Missions opportunities in Ethiopia

Prof. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., and two South Sudanese PSI students, Peter Bur and Simon Duoth, visited Ethiopia Oct. 14 to Nov. 6 to explore new opportunities for mission outreach in Africa on behalf of WELS Missions.

One opportunity involved teaching and encouraging refugees from the Nuer tribe, who fled to Ethiopia because of civil unrest in South Sudan. Five of the local pastors contacted Bur, a South Sudanese refugee who emigrated to the United States and is now a member at Good Shepherd, Omaha, Neb., to ask for spiritual training. “These five pastors all grew up with Peter Bur in various situations. They were together in South Sudan. They were together in refugee camps in various parts of Africa. Peter was always the leader,” says Sorum. “If Peter Bur wanted to share his discovery of WELS with these five men, these men wanted to hear the details.”

At a refugee camp in Gambella, Bur and Sorum explained confessional Lutheran Christianity to these five pastors as well as to 80 others who traveled from neighboring camps. “When these pastors and their members heard the truth about Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, conversion, justification, the universal priesthood, inspiration, they were dropped jawed, over-awed,” says Sorum.

Sorum says that these men were very open when talking about doctrinal differences and wanted to hear what the Bible teaches. “These five pastors possess a humility that was rooted in their own sincere relationship with God and in their desire to serve God’s people well with the power of his true Word,” he says.

Sorum, Bur, and Duoth also met with the local government to discuss humanitarian aid needs, which include a water purification system and mobile health clinics.

According to Sorum, immediate opportunities abound to share hope through Jesus with a hurting population, which could lead to future possibilities for further outreach when these refugees return to the South Sudan. “Hundreds of thousands of people are up to their ears in human misery right now,” says Sorum. “They’re sitting in refugee camps. They can’t work, and they’re anxious to be involved in something meaningful while they’re waiting to get back into their homeland.” He says that he feels many of these opportunities can be met by working with and through Bur and other WELS South Sudanese members in the United States.

While in Ethiopia, Sorum also met with Rev. Dr. Kebede Getachew Yigezu, who contacted WELS in 2013 to discuss fellowship possibilities. Kebede has gathered a group of like-minded Christians in and near his hometown of Bishoftu, and registered the church with the Ethiopian government as the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). The church numbers 300 members. “The members of the LCE earnestly seek membership in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference so they can stand with and be encouraged by fellow Lutherans of the Reformation heritage,” says Sorum.

Sorum spent two weeks discussing doctrine with Kebede and LCE members and sharing seminars on leadership and preaching with students in the LCE’s college and seminary program. He also talked extensively with Kebede on his future plans for his theological program. “He’s trying to provide solid theological resources for the people of his country,” says Sorum. “These are adults who want to enhance their ministry skills. They’re interested in solid biblical teaching, and they’ve learned the LCE gives that.”

According to Sorum, there is potential to connect Kebede’s seminary program with the South Sudanese refugees who are looking for more spiritual training.

Discussion is underway to determine the next steps in working with both the South Sudanese refugees and the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia. “The Board for WELS World Missions has the responsibility of evaluating new world mission opportunities,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of World Missions. “We will be investigating the next best steps so we can move quickly to facilitate this growing partnership with Sudanese and Ethiopian brothers in the United States and Africa.”

View a slideshow from the trip to Ethiopia