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Club hears of plight of Ethiopian children
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Although Tuesday’s Hinesville Rotary meeting drew a small audience, keynote speaker Clay Johnson delivered a powerful message on the plight of children in Ethiopia and what folks — some from Liberty County — are doing to meet the needs of many in the developing country.
Johnson, who is a pastor at Parkway Church of Christ in Savannah, spoke on behalf of filmmaker Mark Ezra Stokes about a missionary trip in October. The journey was a first-time experience for Johnson and reminder of the past for humanitarian Linnie Darden II.
Forty-five years ago, Darden and his family moved to Ethiopia.
“When I was teaching deaf school at Berkley, the church asked me if I would go there and start a deaf school,” Darden said.
He made the trip and spent two years with missionaries establishing what is now the Mekanissa School for the Deaf.
In October 2009, Johnson, Darden, Stokes and Darden’s sons and grandson returned to Ethiopia to film a documentary about Darden’s return 45 years after finishing his work there. The film examines and assesses the needs of Ethiopian children through the eyes of three generations of Dardens.
Johnson said 17 people of different denominations and backgrounds made the voyage. He admitted he was concerned at first that the differences would cause rifts.
“But you know what was so amazing, we got over there and it’s like everything that puts the walls up between us here in the United States just kind of dropped,” he said. “And everyone’s sole vision and sole purpose was looking at the poverty these kids were living in. And that became our vision. All we cared about was just helping these people.”
Johnson said the group visited a self-sustaining children’s village where they grow and sell their own produce and raise their own meat. The children also dug a well so they can sell and use their own water. The pastor said the group wants to return to Ethiopia soon and help develop a similar village in another area.
While touring the city of Gondar, the missionaries said they witnessed roughly 50,000 orphaned children living by any means possible.
What started out as a film project turned into what Johnson described as “an epiphany,” resulting in a new organization called Sustaining Hope.
“There are so many needs there and there are so many groups here in the U.S. doing mission work,” Johnson said. “But all of us are kind of doing things on our own.”
Johnson said Sustaining Hope, established by Stokes, is a way to combine all the resources available to assist those in developing nations.
The group will host a four-day symposium July 8-11 in Savannah. They hope President Jimmy Carter will attend and possibly speak at the event. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and dignitaries from Ethiopia are also expected.
At the symposium, the final cut of the documentary about the Dardens and their return trip to Ethiopia will be screened.
For more information on Sustaining Hope, go to
To watch the upcoming documentary’s trailer, go to

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