"We cannot tell the people to have faith and stay strong when we turn and high-tail it out of there in the face of adversity. Instead of running away, Christians ought to be flooding the place." -- Rev. Fred Dearing
More than a week after deadly fighting broke out in South Sudan, Holston Conference mission leaders say they will return to the conflicted region to continue their work and partnership.
They also reassure supporters that peace exists in the regions where Holston helped to establish 15 churches, in the southwestern part of the young nation near the borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"That's what Holston Conference really needs to digest, is that the places where we have planted these churches is going to help [South Sudan] move forward," said Danny Howe, Holston missions secretary.
Howe and the Rev. Fred Dearing are both consulting daily with United Methodists and others in the region near Yei, where Holston has been sending mission teams since 2006.
Although political- and ethnic-related violence has spread to half of the country's 10 states, according to the New York Times, the largest impact for Yei is the 20,000 to 30,000 people who have come to the city to flee the turbulence of the north, Dearing said.
"Most people have family and homes there, and many will not return to Juba," said Dearing, Yei District superintendent. "That's even more reason for us to be there, because [the influx] will stress resources and we need to help the government work through some of these problems."
Dearing, who has lived and worked in South Sudan with his wife, Libby Dearing, since 2011, is in the U.S. for the holidays. The couple plans to return to South Sudan on Jan. 9 as scheduled, he said.
"You should always go to any place with common sense and caution," he said. "But we cannot tell the people to have faith and stay strong when we turn and high-tail it out of there in the face of adversity. Instead of running away, Christians ought to be flooding the place."
Peace exists in the region around Yei because local government officials and church leaders have "worked hard" to promote peace, said Howe, who is scheduled to return to South Sudan on a mission team in late January.
Yei natives are anxious about the reports of tribal and political killings more than 100 miles north in Bor, Juba, and more recently, Malakal, Howe said. However, they are responding to their local government's plea to live in harmony.
"There is very much a spirit of 'no more war. Let's make something of our lives and this nation,'" Howe said.
Skirmishes have existed throughout Holston's eight-year relationship with the East African region, Howe said. "The difference now is the fighting is going on within the country of South Sudan itself."
In 2008, Holston Conference signed a covenant agreement with the United Methodist Church in South Sudan, through the East Africa Conference. In 2011, South Sudan won its independence from the mother nation of Sudan.
Howe and Dearing urged Holston members to continue to pray for peace in the world's newest nation and to be prepared to help South Sudan flourish, become self-sufficient, and learn to live with each other.
According to his consultant in Yei, "the churches are full" of people praying for peace in South Sudan, Howe said.
In 2014, Holston Conference will devote its Annual Conference missions offering to developing education in South Sudan.
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Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.