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Ohio church, UMCOR, collaborate on Sudan project

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMCOR

Halima Grang Shole plants peanuts on land outside a camp in the South Darfur region of Sudan.

Feb. 2, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*


What started as a Christmas offering from a United Methodist congregation to help displaced people in Sudan has turned into a five-year, multimillion-dollar project.

For the past year, Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, has been working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief to address needs in that African nation.

Since February 2003, the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, has resulted in more than 200,000 deaths and left some 3 million people homeless. The New York Times reported Jan. 28 that efforts by the United States, United Nations and European Union to end the conflict seemed to be collapsing with reports of renewed violence.

The Sudan Project began at the end of 2004, when the Rev. Mike Slaughter, senior pastor, challenged his 4,000-member congregation to contribute half of what they would normally spend on Christmas gifts to the “miracle offering” for Sudan.

With the $317,000 raised from that offering, Ginghamsburg and UMCOR established a self-sustaining agriculture program in Darfur. Through its efforts, 5,208 families have been able to start farming again, and 26,000 people in the camps are benefiting from the harvest.

“The climate conditions were right and it was a great harvest,” Slaughter told United Methodist News Service in a Feb. 1 interview.

The initial work — promoting small-scale farming and other agricultural work, along with the distribution of non-food items — focused on about 250 families in the Ed Al Fursan community south of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. UMCOR also is helping manage the El Ferdous IDP (internally displaced persons) camp.

Now that the project is started, Slaughter said, “our goal is (to raise) a half-million dollars a year for the next five years.”

In late August, a small delegation from UMCOR and the Ginghamsburg church visited South Darfur to meet camp and village leaders, talk with residents and tour one of the farms.
Slaughter, who has been a United Methodist pastor for more than 30 years, said he was most impressed “with how adept UMCOR is in implementing these kinds of emergency projects.”

He also liked the fact that the agency seems to have its pulse on the community. For example, by using local labor and goods as much as possible — creating the farm tools and packaging the harvested seed for sale in local markets — UMCOR was able to invest close to $170,000 of the $317,000 into the local economy, the pastor said.
 
Such efforts are appealing to the Ginghamsburg congregation. “We wanted to get into an agricultural project that would sustain the economy rather than just feed people,” he explained.

Slaughter also appreciated the resourcefulness of the Sudanese people, several thousand of whom showed up in El Ferdous to welcome the delegation. He saw hope in the fact that Muslims and Christians were living and working together in the same camps.

He finds it troubling, though, that the world “can be so indifferent to what’s going on in Darfur.” While he said he has been inspired by the denomination’s efforts to assist survivors of the South Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, he believes churches must be more aggressive in response to needs in Africa.

Slaughter promoted such a response within his own congregation by telling the story of the Sudan Project and the August trip through three-minute video clips for a 10- to-12-week period during the fall. The video was made “so they could understand that sacrifice has impact and it’s a measurable kind of impact,” he explained.

Then, for Christmas 2005, Slaughter issued another challenge to congregants to give half of their gift-giving money to the Sudan Projects. The results were even better: $520,000 as of the end of January, which will be used to expand the agriculture program and create a child development and protection program for the children of Darfur.

An additional $300,000 was raised for UMCOR’s Sudan work through donations from other churches in eight states that the pastor visited during speaking engagements in 2005.

Slaughter encourages other congregations to use the idea of contributing Christmas gift money to “a project honoring Christ on his birthday.”

Donations for “Sudan Emergency,” Advance No. 184385, can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. To make a credit-card donation, call (800) 554-8583.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 
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Produced by Ginghamsburg Church
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Resources
Sudan: Hope for Survival
Ginghamsburg Church: The Sudan Project
BBC: Sudan
United Methodist Committee on Relief