A Parable of ‘Talents’ for Mission in Sudan
Olivia “Ollie” Pleggenkuhle took the Sudan study at her Iowa Conference United Methodist Women School of Christian Mission in 2009 and left with a stroke of inspiration that raised $20,782.70 Mission Giving dollars to support work in Sudan.
“I had a conversation with a lady who told me that her church gave $100 bills to members of its congregation to develop their ‘talents.’ The congregants grew the seed money and brought it back to the church as a donation,” said Ms. Pleggenkuhle, a director of United Methodist Women’s national policymaking body, the Women’s Division. “It was a project inspired by the Parable of the Talents, variations of which can be found in Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27.”
In this parable, Jesus tells the story of a nobleman who entrusts his workers with his money while he is away. Most of the workers invest the money, but one fearfully buries his portion in the ground. Upon returning, the man questions the workers about what they did with the money or talents. The workers who returned an increased amount of money to the nobleman were rewarded, while the worker who hid the money was chastised. The king said, “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given” (Luke 19:26) and “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance” (Matthew 25:29).
The mission study leader challenged Ms. Pleggenkuhle’s class to take the plight of Sudan home. Ms. Pleggenkuhle heard a call to action in her classmates’ experience with this parable showing how faithful service trumps paralyzing fear.
Ms. Pleggenkuhle and Jeanne Janes, Linda Richardson and Judy Marnin, United Methodist Women members in her conference, discussed the idea and the project began to form. “What if we could gather some money and give people a chance to apply for seed money to run projects like in the parable of the talents? It was an exciting idea for all of us,” Ms. Pleggenkuhle said.
At a mission education event later in 2009, Ms. Marnin gave a presentation on Sudan to the Iowa Conference. Ms. Marnin had traveled to Sudan and shared her firsthand knowledge and experience of the situation.
“Judy’s presentation of her experience in Sudan really motivated people to help,” Ms. Richardson said. “There are women in other countries who are living a much different life, through no fault of their own — through wars and poverty. If we are to follow Jesus, we need to be doing some of the things that he did.”
The Iowa Conference United Meth-odist Women “Talents for Mission: Working for Sudan 2009” was off and running. Money was offered to individuals, groups, churches and units within the Iowa Conference as seeds to raise more funds for mission in Sudan. The money was given out in $50 increments to 24 groups.
The project was an astounding success. In one year, the seed money of $1,350 grew to $20,782.70 in donations through the resourcefulness of the participants.
Talents at work
Creative projects sprouted across Iowa, educating people about Sudan and raising mission funds to help the people there.
One shopper extraordinaire used her seed money to buy and sell items on e-Bay for a profit. Another woman made and sold table runners. An artistic group of women designed fancy handmade purses and sold them. A United Methodist Women unit decorated clogs and sold them.
There were many food-related projects. One woman doubled her seed money by buying materials to make jelly and then selling her product. Several groups hosted bake sales and spaghetti dinners.
A creative group purchased 50 pairs of flip-flops, attached information about Sudan to each pair of shoes and sold them for a profit.
Yet another United Methodist Women unit hosted an “Experience Sudan” night with a few of the Lost Boys — Sudanese refugees who came to the United States as boys separated from their families — who talked about their life experiences in Sudan. A local newspaper covered the event, bringing information to the whole community, not just the United Methodist congregations.
“Having a single focus — raising money for Sudan — really helped strengthen our conference,” Ms. Pleggenkuhle said. “The benefit was received not only by the Sudanese but by our own groups who grew closer in their efforts to help others.
“When United Methodist Women members get a challenge, they are the most fastidious, Gospel-centered people on a mission. These women are so excited to put their faith in action. I saw women who had never volunteered before working together with United Methodist Women mission champions — wonderful cooperation,” Ms. Pleggenkuhle added.
Mission Giving supported efforts to prepare women to vote in Southern Sudan’s referendum on secession.
“When mission comes alive, people feel more connected to the lives of people around the world,” Ms. Pleggenkuhle said. “United Methodist Women — it’s the best organization you could ever belong to. You can really make a difference here.”
Mary Kate Sweeney is a freelance writer and mother living in Aurora, Ill. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School.