ALCOA, Tenn. (Sept. 25, 2017) -- A highlight of the latest Holston Conference mission trip to East Africa was seeing 13 South Sudanese pastors receive their licenses to preach, said the Rev. Fred Dearing.
“They will go to school to get a diploma in theology and upon completion will be on the elder track for ordination,” said Dearing, who traveled with three other people to Uganda Aug. 13-29. “We are very proud of them.”
The pastors were licensed during the Uganda-South Sudan Annual Conference, held Aug. 23 in Mokono, Uganda. The pastors had recently completed licensing school, organized by and funded through Holston Conference.
Danny Howe also traveled to Uganda along with Fred Dearing, Libby Dearing, and Paul Bowman. He said it was the "first time South Sudanese pastors have attended Annual Conference, an opportunity for them to have a ‘coming of age’ experience in understanding their role in the larger church and how they are connected to a global ministry."
Howe is coordinator of Holston’s South Sudan mission and also, mission director at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tenn.
Some of the lay members and pastors from South Sudan were placed on East Africa Conference committees, another first that was encouraging to them. “They are growing in understanding of the structure and how to participate,” Dearing said.
Five of the newly licensed pastors were enrolled in Uganda Christian University in Arua. Eight will be enrolled in the United Methodist Bible College for Course of Study.
LOOKING FOR HOPE
Fred and Libby Dearing returned to East Africa for the 16-day trip after having lived and served in South Sudan from 2011 to 2016. Bowman represented the Holston Conference Foundation on the trip.
The team visited Uganda because the South Sudanese people who Holston Conference has been in ministry with since 2008 were forced to flee from their home nation between July and September 2016. War and violence in South Sudan led an estimated 1 million people to seek safety in refugee camps in northern Uganda.
Among the refugees are 36 orphans and about 15 staff members in Holston Conference’s care. Twelve United Methodist pastors and other staff members remain in South Sudan, Dearing said.
“We found people who are needing encouragement and hope to continue looking to a future to return to their homeland,” Dearing said.
The children are being well cared for by the staff, Howe said. Funds from Holston’s 2016 special offering as well as Libby Dearing’s jewelry sales are providing educational and food supplement to what is already being provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“The food rations are irregular and are sometimes reduced,” Dearing said.
United Methodist pastors living in the refugee camps have established 11 churches in three camps, Dearing said. “There are 1,534 members and almost half are children.” Four churches are under roof and seven are in temporary shelters. The pastors have requested financial aid from Holston in providing metal roofs or tarps and poles.
The team was encouraged to reunite with staff now living in and protecting the Captain’s House in Yei, South Sudan. (Staff members traveled to Uganda to meet with the Holston team.) Staff salaries were reduced based on available funds, according to Dearing.
None of the churches, schools, or other buildings on the two Grace Home compounds (near Yei and Kenyi in South Sudan) have been destroyed. However, “the churches [congregations] have moved into the bush, trying to move away from the violence,” Dearing said. Of the schools that were housed in most of the 20 United Methodist churches established in South Sudan, one school remains open.
Howe said it was difficult to realize that South Sudanese brothers and sisters are “beginning to settle in for the long haul” in resettlement camps, perhaps for the next five to 10 years. “But, we understand now more than ever that God will not walk away. And we, the people of God who call themselves United Methodists, cannot walk away in the midst of an opportunity to extend God’s faithfulness through our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service.”
New normal: South Sudanese orphans adjust to life in Uganda (The Call, 12/19/16)