Fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Romans 12:2 MSG

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Our Work in South Sudan 11-14-17

Part of our work together as a local congregation and a church body named the ELCA, is to accompany our Global Partners. One of those instrumental partnerships is South Sudan. Please view this link on the ELCA website ( to see the work that is being accomplished.

As you are reading this, I will be participating in the dedication ceremony of the Lutheran Center in Juba, South Sudan. This is a center for education, medicine, and faith. Most importantly, it serves as a center for real hope in the midst of one of the worst refugee crises that the world has ever seen.
"This center will be a place of encounter for a community that has experienced the horrors of war," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission. "It will be a place of hope for the next generation of leaders, an instrument through which we will touch people's lives for the flourishing of human community and where the good news of the gospel will be proclaimed."
Since South Sudan became an independent nation four years ago, it has been dealing with immense internal conflict among its many tribes. Due to the armed conflict, more than 1.6 million people are internally displaced, and many families and individuals, particularly youth, are flocking to the urban centers seeking a place for healing, as well as training and education. Local partners, including ELCA Sudanese congregations in the United States, the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan, and the South Sudan Council of Churches, hope to see the Lutheran center and clinic become that place of reconciliation and restoration.
 "This project has been, since day one, a story of hope, reconciliation, and rebuilding," said Andrew Steele, director of ELCA Global Church Sponsorship. "The Sudanese community in our ELCA congregations started a movement to establish the Lutheran church in their home country and now we are able to do just that.  A $1.2 million goal of support from across the church was pledged to ensure our brothers and sisters in South Sudan are able to experience the love, grace and healing of God." Our Savior’s Austin is an outreach partner in this life changing project. It not only brings hope to those in South Sudan but to our brothers and sisters right here in Austin.
South Sudan is in the midst of a massive humanitarian crisis. Political conflict, compounded by economic woes and drought, has caused massive displacement, raging violence and dire food shortages. Over 5.1 million people are in need of aid, and 4.8 million are facing hunger. 

When did the crisis start?
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, but the hard-won celebration was short-lived. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling political party that originally led the way for independence, is now divided and fighting for power.
In December 2013, political infighting erupted into violence in the streets of the capital, Juba, after South Sudan’s president accused his vice president of an attempted coup. Fighting between the two factions of government forces loyal to each soon moved to Bor, and then to Bentiu.

Violence spread across the young nation like wildfire, displacing 413,000 civilians in just the first month of conflict. Tens of thousands of civilians rushed to seek refuge in U.N. bases that were subsequently turned into makeshift displacement camps. The fighting has continued, becoming increasingly brutal and affecting the entire country.

What's going on now?
A handful of peace agreements have been signed over the course of the war — the most recent in August 2015 — but they have been repeatedly violated. The situation remains highly unstable and is prone to outbreaks of violence. This year new areas of the south of the country have become embroiled in the conflict, and lands that were once known as the breadbasket of South Sudan are not producing as much food. On top of these attacks, the country's economy is in crisis — the South Sudanese pound has declined in value, and the cost of goods and services has skyrocketed. The inflation rate — 835 percent — is the highest in the world. In early 2017, a famine was declared in parts of South Sudan, leaving 100,000 people on the verge of starvation. While famine is no longer declared as of September 2017, an estimated 6 million people — more than half the population — are at risk and 1.7 million people require immediate assistance.
What's happening to people in South Sudan?
Since the conflict began, almost 1 in 3 people in South Sudan have been displaced. Some 3.7 million citizens have been forced to flee their homes: more than 2.1 million people have escaped to neighboring countries in search of safety, and more than 1.8 million are trapped inside the warring nation. South Sudan is now the third-most fled country in the world, behind Syria and Afghanistan. Many have fled to the borders of Ethiopia in the Gambella region. Our Anyuak community at Our Savior’s have family and friends, and a sister church in Gambella. 
Why did the humanitarian situation deteriorate so quickly?
Sudan, and what was then the semi-independent Southern Sudan, endured a brutal civil war for more than 25 years, which resulted in South Sudan’s independence in 2011. But the conflict in December 2013 reopened deeply-rooted political and ethnic tensions that hadn't yet been reconciled — and those divisions have continued to fuel ongoing clashes.
After those decades of conflict, South Sudan was and still is one of the least-developed countries in the world, which has further complicated the situation. The larger cities in South Sudan had experienced some development, but the majority of the nation is rural. Even before the crisis, more than half of its citizens lived in absolute poverty, were dependent on subsistence agriculture and suffered from malnourishment.
In addition, the country has very little formal infrastructure — roads, buses, buildings — which makes it difficult to transport food and supplies. Many towns and villages become inaccessible during the annual rainy season due to closed airstrips, washed out roads or lack of roads altogether, sometimes limiting any delivery of humanitarian aid to the isolated areas that need it most.

Can people buy more food?
What little food is available has soared in price, and most displaced families have no money to buy any goods. In Juba, the retail price of sorghum, a staple grain, is 600 percent higher than it was in 2015.

