Journey to South Sudan: Yei commissioner grateful for UMC mission work

Journey to South Sudan: Yei commissioner grateful for UMC mission work


Aug. 26, 11:30 a.m. (EAT) -- Entebbe, Uganda

The team is on its way back to the United States, after visiting more United Methodist churches and even a "church start-up" in South Sudan. Watch for "The Call" to post photos and provide stories about the many ongoing United Methodist ministries in this area and how others can participate.

Aug. 22, 11 p.m. (EAT) -- Yei, South Sudan

The commissioner of Yei River County expressed appreciation for the United Methodist Church’s work during a meeting with the Holston Conference mission team on Aug. 21.

Led by the Rev. Fred Dearing, the Holston team met with Commissioner Juma David Augustine in his office. Dearing and other Holston missionaries have met numerous times with Juma and his predecessor, Colonel Moses David Lokonga, combining efforts of church and government to save and improve lives in South Sudan. 

“I honestly want to say welcome home and show my appreciation from the people of Yei for how much the United Methodist Church is doing,” Juma said.

Juma said he had visited Yei area schools built through Holston partnerships with local churches and was aware of sacrifices made to bring clean water, improved health, and agriculture to the area.

“When I came as commissioner I found that Brother Fred added a lot of value to my work … I have seen how the United Methodist Church is impacting our population,” the commissioner said.

Juma spoke of the importance of faith in his own life and how an Arizona missionary had supported his education.

“I want to give my time in office to the glory of God,” said Juma, who has served as commissioner since April 2012.

He pledged support to the ministry led by Dearing, noting that “during the war, the biggest thing respected was the church. Above all, the church provided hope when the people were hopeless.”

Juma referred to two civil wars in Sudan lasting 1955-1972 and 1983-2005. South Sudan began its independence from Sudan as the world's youngest nation in July 2011.

“We will continue to protect the good work of the United Methodist Church,” Juma said, “and we will stand firm and continue to testify to the support you are providing.”

Team members responded by sharing their individual roles in supporting Holston’s mission in South Sudan.

At the meeting’s conclusion, team leader Danny Howe presented the commissioner with a University of Tennessee cap – which he promptly put on – and a map of South Sudan.

Yei is located in the Central Equatoria State, in southwestern South Sudan. Yei River County has a population of more than 171,000.

Later on Aug. 21, team members visited Giru United Methodist Church, the partner congregation of the Holston’s Kingsport District. Giru’s pastor is John Kenyi.

On Aug. 22, the team visited Pukuka United Methodist Church, the partner congregation of First United Methodist Church of Maryville, Tenn.  Pukuka’s pastor is Moses Abui. The team also made a repeat visit to nearby Grace Home for Children.

On Friday evening, Aug. 22, the team joined with Fred and Libby Dearing and Lynn and Sharon Fogleman at the Captain’s House for homemade pizza and watched the 2007 film, “Wild Hogs.”

(Look for photos to be provided through Holston's Flickr page when the team returns to Tennessee. In the meantime, some photos are posted at


Aug. 21, 1 a.m. (EAT) -- Yei, South Sudan

Within three days, the Holston mission team to South Sudan visited four churches and helped with the health screening of 170 school children. They met with the local UMCOR staff and helped distribute health kits and school kits. They met pastors, shook hands with teachers and students, and waved to hundreds more people along the roadside as their United Methodist van passed by.

The church visits are part of an effort to develop partnerships between the 15 United Methodist churches in this part of South Sudan with churches or districts in Holston or other conferences, according to the Rev. Fred Dearing.

“These covenant relationships are very important to the people,” said Dearing, Yei District superintendent. "It gives them hope and confidence,  knowing that other churches are walking alongside them.”

The team visited Nymbusu and Mirodu on Monday, Kupera on Tuesday, and Morre on Wednesday (Aug. 18-20). Each of the four congregations currently meet in thatched-roof or mud-wall structures. Some have latrines. Most have accompanying schools.

