During his stays, he visited youths at the Children's Village orphanage in Southern Sudan and a school in the Buziga Hill section of Kampala, Uganda.
About 200 children live at the orphanage. Most were rescued by soldiers and Children's Village staff after being abducted by the LRA or witnessing their parents being shot. Some parents died of diseases, including AIDS.
The rescuing soldiers are members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army with troops in Uganda and Sudan who risk death to save the children. Childers is one of their commanders.
Once the children are safe, Angels of East Africa works to restore the children's lost childhood and provides them with an education and vocational training.
Davis and the other mission volunteers bring school supplies such as pencils, paper and crayons.
"Paper is like gold. It is hard to get," he said.
They also bring treats, such as hard candy.
A former assistant youth pastor, Davis taught the Bible study classes to the oldest group of children at the school of more than 600 students in Kampala.
"We got to pray with the kids," he said. "When I taught the Bible study class, I said the sinner's prayer and some of them repeated it."
At the orphanage, Davis and other members of the team painted buildings and distributed clothing.
He also lead music.
"The Lord's given me a gift for singing and preaching a little bit," he said.
Davis said the best part of his journey was "getting to help somebody, meet them and tell them about Jesus," he said.
Despite the obstacles, he wants to return.
"I love the Lord and I've got a heart for the kids," he said.