KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Eighty-two people attended a dinner for Holston Conference’s mission work in South Sudan on Friday night, Dec. 7.
When they departed Bearden United Methodist Church into the cold, driving rain two hours later, they had learned at least two new things:
- The mission offering for Annual Conference 2014 will be used to develop education in South Sudan
- The $1.2 million donated by Holston members to fight malaria this year is already making an impact in South Sudan.
“Your money is already at work,” said the Rev. Fred Dearing, Yei District superintendent in South Sudan.
Home in the U.S. for the holidays, Dearing updated United Methodists from southwest Virginia and east Tennessee on progress made in the East African region where Holston Conference has been sending mission teams since 2006.
He said a $50,000 grant -- from the Imagine No Malaria campaign -- has been received to purchase medicine and protective bed nets. A second $50,000 grant is in progress.
Fifteen churches have been developed, and a school that was built and staffed in Yei currently educates 1,000 students, Dearing said.
Thirty-two wells have been dug. Thirteen wells have already needed (and received) repair work.
Several covenant relationships have been formed throughout Holston Conference, Dearing said. The Knoxville, Chattanooga, Kingsport and Abingdon Districts – as well as First United Methodist Church of Maryville – have made long-term commitments to build churches, train pastors, or support education.
“These covenant relationships are very important,” he said. “It gives the people hope and confidence, knowing you are walking alongside them.”
Dearing also provided updates on health, economic development, and food security programs developed by Holston in partnership with the East Africa Conference.
His wife, Libby Dearing, updated the audience on Grace Home for Children, the orphanage opened by Holston in September 2013. She showed before-and-after photos of 20 children now living in four houses, cared for by four “mommas.”
“We wanted you to see these faces, so you can see what a difference you have made in their lives,” Libby Dearing said.
When asked how long the children will live in the home, Libby Dearing replied, “Right now I’m planning for their college education. This is my prayer, that this will be their home.”
Other speakers included LeRae Collins, Imagine No Malaria coordinator, who said the latest total for the disease-fighting effort is more than $1,227,800.
The Rev. Tom Hancock, chair of Holston’s Missions Ministry Team and pastor at Harrison United Methodist Church, announced that money raised by churches for the Annual Conference missions offering in 2014 will benefit South Sudan education. (The offering will be collected at the Holston Annual Conference, held June 8-11 at Lake Junaluska, N.C.)
“South Sudan has one of the weakest education systems in the world because it’s one of the newest nations in the world,” Hancock said. “When you invest in education, you really do invest in the future.”
Forty-nine percent of South Sudan’s population is under age 18, he said. Fifteen percent of the population is younger than 5.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.