The Uduks of (South) Sudan and Heart and Soul Community Church

First published by the Rochester Connection in 2009


2010-9 Heart and Soul reception 074

We begin with the story as told by the first pastors of Heart and Soul, Peter and Shirley Shafer

“ In early 1998 I got a call from a fellow Free Methodist who lived in Toronto. She had been on a short-term missions trip to Ethiopia and had gotten acquainted with some Uduk people who lived in the refugee camp where she was serving. She learned that one of these families was being resettled to Rochester. She got out her FM yearbook and looked up a name in Rochester, which happened to be mine. She called and asked if I would visit the family, which was arriving a day or two later. So it happened that I was on Taib and Sara’s doorstep on the second day of their residency in America. She was 9 months pregnant with Abey at the time, spoke no English and had the two other little ones as well. Taib’s English was pretty good and he quickly accepted my offer for us to pick them up for church the following Sunday. That began our contact with the Uduks, and by about 2004 or so we had 10 Uduk families in the church — our largest demographic group — which accounted for about 50 regular attendees. As the largest group of Uduk speakers outside of Africa, we tried to take a lead in providing support, encouragement, and spiritual nurture for these folks. This led to the first-ever U.S. Uduk conference which we sponsored in 2003 (I think that was the year), our Uduk/English newsletter, Shirley’s English tutoring with the Uduk women, our many attempts at teaching people how to drive and getting them cars, Mondek Fiber Works, and the many, many shared joys and sorrows which we experienced together at Heart & Soul.

Let me tell just one story about this and then I will close — I imagine that this is probably about enough for now. We got to know Barbara Harper, who in 1947 went to Sudan to work with Uduks and has been active in serving God among them ever since, and Dan and Muriel Stillwell, who were the regional directors of SIM (Sudan Interior Mission, later Serving In Mission) in northeastern Africa. These folks knew the Uduk people intimately and we had both of them to Heart & Soul to be with us and their Uduk friends. On one such occasion — I think it was the Uduk conference — we introduced Don and Muriel to the congregation at the end of the service. They invited us to have an African-style line of greeting in which everyone shakes everyone else’s hand. We formed a line going out the north side door, which snaked back to the property, which we had just acquired, in back of the building. As the line was snaking forward we suddenly heard a loud cry and then sounds of laughter. We went to investigate and found that Tibe and Don and Muriel had suddenly recognized one another. It seems that Tibe, whose father was the governor of their province in Ethiopia, had known Don and Muriel during their time of service there. In fact, Tibe had babysat for Don and Muriel’s children. Now, 35 or 40 years later — after not seeing one another for all that time — they met one another again at an event which had nothing at all to do with Tibe’s experience. She, of course, is not Uduk and came to Rochester under very different circumstances than our Uduk friends and found her way to Heart and Soul through another amazing set of events which involved Ben and Lisa Murphy, Catholic Family Center and — well, you get the idea. Anyway, there they are after all those years; half way around the world, greeting one another in a way that I imagine must be roughly parallel to how we will greet one another in heaven.

God is good.”

Rev. Peter and Shirley Shafer, 2009

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Return To “A Sudanese Rochester Connection

Uduk Language Choir

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