I was in Kenya when I heard the news. July 9, 2011: South Sudan had voted for independence. Nairobi’s local news outlets beamed in images of jubilant crowds cheering in the streets. My Kenyan friends talked excitedly about their hopes for the new country.

I tried to be excited too, but had almost no idea why this referendum was so significant. My knowledge of Sudan was limited, to say the least. I remember thinking, “Huh. Maybe I should try to go there some day. That’d be interesting.” Little did I know that just two years later I’d be standing on the streets of Juba myself, seeing the world’s newest nation firsthand.

I won’t say it was an easy trip. Or a fun one. In fact, as you’ll see in my feature article, The Sapling, things were pretty darn rough. I’ll shoot straight with you. When I came home after my four-week stay in South Sudan, I couldn’t get enough of air conditioning, clean water, and fast Internet. I filled every drink up to the brim with ice. The comforts of home never felt so good.

But even though my trip led me to new lows of discomfort, I won’t ever see it as a waste of time. On the contrary. It was in the midst of my “suffering” that I got to witness a powerful movement of God. I learned about poverty, and I learned about hope. I witnessed injustice, and I witnessed the power of the Local Church. I met leaders who are transforming their country, and I met children who blew me away with their resiliency and joy.

Seeing the work of ALARM in both Rwanda and South Sudan gave me a new respect and appreciation for this incredible ministry. My hope is that this magazine issue will do the same for you.

So turn the page, keep your eyes and ears open, and let me take you to South Sudan: the newest country in the world!

Barry Rodriguez
Founder and Executive Director
World Next Door