A group that began meeting in homes and apartments as a Bible study for Sudanese refugees discovered the Christian Reformed Church when it needed a larger facility for worship and stumbled upon Woodlawn CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Simon Gouk serves as pastor for the fledgling congregation, which has embraced the CRC and hopes to see the denomination become involved in mission and development work in the newly independent South Sudan.
Gouk escaped South Sudan in 1986 amid dire conditions of persecution of the ethnic African Christian population. “In the war, schools and hospitals were shelled,” said Gouk, “but the big damage was in people—torn apart emotionally.”
Woodlawn CRC has aided the group through its English as a Second Language program and has helped some members of the Sudanese congregation enroll in Certified Nurse’s Assistant courses and secure jobs at local hospitals and nursing homes.
Woodlawn has also supported the ministry through their food pantry, assistance to families facing eviction, and Christian education for children.
While the group is not yet officially affiliated with the CRC, Classis Grand Rapids East, a regional group of churches, has provided aid through scholarships and leadership training for Gouk and grants for ministry needs such as the purchase of Arabic-language Bibles and assistance for families in need.
The congregation, which now calls itself Cush Christian Reformed Church, supported the effort of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee to rebuild Haiti, even though it lacks resources itself. This got some people thinking about what the denomination might be able to contribute to the ongoing crisis in South Sudan.
Many in the congregation still have family living in South Sudan, which realized its independence in July 2011. One member of Gouk’s congregation who recently visited Sudan reports that Christianity is growing, comparing it to the early church’s massive growth in the face of persecution.
Gouk believes that the growing church could learn from the structure he’s found in the CRC, in which deacons and elders from among the congregation govern rather than relying entirely on a pastor. He also sees the need for development work “to develop humans, giving them confidence in spite of having lost loved ones or possessions.”