United Methodists Join in Sudan Water Mission
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Water is a basic need everywhere and is particularly important for displaced people in camps in South Darfur, Sudan, and their host communities.
Now a four-year relief project is focusing on re-establishing water supplies and improving sanitation in refugee camps in the war-torn African nation. The ministry is an outgrowth of a continuing collaboration between Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
The project is coming together at a time when continuing violence and political instability pose a threat to humanitarian assistance in Darfur, where at least 400,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million driven from their villages during four years of fighting between rebels and militias.
"Water is absolutely the most critical health need in Darfur," said Karen Smith, a Ginghamsburg staff member.
The Ohio church's fundraising efforts for Sudan have inspired other congregations, including a New York church where musicians and actors performed in a March 26 benefit concert called "Songs for Darfur: The Water Project."
In all, the Ginghamsburg church has raised more than $1.8 million for its work with UMCOR in Sudan, which started in February 2005.
The initial focus was on providing basic needs for displaced people but now includes ministries involving education, agriculture and health.
The first contributions came at the end of 2004, when the Rev. Mike Slaughter challenged the 4,000-member Ohio congregation to give half of what they would spend on Christmas gifts to the Sudan offering. UMCOR and Ginghamsburg used the $317,000 raised for a self-sustaining agriculture program.
The 2005 Christmas "miracle offering" raised $530,000, and a five-year child protection and development ministry was launched with UMCOR and now serves 15,000 children.
"Our goal with the 2006 miracle offering was to raise at least $500,000 for year two (of the child protection program)," Smith explained, adding that Slaughter also encouraged the Ginghamsburg church family "to go above and beyond that."
The result was a $1 million "miracle offering," including donations of some $81,000 from other churches and organizations in Ohio, Alabama, California and Wisconsin.
Ginghamsburg approached UMCOR about the idea of starting a water project with the additional half million dollars raised. Marc Maxi, who leads UMCOR's nongovernmental division, said a need exists for clean and potable water because the same water "was being used not only by animals but by human beings."
The plan is to rehabilitate wells and drill bore holes at the sites of 10 existing water yards, which are protected areas where separate water resources will be available for humans and livestock. The project will benefit about 220,000 people.
Placing the water resources near operations for the child protection ministry - which includes education, food security, teacher training and school rehabilitation - completes "the holistic approach that we are taking," Maxi said.
The approach also enhances child protection, according to Smith, because "generally, in Darfur, it is the job of the girl children to go out and collect the water for the family."
A delegation from Ginghamsburg, UMCOR and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries will visit South Darfur in June to evaluate the ministries and get updates on peace efforts.
Other churches have started their own fundraising efforts to help Sudan. Last December, the Rev. Paul Dirdak, then UMCOR's chief executive, spoke about the Ginghamsburg Christmas offerings at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, United Methodist, in New York City.
Victoria Clark, a long-time member and Tony Award-winning Broadway actress for "The Light in the Piazza," was among those inspired to respond and conferred with the Rev. James "K" Karpen after the service. "Paul was the inspiration that moved me into action," she said.
St. Paul and St. Andrew already had collaborated on a benefit concert for Sudan last November with an interfaith partner, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, which netted a few thousand dollars for UMCOR.
This time, the goal was larger and involved the New York theater and music community. Concert hosts were Clark; Jane Kelly Williams, a singer-songwriter and church member; and Cheyenne Jackson, whose Broadway credits include "All Shook Up," "Aida," and "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
"With our belief that hope fuels the brilliant writers, the wise activists and those who work diligently for peace, we are here to answer the stronger calling in each of us that believes something can and will be done so that the spirit and homes of the refugees are restored and they are freed to flourish as a people," Williams wrote in the concert program.
More than 600 people attended the concert, which raised $20,367. Because most of the expenses were donated, the bulk of the proceeds will go to UMCOR, except for a $2,000 donation to the Darfur People's Association of New York, which ships clothes and school supplies to Darfur refugees in Chad.
Included in the total was a $1,000 grant from the Children's Relief Fund in Denver, secured by Jon Mikel Zeigler, a church member and the concert director. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS also gave a $5,000 grant in honor of the participating artists.
The water project and other work can be supported through donations to "Sudan Emergency," Advance No. 184385. 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.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.