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United Methodists in Indiana focus on Sudan

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Beth Reilly
April 18, 2006

By Matthew Oates*

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (UMNS) — Beth Reilly, a member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, is a leading advocate in Indiana calling for Hoosiers to remember those who have no voice in Darfur.

Reilly, with the help of clergy and laity throughout the city, continually reminds church members, through the denomination’s Indiana Area’s publications, of opportunities to call their elected officials and take part in rallies and learning opportunities on Darfur.

“I started hearing about Darfur on the news,” she said. “The violence disturbed me.” She was particularly moved by the impact on Darfur’s children and families. “I’m affected by what they go through because I am a mother.”

She started writing letters to her elected officials. She talked to the Rev. Brian Witwer, senior pastor at Aldersgate, who encouraged her. The church has had numerous offerings for Darfur and held a special service one Sunday. Members have been writing letters, calling elected officials and circulating petitions throughout the community.

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A UMNS photo by Brian Steidle

Over the course of just a few days, about 7,000 refugees arrive in Menawashi, South Darfur, Sudan.

Reilly and other church and community activists are working with Fort Wayne’s Darfurian community, which is one of the largest outside of Darfur, and have become involved with the Save Darfur Coalition.

At the end of April, Reilly will travel to Washington for the “Million Voices for Darfur” rally, where organizers hope to pass along to Congress a million postcards from Americans supporting a call to stop the genocide in Darfur.

“ This is a real Methodist issue,” Reilly said. “The Book of Discipline says we aren’t supposed to be quiet when a government abuses its people. Here’s a government that’s attacking its people. As Methodists, we can’t be quiet.”

Witwer said the Aldersgate congregation has strongly encouraged Reilly in this mission. “We are giving her a platform and support for this,” he said. “It’s incredibly gratifying to have something like this happen. This is a direct outpouring of her faith.”

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A UMNS photo by Brian Steidle

A 1-year-old baby bears a gunshot wound inflicted when her village was attacked by Sudanese government forces and the Janjaweed militia.

Mohamed Fashir, a Darfurian who has lived in Fort Wayne for five years, still has most of his family in Darfur. “We are somewhat more lucky that the U.S. has given us a chance for a better life,” he said.

Fashir is thankful to Hoosiers for raising awareness of the plight of his homeland. “We appreciate them for this. Everyone cares for this.”

Felix Lohitai is a refugee from South Sudan, where the fighting originated before spreading to Darfur. He said no one talked about the fighting until U.S. Congressional leaders took a fact-finding trip, and then the Congressional Black Caucus and religious leaders started speaking out about the dire situation in Sudan.

Lohitai is thankful to have survived the fighting. “Sometimes I don’t understand how I lived and how I survived,” he said. “If the whole world doesn’t care, then you care for yourself.”

But he said the fact that people are standing up to make a difference “gives us a little hope.”

*Oates is a correspondent based in Lafayette, Ind.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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