Holston Conference leaders are sending an Advent message of peace and reassurance to ministry supporters concerned about this week’s military clashes in South Sudan.
“Realizing that all of Holston holds the people of South Sudan dear to our hearts, we want to assure you that we are keeping up with the events as they unfold as well as communicating with sources in Yei concerning staff, churches, Grace Home, and our friends and families we have come to know and love since our journey began together in 2006,” said Danny Howe, Holston missions secretary.
The political crisis reportedly began Dec. 15 in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. There have been unconfirmed reports that more than 500 people have been killed and animosities between Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups have been inflamed, according to the New York Times.
South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011. Holston Conference has sent mission teams to the Yei region of South Sudan since 2006.
In 2008, Holston Conference formed a covenant partnership with United Methodists in South Sudan through the East Africa Conference.
Howe said he had spoken to “sources close to Holston in Yei by Skype.” He said he was assured of peace in Yei, which is 110 miles southwest of Juba.
“Shops are open and people are out and about,” Howe said. “There have been no reports of violence in Yei or areas where we have churches established. There is a spirit of optimism about the outcome of recent happenings, although some fear ethnic tensions induced by what took place over the weekend.”
Howe said he had spoken to another contact in Juba “who assured me that tensions will ease and life will return to normal soon. He noted that the shops in Juba are reopening, people are moving about, and the airport and border have reopened.”
The Rev. Fred Dearing, currently spending the holidays in the U.S., said that he and wife Libby Dearing plan to return to South Sudan on Jan. 9. He thanked Holston supporters for their concern and prayers.
“We are saddened by the tribalism. It’s still one of the struggles that we see in South Sudan,” said Dearing, who has served as Yei District superintendent in the East African nation since 2011. “But things are returning to normal there, and it’s still our intent to go back in January, unless the border closes.”
Dearing asked Holston members to “pray for peace and for the people to learn how to live together.”
Sharon and Lynn Fogelman, medical missionaries in partnership with the East Africa Conference, are scheduled to depart South Sudan for the U.S. on Dec. 21, Dearing said.
The Rev. Tom Hancock, chair of Holston’s Missions Ministry Team, said the conflict and related concerns reminded him that “the promise of Christmas is that God is with us. As followers of the One who reflected God’s love and faithfulness most fully, we should to continue to reflect that love and faithfulness in our relationship with our sisters and brothers in South Sudan.
“During this time, we have the opportunity to offer assurance and hope by remaining faithful through our prayers, support and presence,” Hancock said.
Howe also called for prayer: “We urge all of Holston to be in prayer with our brothers and sisters in South Sudan as they navigate through the next few days. May reconciliation replace retaliation in this advent season, a time in which we celebrate the gift of Christ to the world to reconcile the brokenness of humanity. “
Howe said Holston’s ministry is “solid” in South Sudan. “We are encouraged to continue by the leaders we have come to know, love and respect. Our response to the instability and vulnerability of this new nation will remain consistent with our calling as we live into and share in the pain, struggles, and celebrations of our brothers and sisters.
“Great days are ahead,” Howe added, “and new opportunities are on the horizon, as Holston prepares to engage in ministry through partnering specifically in education as our mission emphasis for 2014. What better way to progress in our partnership than to enable the young minds and hearts of South Sudan to be molded and nurtured by God so that there will be a day when war is no more and is a subject of history, not a reality of the present. ”
See also -- "Global mission leader calls for peace in South Sudan" (GBGM, 12/20/13)
"South Sudan supper: Churches will give 2014 offering for education" (The Call, 12/9/13)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.