"They support what we're doing and they realize we have not abandoned them. Holston has not abandoned them." -- Libby Dearing
ALCOA, Tenn. (1/9/14) -- Missionaries Fred and Libby Dearing have postponed their return to South Sudan after deciding they could do more to help their ministry partners while in the U.S. than in Africa.
“Even if we dearly wish we were there, it’s not about us,” the Rev. Dearing said on Jan. 9, while working in the Holston Conference office in Alcoa. “We will return as soon as our presence on the ground is advantageous.”
The Dearings were scheduled to depart the U.S. on Jan. 9, arriving in Yei, South Sudan, on Jan. 11. They were visiting their native east Tennessee for the holidays when fighting broke out in South Sudan on Dec. 15.
On Jan. 8, the General Board of Global Ministries suspended United Methodist mission travel to South Sudan “for security purposes … until the situation has been assessed and determined to be safe,” said Melissa Hinnen, director of content and public information.
The region where Holston has partnered with the East Africa Conference to build schools and churches and dig wells is currently peaceful, Dearing said. However, conflict and violence 100 miles or more north of Yei is causing food and money challenges for the entire nation.
Dearing said he has made arrangements for staff in South Sudan to buy food and pay salaries. “We call them every day,” he said. “They send love, and they are praying for us.”
“It’s very humbling to sit in my nice, comfortable place and know they’re praying for us,” said Libby Dearing from the Holston Alcoa office.
"But they support what we're doing and they realize we have not abandoned them. Holston has not abandoned them," she said.
The 21 children living at Grace Home for Children are safe, Libby Dearing said. The orphanage was built by Holston Conference and opened in September 2013.
“The children are aware something is happening. They’ve been instructed on emergency procedures. But they’re secure. They’re happy and they’re playing.”
'Stand tall and strong'
Diantha Hodges, volunteer missionary from Holston, is not scheduled to return to South Sudan until February. Sharon and Lynn Fogelman, medical missionaries from the Red Bird Conference, are scheduled to return in late January. They will be assessing the situation until then, Holston mission leaders said.
A Holston mission team scheduled to depart for South Sudan on Jan. 29 has been postponed, according to Danny Howe, team leader and Holston missions secretary.
“We have our ear to the ground and are working prayerfully with the people of South Sudan to move forward,” Howe said.
“When hostilities end and normalcy returns, we will reschedule our team, hopefully in late February or March. It may be even more important and urgent for us to be there, from a humanity standpoint," Howe said.
On Jan. 8, Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor called all Holston church members to pray for peace in South Sudan. Taylor is resident bishop of Holston Conference, which includes nearly 900 churches in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia.
Holston Conference has been sending mission teams to the region that is now South Sudan since 2006. In 2011, South Sudan won their independence from Sudan.
Dearing said United Methodists should continue to support South Sudan as the fledgling nation struggles for peace.
“This is an opportunity for the church to stand tall and strong and to lift up Jesus,” Dearing said. “They’ve told us they’re tired of war and violence. They want to keep working for peace. They want us to stand with them and to keep praying for peace.”
Fred and Libby Dearing will be speaking at Holston churches and events during their temporary stay in the U.S. The schedule will be available soon.
- Bishop Taylor calls Holston to pray for South Sudan (The Call, 1/8/14)
- United Methodists offer hope in South Sudan turmoil (UMNS, 1/7/14)
- Mission leaders still plan to return to South Sudan after fighting (The Call, 12/26/13)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.