The Sudan Project
Taking the Church Into the World
by Karen Smith
Ginghamsburg Church is a United Methodist congregation in Tipp City, Ohio, a small city of 9,300 people just north of Dayton, in the heart of the "rust belt." When the Rev. Mike Slaughter arrived at Ginghamsburg 29 years ago, he inherited a 104-year-old small country church on a quarter of an acre, with fewer than 100 members and an annual budget of $27,000. The population of the Miami Valley region, in which Ginghamsburg is located, has declined by more than 20,000 people since Pastor Slaughter's arrival because of the region's dependence on, and the national decline of, the automobile industry. Today, roughly 4,500 people worship, attend class, serve, or find community each week on the church's campus.
Since Ginghamsburg Church lacked quality music and adequate building and parking space, Pastor Slaughter knew there was no way Ginghamsburg could "compete" in quality with the larger surrounding churches. But, Pastor Slaughter's God-planted vision for the future soon convinced the small Ginghamsburg faith community that its lack of stature or size simply could not prevent the church from being the one thing that Jesus called his followers to be—radical servants who would meet practical and spiritual needs for the "least of these" in the communities around them. With that vision, Ginghamsburg Church immediately started a food pantry and gently used clothing store and later added car and furniture ministries. These ministries, now known as New Path Outreach, served 40,000 people in 2007. This focus on outreach was critical in creating the servant culture that serves as the basis for Ginghamsburg's "DNA" of sacrificial giving and service. That DNA has now resulted in Ginghamsburg's investing $3 million into Darfur, Sudan, identified by the United Nations as the scene of the greatest ongoing humanitarian crisis in the world today.
Decision to Support Darfur
In the fall of 2004, Pastor Slaughter felt God's urging to engage the Ginghamsburg faith community, "no holds barred," into serving the needs of the vulnerable victims of this senseless war. That Advent season, he reminded Ginghamsburg attendees, "Christmas is not your birthday…it's Jesus' birthday!" and challenged everyone to have a simple Christmas that year. All were asked to spend only half as much on their own Christmas as they would normally spend and to give the rest as a Christmas Miracle Offering to serve the people of Darfur. That same challenge has been issued in all subsequent Advent seasons, generating a total of $3 million for humanitarian relief in Darfur from February 2005 to the present.
Partners with UMCOR
The program for children has resulted in more than 100 schools being constructed, with approximately 60 percent of those located in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps; 190 teachers trained; and 11,000 students enrolled.
Currently, four water yards have been implemented or rehabilitated, providing tens of thousands with life-sustaining water. A water yard is a protected area consisting of a borehole, generator, and water pumps. The project provides taps for human use and a separate area with troughs for animals.
By the end of 2010, 12 water yards will provide nearly 220,000 people and their livestock with safe drinking water. Safe water is critical! Polluted open water sources lead to life-threatening diarrhea and malaria. Children are also made vulnerable as they are usually the ones who travel up to eight kilometers a day to retrieve water for their families.
Other churches have joined the call to serve through The Sudan Project. Of the $1.1 million Christmas Miracle Offering given in Advent 2007, $200,000 was given by 36 partner churches and organizations. What has been accomplished may only be a pittance in the face of the entire crisis. Yet, at the same time, Ginghamsburg Church and other partner churches have realized that true church growth and "quality" are not about how many people attend. The true greatness of any local church is measured by how many people are serving the marginalized. Jesus only had a church with 12 members—not a statistic for the record books. Yet, Jesus had 12 disciples in his church who understood the call of the Master to live more simply and sacrificially so that other people could simply live.
Karen Smith is director of communications and global initiatives for Ginghamsburg UMC.
Date posted: Jun 29, 2008