What they say is true. If you go to Sudan, the people will win your heart. And then your heart will break for them.
On March 4, Holston's sixth mission team to south Sudan returned home from a 16-day journey. A seventh team immediately followed, arriving back safely in the U.S. on March 14.
In the weeks ahead, The Call will report on the sixth team’s experience, with photos and video. The coverage will lead Holston up to its 2009 Annual Conference offering, designated for Yei, Sudan. The goal is at least $125,000, collected by mid-June.
Bishop James Swanson joined the sixth team to Sudan, along with Bishop Felton May of the General Board of Global Ministries and Bishop Daniel Wandabula of the East Africa Conference. Shortly after the bishops’ arrival in Yei, they visited the city’s dismally lacking hospital.
Swanson ended up sobbing outside the hospital along with Holston workers. They had seen an infant’s lifeless body in a bed, then learned that three more babies had succumbed within five minutes.
However, some lives were saved. The Holston team included physicians and pharmacy workers from Kingsport, Tenn., and Marion, Va. They brought suitcases and suitcases of donated medicine and saw 3,000 patients.
The Rev. Fred Dearing and the Rev. Andrew Amodei led training for 55 pastors and lay leaders representing 17 churches. For six days, they tackled questions about the Book of Discipline, starting new churches, baptism, female leadership -- and polygamy.
Steve Hodges of Jubilee Project was on the team. The Sneedville-based missionary combed Yei for every speck of agricultural and business information. (“He’s like a termite in new wood,” observed team leader Danny Howe.) By trip’s end, Hodges had figured out a pilot project for Sudanese women to raise chickens and grow green vegetables, addressing a desperate need for both nutrition and income.
Ben Mallicote, a member of First Broad Street United Methodist Church and vice mayor of Kingsport, came to Sudan. He ceremoniously gave a “key to the city of Kingsport” to Yei’s highest ranking official, Col. David Moses. Then Mallicote was invited back to discuss city infrastructure as the colonel’s soldiers stood by.
In future stories, you will meet Edina, the 31-year-old Sudanese born leader who risks her life to advocate for women and children. She walks seven miles every day to serve at the United Methodist compound in Yei. She does it without pay.
Edina is too thin.
You will meet Elias, a 33-year-old former child soldier who now works for UMCOR as a logistics officer. He’s also a pastor who teaches the youth of Yei to love all people, regardless of tribe.
He routinely fasts and prays for peace.
Upcoming stories and photos will reveal a region scarred by decades of war, still threatened by rebels and government conflict. Some of it is not pretty. The rutted dirt roads are scattered with litter. Sanitation is far from reality. The children wear tattered clothing discarded by richer nations. One girl wore a stained “Porsche” shirt; another seemed oblivious to the American profanity on her shirt. Many are barefoot.
Some of the children’s bodies are too small for their ages. Too many are orphans. Through interpreters, they recount in small voices the violent war acts and dreadful diseases that snatched away their parents -- their most reliable providers of food and shelter.
Yet, the Sudanese are so quick to smile and extend their hands in greeting. Their worship services – as long as four hours – brim with dance and drum, song and testimony, passion and prayer. Friendships bubble up between temporary Holston volunteers and residential African workers. Love is shared over mutual goals.
Then it’s time to say good-bye until another Holston team returns.
In weeks to come, The Call will report what’s already been accomplished by Holston and the United Methodist Church in south Sudan. The reports will also explain what Holston leaders now believe God is calling them to do.
It’s big. It’s in progress. And there is so much to do.
'Commentary: Spring break! Why Africa and not Myrtle Beach? (2/5/09)
Hope from Sudan: Holston prepares for productive year (January 2009)
United Methodists unite to send help to Sudan (6/26/08)
Holston, East Africa conferences sign Sudan covenant (2/26/08)
Annette Spence, editor of The Call, was a participant in the Feb. 16-March 4 mission trip to Sudan.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.