ALCOA, Tenn. (Dec. 14, 2015) -- Holston Conference has been sending mission teams to South Sudan since 2006, but Danny Howe believes the most recent teams are witnessing a “season of harvest” after years of hard work, financial investment, and relationship-building.
The bright spots are emerging despite food and fuel shortages, sporadic electricity, conflict and violence in the war-torn young nation, Howe said. “We’re seeing results of God’s faithfulness through Holston and our denomination.”
The last team departed for South Sudan in August, and the next team departs in January. Over the last few weeks, the Rev. Fred Dearing and his wife, Libby, have been home in the U.S., speaking in churches about their last four years of missionary work with 19 congregations in South Sudan.
The Dearings have also been meeting with mission leaders such as Danny Howe (coordinator of South Sudan ministries), the Rev. Tom Hancock (chair of the conference mission team), and the Rev. Mike Sluder (connectional ministries director) as they plan the next steps in Holston’s ongoing partnership with the United Methodist Church in South Sudan.
Here are some of the recent victories occurring in the Yei River County and Lainya County region of South Sudan, where Holston churches invest and serve in connection with the denomination’s Board of Global Ministries.
BOOKS FOR ORPHANS
“Every child we met was eager to learn,” says Heather Hayes, who first went to South Sudan in November 2014. “They don’t have books, whereas our kids have more books than they’ll ever care about.”
Hayes decided to help the children by putting libraries into two South Sudanese orphanages built by United Methodists: Grace and Greenland. She applied for and received a $1,000 grant from the Looney Mission Endowment of the Holston Conference Foundation.
She told the children at Christ United Methodist in Knoxville, where she serves as children’s ministry director, to bring in new or used books in good condition. She also ordered new books.
When Heather and her husband, Wes Hayes, returned to South Sudan in August 2015, Wes immediately hired a local carpenter to build shelves. The Holston mission team helped install the shelves and create a card-catalog system.
The children at Grace and Greenland now have libraries with 500 total books, including “The Cat in the Hat” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in English, the nation’s official language. Hayes also left money for Libby Dearing to buy Bibles in the children’s tribal languages.
“I pray that one day shipping becomes available so that we could put small libraries in all of the churches,” says Hayes, who still has 300 leftover books she hopes to take when she returns to Africa in May.
EDUCATION CENTER FOR PASTORS
The 20 pastors serving United Methodist congregations in South Sudan need training, but it wasn’t convenient for them to continue meeting at Grace orphanage, says the Rev. Roy Hull.
The need for a pastors’ education building emerged at the same time the 59 congregations of the Big Stone Gap District said they wanted to get involved in South Sudan.
“We thought we were going to work on a food-support project, but the Holy Spirit had something else in mind,” says Hull, pastor at Legion Memorial United Methodist Church in Big Stone Gap, Va.
Hull was in South Sudan in August soon after mission leaders decided to build the training center between Grace Home for Children and Pukuka United Methodist Church. South Sudanese workers quickly made 21,000 bricks to get the project started.
The new building will include separate men’s and women’s quarters -- where pastors can stay overnight -- a classroom, latrine and fence. The center will also be helpful when Duke Divinity School students return to help train the pastors and can be used for United Methodist Women gatherings, Hull said.
Through donations and fund raisers such as hot-dog dinners, bake sales and 5K runs, Big Stone Gap District churches have raised $13,000 of the needed $50,000, according to the Rev. Jeff Wright, district superintendent.
"We want our pastors to be trained, and we have this opportunity to help these pastors be trained, too," Wright said. (See video of the building's site.)
TRAINING FOR POLICE
Jerry Robinson is a retired veteran of the Kingsport Police Department. When city leaders of Yei requested training for their police force, Kingsport’s chief of police called on Robinson for help.
"We couldn't have done a nationwide search and found someone more qualified for what Jerry did over there," said Danny Howe.
Through their connection with Holston, Yei leaders have shared a friendship with leaders of Kingsport, Tenn., since 2010, when three Sudanese city-planners traveled to east Tennessee for help in developing a land-use plan.
Robinson followed up on that city-to-city relationship by traveling to South Sudan in August 2015. His mission was to teach ethics and riot control to 12 police supervisors in Yei.
Robinson is a member of Willis Chapel United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Va. He has experience in training law enforcers in Afghanistan.
“They get in gun fights a lot because they get ambushed,” Robinson said of police officers in Yei. “Riots are a problem in the prison, usually because of lack of food.”
Yei city leaders also asked for help in recordkeeping, but Robinson said he didn’t know how to improve on their current ledger-book system without computers and smart phones.
The supervisors from Robinson’s class will follow up by training their total police force of 300, which serves a city with an estimated population of 170,000.
HEALTH SCREENING FOR CHILDREN
The Rev. Harry Howe is looking for a few good doctors and nurses who can help check students for health problems.
Since they moved to South Sudan in 2012, Dr. Lynn Fogleman and Dr. Sharon Fogleman have already screened thousands of children for nutrition, malaria, worms and other maladies. However, with the additional help of U.S. volunteers, 3,740 children in 14 schools can be seen annually instead of every two to three years, Dearing said.
“We trust this program can become more continuous and helpful to more and more children,” Sharon Fogleman said.
Harry Howe is director of Project Crossroads and a physician’s assistant who has traveled to South Sudan three times. He seeks volunteers for a Jan. 27-Feb. 10 trip as well as for future trips. (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Medical aid has already arrived through a new partner, Carolyn Goodwin from The Mission Society. “She is a nurse with computer and administrative experience and has started by working with the Yei Civil Hospital Medical Stores,” Sharon Fogleman said.
Nancy Peed was a member of the August 2015 mission team and will return to South Sudan in January 2016. A hospital administrator and member at Fort Valley United Methodist Church in Fort Valley, Ga., Peed hopes to relocate to South Sudan later in 2016. She’s trying to acquire medical equipment so the new surgery unit at Yei hospital can finally be used, Fogleman said.
Find out more about Holston's ministry in South Sudan.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.