Ministry Notes August 2019
I went to see a good friend last night, Pastor Wal
Reat. He’s an ELCA missionary serving in
the Gambella region along the border of South Sudan and Ethiopia. Technically it’s Ethiopia, but the people
living there are in refugee camps on the run from tribal violence in South
Wal is a big man, tall, with enormous hands and a warm
smile. With an even bigger heart. After his presentation I went up to say hi,
and extend a hand shake. He grabbed my
hand and pulled me into a bear hug.
I first met Wal about twelve years ago. We were at a monthly conference meeting of
pastors and he singled me out to talk with me.
His accent was hard to understand.
He mentioned there was a group of people in Austin that were looking for
a worship space, and he wondered if the church I was serving would be open to
the idea. I said, “It wouldn’t hurt to ask.”
The next Sunday I was leading worship and noticed five
well dressed gentlemen near the back of the sanctuary. One of them was Wal. After the service I was greeting people as
usual and I noticed them leaving the church by a different door.
I ran after them and caught up with them on the sidewalk. I met them all, and with Wal as the
spokesman, we agreed to meet the next morning in my office. I had a pretty good
idea what we were going to talk about, so I contacted all the appropriate
leaders and got the go-ahead to initiate a conversation.
The next morning my office was full of people from the
Nuer tribe. We started talking and I was
so deeply moved by their stories of faith and resilience. When we were done talking, I offered to say a
prayer. I don’t even remember what I
prayed, but from that moment on we’ve been brothers.
Wal went on to go to Seminary and be ordained in the
ELCA. About three years ago he decided
to go back to Africa. His wife and
children live in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he visits as frequently as he
can. But most of his time is spent in ministry in the Gambella region.
According to the UN refugee agency, there are more
than 400,000 refugees in this area living in various camps. This is exactly where Wal is setting up
churches and commissioning lay pastors to serve them. Last night he said there are about 4,000
members in all the churches he has set up. Wal talked about the medical needs
and the despair. These are people who
want to go back home, but are afraid for their lives.
As Wal was talking, I got a sense of how overwhelming
the whole situation was. So many people,
so much need, you hardly even know where to start. And Wal seemed subdued, he is usually witty
and chatty, but last night as he was talking, he seemed broken.
Through his pictures, through his posture, he barred
his soul. When I was talking with him, I
shared that we pray for him. And his
eyes lit up! It was so important for him
to know there are people in the world who are remembering him and his
The Cross of Christ mission committee had decided to
give his ministry some money and it was my privilege to give it to him. What we do here at Cross of Christ and Cannon
River makes a difference in the world.
We heard that from Karen Anderson a couple weeks ago and I saw it on
Wal’s face last night.
Blessings, my friends…
Deacon Todd Portinga
Church Phone: 651-388-3464
Pastors Email: firstname.lastname@example.org