A landmark signing
On Saturday, Jan. 26, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Owatonna hosted a landmark signing. The signing established a covenant between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Africa-Mission in South Sudan.
There to sign the covenant were Rev. Dr. Rafael Malpica Padilla, the executive director for ELCA Division for Global Mission, Rev. Benyam Kassahun, area director for ELCA Global Missions East Africa, and Bishop Steve Delzer, of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod.
The signing was part of a service and celebration, which included South Sudanese food and worship by all three South Sudanese communities in Southeastern Minnesota: the Nuer, Anyuak, and Dinka. Parts of the service were conducted in each of the three languages, as well as English and each group even performed songs of worship.
During the service Bishop Delzer delivered a message explaining the 17-year journey of working towards this covenant. “It was a wonderful experience to be with them there and to hear some of their stories,” he said of his first trip to South Sudan.
Delzer also touched upon the tragedy that the South Sudanese have endured. South Sudan gained its independence from the Republic of Sudan in 2011, and two years later the young country was engulfed in a civil war.
The South Sudanese people have experienced famine, ethnic conflicts, water shortages, and displacement. This includes the Anyuak, many of whom now reside in Ethiopia, near the border with South Sudan.
By bringing the South Sudanese people the message that, “God loves and forgives them and they need to love and forgive each other,” Delzer and his fellows at the ELCA hope that they can help to rectify some of the long-standing disagreements between different ethnic groups within the country.
“This is a story of accompaniment, this is a story about people walking together with one another and sharing their stories,” Delzer told the congregation during his message to them. He then pointed out the fact that all three South Sudanese groups in Southeastern Minnesota, for two years in a row, have gathered together to worship together.
Prior to the signing, Rev. Dr. Rafael Malpica Padilla described the view of the newly built Reconciliation Center from the aircraft upon entering Juba, in South Sudan, as amazing. “That place is the place for the people of South Sudan to come together, to dream together what God has dreamt for all of us,” he said.
“I never thought we would get to this point,” Rev. Benyam Kassahun said after the signing. He also explained the difficulty in getting the center built due to push back from those on all sides, especially because of the conflict raging throughout the country.
Kassahun, who hails from Ethiopia, touched upon the danger of the country during visits. “Feeling the pain that they feel, when we go there sometimes, we get nervous,” he said of trips to South Sudan. “I’m scared for those days when I’m there, but they are there always. Their life is filled with that fear and concern all the time.”
On the accomplishment of bringing this covenant to fruition, Kassahun credited all those who helped along the way. “We all stood there together, shoulder to shoulder,” he said proudly.
“We are coming together and saying that we are now working together as partners and we’re going to continue to work and support this newly established church,” he went on to say before adding that, “it’s a new nation, it is a nation that is in turmoil with a lot of conflict and a lot of infrastructures are not in place.”
Kassahun voiced the promise that the covenant can bring, despite such hardships. “The health issue is there and the education issue is there,” he explained. “What makes this very significant is that in a time of crisis we are there.”
“This makes it official,” Delzer said of the covenant, which helps to further establish ELCA’s partnership with the newly established Evangelical Lutheran Church-Mission in South Sudan.
After the service and signing, there were four banners for those in attendance to sign. Each of these four banners will be delivered to different locations of importance. One will go to Rochester representing the the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, another will go to Chicago representing the ELCA, one will go to Gambela in Ethiopia, representing the East Africa Mission, and lastly one will go to Juba representing the Mission in South Sudan.
Although South Sudan currently lies in disorder and strife, and ethnic conflicts between these groups are common, there was no conflict at the signing. All three groups sang together, worshipped together, and ate together, representing the power that religion and community has of bringing people together with mutual understanding.
Caption1: Rev. Dr. Rafael Malpica Padilla, the executive director for ELCA Division for Global Mission, Rev. Benyam Kassahun, area director for ELCA Global Missions East Africa, and Bishop Steve Delzer, of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod sign a covenant establishing a new church in South Sudan.
Caption2: Banners were signed by all those in attendance that will be distributed to South Sudan, Ethiopia, Chicago, and Rochester.
Caption3: All those in attendance including members from the Dinka, Nuer, and Anyuak tribes, gather for a group photo celebrating the covenant and the peaceful ties these groups all currently enjoy away from the civil strife plaguing their country.