Is South Sudan getting enough assistance?
The short answer: no.
The UN appealed for $1.64 billion to assist 7.6 million people in need in 2017. So far, some 70 percent of the budget is funded.
Many humanitarian organizations, including Lutheran World Relief, are partnering with the U.N., using both private contributions and funding from the international community, to address the urgent needs of innocent people in South Sudan.

The Lutheran Center in Juba
The Lutheran Center is a symbol of healing and hope. Lives will be changed, future generations will be blessed, and this young country will be strengthened. This grass roots work and accompaniment model of support is a tremendous work and we thank God for all that is taking place. 

Pastor Wal Reat from the Southeastern Minnesota Synod
Wal Reat serves among South Sudanese refugees in several refugee camps in South Sudan and countries bordering South Sudan. He recently preached at our Joint African Worship Service. 

I will share stories and photos from the Juba trip and from a site visit to Gambella and our partnership church there in late November. In the meantime, please be in prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world, for our faithfulness in providing outreach and support, and for the work of the ELCA Global Church.
Peace and Hope,
Pastor Chad
(*Country info. from Mercy Corp., the ELCA, and the Southeastern Minnesota Synod)

Core Living As The Body of Christ 11-7-17

Romans 12:4
For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another. 
I love this verse from Romans, as it is instructive for us as the body of Christ. In a world of seemingly unordered functioning, where life just seems to happen, where random events pull us to and fro, this verse reminds us of a common center: a core strength. It is a way of being that brings focus and clarity – a unified front and a blessing of inspiration that we are in life together.
We are ONE body. We are many, but no one exists in isolation. No person, no church, no organization, stands alone. We are uniquely tied together by Christ. We are many members – and yet ONE body.
Paul desires to remind us through this verse in Romans that the 2,000 members of Our Savior’s are many and that we are ONE. Our body does not just consist of those who declare to be here, but all those whom we live in relationship with. Our body spans space, time and location. The body envelops the world. The core emanates and ripples out from our particular street corner, but it connects to the greater world through our relationships. We are many: We are ONE.
As church, we proclaim that often but fail often in engaging it as our way of life. Paul teaches that not all members have the same function. We often take that teaching and live then as disconnected people. The church becomes a place of disjointed wants. Individuals randomly show up at different ministry functions depending on taste, sight, sound, age, and other qualities. We separate each other out rather than see each other as part of a vitalized whole.
That is not what Paul is teaching. Paul instructs that while we have many different talents, abilities, and passions for living out our faith, we are joined for ONE common vision: ONE body deeply connected at our roots. Individually we are called to bring our best to the body. And by bringing our best, the body is blessed. By all individually serving, the body strengthens. By every member functioning, the body is whole. The vision: ONE!
ONE does not mean one idea, one event, or one experience. ONE does not mean one gift, talent, or ability. ONE does not limit spirit-blown creativity. ONE does not over-focus on the large and miss the small. ONE does not hinder innovation nor multiplication of ministry foci.
ONE body with many members increases the vision exponentially for the grace-filled life through varied missions. Within the body of Christ, we have all we need and more to accomplish what God sets before us. When every person is fully functioning within the body, the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. When every person is living the faith life to the fullest in the body, our world is changed. 
God has some serious business to accomplish in the world – and YOU, the CHURCH, this BODY – is how the mission will be fulfilled.  We get to live out of each day of our lives stoking our passion for Jesus and his mission for the world. After the empty tomb, the spirit within those first disciples could not be contained. They became ONE body. We are that ONE body today.
Today I invite you to passionately commit to “something.” That “something” is meant to not just be for the individual but for the benefit of the entire body. Another way to state this is for you to answer this question, “What is your personal mission statement that has kingdom outcomes?”
Everything we do as disciples of the living Christ is to infuse life into all the parts of the body. Every act, gesture, commitment, is to have reach and impact. Every person is to have reach and impact. The whole is to have reach and impact.
The challenge is not the “wanting to” of the body. The missional challenge is the “will to.” Will we follow through with passion and purpose? Will we form bonds of connection that enable this ministry to be accomplished? Will we take seriously the call to infuse faith into the life of all our children and youth? Will we be a body of radical hospitality and welcome and truly live all means all? Will members come off the reserve list and actively engage through the serving out of their passions?
Church, this is a vision yet to be realized! It is a vision when lived that would transform our community and world. Imagine your kidney failing: The body cannot accomplish as much when that happens. Imagine a person with much talent – but that talent has been pushed aside by busyness or distraction. The body cannot thrive to its potential when that takes place.
We have a wonderful body of people who call Our Savior’s their church home. God has done much in and through us. And there is so much more yet to do!
The day that all members of the ONE body grace each other with their talents, gifts, abilities, dreams, visions, faith, hope, and love – the BODY will be members of one another. Jesus longs for us to realize that capacity.
Remember, Jesus empowerment is all about people, not organizations, staff or buildings: People are the mission for Jesus. He gathered disciples … he sent them, but more than anything, he empowered them. Through him, they brought life to the world. We too are blessed to be a blessing…..all 2000 of us and counting! May it be so!