KINGSPORT, Tenn. -- For two days, 100 United Methodists put their heads together in an east Tennessee church with the goal of reducing the suffering of people in south Sudan.
All the learning, planning, and praying became reality-based, however, when residents of south Sudan appeared live on a giant projection screen in the church fellowship hall. Through the technological convenience of Skype, United Methodists in the U.S. could immediately collaborate with – and joyfully greet -- town leaders and missionaries on the ground in Yei, Sudan.
The United Methodists came from six annual conferences to the Holston Conference for a March 11-12 “Sudan Summit,” held at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport. Participants from the Memphis, Red Bird Missionary, Virginia, Greater New Jersey, Desert Southwest, and East Africa Conferences attended workshops, plenary sessions, and worship services.
Seven staff executives from the General Board of Global Ministries in New York City served as speakers and workshop leaders.
Holston hosted the summit to involve other United Methodists in mission work begun through Holston’s covenant with the East Africa Conference, which includes Sudan.
“While we know the heart of Holston is with south Sudan, we know it is not for always,” said David Muwaya, assistant to Bishop Daniel Wandabula, resident bishop of the East Africa Conference.
Africans realize that long-term givers can experience “donor fatigue” or re-direct their mission emphases to other suffering regions, such as Haiti, he said.
“We must look at the capacity of the church to be able to support itself in the long term,” Muwaya said. Following immediate relief for disease, hunger, and poverty, the United Methodist Church in South Sudan needs partnerships with other church groups with training and empowerment for a “self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting” region, he said.
Holston signed a covenant agreement with East Africa Conference in 2008, three years after north and south Sudan ended a 23-year civil war. Holston has since raised more than $627,000 for clean water, medical care, pastoral training, education, supplies, and leadership development in Yei, Sudan.
Updates were provided on the ongoing mission work and status of south Sudan:
- Two Holston clergy are more than halfway through their first year of appointment in Yei while implementing projects in cooperation with Sudanese leaders. The Rev. Boo Hankins and his wife, the Rev. Phyllis Hankins, sat next to Sudanese officials in their Skype sessions. Boo Hankins is serving as Yei’s “transitional district superintendent” through summer 2011.
- Col. David Lokonga Moses, Yei commissioner, joined Skype sessions with his staff. He discussed the January 2011 referendum vote that could give south Sudan independence from north Sudan. Despite the 2005 peace deal, tensions remain high between the predominantly Muslim north and the south with its Christian and tribal religion influence.
- Ben Mallicote, Kingsport vice mayor, announced that his city is partnering with Yei to bring three Sudanese municipal workers to Tennessee in April. Kingsport city planners will help their guests prepare an urban development plan for fast-growing Yei. Mallicote, a member of First Broad Street UMC, went to south Sudan on a Holston mission team last year.
- Several fundraisers – including a golf tournament, auction, and Sudan art sale -- are helping Holston meet a goal of digging 19 wells in addition to the four wells already provided. Each well costs $10,000. Five new wells have been funded and are in progress. A “Lightnin’ Charlie” concert held during the summit raised $3,000, said Danny Howe, Holston Missions Team chair.
- Holston Home for Children leaders went to Sudan twice to study feasibility and need for a United Methodist home for orphaned or abandoned children in Yei. A recommendation report is due April 1 to Bishop James Swanson, Holston’s resident bishop. The Holston Annual Conference will hear the report in June, according to Art Masker, president of the Greeneville, Tenn., children’s home.
- Construction is nearly complete on the second and third phases of a school supporting more than 1,200 students. Following receipt of private donor gift, a dedication ceremony was held this month to begin building a house for the Hankins family.
- Holston’s 10th work team to Sudan was commissioned at a March 11 worship led by Bishop Swanson. Departing April 1, the team includes two Memphis Conference members. "We wanted to connect with a conference that had already been to southern Sudan," said the Rev. Michael Blake, executive director of Reelfoot Rural Ministries in Obion, Tenn. "I wanted to go on a fact finding trip in discovering the culture, people, and the mission agency to connect with, all to help lead a team in the future, to be of help in whatever direction needed."
- The Chattanooga District of Holston is pairing its 63 churches with Yei's 19 churches to support each pastor at $100 per month. Other goals are to provide orphan support at $80 per month and teacher support at $125 per month, according to the Rev. Tom Hancock of Harrison United Methodist Church.
- Conference leaders are re-evaluating widespread distribution of medicine through temporary clinics and instead are considering provision of long-term health care, perhaps by supporting and upgrading existing health facilities. They’re also investigating affordable ways to provide college education in Africa for young adults with leadership potential, according to Anne Travis, Holston director of connectional ministries.
- Other challenges include prompt transfer of money from the U.S. to Sudan and multiple language barriers. (The East Africa Conference has 150 languages, while Sudan has 50 tribal languages alone, according to Muwaya.)
Workshop leaders and speakers included Jim Gulley, UMCOR agricultural and rural community consultant; David Malloy, The Advance; Shannon Trilli, UMCOR Global Health Initiative; Marva Usher-Kerr, Women’s Division; Morais Quissico, Africa office; and Alberta McKnight and Tom Dwyer, UMCOR-NGO.
Dwyer told participants that the summit was an example of “love in action.”
“There are wonderful conversations happening at every table and in every workshop: How we can partner, collaborate, and join our resources,” he said. “The summit has provided a dynamic opportunity for us all to share and leverage our skills and express grace, hope, and love.”
Rolland Lewis, a lay pastor at St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church in Tucson, Ariz., said he attended the summit to gather information for his church’s emerging mission to build a school and dig wells in Abul, Sudan.
The Rev. B.J. Kim, pastor at Rutherford United Methodist Church in the Greater New Jersey Conference, said he attended the summit after serving as study leader for a School of Mission class on Sudan.
“My research and learning of the nation aroused in me a curiosity, let alone the compassion I felt for the suffering people. It resembles the long-ridden conflicts between the north and south in Korea, where I came from,” he said.
For the third year in a row, Holston will devote its annual conference missions offering offering to Sudan. For the past two years, the offering surpassed the $125,000 goal by about $50,000.
To support United Methodist ministry in Sudan, write a check to your local church with “Sudan Emergency, UMCOR Advance 184385” on the memo line. Or make Advance payments online at http://makepayments.holston.org
- "Begging for Water: Holston aims to dig 19 wells in Sudan" (11/12/09)
- "Tragedy in Sudan moves conference to expand goals" (3/29/09)
- "United Methodists unite to send help to Sudan" (6/26/08)
- "Holston, East Africa conferences sign Sudan covenant" (2/26/08)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.