At Kupera, the team spent the day helping medical missionaries Lynn and Sharon Fogleman do health screenings for students. Classes are held on the church grounds, as they are in 14 of the 15 United Methodist churches in the region.

In 2010, Holston Conference helped provide clean water for the Kupera community by digging a borehole. The local congregation has constructed a latrine and is using the “Farming God’s Way” conservation method to plant sweet potatoes and other food.

All of these advances, plus the strong leadership of Pastor Fabian Duli, has readied Kupera for potential partnership with Holston churches or with other United Methodist groups, Dearing said.

“One of the most challenges we have is construction of a church,” said Duli, referring to the need for a more durable structure.

Five of the 15 churches supervised by Dearing have existing relationships: Ligitolo with Chattanooga District; Pukuka with First Maryville United Methodist Church; Logo with Knoxville District; Giru with Kingsport District; and Kenyi with Holston’s Abingdon District and the Memphis Conference.

In addition to visiting churches, the team also learned of UMCOR needs and strategized on ways that Holston could assist, especially with agriculture projects and Imagine No Malaria implementation. A $350,000 Imagine No Malaria grant to UMCOR expires in late September, yet there is more work to be done in the region, officials said.

By giving to the annual One Great Hour of Sharing offering in March and to Advance funds, Holston members can further help the East African nation where their interests and investments are already “firmly entrenched,” Howe said.

“We need to be more responsible at home in helping you with the work you are doing,” Howe told UMCOR staff. 

While the team stays busy with their journeys on unpaved roads, often with ruts, holes or standing water, they also enjoy the sights and each other. A visit to an open market rendered a sack of "g nuts" (ground nuts or peanuts) for Roy Hull and a six-foot sugar cane for Paul Bowman, which he shared with the guards at the Captain's House.

Mandela Wani hosted the team for dinner at his home on Wednesday. Members of the district staff often join the team and the Dearings for meals at the Captain's House.

(Look for photos to be provided through Holston's Flickr page when the team returns to Tennessee. In the meantime, some photos are posted at


Aug. 18, 12 p.m. (EAT) --  Ligitolo, South Sudan

Brett Burris amazed his fellow team members on Sunday, Aug. 17. When he stepped off the van at Ligitolo United Methodist Church, he immediately began greeting the church members by their names.

That’s because in the year since Burris first came to South Sudan, he’s been studying the photos and praying for the people he met. He could hardly wait to get back to the congregation that has consumed his thoughts.

"We came to Ligitolo every day that we were here last year, except for one day. You could just build me a tukl and I would stay here,” Burris said, referring to the grass-thatched or mud huts that most South Sudanese people live in.

Burris was one of a group of United Methodists from the United States who joined Ligotolo for Sunday worship on this morning. In addition to the six-member team from Holston Conference, the group included Rev. Fred Dearing, Holston native and current Yei District superintendent, and Lynn Fogleman, medical missionary originally from Red Bird Mission.

Since 2012, Ligitolo has partnered with churches of Holston’s Chattanooga District. The visitors joined about 60 Ligitolo worshipers in the church built with Chattanooga donations.

Led by Pastor Faustino Duku, worship included messages of praise and welcome, songs in English and Arabic, testimony, and preaching by the Rev. Roy Hull of Holston’s Abingdon District.

Worship was followed by a lunch of goat stew, pineapple and posho (a maize flour porridge). The visitors toured the church grounds which included a latrine -- also built with Chattanooga funds -- and a thatch-roof school.

Chattanooga churches have raised $40,000 to build the first building in a new school, Burris said. He plans to lead a district team to Ligitolo in April 2015. Burris is a member at Burks United Methodist Church.

(Look for photos to be provided through Holston's Flickr page when the team returns to Tennessee. In the meantime, some photos are posted at


Aug. 17, 3 p.m. (EAT) -- Yei, South Sudan

There’s nothing like flying into a strange land and seeing familiar faces.

