The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod began missionary work in Sudan in 1998, when Sudanese refugees living in western Iowa requested help with evangelistic and social development work in their war-torn homeland. As a result, the LCMS, through the ministry of Rev. John and Kathy Duitsman, established work in three areas: the Nuba Mountains, the Shilluk Kingdom, and the Western Upper Nile.
The following brief history of the work in the Nuba Mountains is a typical example of how God grows His Church in Sudan. Rev. Duitsman met a young Nuba man named Younan Bashir, whom he trained in Lutheran doctrine and then sent home to establish a Mission Training Center (MTC) to train more leaders. Bashir began worshipping with a few others under a tree. In three years, 38 Lutheran congregations were planted in the eastern half of the Nuba Mountains, with opportunities to expand into the western half. Even so, today there are only four pastors to serve this vast region.
As shown in the example above, the LCMS most often provides theological training. Those trained sow the seed of God’s saving Word. The Word is shared and soon worshipping congregations spring forth. It is inspiring to see the response to the Gospel despite wars, genocide, famine and a lack of modern transportation and communication infrastructures.
The Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF) has also provided theological training over the years. They administer a seminary called the Concordia Lutheran Institute for Holy Ministry (CLI/HM). CLI/HM was opened in 2000 in Khartoum and the first class trained pastors, deaconess and church administrators. The school was relocated to Yambio in Southern Sudan in 2008. In 2010, there were about a dozen students enrolled, and they hailed from parts of Sudan as varied as Nuba Mountains, Upper Nile, Jonglie, Western Equatoria and Bahr elGhazal. CLI/HM is in recess during 2011.
In November 2001, ELCS President Rev. Andrew Elisa (now deceased) reported that the church body had about 5,000 members in 23 congregations and that he was the only ordained pastor. By 2005, the Sudanese church had doubled in size and was worshiping in 63 congregations. President Elisa noted that the church body will need to safeguard its current membership while securing three things: manpower to lead outreach endeavors, transportation to reach remote areas and the wherewithal to print materials and construct shelters for preaching stations. Today, the ELCS has between 15,000 and 20,000 members and is led by Interim President Rev. Japheth Dachi and Secretary General Rev. Edward Sunge Nzeme. There are 26 ordained pastors, one deaconess and 80 evangelists who serve at 79 congregations/preaching centers.
Many Sudanese have fled their homeland over the past decades and have sought shelter in the United States as refugees. Many such Sudanese leaders are now in a unique position to give back. For example, many Nuer Sudanese in the U.S. have organized themselves into the Sudanese Lutheran Mission Society (SLMS), and they make several trips per year to their native land for evangelism, humanitarian projects and leadership training. Many Anuak Sudanese pull together to do the same.
The LCMS has supported mercy projects in Sudan since 1999. The initial grant was for a grinding mill. Other projects soon followed such as: borehole wells, dams, literacy programs, peace-making workshops, farming tools and agricultural support, brick machines, medical supplies and blood banks, vaccinations and health clinics and refugee assistance. Other entities are currently supporting mercy projects such as a primary school and a poultry project to generate local income — both in Yambio.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sudan (ELCS) is the fruit of faithful efforts by of all the above partners who are working toward firmly rooting a single Lutheran church body in Sudan.
Note: The ELCS is not yet an official partner church of the LCMS.