Sudan Project Serves as Model for Denomination
by Linda Bloom
Ginghamsburg Church did not seem to be a promising assignment when the Rev. Mike Slaughter was sent there 29 years ago.
He was the first full-time pastor for the small United Methodist congregation in Tipp City, Ohio, since its founding in 1864. As part of the "rust belt," the Miami Valley area surrounding the church was losing both jobs and population.
But Slaughter stayed and the church grew--so much so that it has attained "mega-church" status, with multiple buildings and ministries on two campuses serving about 4,500 people weekly. Membership stands at 1,300.
Ginghamsburg's ministries now extend far beyond Ohio. Through its Sudan Project, undertaken in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, "we are reaching or touching a quarter million people in Darfur," Slaughter said.
Slaughter spoke about that project--which has raised $3 million in three years--during the spring meeting of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR's parent agency, March 10-13 in Stamford, Conn.
Christmas miracle offering
He sees the project as a model for The United Methodist Church. His Christmas fundraising message is a simple one: "It's Jesus' birthday, not your birthday."
Since Christmas 2004, Slaughter has asked parishioners to make a monetary donation for Sudan mission work equal to what they spend on family Christmas presents. The effort has become known as the "miracle offering."
The project has been particularly effective because it gives local church members a sense of ownership. "When we're focusing on one major mission initiative, it will have an incredible impact and ownership in our people's lives," Slaughter said.
The $317,000 raised during the 2004 Advent season helped start a sustainable agricultural project in South Darfur, an area with less conflict than West Darfur and home to many internally displaced persons. The investment in that project "is now feeding 65,000 people with no additional funds," he said.
The initial project--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 has assisted in managing the El Ferdous IDP camp.
During Advent 2005 and 2006, the miracle offerings raised more than $1.5 million, about $80,000 of which was donated by partner churches, schools and businesses. A five-year child development program was begun in 2005 and a four-year water project in 2006.
The results include the construction of 90 schools and the training of 200 teachers serving 11,000 students, and the establishment of 10 water yards, providing 22,000 people and their livestock with water.
Each year, the miracle offering has expanded to include donations from other churches, many of them small congregations. Of the $1,145,649 raised during the 2007 Advent season, more than $200,000 came from other partners, including 17 United Methodist churches from nine states. For example, Urbana (Ohio) United Methodist Church, a congregation of around 200, has contributed $56,000 over a 12-month period.
"People want to contribute to something that has significance," Slaughter told UMCOR's board of directors.
Slaughter has addressed churches and schools across the United States about the situation in Darfur which, he noted, has been labeled by the United Nations as "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today." Since 2003, more than 200,000 people in Sudan have been killed and 2.2 million displaced from their homes, according to U.N. statistics.
Despite a 2006 peace agreement, a rebel offensive occurred recently in West Darfur, with responding government and militia attacks. All sides have committed killings and human rights abuses, including destruction of property and forced displacement, according to a March 10 statement by Sima Samar, the Special Rapporteur of the U.N. Human Rights Council after a 13-day visit to Sudan.
During a March 11 briefing to the U.N. Security Council, the assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations said that a peacekeeping operation cannot by itself bring security to Darfur and that the parties in conflict must be pressured to negotiate a peace, according to a U.N. news release. UNAMID, a hybrid African Union-U.N. force, is patrolling Darfur.
Because the work of the Sudan Project is centered in South Darfur, much of the conflict has been avoided, but progress was impeded at the end of 2007. "We've had, this fall, some security frustrations that have held up some of our water project," Slaughter said. Since the beginning of 2008, work has resumed on the project, located in Adilla.
Contributions to the Sudan Project can be made to Advance # 184385MG. Checks can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. To make a credit card donation, call (800) 554-8583 or donate online through http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/umcor/donate.cfm%20?code=184385.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
Date posted: Mar 13, 2008