Dec. 25 update: Rev. Tutu arrived in Khartoum on Christmas Day.
ALCOA, Tenn. -- On Christmas Eve, the Rev. Botrous Tutu will not be preaching at his own pulpit in East Tennessee.
Instead, his plan is to depart Dec. 23 in time to preach at Samira Cathedral for hundreds of worshipers in Khartoum, Sudan.
When he boards the plane, Tutu will have 250 copies of a new book containing United Methodist worship liturgy printed in the Arabic language.
The pastor’s Christmas trip to his homeland will be the culmination of years of effort to produce the book and to aid his Arabic-speaking brothers and sisters from several churches in sharing the Gospel.
“These churches work hard to bring people to Christ,” says Tutu, pastor of the Spring of Living Water congregation at Green Meadow United Methodist Church. "I told them about The United Methodist Church and how we worship." Tutu speaks both English and Arabic.
“The Book of Worship for United Methodists in Arabic-Language Churches” includes liturgy for baptism, Holy Communion, marriage, and funerals, reproduced with permission from United Methodist Publishing House, says the Rev. Buzz Trexler.
Now retired, Trexler was lead pastor at Green Meadow when Tutu began talking about the need for Arabic-language resources about five years ago.
“This is not a resource that’s going to be for sale,” Trexler says of the book he worked to produce. “This is sacramental liturgy -- basic tools any pastor would need to carry out their roles in the church.”
Trexler discovered the worship book Tutu needed didn't exist. After gaining permission and a license from United Methodist Publishing House, Trexler received funding from Holston Conference to find a translator, graphic designer, and publisher to produce 300 total books.
In addition to having served as a local pastor, Trexler is also a retired newspaper editor who “had such a strong feeling this needed to be done,” he says about the book. “I felt like it was a moving of the Spirit.”
The Rev. Mike Sluder, Holston Conference director of connectional ministries, authorized funding for the project based on his long experience with South Sudan, whose natives also speak Arabic and are in need of worship resources.
Holston Conference has partnered with the United Methodist Church in South Sudan since 2008, three years before the Republic of South Sudan received independence from the Republic of Sudan in 2011.
Eight years ago, during a trip to South Sudan, Sluder met four pastors from Sudan who were then seeking a United Methodist connection and resources. Those pastors were friends of Tutu.
“They said, ‘We believe our calling is to evangelize the Middle East,’” Sluder said. “Having heard their story, knowing their desire, although they were not officially United Methodist yet, I still wanted to help them live into their calling.”
Sluder kept 50 of the newly published Arabic books to send with a Holston Conference missionary team scheduled to visit South Sudanese United Methodist pastors in January 2022.
Tutu said he talks regularly with the Sudanese pastors who met with Sluder and Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor in 2013, and their churches will be among those he will visit during his Dec. 23-Jan. 17 trip to Khartoum and the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan.
Tutu and Trexler have a list of more than 40 churches in Khartoum, Um Doreen County, and Thogo County in Sudan -- and a refugee camp in Egypt -- that Tutu says have leaders desiring to be part of the United Methodist connection. At least two of the churches have 4,000 or more worshipers, he says.
“People there are trying to find the right church that believes in Christ,” Tutu says. “I tell them about John Wesley, and they say, ‘When you come, make sure you bring the book of worship.’”
In addition to preaching, Tutu plans to meet with and train about 50 pastors to use the Arabic worship book.
A native of the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, Tutu came to the United States in 2001. In the 1990s, he was arrested by extremists for preaching about Jesus and establishing Protestant churches in his war-torn nation. He still has scars from the beatings he suffered.
He escaped captivity, reunited with his family, and was eventually resettled in the U.S. by UMCOR and Bridge Refugee Services.
At his new home in East Tennessee, Tutu started a house church for Sudanese people that grew so large, Green Meadow United Methodist Church gave the congregation a permanent residence in 2012. In June 2016, Tutu completed his studies to become a United Methodist licensed local pastor.
Tutu has not visited his homeland since 2016. When he goes next week, he will be returning to a nation that is overwhelmingly Muslim, compared to South Sudan, which is largely Christian.
“To our knowledge, there are no UMC congregations in Sudan,” says the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of Ask the UMC, a service of United Methodist Communications. “There is also no identified global mission work in Sudan at this time.”
The United Methodist Church, however, does exist and is at work in South Sudan as part of the Uganda-South Sudan Annual Conference.
Tutu says he knows all that, although some of the churches he will visit already call themselves United Methodist. He also knows there is a U.S. advisory against traveling to Sudan due to fresh violence in a long-going political state of crisis. “Reconsider travel due to crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict,” the U.S. state department warned on Dec. 13.
The pastor remains determined to finally deliver the books in Arabic that were published in spring 2020, but have since been waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic at Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa, Tennessee.
“He feels the need to finally get this done,” said Trexler.
People in his homeland know of his experience in preaching Jesus through adversity, and his word to them is good, Tutu explained.
“Who is the truth? Jesus Christ is the truth,” he said. “When I say something, I never change. They know me.”
When he returns to the U.S., Tutu said his next mission is to find out how Arabic-speaking pastors who are already using United Methodist liturgy can bring The United Methodist Church to Sudan.
"The Book of Worship for United Methodists in Arabic-Speaking Churches" was consecrated in a Dec. 5 service at Green Meadow with Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
ALCOA, Tenn. (June 20, 2016) -- Botrous Tutu has been a preacher for many years -- since the 1990s when he was tortured in Sudan for refusing to renounce his faith -- and for the last four years, in a little church in Alcoa. On June 11, 150 people...