Magazine article The Christian Century

Methodist Megachurch Has Deep Pockets for Darfur

Magazine article The Christian Century

Methodist Megachurch Has Deep Pockets for Darfur

Article excerpt

It's often hard to find signs of hope in Sudan's Western Darfur province, which is considered one of the bleakest places on the planet. Civil war rages in what many call a campaign of genocide that has killed hundreds of thousands of Darfuri civilians and displaced millions of others.

But while the Sudanese government in Khartoum has expelled most international relief groups, there are surprising signs of continuing aid from a United Methodist congregation half a world away.

"We see the purpose of the local church of going out into the world, being the hands and feet of Jesus to the hurting, the oppressed, the poor, and being the empowering center in that local community," said Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, which is located in Tipp City, a predominantly bluecollar suburb of Dayton, Ohio.

The church has partnered with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR, for its humanitarian work in Darfur. And since 2004 the congregation has committed $4.4 million to those projects.

"Often the church remains silent in the face of injustice, whether it's slavery, segregation, genocide," Slaughter told the PBS program Religion & Ethics News Weekly. "I want to lead a movement of people who want to make a difference, a God-difference, in the world."

About 4,500 attend services weekly at Ginghamsburg Church, which puts it in the megachurch category. The congregation's donations have built 173 schools in Darfur that serve about 22,000 students. They've also sponsored a sustainable agricultural project, which has helped to feed an estimated 80,000 Darfuris. They've built water systems to provide clean water and sanitation to more than 60,000, and they've begun microenterprises, such as a brick-making factory, to help fund the projects.

The programs are run by local staff members on the ground. Most Darfuris are Muslim, but Slaughter says his church is not seeking to convert them to Christianity. "Compassion doesn't have any strings attached," he said. "You serve people because they're human beings created in the image of God, loved by God."

Because of the security situation, it is difficult for outsiders to get into Darfur. But the Ohio church tries to send groups as often as possible to see the work firsthand. Pastor Slaughter led a delegation there last year.

"I share with my own family that I need to do this kind of experience," he said. "I need to get into where these people are, you know, in dangerous places, about once a year for my own soul-health, and I come back and realize what's important. …

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