The whole world is watching Sudan, where the 13th mission team from Holston Conference is now on the ground and helping to build a new nation.
Five years after Holston quietly sent its first fact-finding team to South Sudan, 10 members of the most recent team find themselves in a far different situation because of progress made and relationships developed there, and because of media focus on the impending succession of the southern region from the north.
- Beneficiaries of the Annual Conference offering? See below.
"It's good for us to be here at this most joyful and historic time, possibly when the results of the referendum will be announced," said Danny Howe, team co-leader with the Rev. Fred Dearing. "We are here in solidarity and friendship with the people we have come to know and love."
The Khartoum government said on Jan. 31 that it accepted the outcome of the Jan. 9-15 vote, after preliminary results showed almost 99 percent of southerners favored secession from the north. Final results are expected on Feb. 7, barring appeals, according to AFP.
Holston's team departed Jan. 27 and is scheduled to return to the U.S. on Feb. 11. The team's goals include clergy training and, for the first time, youth worker training. The team also aims to aid resident mission worker Steve Hodges in planting a prototype garden as a tool to teach gardening and nutrition, and to aid Diantha Hodges in teaching latrine and hand-washing hygiene.
A Kingsport city planner, Karen Combs, is also on the team, following up on a land use planning partnership with Yei.
"I am especially excited about the youth worker training component," Howe said. "The youth workers in South Sudan have been fasting, praying, and reading scripture, knowing that we were coming and that the future of this country is in their youth."
Jarrod Suits, youth ministry director at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport, will lead the youth worker training in Sudan. Howe is also on staff at First Broad Street as missions director, in addition to chairing Holston's Mission Ministry Team.
Other team members are Libby Dearing, Chattanooga District; the Rev. Mike Sluder, Bearden UMC, Knoxville District; the Rev. Chris Brown, First Narrows UMC, Tazewell District; Becky Hall, Christ UMC, Chattanooga District; Roger Redding, Cokesbury UMC, Knoxville District, and executive director of the Holston Conference Foundation; and Kathleen Callen, First Knoxville UMC.
After raising more than $400,000 for South Sudan through the past two Annual Conference offerings and other efforts, Holston churches will be asked to give this May to a missions offering that will be divided for Africa University and to build an orphanage in South Sudan.
Since their arrival in Africa, the Holston team has communicated through Skype and e-mail with conference staff and are reportedly safe and productive. "Please continue to keep this team in your prayers," Howe said.
- Trip updates and photos on Facebook.Holston.org
- Sudan refugees living in East Tennessee react to possible independence" (WBIR, 1/31/11)
- "South Sudan Referendum," (Boo and Phyllis Hankins, 1/30/11)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.