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Tents of Hope send message of love to Sudan

From left: Carrie Olander, Lauren Byrd, Ryan Harvey, Parker Cragg, Chris Morisseau and Mark Bogart prepare to set up their tent on the National Mall.
UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 14, 2008 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

A United Methodist youth group from Houston filled a tent full of hope and drove to the nation’s capitol to join an international chorus of voices calling for peace in Darfur, Sudan.

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society’s decorated tent was one of the 350 on the National Mall.

The youth of Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, Houston added their painted tent to the more than 300 tents set up Nov. 6-9 on the National Mall in the culmination of a yearlong campaign to bring attention to the genocide in the African country of Sudan.

Brightly painted expressions of love transformed plain canvas tents into unique works of art. Churches, communities and organizations from as far away as Sweden participated in the gathering, called “Tents of Hope.” Many of the tents used in the event will be shipped to Darfur for use as classrooms and symbols of hope.

In the Darfur region of Sudan, an estimated 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have fled their homes for refugee camps. Displaced people live in tents along the Chad-Sudan border.

“We have set up an impromptu tent village to show solidarity with what is going on,” said Mark Bogart, a youth leader at Memorial.

“Christ hung out with the downtrodden and the poor and the weak,” he said. “That is our call, not to be the light in places that are well lit. We are called to be light in the dark places … Darfur is certainly one of those dark places.”

‘It is beautiful’

The tent from Houston drew many admirers as people strolled through the mall on a lovely November weekend. In fact, the organizers of the Tents of Hope used two panels from Memorial’s tent for the t-shirts and publicity used for the event.

Painted hearts in the shape of Africa draw attention to Darfur, Sudan.

As the members of Memorial sat near their tent, they could overhear words of praise for their work. “Wow, I want to live in this tent,” said one excited college student.

A young boy of four wandered inside, saying, “It is so beautiful.”

“Awesome,” exclaimed a jogger stopping on her usual Saturday run through the National Mall to take a photo.

Almost every inch of Memorial’s tent was painted.

“Even the inside is painted,” said Annie Wild as she ducked through the tent’s door. “A dozen people spent so many hours inside this tent in the 100-degree heat of Texas.”

Steve Cragg, director of youth ministries at Memorial, said 250 youth and youth leaders worked on the tent during a summer mission program the church sponsors each year.

Visitors stroll past a tent painted by members of Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas.

A few artists designed the more intricate parts of the tent but everyone had a “hand” in the final product. “Inside the tent there are handprints … we had everyone come put their hand in paint and add their handprints to the ceiling,” Cragg said.

Amanda Poerschke, an art student at the Maryland Institute College of Arts and a church member, painted the faces on one side of the tent.

“Amanda is a phenomenal artist,” Wild said. “The faces just really … speak.”

Poerschke said she wanted the eyes in the drawings to “stare … like they want you to understand what they’re going through.”

One of the sides of the tent features a map of Africa crafted out of small red hearts. Sudan is outlined in orange and nine pink hearts represent Darfur.

Long hours of love and sweat went into
the painting of a tent from Houston,
Texas, to bring attention to the
genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

Cragg said the youth group held benefits and awareness rallies and sent emails and “giant plywood postcards” to the White House during the past year to draw attention to what is happening in Darfur.

Being in the nation’s capitol after the election of Barak Obama as the next President of the United States gave the weekend even more meaning, he added. Event participants spoke often of asking the new administration to prioritize the issue.

“If we’re going to be people of faith then we are called to love our neighbors and love God,” Cragg said. “This is a great example that our neighbors are not just next door, they are all the way across in Africa.”

Call for compassion

At the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, delegates approved a resolution advocating for justice for all Sudanese and called upon United Methodists “in every country” to encourage their governments to aid development of a more just economic system in the Sudan.

The tents were on display between the Washington Monument and the nation’s Capitol Nov. 6-9.

The resolution, “Sudan: A Call to Compassion and Caring,” quotes Silvia Regina de Lima Silva, a Brazilian theologian, who says solidarity means finding ways “to seek forms of life in which bread can be eaten and shared to live together, and to cover each other, and to protect and take care of each person’s body.” For United Methodists, this is a call to compassion and caring.

Faced with such horrible human tragedy, individuals can feel helpless, Bogart pointed out. “Write a letter, sign a petition, just tell one person what’s going on in Darfur,” he said. “Wear a t-shirt or a button … the idea that we are helpless in this fight is simply untrue.”

Among the partners in the Tents of Hope is the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, whose board of directors painted one of the tents during the fall meeting Oct. 22-26. United Methodist churches from other states also had tents at the event.

Other partners include the United Church of Christ, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Save Darfur Coalition, STAND, Genocide Intervention Network, Genocide Watch, Investors Against Genocide, Lost Boys Rebuilding Southern Sudan, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Darfur Peace and Development Organization, Amnesty USA, Church World Service, American Jewish World Service, Physicians for Human Rights, Lutheran World Relief, Stop Genocide Now, Enough and the National Council of Churches of Christ. For more information and reports on the event go to www.tentsofhope.org.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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