The COVID-19 pandemic has so dominated the lives of many Australians and New Zealanders at home for the past 18 months that it’s been easy to forget that around the world people are suffering who need our prayers.
But Peter Gerang Deng has not forgotten the troubles and tragedies of his homeland of South Sudan in north-eastern Africa. South Sudan is a diverse nation of more than 60 major ethnic groups, that has long been wracked by civil wars, violence, political instability and natural disasters, which have displaced millions of people and left many others living in poverty. Peter, who like his wife Rebecca Manyang is from South Sudan’s Denka tribe, is an educator and elder at Immanuel Lutheran Church in North Adelaide. The couple has three children, who have all been born in Australia.
Concerned that local people were no longer aware of needs beyond their own restrictions and borders, Peter raised the issue with Immanuel’s pastor, Rev Dr Mark Worthing.
‘He said, “Pastor, can we do something to encourage people to pray for South Sudan? With everything else going on in the last year, people have forgotten the needs there’, Pastor Mark explains.
‘So, the next week Peter made a presentation to the congregation about the needs in South Sudan. Afterwards, people said we should do more to focus on this. Someone else said it would be nice to get families involved and make it an intergenerational effort. That’s how the “November Family Prayer Challenge”, with its focus on South Sudan, came about.’
On Sunday 24 October, Peter and Pastor Mark launched the month-long prayer challenge, giving out laminated guides so that members, along with their families and friends, will be ready to start the innovative program on 31 October, which is also Reformation Sunday. The guides are also being sent out via email and are on the congregation’s website at http://www.immanuelnorthadelaide.org.au under ‘News and Resources’, ‘Other Resources’.
While prayer is pivotal to the program, there are three key elements of the challenge each week for four weeks for those taking part.
‘We want to encourage everyone to learn more about the current situation and needs in South Sudan, to pray for its people, and to explore ways to concretely help the situation there’, Pastor Mark says. ‘We also want to encourage people to do this as families, or with a friend or group of friends, either within or outside of our congregation.
‘Each week we have identified a distinct focus built around the principles of learning, praying and doing. It is important that we inform ourselves if we are to better pray for others. We provide some model prayers that people can use but also encourage free prayer.
‘And when we pray for others, we need to ask whether there are ways in which God might use us to help with the needs for which we are praying. We suggest one or two concrete activities to do each week that fit the learning and praying theme for that week. Hence each week’s prayer challenge has three aspects: learn, pray and act.
‘We have a couple of special things organised for worship during the month and also are inviting families and individuals to share their experiences in worship from the previous week.’
The prayer challenge will also link in with Australian Lutheran World Service, which supports a range of aid and development projects in South Sudan, and which will provide a guest speaker to help raise awareness about its ongoing work and partnerships in Africa.
Pastor Mark believes the prayer challenge can be easily adapted by other congregations or church groups, especially where a local connection exists with a need elsewhere.