After 25 years of horrific civil war, the African nation of South Sudan was born in 2011. Peace is being reestablished in the region, but the area is in a humanitarian crisis.
People are returning from refugee camps to find no roads, no schools, no power or sewer infrastructure for most of the country. Access to healthcare and clean water are inadequate. Many are still vulnerable to attack, especially on the borders of the new country.
While some would see only the heartbreak and challenge of this area, Dennis Cady ’66 sees something else: opportunity.
Dennis Cady '66 and partner Chuck Dennis with friends in South Sudan
“There are few creature comforts there, but the people are wonderful,” he says. “They’ve been beaten down by war, lived in refugee camps, and they’ve developed a meekness and a gentleness.”
Cady, a long time missionary, minister, and businessman, was looking for a new location where he could invest his time and talents. “I don’t mind going places that are a little bit dangerous, a little bit dirty. Places where other people say, ‘I couldn’t go there!’” he says. “I like to pioneer new things. I like a challenge.”
On his initial visit to South Sudan, “We saw every kind of need,” he says. The greatest needs were for clean water, healthcare, and education.
Cady knew these people needed one other thing: the Gospel message.
Children in South Sudan
“I am a big proponent of combining humanitarian work and church planting,” says Cady, who has been a part of such efforts in Malaysia, Indonesia, Haiti, and the Philippines.
Cady has visited South Sudan several times and is currently in the process of building a school in Jonglei, the largest state in the country, where the government has given him and his partner in this work, Chuck Dennis, six acres of prime real estate.
The proposed boarding school will teach vocational skills, such as tailoring and welding. They will also teach the Bible.
Cady says he sometimes hears the question, “Is it really the work of the church to teach people to weld?” His response: yes! If providing a means for a person to make a living and bless others also provides the opportunity to teach him the Gospel, there is no better work for the church to undertake.
Cady working with children in Haitian orphanage
There must be a balance, though, Cady says. “We don’t want to tend to the body and not the soul. Any [church] work in a country where severe poverty is a way of life should have aid as a part of the program of work.”
If it is considered appropriate work for the church to distribute food to those in need, why not use those same resources to teach people a skill so that they can provide their own food? It just makes good business sense, says Cady.
Cady has big plans for the school, which will house 70 students and eventually grow to 140. Students will be charged a small amount for tuition so that they will be invested in their studies, however much of the cost of their education will be underwritten by donors.
The school will admit students in their 20s and 30s from each of the six tribes in the area and encourage as much intermingling as possible. Cady hopes this will break down walls of prejudice created over generations and lead to greater harmony and stability in the nation.
Students will return home with practical skills and the knowledge that neighboring tribes are not their enemies. Cady hopes that the students will also carry the Gospel with them back to their homes, opening the door for church planting in villages throughout the country.
Cady’s missionary zeal was ignited during his years at York College. He came to YC in 1964 with plans to major in business. Instead, he became a Christian, majored in Bible, and was one of the first students to be sent out by the Master’s Apprentice Program. Since that time, his missionary journeys have taken him all around the globe.
“I’ll go to heaven being grateful to York College,” says Cady. “It changed my life. It made my life.”
There was a great missions emphasis on campus when Cady was at YC, he says. Missionaries who were spiritual giants to Cady spoke often on campus and lit a fire in students. “A number of us went to the mission field,” he says.
He recently completed his memoir “Go Ye Meant Go Me: The Missionary Experiences of Dennis Cady.” The book follows Cady’s adventures in foreign fields, but it also challenges the reader with some of Cady’s hot button topics about mainstream Christianity. Cady has a big problem with churches that invest in lavish buildings and "ten talent preachers," but say they can’t afford to support mission work.
There’s nothing wrong having a nice building and a gifted preacher, but we must remember that those comforts are a means to an end and not an end to itself, he says.
Cady with young friend at a Haitian orphanage
“I am deeply concerned that the church in America is so selfish. It’s about me and about us,” says Cady, who predicts that on the Day of Judgment we will be called to account for Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
“We will be asked, ‘Did you do that?’” says Cady.
Cady operates as director of his own non-profit organization, the Starfish Foundation. The organization’s name comes from the story about the boy walking along a beach throwing starfish back into the water before they dry out and die. When someone points out that he can’t possibly make a difference, there were just too many starfish, the boy throws another starfish and responds, “I made a difference to that one.”
Cady and partner Chuck Dennis studying with friends in South Sudan
One such starfish is a man named Aguer, a guide that was helping Cady travel in South Sudan on his first trip. As they traversed the country, “we started talking about his soul,” says Cady. “He was just hungry for information.”
They studied together and two days later Aguer obeyed the Gospel and was baptized in the Nile River. There are crocodiles and hippos in the Nile, says Cady. They take the confession on the bank, baptize as quickly as possible in the water, and then get back out fast!
Today Aguer is overseeing the construction of the school in Jonglei. He is also teaching the Gospel to others in the community.
Though the needs seem daunting at times, Cady is ready to meet the challenge, one starfish at a time.
For additional information or to request periodic reports on the work in South Sudan and other work of Starfish Foundation go to thestarfishfoundation.net.
Aguer, one of the people involved in the school construction in South Sudan, who obeyed the Gospel after studying with Cady.
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