Missionary to America: Gutluk Tel, Sudan
If anyone can claim the designation of refugee, it is Gutluk Tel. Born in Sudan, he was forced to flee his country’s civil war to live in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He was baptized in the refugee camp at the age of 10 and got to know Jesus as his Lord.
He trusted that this Jesus, who was a refugee fleeing a murderous king, would be his guide. With not much of a future living in refugee camps, Gutluk took off. He left his family and relatively safe surroundings to make his way through dangerous jungles, past thieves and murderers. Going without food, he walked for five days until he arrived in Kenya.
Refugee Lottery Brings Gutluk to Minnesota
By God’s grace in Kenya, Gutluk “won the visa lottery”. He obtained a passage to America as a war refugee. He arrived in New York around the time of the first attack on the Twin Towers. Gutluk was 17 years old. America provided the Sudanese refugee with a four year high school education and a future.
Imagine coming from a rural society to Minneapolis, learning English and, even more difficult, American culture. The young Sudanese man found work in southern Minnesota and began to worship at Trinity Lutheran. Pastor Reider and Pastor Tyler saw something in him. They saw a fighter, a leader, a man of faith. He was recruited to be a translator for other Sudanese arriving in Minnesota.
Gutluk’s supporters helped him enroll and graduate from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology. He was ordained, called to serve new Sudanese arrivals but also the spiritual needs of Trinity’s current members. He was asked to lead a mission trip to Ethiopia in 2002, and again in 2004 and 2013. Each time, the group he led witnessed the vibrant, growing church in Africa.
Near the end of my interview with Gutluk, I asked him what he saw as the differences between African and American Christianity. To be honest, Gutluk misses the energy of African Christianity. To my question about the major difference between the church in Africa and the church in America, he responded, “The children. In the Sudan or Kenya or Ethiopia when it is Sunday the children are ready for church. There is no argument, no choice. It is Sunday. we go to church. That is what Christians do.”
In America, children do not feel an obligation to attend church and there are other many other opportunities competing for that time. Parents expect their children to make the decision on their own. There is little to no cultural expectation that Sunday is the day dedicated to worshiping God.
Centered in Timbuktu
Philip Jenkins, along with others who study the history of Christianity, are alerting the rest of us to a massive change. Followers of the Messiah from Galilee were centered at first in the Middle East. That center moved to Europe and North America. A third major realignment has been under way for at least fifty years. Today, the world geographic center of the Christian church is Timbuktu, a city in western Africa. The future is a Christianity that continues to grow, more quickly and larger than any other religion with its center in Africa and Latin America. Missionary Gutluk Tel knows this.
The faithful know we are all refugees. Our time in this life is short but there is an eternity of joy before those who remain faithful. Americans for the most part have forgotten this and that is why missionaries are coming from other countries. At one time, missionaries from America brought the gospel to Africa and the church came to life. Maybe, just maybe the missionaries from Africa will be a conduit for God’s Holy Spirit to bring faith back to life in American culture. One can only hope and pray and support the new missionaries to America.