Chattanooga District leaders voted Jan. 8 to covenant with a church in South Sudan, promising to send teams, raise money, and develop friendships to help an emerging community continue to prosper.
Signed by District Superintendent Mike Hubble during a charge conference at Brainerd United Methodist Church, the formal agreement is the first Holston covenant with South Sudan since the Holston Conference partnered with the East Africa Conference in 2008.
"It's a work in progress and a labor of love," said the Rev. Tom Hancock, pastor of Harrison UMC, referring to the growing relationship. His congregation was a leader in raising about $18,000 to help build Ligitolo United Methodist Church last year. The church building now doubles as a school for more than 200 students in a community 13 miles south of Yei, where Holston has been sending mission teams since 2006.
The Chattanooga-Ligitolo partnership was seeded when the Rev. Fred Dearing was Chattanooga District superintendent and Hancock served on the district Discipleship Team in 2010, Hancock said.
Dearing now serves as district superintendent in South Sudan. He congratulated and thanked his former district during a Skype session from Chattanooga to Africa on Jan. 8.
"A covenant is more than a piece of paper," Dearing said. "It means the people have you with them ... Thank you for being in relationship with them. They know they are not forgotten."
Hixson, First-Centenary, Burks and others among Chattanooga's 59 churches contributed funds and volunteers for the March 2011 mission trip to begin building the Ligitolo church, Hancock said. Piney Flats UMC of Johnson City District and Fairview UMC of Maryville District also participated. (See photos.)
On Jan. 26, Hancock and Carmen Rawiszer will join Holston's 16th mission trip to Sudan to plan the implementation of their new covenant.
"It's easy for people in this country to just write a check," Hancock said at the Jan. 8 meeting. "But I learned that it's about empowering the people for their future generations, helping them to be self-sustaining and self-sufficient."
The three-year covenant calls for Chattanooga churches to sponsor orphans, provide supplies for teachers and students, raise financial support for clergy, teach stewardship and tithing to church members, aid sanitation with latrines and handwashing stations, support Steve and Diantha Hodges with microenterprise projects, and arrange for Ligitolo pastor Faustino Duku to visit the United States.
Church leaders do not yet know the total cost to carry out the plan, Hancock said. "We'll do all we can to live out our agreement and relationship with these people."
"It's sort of like a marriage," Hubble said before signing the agreement. "You don't know everything when you enter the covenant."
Both Holston and South Sudan could benefit from additional partnerships, Dearing said. "We are looking for churches that would be interested in a covenant relationship with a church here in South Sudan." To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.