Rev. Michael Blake has just returned from South Sudan, where he visited with 14 orphans he met on previous trips.
He saw for himself the new home built for them and the two “mamas” hired to take care of them. He saw how healthy the children looked, since they have been eating regularly.
Before he returned to his own home, Blake and other members on his Memphis Conference team bought mattresses and cookware for the orphanage and paid for new cabinets and curtains to be made.
“Our last stop was the open-air street market where we bought brooms,” Blake said. “What a joy it was to purchase all of these items for these children with donations from the folks at home.”
In the newest nation in the world, Greenland Home for Children is just one of the ministries where United Methodists are partnering with African brothers and sisters to help bring peace and prosperity to South Sudan.
When church members from the Memphis Conference decided to reach across the world to build new relationships in the name of Jesus, they didn't have to do it alone. Blake and his colleague, Beth Brown, benefited from someone else’s experience and alliances when they formed a friendship with Holston Conference, on the other side of Tennessee.
“We have a strong sense of connection,” said Blake, “and we’re thankful other United Methodists can help us do what we can’t do on our own.”
Holston Conference sent their first mission team to Sudan in 2006. Since then, Holston has partnered with the East Africa Conference and invested more than $2.8 million to send missionaries and teams, build churches and schools, dig wells, improve health, and develop leaders in and near Yei, South Sudan.
To expand the mission into more isolated parts of the nation, five of 20 local churches in South Sudan have formed individual partnerships with Memphis churches as well as Holston churches. Holston leaders are now encouraging other groups from the denomination or beyond to partner with the remaining South Sudanese congregations, who are ready to grow and help their communities.
“We’re not only building a nation, we’re building the body of Christ,” said the Rev. Fred Dearing, a Holston pastor serving as district superintendent in South Sudan since 2011. “We’re transforming a world caught up in so much violence.”
'LET'S JUST GO'
South Sudan is recovering from 50 years of civil war and related death, destruction and disease. In 2011, South Sudan separated from Sudan, yet conflicts between tribes and government leaders still threaten the young nation’s peace.
Blake and Brown became interested in visiting Sudan after teaching a United Methodist Women’s “Mission U” study on the East African nation in summer 2009.
“Someday I’d like to go,” Brown told Blake when the three-day study concluded. “I was putting my books up and said, ‘Let’s just go,’” Blake said.
Blake and Brown had read about Holston’s mission work in East Africa. They attended a “Sudan Summit” in March 2010 and made their first trip to Yei with a Holston team that same year. They stayed in the mission house (known as the “Captain’s House") built by Holston to accommodate Dearing and incoming teams. They were introduced to other missionaries, Sudanese pastors, church members, and government leaders working to make clean water available, send children to school, and teach health and hygiene.
Since then, about 25 churches in the Memphis Conference have given $40,000 to partner with Holston’s Abingdon District to build Kenyi United Methodist Church and the accompanying Greenland Home for Children. The Abingdon District donated $45,000.
“I remember in 2010, we met under a tree, under a tarp,” Danny Howe told the Kenyi congregation during a visit to the new church and orphanage in August 2014. “Your commitment has inspired the people of Holston and Memphis Conference to want to be a part of your congregation.”
Howe, Holston’s coordinator for South Sudan mission, is working with Dearing to recruit new groups to visit emerging congregations and help them accomplish their goals. “The church’s tendency is for the short-term offering, but we’re in this for the long term,” Howe said.
Holston's Kingsport District has partnered with Giru United Methodist Church, giving $35,000 so far to build a church, parsonage and latrine. Holston’s Chattanooga District has partnered with Ligitolo United Methodist Church, donating about $40,000 for a church, latrine, and school.
Holston’s Knoxville District and First United Methodist Church of Maryville, Tenn., have also formed formal covenants with Logo United Methodist Church and Pukuka United Methodist Church, respectively. On Nov. 6, a Knoxville District team will depart for South Sudan to begin construction on a new church for Logo, teach pastors, and help with school health clinics.
Dearing said that United Methodist congregations in Ridya, Kupera, and Morre are most ready to partner with U.S. churches. "They have good leadership and are always on the follow-through," he said.
"We are so excited," Fabian Duli, pastor of Kupera United Methodist Church, said during a Holston visit to his congregation in August. "We expect more missionaries will come to South Sudan."
Holston also has alliances with UMCOR in South Sudan and Duke Divinity School, which will send a team to train 20 pastors in March 2015.
For more information, contact Danny Howe at firstname.lastname@example.org or (423) 384-1817.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.