Many Westerners have a stereotypical image of the people living in impoverished and war-torn countries such as Sudan.
They view citizens living in such countries as having their hands out — waiting for help from rich countries like the United States.
Clint Schwartz, associate pastor at Mishawaka-based Vineyard Community Church, says the situation on the ground is not that simple.
Schwartz, who has traveled to Sudan, says people will strive to become self-sufficient once the fighting stops and people can again build schools, churches and farms.
War, Schwartz says, is what prevents the people who live in Darfur from fending for themselves.
Vineyard donates food to war-turn Darfur, which is located in the western part of Sudan. Meanwhile, religious leaders in the more stable southern area of Sudan are trying to rebuild.
Members of Vineyard have been helping people in both regions since 2006, Schwartz says.
As well as raising money to buy food, the church is raising money to support the ministry of a pastor in southern Sudan, the Rev. Stanley Lonathan, who has established a school and orphanage, says the Rev. Mark Pope, Vineyard’s pastor.
Vineyard will donate 10 percent of the funds it raises for its building project to Lonathan’s ministry, Pope says.
Schwartz says he is impressed by Lonathan’s desire to start a ministry.
“He is looking for a ‘handup,’ ” not a handout, Schwartz says.
“You know, it comes down to that old adage about giving someone a fish — or giving them a fishing pole and teaching them how to fish.”
Schwartz believes the best thing Western groups can do is provide assistance to people living in places such as Sudan.
“(Lonathan) wants us to come and train teachers so that he will have people to teach the children,” Schwartz says.
“He wants us to send (craftsmen) to help build a school. That is (an attitude) that really resonated with us.”
The relationship of Vineyard church with the people of Sudan developed over time. The church has used connections that its members made with nongovernmental agencies (NGOs) such as Feed the Hungry and Safe Harbor International Relief to meet the needs of Sudanese ministers such as Lonathan and the Rev. John Fabiano, who lives and works in Darfur.
Southern Sudan is peaceful because of a cease-fire, which allows Lonathan and other Sudanese to work with NGOs to build churches, schools and orphanages.
The Darfur region is still dangerous, so Fabiano works to get food for the people living in refugee camps in the region, Schwartz says.
Like many American Christians, Vineyard’s members wanted to do something to help people living in Darfur, says Pope.
“(In 2006) we raised approximately $13,000, and our intention was to partner with Feed the Hungry to send over about 250,000 meals,” Pope recalls.
A problem arose when the food Vineyard wanted to purchase got stuck in customs in Sudan.
At that time, a local Sudanese minister who was also based in the Darfur region stepped forward.
“The minister said he had a great (number of people who needed food), so if we were able to send the funds over that (the minister) would purchase meals.”
So, the church worked through Safe Harbor International to buy the meals and distribute them.
In 2007, Chuck Strantz, another Vineyard member, traveled to Darfur, where he met Fabiano, and the two worked together to make sure that the food reached those who needed it, Pope says.
“(Strantz) made a personal connection with Pastor John Fabiano,” Pope says.
Both Pope and Schwartz believe that actually meeting local people who know the physical and spiritual needs of the people is an important part of being an effective ministry in places like Sudan.
“A lot of the NGOs that go into countries live in (separate) complexes and they never get out of their Range Rovers when they travel,” Schwartz says.
“I’m sure they do good work, but we also want to spread the Gospel. We need to go out and be with the people and work with them.”
Living among the people meant that people such as Schwartz saw the challenges faced by people living at the subsistence level.
“The people over there have lived through war, and most of them have seen loved ones die and have been bombed themselves,” Schwartz says.
“Still, what I saw were people who were genuinely happy to be alive and had a love for life. They didn’t have running water, and only a few homes had electricity or bathrooms, and the average income is a dollar a day.”
Schwartz says a little assistance will go a long way. For example, Lonathan is trying to build a chicken farm for the orphanage that is a part of the school.
The children can gather the eggs the chickens lay, and that will allow them to have fresh eggs for food, Schwartz says.
The Sudanese minister also wants to build a fence around the facility so the children will be safe at night, Schwartz says.
Pope wants Vineyard to become more involved in helping Lonathan reach those goals.
“Our (next) step is to send someone over to lay foundation for a long-term ministry,” says Pope, who wants to start doing mission trips in which teachers, skilled craftsmen and farmers visit southern Sudan to help train their Sudanese counterparts.
Pope believes the church is fulfilling its Christian mandate by establishing a ministry in Sudan. The pastor finds his biblical inspiration in the book of Luke.
“In the fourth verse and 18th chapter of Luke, Jesus announces his public ministry, and I think that when you talk in terms of helping the poor and those who have been oppressed, the Sudan area would be a high priority for Jesus,” Pope says.
“And that makes it a high priority for the church.”
Staff writer Howard Dukes firstname.lastname@example.org (574) 235-6369