WERKOK, South Sudan.-- It's a hospital that's giving hope to a community that wouldn't have basic healthcare needs without it. David Bowman, the founder of Memorial Christian Hospital in South Sudan, has made an enormous medical impact on the Sudanese.
It's a calling halfway around the world that didn't come by chance. The people who truly inspired Bowman's efforts were his five Sudanese boys that he took under his wing years ago.
Daily surgeries at the Memorial Christian Hospital are one by one giving hope to a community in South Sudan. Bowman knew from his first visit nearly a decade ago that something had to change. Their only hope when they fell ill was prayer. Most people in the villages have never seen a medical doctor. It was a tall task inspired by 'tall' young men.
Malaria, pneumonia, and dehydration are just some of the daily struggles for thousands in the war-torn region of South Sudan. They are struggles Bowman set out to change inspired by what he calls his honorary sons. Bowman reunited with two of them on his latest trip to South Sudan in March.
Phillip Madol and Deng Alier arrived in West Michigan in 2000.
"I had nobody else. I was just looking for a better life," said Madol.
Madol recalled never seeing snow before that moment. He thought it was sugar covering the ground.
"I was very excited because to us when we lost our parents, we were looking for a mother and a father," said Madol.
Deng Alier thought the snow was white soil giving Americans their white skin.
"There are so many things I am so thankful about them [the Bowman family]. Things that they did for me personally and things that they did to the Sudanese on my behalf," said Alier.
Both suffered from illness in the past, unable to receive treatment. They watched their loved ones perish in a forced exodus from war.
"My step brothers, my twin sisters, my cousins they died during that time," said Madol.
9 years later, both men are grateful their 'dad' as they know him is still helping their loved ones in the villages.
"I even know people from my family who have actually benefited from this hospital," said Alier.
Both men have since returned to South Sudan under differing circumstances. Madol openly admitting to a past abuse of alcohol, fueling a fight with his wife that would change his life.
"One time I put my hand on her, and this is why I got into some problems, and the government say that it's illegal," said Madol.
Madol regrets his mistakes. For Alier, the return home was by choice. He achieved degrees in sociology and economics in West Michigan. His education fueled his future path to make his return to his native land.
"I was asking myself how do I pay back? How do I help? And how do I make a difference to the people who have made a difference in my life? That's why I choose to leave America behind," said Alier.
Alier encouraged Partners in Compassionate Care (PCC) to bring a team to South Sudan in March. All the people bringing different areas of skill from medical doctors to technology consultants, but the journey is not easy. There's no phone or internet service here, and food is scarce.
Fear and insecurity is something that the Dinka tribe has to live with on a daily basis. A simple walk down the road could mean losing their life from rival tribes hiding in the grass waiting to shoot them.
The PCC team made the trip despite the dangers they could be confronted with along the way. They introduced new technology like iPads to the hospital staff, spiritual teachings, medical doctors and nurses, and giving business workshops to empower those left behind. The team even made an effort to fix things on the compound like the water wells, tractors and repairing things like their showers.
It's not just the people who come with the team that help. In third world countries, water is a precious resource. Four rotary clubs in West Michigan donated the money for the water well that the hospital uses to run its facility.
Even in down time, the team worked to bridge cultural divides through common interests. The team let the Sudanese try a popular American candy, Pop Rocks. In return, they let the team try some of their favorites like wheat flour.
Bowman is aware and grateful that he was able to give Alier and Madol a taste of living in the comforts of American life.
"The best thing in America is that it's the land of freedom and opportunity. These are the opportunities I am missing in Africa," said Alier.
Alier is continuing to try to repay Bowman by working for PCC in Sudan.
"If I didn't meet Mr. Bowman I don't think I would have Memorial Christian Hospital. I cannot afford to pay them back by money. I cannot afford to do everything to everybody who has done something different in my life, but I can sacrifice myself and come here to South Sudan," said Alier.
Madol is not happy to fall back into a cycle of violence. He has decided to join the military.
"But now I really see where the life is. I just joined it. I wasn't happy to join because I don't want to kill nobody," said Madol.
Madol hopes he can make up for his past mistakes by protecting his village. He says being deported back to his country is shameful, but he is trying to move forward. He hopes other Sudanese will someday get the chances he didn't take.
"I pray to God that he gives him [David Bowman] more years so he can do more amazing things in Sudan," said Madol.
Bowman wants to give the Sudanese who will never make it outside of their village a small piece of stability.
"As long as I have breath in my lungs I want to keep going," said Bowman.
Two places that once seemed so far, now bonded together. Monday on FOX 17 News at 10 we'll take you through a journey to empower women that have been left behind. Their husbands killed, their children stolen, with little left to live for, a West Michigan based organization comes in to give them hope.