Friday, January 7, 2011

Lightning on the Horizon

I heard a story told by one of the pastors of the Diocese of Renk of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. During the civil war, this pastor was talking to a man who was not a member of the church. When the man learned that the pastor belonged to the Episcopal Church, he said, “I know your church. Your church is like lightning on the horizon in a time of drought signaling the promise of rain.”

I've had the opportunity to see that lightning first hand in trips to the Sudan in 2005 and 2009. The Episcopal Church is the largest Christian church in Sudan and wonderful things are happening through its ministry. It is an evangelistic church, evangelizing and starting new churches. But, it also is at the forefront of providing physical care to the people. The church is building schools. It delivers food aid to the hungry. The clinic in Renk delivers health care and immunization. In many places, the only social services that exist are through the church.

My congregation, St. Barnabas, Glen Ellyn and the Diocese of Chicago have been privileged to help "seed the clouds" and encourage the lightning on the horizon (see the Renk Media Team page here). St. Barnabas provides the salary for a pastor in Maban and we have funded the building of a church there. We have funded a brick-making project. We have funded the digging of two wells and the purchase of land for agriculture. We have also raised funds for the health clinic in Renk for medicine and the provision of a midwife.

The Episcopal Church of Sudan is also taking the lead in working for reconciliation. Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul has been very involved in those efforts. The current bishop of Renk, Joseph Garang Atem is vice-chair of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission. This is vital work as the church helps to resolve issues as displaced persons return. The church also works to unite people across ethnic groups, some with a long history of antagonism. And the church has been involved locally and internationally in insuring that the pending referendum on whether or not the southern part of Sudan will become independent from the north is peaceful and fair.

That referendum begins on January 9. The good news is that indications are that it will indeed be peaceful and if the vote goes as expected and the south secedes, the government of the north is resigned to accept that result. Still, the government in Khartoum can still cause much mischief. There is the reality of ethnic tensions in the south. And putting together a new government that can lead the south into its new future is fraught with potential pitfalls.

With peace there is the hope of stability and a degree of prosperity. Pray for freedom, justice and peace in the Sudan. And pray for the Episcopal Church of the Sudan as it continues to be lightning on the horizon bringing hope to people where hope is often in short supply.

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