When the Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul spoke to the annual conference of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (AFRECS) in May 2008, he described the immediate challenges he was facing as the new archbishop of a church with 24 dioceses spread throughout Africa's largest geographical country. At the time of the conference, Deng has been archbishop barely a month.
He reported that upon taking office he discovered that the Episcopal Church of Sudan, at the provincial level, was deeply in debt and that some church officials had not been compensated for as long as three years. The amount of the debt was equal to approximately $157,000.
"This is affecting my work as archbishop," he said, "and I strongly need your support to carry out my duty. I want you to send me home with a promise that you will help me clear these arrears to the staff, to roll away the stone and remove the hindrances to our work as the church in Sudan."
That need was discussed in a small, private meeting between Deng and members of St. Michael's Episcopal Church, Barrington, Illinois, a congregation well-known to the new archbishop. For 10 years, St. Michael's has spearheaded the companion relationship between the Diocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Renk in Sudan, where Deng served as bishop prior to his election as primate.
Jackie Kraus, a member of St. Michael's who first suggested the companion relationship after a trip to Sudan in 1998, said that a possible strategy to erase the debt was introduced at the meeting: simply find 157 individuals or families who will give $1,000 each.
The idea has been met with strong support and in September, St. Michael's will formally launch a fundraising campaign called "Club 157" seeking to raise $157,000 to meet Deng's immediate need. Even prior to the official start of the effort, the Club has 12 members.
A history of generosity for Sudan
This kind of effort in support of the Episcopal Church of Sudan is nothing new for St. Michael's. Only this time they seek to tap the generosity of people beyond their own congregation.
Early on in the companion relationship, Episcopalians in Chicago began to focus on the needs of what is now known as Renk Theological College. Initially, two members of St. Michael's provided funds to a small school building of mud and grass where priests could study the Bible. When that building was taken by the government in order to build a road over the site, the people of St. Michael's raised $50,000 to build a new school of brick with a tin roof.
St. Michael's has just concluded another successful fundraising effort with the goal of providing $150,000 to support the college over a five-year period. Kraus reports that the congregation exceeded it goal.
Club 157 will be chaired by Robin and Philip Darrow of St. Michael's, who became involved in Chicago's Sudan relationship two years ago.
Kraus, who said she "carried the torch for Sudan alone" for many years in her congregation and the diocese, says the Darrows "are some of the people that God has risen up in his own time" to lead the effort.
Phil Darrow represented St. Michael's and the Diocese of Chicago at Deng's enthronement in April in Juba. Both Robin and Phil represented their church and diocese in Salisbury, England in July, where nearly all the Sudanese bishops gathered just prior to the Lambeth Conference to celebrate the 35th anniversary of a companion relationship between the Diocese of Salisbury and the Episcopal Church of Sudan.
Phil Darrow says that Club 157 will be launched in September as an appeal letter is sent to people in the Diocese of Chicago and to members and friends of AFRECS.
AFRECS president, the Rev. Richard Jones, professor of world mission at Virginia Theological Seminary, said the organization is actively seeking to respond to the archbishop's appeal.
"I am delighted that St. Michael's Church has taken the lead in a very focused way," he said.
The Darrows will be among a delegation from the Diocese of Chicago that will return to Sudan later this month for the enthronement of the Rt. Rev. Joseph Garang as the new bishop of the Diocese of Renk. Garang is well-known to Chicago Episcopalians because of time spent in the diocese as a student at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.
Also making the trip will be Jackie Smith and Jackie Kraus of St. Michael's, and Constance Wilson of All Saint's Episcopal Church, Chicago.
The group will also participate in the dedication of St. Michael's Chapel at Renk Theological College, named in honor of the Barrington parish.
Kraus, who two years ago was appointed an honorary canon of St. Matthew's Cathedral in Renk, says it has been a delight to watch the companion relationship with Sudan deepen over the years and see the effect that it has had on people in her congregation.
"We have been blessed by this partnership," she said. "While it has been a privilege to give of our resources to help rebuild the Church in Sudan, the real blessing is that we have come to realize what our resources are for.
"The blessing is that we have been able to respond and have chosen to do so."
The Chicago group departs for Sudan on August 26. While the Chicago team is in Sudan, Garang's young twin daughters will be baptized. Darrow and Smith have been asked to be godparents.