Dr. Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senate majority leader, is an accomplished heart and lung transplant surgeon who trained at Stanford University and was among those who pioneered heart transplants. A Tennessean, Dr. Frist opened the first transplant center in the South at Vanderbilt University. In 1994 he left medicine and was elected to the U.S. Senate. He promised to serve only two terms, so at the end of last year, after 12 years, Dr. Frist retired.
During the four years that he was majority leader, Dr. Frist continued his practice of going to Africa on medical missions, and he began to see that the power of healing can go a long way to improving America's reputation in the world and, more importantly, providing peace and stability in the region.
Dr. Frist is back in Africa, traveling with his wife, Karyn, and Franklin Graham, the president of Samaritan's Purse, and is blogging for FOXNews.com.
Feb. 7: Striving for Peace
The goal in Sudan is lasting peace ... after the displacement from their homes of over 5 million people, like so many that we have been with and shared stories with over the past week. The dislocation leads to the starvation that led to the rural food distribution center's feeding 33,000 on the day we were there, the susceptibility to HIV we touched in Lira, the destruction of churches in Yei.
Well, politics is important, wherever we are in the world ... in Memphis, in DC, in Sudan. The ultimate answer is a political one, thus our journey to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan to meet and encourage those responsible for bringing peace.
Such peace is built, I believe, on the one-on-one, person-to-person connections, through the trust that comes from organizations like Samaritan's Purse and using "medicine as a currency for peace" (tomorrow we will be doing surgery at Tenwek).
I'd never been to Juba, always too dangerous in the past, but our group took off to engage in meetings with officials from the South, including my friend Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of the Government of Southern Sudan and vice president of the Government of Sudan.
I had met Kiir several times, most recently in Washington in the majority leader's office, but the time I remember the most was at New Site, the home of the legendary leader John Garang in southeastern Sudan about a year and a half ago. My son Bryan and I went to meet with the respected leaders John and Rebecca Garang, along with other leaders of the SPLA who had gathered at his compound.
We had arrived in New Site at the air field, having just visited the refugee camps in Chad, just across the border from Darfur. What we found there was tragic and things have worsened since. The now-president but then-active Gen. Kiir then met us at the airport and formally welcomed us with an impressive military parade.
In our meeting Wednesday he thoughtfully mentioned how much he enjoyed meeting Bryan at the procession and how impressed he was. And, of course, Bryan, a senior in high school at the time, will forever remember the time at New Site.
I think I have said that on each trip to Sudan over the past 10 years I have tried to take one of my sons to expose them to this part of the world. Little did I know that Kiir would succeed John Garang upon his untimely death a short time later in August 2005.
In addition to Kiir, we met with Pa'gan Amum, secretary-general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, and with the chief of staff of the SPL Army and speaker of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly, James Wani Igga.
Our delegation was Karyn; Franklin Graham, who shared his longstanding commitment to the people of Sudan through Samaritan's Purse; my niece Lisa Frist (who is sadly leaving us after to return to her NGO work in Mozambique); Dr. Furman; Kenny Isaacs; and several others.
In each meeting I did my best to express our strong support for the peoples of Sudan. Franklin outlined his vision for a more peaceful Sudan, including the rebuilding of the 500 churches over the next several years and expansion of the local presence of Samaritan's Purse in Juba.
What we heard left me concerned but cautiously optimistic — but only if the North and the South do better to mutually commit to the full implantation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). These leaders are committed to peace, as spelled out in the CPA, but implementation of that document has been too slow and inadequate to date.
The areas of concern in the implementation are four.
First, fulfillment of the Abyei protocol.
Second, transparency in distribution of the oil revenues. The South is to receive 50 percent of the revenues but the South is not allowed to see the basis upon which the 50 percent is calculated, thus the call for full transparency.
Third, borders demarcation, which is absolutely essential to conduct the census next year.
Fourth, military redeployment.
These areas are not progressing as well as they should be. International encouragement must be heightened. It was suggested that the world community's interest seems to have shifted just to Darfur, at the exclusion of interest in the peace agreement between north and south. Both are critical. And peace and Sudan will not be realized unless both are addressed at the same time.
The good things that have been accomplished have been the successful establishment of both the Government of National Unity (Khartoum) and the Government of Southern Sudan (Juba).
The Government of Southern Sudan, our focus today, has successfully written a budget, established a parliament or Assembly that fully honors democratic principles (there are eight parties represented).
At the end of the day, we went to the final resting place of Garang (see pictures) in Juba. We paid our deep respects and as we left, our hosts were recounting the pervasive and inspirational charismatic leadership of this man. He has tragically died, but his vision of one country and two systems clearly lives on in the hearts and minds of the people of southern Sudan.
Next, we journey to Kenya for a few days, then back to Sudan. Tenwek Hospital is an established medical mission hospital and we will be in the operating room.