Around the world | Presbyterian World Mission
Empowerment through education
Veteran mission worker Leisa Wagstaff helps South Sudanese partners tackle huge challenges.
After nearly 30 years as an educator in Africa, Presbyterian mission worker Leisa Wagstaff recently began what could be the most challenging assignment of her career in mission service.
Wagstaff moved to South Sudan in October to begin work as an education facilitator. South Sudan voted to secede from Sudan in 2011, and though independence has generated great optimism, decades of civil war left South Sudan’s infrastructure in ruins, including its educational system.
“The majority of the adult population in South Sudan [has] no education due to the unrest. Seventy percent of the children between the ages of 6 and 17 [have never] set foot inside a classroom. Only 12 percent of the teaching corps [is] trained. And the dropout rate for girl students, who are two-thirds fewer than male pupils, [is] the highest in the world,” says Wagstaff, citing UNICEF and Save the Children statistics.
Yet Wagstaff enters her new assignment with much anticipation. “I have been given the opportunity to help further proclaim the good news to all creation and use all of my educational training and experiences of working and living in Africa as I serve alongside the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan [PCOSS].”
Wagstaff’s work will focus on the Jonglei and Upper Nile states, two areas of South Sudan considered by many observers to be the country’s most underserved in terms of government support. There she advances Presbyterian World Mission’s goal of helping its global partners reduce poverty by educating 100,001 students by 2020. Her assignment includes helping the PCOSS’s school system establish a teacher-training program and develop logistical and curriculum plans.
But Wagstaff’s history with South Sudan goes back much further. In fact, it’s where she was first called to mission. She made her first visit to what was then Sudan as a college student enrolled in a work-study-travel program. Like most college students, she was drawn to overseas study for the adventure of travel and to encounter new cultures while earning academic credit.
“Touching down in Sudan, however, was the beginning of much more: a lifelong commitment to global mission that has taken me to wonderfully diverse communities where the churches are growing at an astonishing rate and Christians are sustaining their faith in the midst of innumerable socioeconomic, political, and climatic challenges, and often religious persecution,” she says.
In Cameroon, where Wagstaff recently completed nine years of service, she taught at the Presbyterian Teacher Training College and a secondary school related to that institution. Wagstaff has also served in education-related mission assignments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe.
While thousands of miles separate Wagstaff from the Presbyterians in the United States who support her ministry, she tells US Presbyterian audiences that they are never far from her mind. “I serve as your representative, your mission coworker, and the embodiment of your desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ in every corner of the earth.”
Pat Cole is a communication specialist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
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I am so proud of the work Leisa Wagstaff is doing in Sudan for the Presbyterian Mission. We miss her dearly and continue to pray for God's blessing upon her and her ministry. If possible, I would like an address to send her support and encouragement in Sudan. The Presbyterian Mission chose a precious jewel from the Interdenominational Theological Center. Please let her know that I think of her often and will keep her in my prayers. I miss my dear friend very much.