We were recently asked by a foundation to give an example of how our program in Malakal, South Sudan, has drawn people closer to Jesus Christ.
Five Talents' clients can have any or no religious background. We do not discriminate in who can access our services. But our organization's values are founded in the Christian faith, emphasizing integrity, good stewardship and service to the poor. And our savings and microcredit programs are usually linked to a local Anglican church as a means of reaching the poor in the community and providing local accountability. (For more on this topic, please read our FAQs.)
Because of our core values and partnership with the local church, our clients often see glimpses of Christ's love as it is lived out by the believers with whom they come into contact.
Our program director, Suzanne Schultz, responded to the foundation's question by telling the following story from South Sudan. We're sharing it here in full, so that you can understand the cultural and social context:
The most significant example of drawing people closer to Jesus Christ comes from a cattle camp in Malakal. In order to understand the poignancy of this event, we need to describe a cattle camp.
In this area of South Sudan, families traditionally keep a permanent home in a small village-like setting and grow some crops nearby. But wealth and status is measured by the size of the herd of cattle a family owns, and they keep their cattle on the plains, in cattle camps. In order to protect the animals from predators and cattle raiders, herders band together to form a cattle camp, sometimes with hundreds of animals. They carry spears and guns to protect their animals. The camps are rough temporary settlements: full of dust, and teeming with cattle, dung, and insects.
People sleep out in the open and have few possessions. In the evenings when the young herders return with the cattle from grazing, the community gathers together and the camps take on a party-like atmosphere. Men decorate the horns of their cattle with tassels and other ornaments, and parade them through the crowds. There are wrestling and jumping contests, singing, and dancing to the beat of goatskin-covered drums. Stories are told and boys and girls are free to flirt, and often engage in sexual activity. Cattle camps are usually led by Spear Masters who believe in a 'traditional' religion or worship of spirits and ancestors.
In one cattle camp in the Malakal region, both a church and a savings group have been started as a result of the Literacy and Financial Education Program (LFEP). To find a church in such an environment is very significant for the community and will draw many traditional spiritual leaders closer to God because somehow they will hear the Word of God spoken and see the Word of God in practice through these groups.
Throughout the program in Malakal, all the community facilitators are Christians and they hold the group meetings in churches. This has brought vibrancy in the churches because there are now other activities which are bringing the church and community members together. Almost all the groups have members who are not Christians and as result these members have an opportunity to go to church, which we believe will lead to some of them becoming Christians because faith comes by hearing the Word of God.