Lessons Learned in Saving Sumatanga

The past three months have been remarkable. Beginning with Director Bob Murray’s emotional appeal, we have saved a beloved ministry that showed every sign of dying. Our churches have raised an unprecedented half a million dollars in gifts in three months. Sumatanga is being reorganized. This beloved camp now has a future. This is a very different result for us. Here’s what I have learned:

  • People respond to the truth. A frequent response to Bob’s speech at Conference was, “I had no idea Sumatanga was in so much trouble.” For too long the Trustees tried to struggle alone with Sumatanga’s problems. Transparency and facing hard realities are essential, especially in the church. Our people show that they are eager to respond when they know the truth.
  • Preserving the past is no substitute for adaptation to the future. We cannot save the old Sumatanga. Change or die. We can only see the present crisis as an invitation from a living God to serve the present age, to pray for creativity and fresh courage. Rather than be bound by the many management mistakes and poor decisions of the past, Bob Murray spoke to us all in ordering us (in his speech to Annual Conference), “Get over it!”
  • People are the key. The arrival of Bob Murray, the innovations produced by Bart Styes, the new team they have assembled, the day that Mike Byrne became chair of the Board made everything possible. The best way to change an organization is to change the leadership. Furthermore, Sumatanga knows that their future is not in getting more money from the churches but in getting more Christians at the camp. As Bob says, Sumatanga is in the hospitality ministry. If Sumatanga keeps focused on servant ministry to people, its future is assured. It’s such a temptation for the church to forget that we serve God and our neighbor; we don’t preserve buildings and institutions.

Thank you for giving Sumatanga a future. Over the years, God has used Sumatanga for some extraordinary acts of vocation, revelation, and renewal. By God’s grace, and your generosity, Sumatanga’s ministry continues.

William H. Willimon

Later this month some of us will gather at Sumatanga to celebrate a wonderful grant that we have obtained this summer from an anonymous Foundation. The good news continues!

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