In 2001, when a community of Christians from South Sudan started meeting at Zion Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Anoka, Minn., people weren’t sure how the mix of cultures would work out.
“I wasn’t sold on the idea at the beginning,” says Mark Tiede, Zion’s pastor, who wrote about the experience in a newsletter to his congregation. But it wasn’t long before the South Sudanese members became a part of the Zion family.
“They were hoping to find a place to worship but found more than that,” Mark writes. “They found a home.”
One of the members of that family was Mawien Ariik, who had an interesting story. Mawien had been studying to be a pastor and was well into the process by the time he arrived at Zion. “I discovered that Mawien, in order to be ordained, was only lacking a formal internship and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education,” Mark says.
After talking with the seminary staff and the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod staff, it was decided that Mawien could complete his internship at Zion, and he could fulfill his Clinical Pastoral Education requirement at nearby Mercy Hospital.
Finally, on Aug. 25, 2005, Mawien Ariik was ordained at Zion Lutheran Church and became the first Sudanese clergy member in the 25-year history of the ELCA.
For seven years, Mawien served as pastor for the Sudanese congregation at Zion, but he’d always dreamed of building and supporting a church and school for the girls and boys in the community of Alabek, South Sudan.
In March of 2011, Mark and Mawien traveled to South Sudan to follow that dream. While the two pastors were in South Sudan, the construction of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School began, and Mawien’s dream came true.
After returning to the United States, he felt his calling to return to South Sudan and be with the people at his church in Alabek. Mawien decided to make South Sudan his permanent home, and he and his family moved back to Africa in the spring of 2012.
His wife and children will live in Nairobi, Kenya, until the unrest and violence comes to an end in South Sudan. While they are in Kenya, Mawien will perform weekly worship services and daily lessons for the children at the school.
Mark sees the “Sudanese Lutheran church in this country as a window to ministry in South Sudan.”
Mark also hopes that Zion will continue to partner with St. Paul’s and that each pastor will continue to make annual visits to the other’s congregation. This relationship will bring members of Zion Lutheran to South Sudan to reach out to the Sudanese and the mission of Mawien.
Although Mawien and his family no longer worship with the members of Zion Lutheran, their presence is still in the thoughts of the congregation.
“We are all in this together,” Mark writes. “It is God’s story, our story. And so together now it begins …”