Safety concerns for Holstonians in Sudan: All clear for now, Howe says

Safety concerns for Holstonians in Sudan: All clear for now, Howe says

While the world expresses fear that violence will erupt in Sudan when the country participates in an historic vote on Jan. 9, church leaders have so far been assured that Holston mission workers in Sudan are safe and that protective plans are in place.

Four mission workers from Holston are currently living and working in Yei, Sudan: the Rev. Boo Hankins and the Rev. Phyllis Hankins of Greeneville, Tenn., and Steve and Diantha Hodges of Sneedville, Tenn.

"Boo, Phyllis, Steve and Diantha have assured us that everybody is in a celebratory mood regarding the referendum," said Danny Howe, chair of Holston's Missions Ministry Team. "The local government in Yei feels the referendum will go on without issues and safety concerns."

On Jan. 9, southern Sudanese will vote in a referendum that will mark the final stage of a 2005 peace agreement that ended 22 years of war between the Sudanese government based in Khartoum, in the mainly Muslim north, and rebels based in the mainly Christian south. Southern Sudanese are widely expected to choose independence, freeing themselves from the rule of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Holston leaders are staying in contact with the United Nations as well as the denomination's own General Board of Global Ministries regarding safety and security, Howe said.

"The United Nations is nearby [where Holston workers are assigned in Sudan] and easy to get to." In the event of danger, an evacuation plan is in place to move mission workers to a safe holding place for a few days "and then out of the country," he said.

Another 10-member Holston mission team is scheduled to travel to Sudan Jan. 27-Feb. 11, Howe said.

"It's good for us to be there -- in solidarity and friendship with the people we have come to know and love. We need to be there with them in this most joyful and historic time."