Imagine leaving most — or everything — you possess behind and running for your life. Imagine losing a husband, child or a parent because they have been killed. Imagine finding refuge in a neighboring country where you will live indefinitely in a United Nations run refugee camp. Imagine trying to minister the Gospel to hundreds of thousands of refugees in these camps and the surrounding area. The pastors, deaconesses, and church leaders of the Lutheran Church of South Sudan do not have to imagine. They live it every day along with the people in their congregations.
On Monday, October 26, a mission Team from the Institute of Lutheran Theology, and Zion Lutheran Church (LCMC), Des Moines, Iowa, boarded planes and traveled to Ethiopia with the Rev. Jordan Long, President of the Lutheran Church of South Sudan (LCSS). Team members were, Rev. Douglas Morton, ILT’s Dean of Educational Ministries, Mr. Tom Sandersfeld, ILT Ambassador, and the Rev. Dr. Brad Miller, representative from Zion Lutheran Church, Des Moines, Iowa.
Many of the days spent in Ethiopia were with the people of the Lutheran Church of South Sudan who are now living in or near Gambella, Ethiopia. The Team was received with great joy by hundreds of LCSS people at a worship service held, not in a church building, but out in the open, where people were exposed to the elements. The people of the LCSS in Gambella have church compound, but no church building. As welcomed guests, we, the ILT and Zion team members, were given honored seats under a makeshift shelter at the front of the worshipping community. The people sat in the heat of the sun. Our feet were washed and dried as an expression of love by the congregation present. Great joy could be seen as the people sang, clapped, and even danced in praise of God. They were also excited about medicine and eye glasses the Team brought with it, and a Keyboard and speaker donated to them by Lutheran Church of the Master (LCMC) of Omaha, Nebraska.
During the next seven days, the ILT mission team preached at large gatherings, and taught seminary faculty, students, and pastors for the LCSS’s Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Currently, the seminary is housed in rented facilities, but the leadership of the LCSS have plans to build a modest Seminary building on the same grounds where they also have hopes of building a permanent worship center and a guest house for visiting teams from North America. Hundreds of crosses were given out to young and old alike, who immediately wore them proudly. These crosses were made by a member of a Lutheran congregation in Idaho.
Dean Morton and Tom Sandersfeld also met with the faculty of Trinity Seminary to discuss ways ILT could partner with them to help in theological education. From this meeting came the hopes that ILT’s Educational Ministries could design and teach courses for a Master’s Certificate for the education of current and future faculty at Trinity. The hope was expressed that ILT’s Educational Ministries could also design a Deaconess Training Program for both present and future Deaconesses in the LCSS. Dean Morton also spoke with LCSS President Jordan Long and Trinity Faculty about helping Trinity Seminary obtain much needed books for the school’s library.
Included in the desires of Trinity Lutheran Seminary is for Dean Morton and other Certificate Instructors to travel to Gambella, Ethiopia at least several times a year for short term teaching engagements with pastors, faculty, and students.
During the ILT Team’s stay in Gambella, they also visited a South Sudanese Refugee Camp, where close to 50,000 people live. Many in the camp are widows and children because of the Civil War that has been going on in South Sudan since December, 2013. On the day before the team left for Addis Ababa, they sat and listened to the leadership of the LCSS (both men and women) share their stories and concerns. One of the stories they heard over and over again from leaders of various congregations, both in Ethiopia and in South Sudan, was that they had no buildings in which to worship, and thus were exposed to the weather when they gather together. Even something as simple as a grass building with a roof would be a welcome relief. Dean Morton promised President Jordan that he would personally be an advocate for the refugees of South Sudan and for the Lutheran Church of South Sudan.
The ILT Team also spent several days in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and in Hosanna, Ethiopia, and meeting with officials of 2 of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus’ seminaries. “Mekane Yesus” means “Jesus’ dwelling place.” Many more things happened during the Team’s visit to Ethiopia and these will be shared over the next few weeks.
God is opening doors for ILT and we are excited about what he is doing. You are invited to contact Rev. Morton (605-691-4576 or firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to know more about ILT’s international educational ministry, or if you feel called to help in this important ministry.