Sudan: Visitors See Both Challenges, Opportunities

Post a Comment » Written on March 24th, 2008     
Filed under: News
MALAKAL, SUDAN (March 24, 2008) – Orientation, training, project development and an assessment of ongoing needs was the focus of a recent trip to Sudan by three individuals representing the Department of World Mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

ProcessionThe group, which visited the headquarters of the Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan and Ethiopia (ECCSS/E), included James Tang, short-term missionary for Sudan/ Ethiopia; Byron Amundsen, the mission department’s director of administration and finance; and Pete Ekstrand, regional coordinator for Africa.

Ekstrand describes the meeting with ECCSS/E leadership as a time of mutual encouragement, continued orientation to the Evangelical Covenant Church, training in organizational development, project development, and assessing needs.

To see additional photos, see Sudan Visit.

Although much of the activity centered around Malakal, the weeklong visit included visits to other ministry areas including:

•    A five-hour boat trip (lower photo) on the White Nile River to visit the village of Fangkok. “There we looked around and had a service the Covenant Church,” Ekstrand reports. “The return trip down river only took three and a half hours and we arrived just after the sun set.”
•    Another day the group rented a 14-passenger van and took the ECCS Executive Council on an excursion an hour out of Malakal to visit the Covenant church in Obel. “After a wonderful service, which was also attended by several choirs from the nearby Presbyterian Church, we paraded and sang our way to the Presbyterian Church where we had another short service before returning,” Ekstrand recalls.

ClassThe group shared Bible studies and biblical training, while also training ECCS leaders in the management of projects and attendant finances. The group also reviewed small business operating practices in preparation for implementation of a Covenant World Relief micro enterprise project. The center photo shows Amundsen at right teaching one of the classes.

Another area explored in conversation is the relationship between the Department of World Mission and Covenant World Relief – specifically how the two organizations collaborate to achieve ministry goals. Future ECCS projects and needs of that ministry also were reviewed.

“The three churches we visited – Malakal, Fangkok and Obel – were encouraged by our presence and we were encouraged by their vitality in worship,” Ekstrand says. “We were honored to visit these churches, by their reception and the washing of our feet, a custom for special visitors.”

“The extreme poverty and hand-to-mouth existence” of so many people left a deep impression on Amundsen, as did “the intensity of the sun, the oppressive heat, the omnipresent dirt and dust, and the inescapable need for water.” He also was moved by “the sacrificial manner in which the church leadership are giving of themselves.”

Amundsen made special note of the church/ministry center that FOWM (Friends of World Mission) provided, describing it as “an oasis of blessing. Its congregation of 500 people and their efforts at providing children’s education using only volunteer teachers is admirable.”

BoatAnother aspect of life that impressed him is the vibrancy of and commitment to worship. “There is no anonymous Christianity in these settings,” he observes. “Brightly colored clothing with prominent white crosses are worn, and significant processions (top photo) with loud beating drums and hymns greeted us and led us in unorganized parades to their churches – sometimes walking for a quarter mile along village paths.”

Sudan is a difficult place to work, says Ekstrand. “Its sheer size is overwhelming – Sudan is the largest country in Africa. Long distances between conferences of the ECCSS/E make travel and communication difficult.

“People are trying hard, but there are many struggles and obstacles including very little opportunity to have gainful employment,” Ekstrand continues. “There appears to be much potential for agriculture, but periodic cycles of droughts and floods have restricted efforts.

“Still, there is much joy in the smiles and faces as the choirs sang and people worshipped. There was much joy evident in the services we attended.” Ekstrand had considerable praise for Tang’s ministry amidst such difficult circumstances. “James is outstanding in fulfilling his responsibilities in what is a very demanding job. He is passionate, perceptive, visionary, creative, has initiative and connections everywhere.”

“We see numerous opportunities for Covenant members and churches to come alongside the ECCSS/E,” Ekstrand concludes.

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