Two days after the Holston Conference mission team departed east Tennessee, they arrived in Yei, South Sudan on the morning of Aug. 16. The final flight – on a 19-seat-prop plane -- took them from Entebbe to Arua, Uganda, before landing on the dirt runway in Yei.

Waiting to greet them was the Rev. Fred Dearing and Libby Dearing, missionaries from Holston; Sharon Fogleman, medical missionary previously at Red Bird Mission; and Mandela Wani, who spent eight weeks this summer in the U.S. as consultant and friend to the United Methodist Church.

After going through the immigration process (in an open-air, two-room office) and paying $100 each for a South Sudan visa, the team climbed into the back of a United Methodist Church van and traveled the bumpy dirt road to the Captain’s House.

To Holston members who traveled to South Sudan before the Captain’s House existed, the home established for Holston missionaries and mission teams is a gift.

Funded by the late Rev. Linda Bird Wright and named for her husband, a pilot, the Captain’s House is a four-bedroom, concrete-block residence for the Dearings and their guests. It has a great room where teams can gather for meals and fellowship, four bedrooms and bathrooms, and multiple beds.

When mission teams come to South Sudan, says Libby Dearing, “they’re coming into a new culture, a different climate and different foods. That puts a lot of stress on the body. They have to adjust to all that and jet lag on top of that.”

The Captain’s House “gives them the comforts of home and food where it can be more controlled,” Dearing said. In the early years when Holston teams came to Sudan, they stayed at a facility called the Crop Training Center or even, in 2006, in huts without running water or electricity. The Captain’s House opened in 2010.

After a lunch of fried potatoes, rice, greens, beef-tip stew, and carrots the Dearings and team returned to the United Methodist van for the 20-minute trip to Grace Home for Children, near Pukuka United Methodist Church.

Pictures from thousands of miles away cannot compare to being on site to see the children and the home that is being provided for them through Holston Conference.

Twenty-three children, ages 3 to 14, stood outside the little green houses, clapping and singing as the van approached. They sang, "Visitors, visitors, we welcome you. Thank you for your love.”

Opened in September 2013, “Grace” stands for “God receives all children equally.” Directed by Justus Kwaje, the home takes in the most “vulnerable” orphans, identified by the pastors of the 19 United Methodist churches in Yei River County.

In less than a year’s time, the children have adjusted to the love and care of their four “mamas” or caretakers, Dearing said. The team visited with the children and staff and toured the recently planted gardens including sweet potatoes, pumpkin, yellow nuts, and ground nuts.


Aug. 15, 11:45 p.m. (EAT) -- Entebbe, Uganda

Grace Nakajje was a communicator for the East Africa Conference when she encountered a family with a child suffering from malaria. She went to the family’s home along with some mission team members and took photos of the child.

Later, a member of the team, which happened to be from Holston Conference, confronted Nakajje. “What do you think you can do about this, beyond taking photos?”

Instead of getting mad, Nakajje took the question to heart. Within months, she had founded Grace Works Initiative to help poor people in rural areas of Uganda get access to health services.

Nakajje was the Holston mission team’s lunch guest today at a hotel in Entebbe, Uganda. The six-member team is staying in Entebbe one more night before departing for South Sudan early Saturday morning. Nakajje brought along her just-published book, “Voice in the Jungle: What Went Wrong? Karamoja.

Long before Nakajje photographed the sick child, she had lost a one-year-old brother to malaria. The person who confronted Nakajje about taking action was Rev. Sharon Bowers, now pastor in the Wytheville District.

Nakajje is based in Kamapala, Uganda, but when she met Bowers, she had been invited to join a Holston mission team to South Sudan in 2012.

“I started thinking beyond the position I was in, to becoming someone who could participate directly,” Nakajje said.

Nakajje initially founded her nonprofit organization to address malaria, but she has more recently focused on organizing “village health clinics” in rural parts of Uganda, where health aid is far away therefore malaria is more deadly.

Through her new book, she's also speaking out against the "African cultural crisis” of female genital mutilation, child marriage, and girl education through her new book. The book focuses on Karamoja, the “most underdeveloped region of Uganda.”

