After agonizing and observing from a distance the fighting that began in South Sudan just before Christmas, Diantha Hodges now has a Feb. 13 plane ticket to take her as far as Uganda.
From that neighboring nation, Hodges will assess if it’s safe enough to return to the place where she has served as a teacher and missionary since August 2010.
“I am sorry our friends in Yei have to re-experience trauma, bringing new hardships and uncertainties, so soon after their new country was established and fervent hope was so high,” said Hodges from her parents’ home near Crossville, Tenn.
“Those of us serving in South Sudan are waiting for the right time to return when we can continue our programs to help the people there build stronger communities which take action to care for each other, by improving churches, schools, health, care for vulnerable children, agriculture and ways to earn income," she said.
The Rev. Fred Dearing and Libby Dearing, who serve along with Hodges as Holston missionaries in South Sudan, recently delayed their trip to Africa as a result of conflict in the fledgling nation.
As an “Individual Volunteer in Mission” for the United Methodist Church, Hodges has lived and worked in Yei, South Sudan, as a health educator since she and her husband, Steve Hodges, left Jubilee Project in Sneedville, Tenn.
Diantha Hodges' goal in South Sudan: to help prevent common diseases causing the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world.
“I currently have 100 local midwives whom I have been training,” she says. “On average, they attend 60 births a year, which is an impact of 6,000 births a year. These midwives gain their knowledge and skills for a lifetime. So if they continue to practice an average of 10 more years, that could be 60,000 births that would be impacted.”
Using a training manual written by Hodges, United Methodist church communities in South Sudan are teaching 20 women each month about safe pregnancy and birth.
Hodges is also leading a program to assist each of the 20 United Methodist churches connected to Holston Conference to build latrines for their churches and schools.
If peace continues in the Yei region of South Sudan -- where Holston Conference has been working in partnership with the East Africa Conference -- Hodges hopes to have her work reach a self-sustaining point by the end of 2014. She will do that by strengthening the midwives' learning groups and tying them more closely to their closest government health clinic.
“Dr. Lynn and Dr. Sharon Fogleman have goals within the new Imagine No Malaria program to create close relationships with these clinics and could provide monitoring,” she said.
In the meantime, Hodges will expand her Individual Volunteers in Mission contract to include Uganda as well as South Sudan. Her husband, Steve Hodges, is currently working in agricultural risk management in Uganda.
Giving: Hodges said she received $750 in personal missionary support through the Dec. 3 “Giving Tuesday” effort. In addition, $4,845 was received for South Sudan Empowering All Lives (HEAL), $100 was received for South Sudan Training Educators, Adding Capacity to Help Villages (TEACH). For information on giving to Diantha Hodges’ South Sudan ministry, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaking: Hodges will return to the U.S. in June and July 2014. United Methodist Women or other church groups may schedule her to speak by writing email@example.com.
Sharing: “I would love to find a way to communicate what is being done in Holston back with our South Sudanese pastors and friends. I know it would mean so much to them and would encourage them greatly," Hodges said. Send information or photos showing how your congregation has prayed for peace in South Sudan or shared concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.