A Church of Servants Anticipates a Third “Miracle Offering”
NEW YORK, Dec. 8, 2006-Alex Applegate is ten years old. She's receiving $40 from her parents for her Christmas shopping. And she's giving half of that away to her church's Sudan project. Her pastor says such sacrificial giving is what servants of Jesus do. When a visitor asked Alex why she's participating, the fifth-grader responded, "Because it's the right thing to do."
In an out of the way bean field near Tipp City, OH, giving is very much on the minds of Ginghamsburg Church members like Alex this Christmas season. The United Methodist congregation has donated over $850,000 to United Methodist Committee on Relief's Sudan programs. They plan to do it again in their third consecutive "Christmas Miracle Offering."
Some Pledge to Increase Their Gifts
"God is not disinterested or uninvolved in the world," said senior pastor Mike Slaughter during the sermon time in each of six services on a recent weekend. "God intervenes through God's people. We're the only bank account God has." A seventh service on Sunday evenings served up the teaching on DVD. Nearly 4,000 people heard the message. Many plan to reprise their 2005 gifts or increase them this year.
Most Ginghamsburg families have not met the beneficiaries in faraway South Darfur. But they've seen the faces of children who can be kids again because they attend a safe school in the displaced persons camp where they fled when their home villages burned down in the war.
Jane Ohuma, head of mission in Sudan, described the UMCOR school program, known as child protection and development, designed to shield children from early marriages, kidnapping, recruitment as child soldiers and other forms of exploitation. In addition the 15,000 children attending the schools are from all sides of the conflict in South Darfur, as are their teachers. Such diversity helps to ensure the sustainability of the program. "When we are out in the field in South Darfur, we know there are people in Ohio who are praying for us," said Ms. Ohuma, speaking during the service.
"We Can Make Their World Different"
UMCOR opened operations in Sudan with the congregation's initial gift, the Rev. Paul Dirdak, director of UMCOR who accompanied Ms. Ohuma on the podium, told the weekend crowds. A program providing seeds and tools to displaced families in South Darfur has taken on a life of its own. In the first year 26,000 benefited and returned some of the harvest so that in the program's second year, some 50,000 are receiving benefits-food, cash for basic necessities like soap and sugar, and seed for the next planting season.
"The church of Ohio," as the Ginghamsburg congregation is known in UMCOR's Sudan office, experiences their connection to the people of South Darfur as durable. They believe they can "make their world different," in the words of one of the worship leaders, through their commitment and their action. "You encourage world citizenship by showing not the desperation but the joy of people's lives," said Rev. Dirdak in his thanks to the congregation. Photographs posted in the hallways, and a DVD showing the school in action, showed faces shining with hope. It's a fitting light for this church of servants.