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US missionary family's dilemma: Flee violence-ravaged South Sudan or stay with orphans

U.S. missionary Kim Campbell speaks of the terrifying escape from her orphanage in South Sudan to a nearby makeshift U.N. camp. She is now trying to get her family and 10 orphans in their care on a flight out of the violence-torn country.

An American couple who set up an orphanage in South Sudan must choose whether to leave the violence-ravaged country or to stay with the orphans.

Kim Campbell told APTN that "missiles" flew over the group -- which included her husband, two daughters, two other American volunteers and 10 orphans -- as they attempted to leave their compound bound for a makeshift United Nations camp. She was not sure whether the gunfire was directed at them, or intended to scare them.

According to the family, American officials have told them that the decision of who is allowed to board evacuation flights sits with the United Nations. However, it is not clear whether the orphans will be allowed to leave.

"I think they are trying, they're all aware that we're here," Campbell told APTN on Monday. "We were put on an evacuation list, so they are doing what they can do. I understand they have procedures but I would think in a time of war somebody could do something. If you're trying to protect the children then this isn't the place to do it."

The Campbells have been missionaries since 2008, but committed to the pursuit last year when they gave up their lives in Omaha, Neb., and sold all their possessions.

They moved to South Sudan with their two daughters, who are aged 16 and 23, according to the Charlotte Observer. The family previously lived in North Carolina.

Their missionary life was torn apart when fighting started among the country's presidential guards on Dec. 15 and quickly spiraled into widespread ethnic violence. The violence has displaced 180,000 people, according to the U.N.

Freddie Power, president of the North Carolina-based Keeping Hope Alive ministry, has been keeping in touch with the Campbells.

"As American citizens, [the Campbells] can get out, but they don’t want to leave the [orphaned] children behind," Power told the Charlotte Observer. "And they have only a short window of time because they’re running out of food.".

Campbell told APTN that communication back to the U.S. had been almost impossible. She added that the U.S. Embassy is doing what it can but has little influence.

On Tuesday, the White House said it remained "deeply concerned" about the fragile security situation in South Sudan.

South Sudan's government and rebels were due to start New Year's Day peace talks to thrash out details of a ceasefire to end more than two weeks of ethnic bloodletting, mediators said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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