Update on partnerships in East Africa

In recent years WELS has developed contacts with Christians in South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya. WELS leaders took trips to these areas in the fall of 2015 and report here on their meetings with these Christians.

E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, visited Gambella, Ethiopia, from Aug. 28–Sept. 3, with Peter Bur, a South Sudanese refugee who emigrated to the United States and graduated from the seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute in May 2015. Bur was assigned to be the coordinator of South Sudanese ministry for WELS. He is coordinating the pastoral training of South Sudanese leaders in North America and also in refugee camps in Africa.

As Sorum notes, “The first thing that Peter and I noticed when we arrived in Gambella was that it had grown exponentially in the year that had passed since our last visit. Gambella went from a city of 50,000 to a refugee community of 600,000 or 700,000. It continues to grow.

“After the essential special church services and choir numbers to celebrate the gracious God who brought USA guests to Gambella, we immediately got to the task of teaching Peter’s translation of a simplified Luther’s Small Catechism. The quality of the production and the exciting artwork made this little book a treasure. With special thanks to God, we commend the hard work of the Multi-Language Publications team who made this piece happen almost overnight. There is absolutely no way to correctly (over)state the contribution that this booklet and Peter’s explanation of it made to South Sudanese spirituality in austere refugee camps in at least three countries.

“Every day throughout the day, Peter taught the catechism to his brothers. . . . Teaching the catechism was a tremendous step forward in terms of what these men know, believe, and teach. The information they received was new. The long hours were no burden for them. They devoured this instruction.

“After Peter taught the entire catechism, we handed out the 80 copies of the catechism that we had lugged around East Africa. It was like we were distributing bundles of fresh food and laundry. The men were absolutely delighted with these ministry tools.

“Peter discussed at length with these men the requirements of getting organized and making connections with WELS and the Lutheran Church of Central Africa. They also discussed vision and various aspects of a strategic plan for South Sudanese Nuer in view of the potential for a viable peace in South Sudan. These men long to go home and to re-build their country and their church body. Peter and I encouraged them in their longing and in their journey. It is an inexpressible privilege to know men as courageous and resilient as these are. Their love and appreciation for their guests from North America know no bounds.”

From Sept. 4–10, Sorum and Bur spent time in Nairobi, Kenya, with South Sudanese men who live in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.

Sorum writes: “Once again, Peter and the South Sudanese adhered to an extremely aggressive schedule in order to get through the entire catechism along with the components on using law and gospel and Bible-storying to present the truths of the catechism. Again, Peter and I stressed the importance of thinking through a ministry that featured all of the blessings of the gospel in Word and sacrament. God bless this ministry to the refugees in Kakuma.”

Also in September, Ken Cherney, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and a member of the WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations, visited Bishoftu, Ethiopia, to meet with Rev. Dr. Kebede Getachew Yigezu. Kebede started a confessional Lutheran church in Ethiopia as well as Maor Theological College.

In 2013, Kebede contacted WELS to discuss fellowship possibilities. Sorum visited Kebede in 2014 to learn more about the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia. Cherney’s visit in 2015 coincided with the first graduating class of Maor Theological College receiving their diplomas, and Cherney participated in the graduation ceremony.

Cherney notes: “We were received very warmly by our hosts and spent a lot of time getting to know Dr. Kebede and his family. They speak in glowing terms of Allen Sorum’s visit and all their experiences so far with WELS. Dr. Kebede is an aggressive promoter of confessional Lutheranism.”


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Volume 103, Number 02
Issue: February 2016

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