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Holston grant provides face masks for 2,500 in East Africa

People living in Rhino refugee camp in Uganda model their new face masks, provided by United Methodist churches.

More than 2,500 people in East Africa now have some protection from spreading COVID-19, due to a United Methodist effort to distribute face masks, sanitizer and gloves through pastors.
Jaka Joice, mission supervisor for the United Methodist Church in South Sudan, proposed the health project in early October. By mid-November, Joice had led an effort to distribute 2,584 masks, 34 large bottles of sanitizer, and 17 boxes of gloves to congregations in Uganda, South Sudan, and Congo.

“People were very happy to receive the masks, and they arrived very timely when [coronavirus] is spreading very rapidly in Uganda with many rampant deaths,” Joice said in an email.
According to Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, Uganda experienced a record daily high of COVID-19 deaths with 14 on Nov. 6. Uganda recorded a record daily high of new coronavirus cases with 1,859 on Dec. 9.

Joice and other South Sudanese United Methodists are currently living as refugees in Uganda, many in camps, to be safe from civil war and violence in their home country. Joice is currently based in Arua, Uganda. She works with mission leaders in the Holston Conference, which has partnered with the United Methodist Church in South Sudan (based in Yei) since 2006.
Jaka Joice displays the masks and sanitizer.

Joice received a $1,868 grant from Holston’s South Sudan Ministry Team to get the masks made and to buy sanitizer and gloves.

“We delivered the masks to our regional pastors, and they in turn delivered the masks to the churches within their region,” Joice said.

Seventeen congregations received the supplies, including six in Imvepi Refugee Settlement, three in Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, and four in Rhino Camp, all in Uganda.

In addition, masks and supplies were distributed to three churches in Yei, South Sudan, and one church in the Democratic Republic of Congo. United Methodist staff and 46 orphans in Grace Home for Children also received masks.

“We received these masks at a time when the corona insurgence is at the rise, and everyone feels obliged to take care of themselves and the persons around them,” Joice said. “It is mandatory for all worship leaders to use masks and including the congregation.”

On Sept. 21, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni reopened churches after six months of a nationwide lockdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Museveni allowed places of worship to reopen as long as worshippers wear face masks, sanitize, and sit at a distance from each other.

Danny Howe, chair of Holston’s South Sudan Ministry Team, sent an email to Joice, thanking her and other United Methodist staff for their mission.

“This is an awesome report and great work toward meeting the requirements and safety measures so that the 17 churches can return to in-person ministry,” Howe said. “It is very impressive and shows the determination of the leadership of the UMC.”

The new black cloth masks replace the cardboard masks that children were wearing in a photo accompanying a story in The Call last summer. Joice said many resorted to the homemade masks in the earlier days of the pandemic because other masks weren't available.
The Rev. Fred Dearing, a retired Holston clergy member who served as district superintendent for the United Methodist Church in South Sudan, asked Joice to thank all who helped make the health project possible. “We pray that the use of the masks produced, the ability to remain safely distanced, and God’s grace will soon alleviate the need for all of us to wear masks and stay apart.”
Rev. Fabian Duli holds a bag of masks in Bidibidi Camp.

To support Holston's mission partnership with South Sudan, you may give online or send checks to: Holston Foundation, P.O. Box 900, Alcoa, TN 37701.
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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.