On June 23, the Rev. Fred and Libby Dearing departed for South Sudan, where they will lead Holston Conference's mission work in fulfillment of a covenant partnership with the East Africa Conference. Fred Dearing will serve as district superintendent, following the Rev. Boo Hankins, who in May completed a two-year assignment with his wife, the Rev. Phyllis Hankins.
On July 9, South Sudan celebrated its independence as the world's newest nation. Here is Libby Dearing's account, as well as two previous letters.
July 10, 2011
What a wonderful time to be in South Sudan! We were privileged to be a witness to the birth of a new nation yesterday. Through Elias, a friend and UMCOR employee, we received invitations to attend the ceremony in Yei. We were seated under the shed (built new after being torn down by a storm) just behind the dignitaries who attended. We felt honored to be included. Many speeches were given and we heard a lot about responsibility, respect, hard work, and struggle. One guy said, "Now is not the time to sit."
There was a parade with many schools, women's groups, tribal dancers, and others participating. Even the local Muslims marched.The banners were handmade and held high with pride. People had come from everywhere, and you could feel the excitement in the air. It was very moving when they took down the flag of Sudan and raised the flag of South Sudan. They even sacrificed two goats at the base of the flag. I wasn't particularly fond of that part, but it is part of their culture. Later, in his speech, Bishop Elias Taban said it isn't necessary to do that anymore because the blood of Jesus Christ is enough.
We returned home and soon received a call from Elias saying the tribal dancers were fantastic and he was coming to pick us up. He took us back to Freedom Square where there was a sea of people as far as you could see. There were many circles with dust rising from each one. Soon the pastor from Yei United Methodist Church, Amos Taban, came and led us through the crowd. He took us to each group and cleared the crowd so we could be right at the edge to see. Several people kept trying to get us to join the dance but Amos was pretty protective and said "no." It was the most exciting thing we have seen in a while.
At the end, we joined the gospel program where our children at Yei UMC were performing. They made us proud.
Just when we thought we were finished for the day, we received an invitation to dinner at UNMIS (United Nations Missions In Sudan). We had roasted goat (that was delicious), chicken, and rice. The coordinator of the event said they would now be changing their to UNMISS (United Nations of South Sudan). We met people from Nepal, Wales, Russia, Holland, Pakistan, and Canada. Of course, many Sudanese were there. It was amazing to be in the presence of people from so many different places.
By the end of the day we were exhausted but so thrilled to have been a part of a truly historic event. It has made us appreciate the founding of our nation and realize what our ancestors went through to give us the freedom we enjoy today.
May each of you experience the freedom you have through Jesus Christ.
--Fred and Libby
July 4, 2011
As we sit here composing this newsletter (at Crop Training Center, for you Sudan alum), the employees are practicing singing their new national anthem. What a beautiful sound! On this 4th of July when we celebrate the birth of our nation, we have the privilege of watching the birth of the new nation of South Sudan. On Saturday they will officially become the Republic of South Sudan. We are hearing a lot of excited chatter about the big celebration planned in town, and we hope to be a part of it. We will tell you more about it later.
Our internet is still down but we are at an internet cafe at one of the places the Holston teams have stayed in the past. So, here is a brief report on our activity so far.
On Friday, the pastors gave us a reception at Yei United Methodist Church. There were many people present and we were humbled by their celebration. The service was one of praise and worship and God's presence was felt. It began with a foot washing and then they presented us with "blessings." The blessings were gifts from each church: either a live chicken or eggs. Each church came forward and proudly brought their gift. It was then presented to Fred who handed it to me. What a beautiful expression of their service and faith through sacrificial giving!
Again, we thank you for your prayers. We do feel them and know that it is those prayers that get us through each day. Have a blessed July 4th celebration, and thank God for your freedom to speak, move around, and worship as you please.
God's grace, peace, and joy to each,
--Fred and Libby
June 30, 2011
We must start by apologizing for the delay in communication. We assure you we are fine but, unfortunately, the internet isn't. We were unable to get online in Uganda, and hen we got to Sudan, the internet was out there, too. So, we are now at a neighboring hotel where we are using their internet access until we can get ours fixed.
Our trip to Sudan was long but safe. We chose to drive rather than fly from Uganda to Sudan so we could see the countryside. We were really glad we did as we also got to see some giraffes, monkeys, hippos, and the Uganda national bird in their native habitat. This just made us realize all the more how truly amazing our God is.
We arrived in Sudan on Tuesday and immediately got busy unpacking. We are now settled in and Fred has already had a meeting with his advisory committee. It was productive but quite long. The pastors are eager to learn and eager to work and there is lots to do. We will keep you informed as things happen.
I won't go on as I know you are very busy. But, we ask that you keep us in your prayers as we discern God's will. May God's grace, peace, and joy be yours.
-- Fred and Libby
For information about contributing to or participating in the Holston Conference-East Africa Conference mission in South Sudan, write firstname.lastname@example.org.