In the one month since Mandela Wani landed on U.S. soil, the man from South Sudan has accomplished a lot.
He’s helped repair houses in coastal South Carolina and preached during a power outage in the mountains of western North Carolina.
He’s been interviewed by two newspapers and also interrogated by youth and Vacation Bible School kids in Kingsport and Maryville, Tenn.
He’s traveled to Asheville, N.C., to talk to the leaders of Stop Hunger Now and attended a picnic with United Methodists in Floyd, Va.
Thirty-four-year-old Wani (whose full name is Mandela Wani Michael V.), arrived at McGhee-Tyson airport in Alcoa, Tenn., on June 1 for an eight-week visit, his first to the U.S. His trip purpose is to raise awareness and money for Holston’s mission partnership in South Sudan and to thank Holston churches for the more than $2.7 million they have already given to help develop the world’s newest nation.
“It’s been a big success,” Wani said of his visit so far. “I think it’s been productive.”
Almost as soon as Wani arrived in east Tennessee, a church in Kingsport whisked him off on a mission trip to St. Johns Island, S.C. He spent the first week with First Broad Street United Methodist Church members and the coastal residents they visited.
Since then, Wani has appeared at the Holston Annual Conference (Lake Junaluska, N.C.), Mafair UMC (Kingsport), Broadway UMC (Maryville), First UMC (Maryville), Floyd UMC (Floyd, Va.), and McClure’s Chapel UMC (Jonesville, Va.) He’s visited the homes of many Holston members, sometimes traveling and speaking with his co-workers in South Sudan, the Rev. Fred and Libby Dearing.
On Saturday, June 28, Wani appeared at a Kingsport District concert fundraiser for South Sudan and taught local musician Lightnin' Charlie how to play an adungu, a stringed instrument in his homeland.
At Broadway UMC, Wani spoke of the “hard times” his country has endured after decades of civil war and a struggle for peace that persists even now, three years after South Sudan’s official independence from Sudan.
“It was because of the faith in Christ. That’s why we were able to resist other forces, other religion,” Wani said. “It has never been easy for us.”
He thanked Broadway, one of the 887 churches in Holston Conference that supports South Sudan through offerings as recent as the $134,394 missions offering collected for education this spring and summer.
“We are beginning to see a symbol of hope, a symbol of change, a ray of hope,” he said. “Your presence makes us feel like we have now people who care about us. We have people now who know our history … who are able to give us direction.”
Between now and his July 24 departure for Africa, Wani will visit U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who aided him in acquiring a travel visa. He will meet with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture in Knoxville and Alfalit International in Miami, Fla., to discuss ventures to further aid development in South Sudan.
Wani will travel with the Rev. Tom Hancock, Holston Missions Team chair, and others while he speaks at Pactolus UMC (Kingsport), Green Meadow UMC (Maryville), Jones Memorial UMC and Christ UMC (Chattanooga).
On July 9, Wani will celebrate his nation’s third Independence Day at Burks UMC in Chattanooga.
"South Sudanese man comes here to thank Holston for its support" (The Daily Times, 6/21/14)
"Fundraiser for local church projects in South Sudan to feature former child soldier, government official" (Kingsport Times News, 6/23/14)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.