South Sudan Lutherans put HQ in South Dakota
Growing from a small handful of worshipers, the Lutheran Church of South Sudan (LCSS) has grown to 33 congregations with more than 6,000 regularly worshiping members. And now the LCSS also has a North American headquarters — in Brookings, South Dakota, also home of the Institute of Lutheran Theology (ILT).
“The Rev. Jordon Long [of LCSS] had been [at ILT] last year and executed a letter of understanding to work together,” explained the Rev. Dennis Bielfeldt, vice president of academic affairs for ILT. “It became apparent we had a heart for what they were doing, and they care deeply about theological education.” Long therefore decided that Brookings would be a good site for an outpost to support ministry in the newly-created country of South Sudan.
Currently, the shade of trees is the only shelter available for most worship, schooling, and medical treatment across South Sudan. The people of South Sudan lack many of the basic services often taken for granted. In a nation of over 10 million people, there are only 130 doctors. More than 1.5 million children have no access to basic schooling. And, the Christian people of South Sudan have faced over 50 years of oppression and persecution at the hands of their northern neighbors, according to Bielfeldt.
“As Scripture says, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” said Long. “The number of Christians has grown from 20 percent during the war to around 60 percent today. We are a church without war for the first time in over 50 years.
“We are meeting together under the trees. The whole nation is beginning from scratch,” he continued. “The goal of the Lutheran Church of South Sudan is to prepare, equip, and send leaders. Jesus sent his disciples to spread the Good News from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the end of the world. Today, South Sudan feels like the end of the world.”
Bielfeldt believes that the end of the world is just the place where ILT should be. “We use satellite technology to train leaders in congregations of many different Lutheran bodies in this country; that same technology can be used just as easily in South Sudan.”
A connection from South Dakota to South Sudan
The LCSS needs the education of both pastors and evangelists. For an M.Div. degree, South Sudanese students may come to Brookings to complete coursework. In fact, three LCSS students will start working toward divinity degrees this fall. And, evangelists can take regular courses just as lay leaders in ILT’s regular teaching congregations.
With language interpreters on the ground, ILT courses can be uploaded and downloaded in South Sudan, often by using generators to power the necessary hardware. “We can deliver theological content to places without electricty,” he said.
At the initial meeting of the North American Board of Trustees, Long was elected president. ILT’s Bielfeldt was selected vice president; and the Rev. Tim Swenson, treasurer; the Rev. Dr. Frederick Baltz, secretary; and Pouk Bandak, assistant treasurer.
“To be an intentional institute, we are very aware of the contextualization issue,” Bielfeldt acknowledged. “We have to be thinking about the horizon of understanding of students not born out of the European Enlightment.” ILT will be changed by the relationship, he agrees.
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