South Sudan: Ministry in a new nation

By Reed Hoppe

The world’s newest nation is reveling in independence, but still desperate for peace. South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011 after 99 percent of southern Sudanese voted to separate from Sudan. Sudan was home to Africa’s longest civil war. Fighting began in 1955 when the southern army officers mutinied. There was a brief respite during a peace agreement from 1972 until 1983, but then the civil war resumed.

At least 1.5 million people died in the civil war and more than four million were displaced. Decades of fighting have left the South Sudanese one of the least developed countries in the world. Despite huge oil reserves in the nation, most South Sudanese live in abject poverty. Electricity and running water are scarce, and most people survive by subsistence farming.

The Mission Society recently entered a field in collaboration with The General Board of Global Ministries in the newly-formed nation of South Sudan. Drs. Lynn and Sharon Fogleman have been appointed to serve there, working jointly with The Mission Society and the East Africa Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Foglemans are both family physicians. They spent 10 years serving as doctors at Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya, and the past 14 years at the Red Bird Clinic in Kentucky. They plan to work with the 17 United Methodist churches in and around Yei, South Sudan, which has one of the poorest healthcare situations in the world.

The country of nine million people has the sixth highest rate of infant mortality and the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. The Foglemans work closely with Steve and Diantha Hodges, long-term volunteers with the General Board of Global Ministries. Diantha is a lay midwife and trains women in villages how to provide safer deliveries for women, as well as how to identify high-risk pregnancies. Steve is a microfinance expert and an agriculturist. He has helped families start small businesses with microloans and has launched a farming training project, Farming God’s Way. More productive gardens are essential to this subsistence farming culture and essential for overall health.

The Foglemans provide public health education to promote disease prevention using the model of Community Health Evangelism (CHE). CHE educates indigenous health care workers who work in their own villages. They educate South Sudanese regarding health care and share the gospel message with the people they visit. “As we teach about the life-saving benefit of drinking clean water, we also teach about the life-saving message of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Sharon.

Clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education, immunizations, and mosquito nets are all vital to improving the health of the South Sudanese. Seventeen wells have been drilled close to each of the United Methodist churches that have been planted in the Yei area since 2005. Access to clean water and education regarding sanitation and hygiene will go a long way in reducing preventable diseases that plague many Africans and take the lives of millions of children each year.

Lynn and Sharon serve on several health boards to improve the healthcare of the South Sudanese in their area. They strategize with local leaders regarding obtaining education and access to better healthcare to surrounding villages. Although there is a government-run hospital in Yei, many of the neighboring villages have only distant clinics with few staff and limited medications and supplies. Lynn and Sharon provide mobile medical clinics to these areas to grant more people access to adequate healthcare.

“Our hope for ministry in South Sudan is to promote health—body, mind, and spirit—while working with village leaders at this critical time in the history of this new country. We have a vision of healthy Sudanese people of many tribes and languages working together for truly healthy communities by knowing Jesus and helping to make him known!” says Sharon.

Reed Hoppe serves as the associate editor for The Mission Society and is an ordained deacon in the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. To support the Foglemans’ ministry, you can make a donation at this link – http://themissionsociety.org/connect/connectmissionaries/people/fogleman.