“The traditional practice of cutting a girl’s genitals still marks the transition to womanhood among the Pokot in Karamoja, despite growing fears that the ritual is fueling the spread of HIV/AIDS,” Nakajje reports. 

In June 2013, she resigned as East Africa Conference communicator to focus on her new ministry. Nakajje hopes sales of the book will provide financial support for “House of Hope,” a new “trauma center” she is establishing for young women at risk for genital mutilation or other oppressions, as well as for future projects of Grace Works Initiative.

Aug. 15, 6:15 p.m. (EAT) -- Entebbe, Uganda

Here are some of today's team photos on Flickr.


Aug. 15, 1:25 a.m. (EAT) -- Entebbe, Uganda

After more than 24 hours of travel time -- most in the air -- the team finally arrived in Africa tonight. Right now it's 6:25 Eastern Standard Time. While Holston members are eating dinner, the team is more than ready for a shower and a flat surface.

Of the four flights from Tennessee to Uganda, two were about eight hours long. To keep themselves hydrated and prevent swelling or blood clots in our legs, they were careful to drink lots of water and get up from their cramped seating and walk -- if only to squeeze into the restroom.

There will be more news soon. The team plans to in Entebbe tomorrow and complete the trip to South Sudan early Saturday morning.


Aug. 13, 6 p.m. (EST) -- Detroit, Mich.

This team was scheduled to leave in January 2014, but when fighting broke out 10 days before Christmas Eve, it was decided that traveling to the nation so beloved by Holston Conference was not safe.

Today, Aug. 13, the six-member team is finally making the trek to East Africa to continue to build on Holston’s partnership with the United Methodist Church of South Sudan. The team members are Brett Burris of Burks United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Roy Hull, former pastor of Three Springs United Methodist Church in Bristol, Va.; Danny Howe of First Broad Street United Methodist Church, Kingsport, Tenn.; Rev. Harry Howe of Project Crossroads, Marion, Va.; Paul Bowman of the Holston Conference Foundation staff; and Annette Spence of the Holston Conference communications staff.

Each of the team members' roles will vary during this two-week journey. All, with the exception of Paul Bowman, have traveled to South Sudan before. Danny Howe is on his ninth trip.

“The most important thing you will do is to get off the plane,” the Rev. Mike Sluder said this morning, before celebrating Holy Communion with the team. Sluder, recently appointed as Holston’s missions coordinator, reminded us that Sudan felt so abandoned during their many years of civil war, the most important thing Holston members can do is to return to the struggling nation again and again.

“It may seem like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound,” Sluder said, while commenting on the “tumultuous” state of the nation, but it’s important to walk with the people as they work for peace.

Is it safe for the team to go now? Of course, mission teams from Holston have traveled to and from Sudan since 2005, even before a covenant partnership was formed with the East Africa Conference in 2008. In 2011, South Sudan celebrated its independence from Sudan, and it seemed that peace and safety were even surer than before.

However, in December the world’s newest nation saw forces of the government and its opposition begin a new civil war, and attempts to bring peace have failed. Since then, 1.5 million people in South Sudan have been forced from their home and a severe food crisis is underway.

The Holston team that departed today will be serving in Yei and surrounding villages, which are a good distance south of the conflicts. The Rev. Fred Dearing, Holston clergy appointed as a United Methodist district superintendent in South Sudan, has safely traveled between Africa and the U.S. a couple of times since December, and the team that is traveling today is expected to be safe as they join him and his wife Libby. In fact, the Rev. David Hall and Becky Hall --- of Christ United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn. – just recently returned from South Sudan safely after leading clergy training there.

Although some have asked about the threat of Ebola, the virus has been reported in the west African nations of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria – but not in east Africa.

The team is in Detroit now and will depart for Amsterdam at 7:49 p.m., followed by Kigali and Entebbe, then two nights in Uganda before the final flight to South Sudan.




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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.