Dr. Tom Catena’s patients come to him from hundreds of miles away on foot, in carts, or often cradled in their mother’s arms. Welcome to the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, an area of the world so void of humanitarian and media attention that years of war go ignored, and cries for help go largely unheard. Here, this lone American surgeon tends with equal compassion to patients ranging from malnutrition and leprosy, to grave wounds inflicted by the indiscriminate bombings ordered by their own president, Omar al-Bashir. When a government can attack defenseless men, women and children with supersonic bombers, and it doesn’t make anyone’s newswire, something is terribly awry.
The only surgeon within 200 miles, Dr. Catena does his best to save lives in the midst of carnage and terror, treating as many as 400 patients a day at Mother of Mercy Hospital, nestled in the heart of the Nuba Mountains. The region is the latest target of Omar al-Bashir, a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Surrounded by a country at war, living under the constant shadow of aerial bombardment, Dr. Catena and his mostly local staff defy Bashir’s ban on humanitarian aid, and work tirelessly to serve the Nuba people. This population of one million Muslims, Christians, Animists and Africans of traditional belief have lived together harmoniously for centuries. Now, together with Dr. Catena, they struggle to survive.
The documentary film, The Heart of Nuba, tells the story of the war-torn Nuba Mountains of Sudan and Dr. Catena’s mission to save children and adults from the bombing attacks taking over the region. It opens in LA on April 20 and will expand to additional cities throughout April and May.
The Heart of Nuba director, Kenneth Carlson, reflects on why he decided to make a film about his classmate and teammate from Brown University.
“Catman needs our help!” was the subject line of the email. Brown University classmate and football teammate Dr. Tom “Catman” Catena was in a crisis. A truck carrying a year’s worth of precious medical supplies, vaccines and food to the Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, where Dr. Tom is the sole surgeon for nearly one million people, had been hijacked and raided. The raining season was less than three weeks out. Once it began, there would be no movement possible. People would die. Miraculously, within two weeks the Brown community raised more than $102,000 not only to replace the stolen truck but to fill it with more supplies than it had before! Two days before the heavy rains started, the truck with life-saving supplies arrived at the hospital and lives were saved.
Right there and then, I realized the story of Tom Catena was one that needed to be told. It was the birth of my latest feature length documentary film, “The Heart of Nuba.”
It was only a few months later that I was ordered off a cargo plane and found myself on a dusty airstrip in South Sudan, with a half dozen boy soldiers aiming AK-47s at my head. After forty-five minutes the melee reached a fevered pitch. I desperately revealed that I was smuggling my way into Sudan to make a film about my friend, Dr. Tom. Tensions immediately subsided. The mere mention of “Dr. Tom’s” name had the power to set me free, literally saving my life.
On the hellish drive into the remote Nuba Mountains, we dodged several barrel bombs dropped by Soviet-built Antonovs. Upon arrival, Tom gave me what I remembered as a 245 pound, All-American nose guard hug. But now he was a slight 135 pounds.
While I was still taking all of this in, seventeen casualties arrived at the hospital, the latest victims of government bombings in the region. Dr. Tom, always on call, switched into scrubs and high gear. Cameras came out and we started to film.
This was the first of two harrowing trips I made to chronicle the lives of Dr. Tom and the people of the Nuba Mountains. Both trips totaled just less than six unforgettable weeks. In the end, I left the perilous region of Sudan having “gotten” the story. Dr. Tom, who is as close to a saint as anyone I would ever hope to meet, stays to assist others as they struggle to survive.
My concern for him endures. He works selflessly, twenty-four-seven, treating all conditions, from casualties resulting from the conflict to delivering babies to malnutrition. He reminds me that his greatest compensation is the fulfillment and peace that comes from serving others in need. Regardless of the hardship, Dr. Tom is exactly where he wants to be.”
Dr. Catena was selected as the 2017 Aurora Prize Laureate from more than 550 nominations submitted from 66 countries.
George Clooney, Academy Award-winning actor, Co-Founder of both The Sentry and Not On Our Watch, and Co-Chair of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee, commends Dr. Catena.
“As violence and war continue to threaten people’s spirits and perseverance, it is important to recognize, empower and celebrate people like Dr. Catena who are selflessly helping others to not only survive, but thrive. Dr. Catena is a role model to us all, and yet another example of people on the ground truly making a difference.”
Be the change. God might not call you to another country, but ask Him how you can be a catalyst for change where He has placed you. It could be mentoring a co-worker or starting a ministry. Whatever it might be, be willing to go where He has called you. Pray and ask Him for the faith necessary to be obedient to the calling.
Support those on the frontline. There are many missionaries that need support. Whether it be finances, resources or prayer, all of those things are critical for them to reach people with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ask your church if there are missionaries or ministries that you can support.
Have a movie night. Grab your friends or small group and watch The Heart of Nuba. Afterwards, discussed what impacted you most.
For more info, visit our website: http://theheartofnuba.com