CHARLOTTE — With backing from an evangelical Christian charity based in Fort Mill, Bradley and Kim Campbell arrived in South Sudan in March 2012 to care for refugee children orphaned by war and disease.
Besides starting an orphanage for the children (ages 6 to 17), the Campbells and two of their daughters (ages 16 and 23) started an English school and launched a weekly church meeting in the front yard of their compound in Malakal.
But with South Sudan – the world’s newest nation – now engulfed in a bloody clash between rival factions of the army, the American missionaries and the 10 or so orphans in their care have fled their home and found temporary shelter in a nearby U.N. peacekeeping base.
“As American citizens, (the Campbells) can get out, but they don’t want to leave the (orphaned) children behind,” said Freddie Power, president of Keeping Hope Alive, the Fort Mill-based charity that is partnering with the Campbells in South Sudan. “And they have only a short window of time because they’re running out of food.”
In recent days, the Campbells have been feeding the children from packages of nuts and dried fruit.
Power said she talked by phone with former Charlotte resident Kim Campbell, 54, on Monday morning. Power wants the U.S. government to allow the family and the orphans to come to the United States and stay with her until it’s safe to return to South Sudan.
The Campbells “want to raise the kids there,” Power said. “When things get better, they’d go back.”
The violence in South Sudan escalated about two weeks after President Salva Kiir accused Vice President Riek Machar of attempting a coup. Soldiers loyal to the two politicians have been battling ever since in what has become an ethnic conflict. More than 1,000 deaths have been reported nationwide, according to The New York Times, with some stray bullets wounding people inside the U.N. base in Malakal.
The Observer could not reach the Campbells on their cellphone Monday, but the family was featured in recent stories filed in Malakal by reporters with the Times and The Washington Post.
According to the Post account, the family and the children spent Christmas morning trapped in their home, afraid but prayerful as rival soldiers outside fired at each other, rattling the windows.
“We were trying to keep the kids quiet,” Bradley Campbell, 44, a pastor, told the Post. “We didn’t want anyone to find us.”
He and his wife, who most recently lived in Omaha, Neb., have pledged not to leave South Sudan without the orphans, who are not American citizens. They have applied with South Sudanese child welfare authorities to become their legal guardians, the Post reported.
The couple wants their daughters evacuated as soon as the U.S. government sends another plane.
But the daughters – Katie and Cassidy Talbott – told the Post they wouldn’t leave unless it was with their parents and the children.
“I can’t consciously be sitting back in America without them,” said Katie, the older daughter.
Power said she founded Keeping Hope Alive 21 years ago and now supports and feeds about 100 orphans in South Sudan, Haiti and Kenya.
In the Charlotte area, she said, the charity ministers to homeless people and children in need.
Power visited the Campbells in South Sudan in May and has posted photos and a blog on one of the charity’s websites ( www.keepinghopealivemissions.com.). She said she’s trying to aid the Campbells by calling the United Nations, but has not yet reached anyone who can help.
During Power’s Monday morning phone call with Kim Campbell, “Kim was crying, saying she won’t leave without the kids,” Power said. “Those kids have gone through wars. The 17-year-old told me (in May) that he used to run whenever the bullets started flying.”