September 1, 2015

heading home

All good things must come to an end. So it now is with our time in South Sudan. We must leave for the airstrip in about 2 hours.

That will be the start of almost 24 hours of travel. All of us are ready to get home, but there’s not a one of us on the team looking forward to the trip.

The time here in Yei and the surrounding region has been rich in opportunities for ministry, and the entire team feels good about all the work we have been able to accomplish.

This team is far more experienced than a lot I have been on. That has allowed us to split up and go in different directions and work on a number of different projects at the same time. That is unusual.

We have a retired police officer that spent the week training local Yei police in the rule of law and riot control. We have a hospital CEO from Georgia that spent the week working with the United Methodist medical missionaries. Several of our group spent the week installing libraries (including donating & cataloging over450 books) at two children’s homes. Another group worked to resolve long-standing issues with local churches. A couple of us worked tos discover how to increase local food security and find new microenterprise opportunities.

All of us have made new friends and relationships. And all of us already want to return even though we are ready to be home.

It’s been a full and blessed time, but now we have to say farewell for now as we begun the long journey back to the US.

August 31, 2015

no “20 minute” rule

Yesterday was a day I will long remember. I traveled from Yei to Morobo, a journey of 32 miles. The trip was uneventful, but took an hour and a quarter due to the condition of the road (which was actually one of the best in the area).

I traveled to Morobo to be the guest preacher at the Charismatic Episcopal Church of Morobo. I had been invited by Bishop Tom Kokanyi to bring the morning message.

I arrived to find the entire church waving tree branches and singing songs of welcome. We had a procession to the church where I was formally welcomed. Then I had refreshments with two Bishops and eight or nine clergy. That was followed with a brief time of prayer for the morning worship service.

As we walked toward the church Bishop Tom told me that there was no “20 minute rule” in this church.  He said, “You preach your heart. You preach until God tells you stop.”

The church was packed and the worship was beautiful. It was spirited and full of joy and praise. After my sermon we had several periods of intense prayer. It was a powerful and moving experience. The service began about 11,  and we concluded sometime after 2. It was a wonderful time of worship, and as the Bishop had told me, no one was watching the clock.

After the service I shared a delightful meal of Posho (a staple dish of finely ground maize boiled to a stiff grits-like consistency) roasted chicken and rice with the Bishop and a number of senior church leaders. The meal was followed with a meeting to discuss the work of the church in Morobo County, especially the Stop Poverty in South Sudan Program.  Then we concluded with a tour of the farm and new cathedral under construction.

The ride back to Yei took a little longer than the ride to Morobo as it was raining. I arrived back at our compound sometime after 4pm. It had been a full day and I was exhausted. But it was a day of worship among bothers and sisters that truly love the Lord. It was a special day, a gift, one I will not soon forget.

 

August 31, 2015

greed is the problem

Famine Threat

August 27, 2015

meetings, meetings & more meetings

Although my trip is only about half way to the finish I am already pleased over all that I have been able to accomplish. And just like the majority of my trips, so much of what has been accomplish has taken place in the midst of meetings.

I have already lost count of the number of meetings I have been a part of since beginning this journey. And anyone who knows me knows I am not a big fan of meetings. But…there are meetings and then there are MEETINGS. You all know what I mean.

Here in South Sudan I have met with doctors, agriculture specialists, managers of microfinance programs, pastors, farmers, teachers, church and education leaders. All have stories to tell, and each of them have helped clarify the needs and the amazing potential here in Yei County. It is exciting to see all the various pieces begin to come together.

I have also learned from the numerous site visits we have been able to make, as well. Seeing brings to life all the information gathered in the hours of meeting.

It has been a good and fruitful trip so far. I know the rest of it will be even more so.

August 26, 2015

microfinance = major impact

Joice Jana is the head of the microfinance project for the Yei District of the United Methodist Church in South Sudan. I had the opportunity to talk with her on Monday. She is passionate about her work and the success of the program and rightfully so.

She manages 10 separate microfinance groups in 7 different communities, each group comprised of 35 members. Three-fourths of the members are women. And although the program has not been existence for long the success stories are already beginning to pile up.

The microfinance program provides education to the groups and helps with record keeping. All the funds come from the individual members of each group. Once a member has been in the program for a full year they are allowed to apply for loans. When a member needs a loan they are allowed to borrow up to 3 times the amount they have already saved.

All loans are repaid with 10% interest. And the repayment rate is over 98%.

The maximum loan given to date is 1500 South Sudanese Pounds and the smallest has been 200 pounds. (The largest loan was about $100 and the smallest about $13).

These loans have helped pay school fees to keep children in school. They have helped begin small businesses that have increased food security. They have provided an important bridge to a better life. They have provided hope.

Helping support such programs is a powerful way to help transform the lives of those trying to have a better life. I am proud of the United Methodist Church’s leadership in making this happen in South Sudan.

 

August 24, 2015

staff meetings are universal

Some things are too universal to need explanation. Staff meetings fall in that category.

This morning our team was privileged to set in on the weekly United Methodist Staff meeting. And although there were many of the same reports and updates there were also a fair amount of differences. After the meeting was opened with devotions the first order of business was a security report. That is different.

Every department reported successes and challenges, as would be expected, but at the end of the meeting the staff took up their weekly collection for their Agape Alms Fund. Every week the staff donates to the fund in order to provide aid to those in the community they select in need of help. That is also different.

After a delicious lunch (cabbage, kale, pumpkin, fried okra, rice and beans) several of us walked to the UMCOR (United Committee on Relief) compound where we spend several hours with Dr. Lynn and Dr Sharon Fogleman, a medical missionary couple who have been here in South Sudan for over 3 years. This is where I began gathering the information necessary for the potential food security project that brought me here to South Sudan.

South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate of any nation in the world. There are several factors that contribute to this statistic but malnutrition plays a large role. And malnutrition here in this area is rising.

Even though this is safest area in entire country the impact of the war is felt here. Food prices have almost tripled since March. And the outlook for the immediate future in not good.

Stop Hunger Now allowed me to come because we want to make a difference in South Sudan. We want to do the right thing in the right way. Hopefully, by the time I return to the States we will have a better idea how to make that happen in a significant and sustainable manner.

Stay tuned. There’s more to come

August 23, 2015

a prayer for peace in South Sudan

Most merciful and loving God, how precious is your Name. This morning I pray for all those in distress from war and violence in every land. I especially lift up the people of South Sudan where peace is so desperately needed.

Let your grace abound and let the power of of your Holy Spirit minister comfort to all those most in need. Fill your people with the hunger to minister to the needs of the poor and hungry providing food for both body and soul.

And for all of us, we pray that your perfect will be done. Guide us and direct us in thought word and deed so that we continue to move our world toward a place of peace and justice. AMEN

August 22, 2015

hurray! we’re now in Yei!

We left our hotel in Entebbe at 0630 and drove to the airport where we had an easy time checking in and going through security. Our flight to South Sudan was mostly uneventful with the exception of a violent thunderstorm that bounced us around more than usual.

By 1230 we had landed in Yei and were on our way to the “Captain’s House,” our quarters for the next 10 days. We were welcomed and had a nice lunch before going through an introductory briefing on what to expect during our time here.

After a little downtime to rest and unpack the entire team drove to Grace House, a small orphanage started by the United Methodists less than 3 years ago, but already a model for child care in this area. Grace is an acronym for God Receives All Children Equally. and is home to about 30 beautiful, happy children.

It was a delightful visit and was a great introduction to our time here. Tomorrow we will worship with a local congregation and take it easy. Then on Monday we all split up to our assigned tasks. It’s going to be fun.

Again, more to come.