|Tragedy in Sudan moves conference to expand goals|
wait for care at the hospital in Yei, Sudan. A team from the Holston
Annual (regional) Conference visited the city’s only hospital during a
Feb. 16-March 4
mission trip to the region. UMNS photos by Annette Spence.
By Annette Spence*
March 31, 2009 | YEI, Sudan (UMNS)
The tiny, frail child appeared to be asleep in his hospital bed. It
was only when the mother wailed — and the nurse began to tie up the
infant’s toes — that observers realized what was happening.
Mike Boggan cares for a patient
in a temporary clinic set-up by
the Holston mission team.
The child had just died. The nurse was routinely preparing the body
for the onset of rigor mortis. It was a Saturday afternoon in south
Sudan, where three United Methodist bishops were visiting the town’s
only hospital. By the time the bishops had prayed for the patients and
families and then stepped outside to recover, three more infants had
“God does not want us to let people live like this,” said a tearful
Bishop James Swanson, embraced by others who also witnessed the grim
The experience was part of a Feb. 16-March 4 mission trip to Sudan
by members of the Holston Annual (regional) Conference. Swanson is
resident bishop of Holston, which includes 906 churches in east
Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia.
Swanson was accompanied by Bishop Daniel Wandabula, resident bishop
of the East Africa Conference, and Bishop Felton E. May, former interim
top executive for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and
its special consultant on Africa.
The bishops would learn that four other children died the day prior
to their visit. Another severely malnourished infant -- who had been
personally cared for by Holston volunteers – died a few hours after the
bishops left the hospital.
“In our effort to help preserve life, we’ve seen life slip through
our hands,” said Danny Howe, who led the Holston team to Sudan and is
chairperson of the conference mission team. “It hurts as much in Africa
as it does in the U.S.A.”
‘On the ground’
Holston Conference was “on the ground” with its sixth mission team
to Yei, Sudan, as part of a 2008 covenant with the East Africa
Conference. The covenant calls for Holston to raise a minimum of
$250,000 to build schools, dig wells, equip clergy, improve health, and
teach self-sustainability in a region scarred by decades of war,
poverty, and disease.
Bishops Daniel Wandabula (left) and James Swanson pray for Rafael and his
aunt just before the severely
malnourished baby died.
To date, Holston has raised about $180,000 and begun several
projects. Many groups in Holston have contributed separate funds and
donated medicine, school supplies, and equipment. Another
conference-wide offering is scheduled in June, and a clergy member from
Greeneville, Tenn., the Rev. Buford Hankins, will be appointed for two
years as a “transitional” district superintendent in Yei. Hankins and
his wife, the Rev. Phyllis Hankins, will settle in Sudan this July.
What they witnessed in Sudan recently is now driving Holston leaders
to appeal for an even broader rescue effort, which may include a
hospital and orphanage.
“I am adamant that there will be no more children who will suffer
because nothing is available to them,” said Howe. “I won’t rest until I
contact every United Methodist agency to help get them what they need.”
“We can’t save every child’s life in Sudan, but we can certainly
save more,” Swanson said. “The need is so great — greater than our
resources. We are invested in other missions that we don’t want to
suffer. But we know there are others who, if they knew what was going
on in Sudan, would want to help us do something about it.”
The 15-member team from Holston went to Sudan with goals of training
clergy, providing medical care, and planning the next construction
phases for a school and superintendent’s house.
The team arrived safely back in Holston just as Sudanese President
Omar al-Bashir was charged with war crimes and several foreign-aid
groups were subsequently expelled from Darfur. Yei is about 800 miles
southeast of Darfur.
Fifty-five clergy and lay leaders representing 17 churches in south
Sudan attended training led by the Rev. Fred Dearing and the Rev.
Andrew Amodei of Kingsport, Tenn. They were supported by Isaac Sebit
Methew, deputy coordinator of the United Methodist Church in South
Sudan, and Edina Tomalu, women’s president of the United Methodist
Church in South Sudan.
Steve Hodges, a Board of Global Ministries missionary based in
Sneedville, Tenn., researched agricultural and business opportunities.
By trip’s end, he had proposed a project for Sudanese women to raise
chickens and grow green vegetables, addressing a desperate need for
both nutrition and income.
The Holston team also worked closely with the field office of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Also joining the Holston team in Sudan was David Malloy, annual
conference liaison for The Advance, who helped the East Africa
Conference apply for about six new Advance numbers for directing
financial gifts to south Sudan.
“I’ve never seen as many malnourished children or such a lack of
access to water,” Malloy said. “If Holston Conference could be a model
for other annual conferences, we could get a lot of support here.”
Overwhelmed with need
The drive to address Yei’s hospital situation emerged as Holston
physicians and pharmacy workers treated 3,200 patients suffering from
malaria, malnutrition, dehydration, parasites, skin infections, and
other ailments. Some patients walked as far as 25 miles for the free
medical care and medicine.
Sudanese children get water from a
new well, dug with money raised
by the Holston Conference.
When an orphaned baby named Raphael was brought to the temporary
clinic, Holston doctor Mike Boggan immediately saw the skeletal child
was near death. The baby was rushed to the only hospital serving the
400,000 residents of Yei and beyond.
Howe learned that the government-run facility was so poor, the staff
had not been paid for six months. Beds were lined up in the open-air
porches of the stifling, crumbling building. Patients supplied their
own bedding, medicine, and food, or they did without.
Holston workers bought the needed supplies for the sick baby and his
caretaker aunt, then donated other medicine and equipment to the
hospital. They visited the child each day to monitor his progress.
“I’ve always considered myself more of a scientist, but there’s no
way to divorce yourself from the pathos and hopelessness of the medical
situation,” said Boggan, who called the hospital staff “very dedicated”
but overwhelmed with need. “I still have nightmares about it.”
When the three bishops stepped off the plane in Yei, the Holston
team quickly took them to visit their young patient. They didn’t know
Raphael and the other infants would die within a short time.
On the same day the Holston team departed Yei, another team of young
adults arrived to offer Vacation Bible School to 2,000 children living
on or near the town’s United Methodist compound. Holston plans to send
additional teams to continue their covenant work with East Africa
The three bishops met and shared mutual goals with Yei’s highest
ranking official, Col. David Lokonga Moses, who also participated in
Sunday worship at Yei United Methodist Church. “My prayer is that God
will help the children,” Moses told worshippers.
For more information about Holston mission in south Sudan, contact the conference office in Alcoa, Tenn., at (865) 690-4080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Spence is editor of the Holston conference newspaper.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
Study team faces turmoil in Sudan
Ohio church plans $1.5 million ‘miracle offering’
Sudan project serves as a model for United Methodists
Holston Annual Conference
Hope for the Children of Sudan
Board of Global Ministries
2009 Mission Travel Study to Sudan