January 16, 2010
Many of you know that Steve’s trip to southern Sudan as part of a 2-week United Methodist mission team to evaluate the potential and direction of economic development mission, has developed into our certainty that both of us are called to go to southern Sudan. Holston Conference where we are has a covenant with the conference in Southern Sudan to provide a school (they are working on the second building), wells (they have drilled 4 wells and distributed 2 water filter systems to each of 17 churches), work on providing for medical needs (medical mission trips so far), assist with agriculture and micro-enterprise development. Steve went to Yei in Southern Sudan last March as part of a medical mission trip, and co-led the trip in November that bought and distributed the water filters. That region, just 4 years after a two-decade civil war, has tremendous need for improvement in village health and especially the health of pregnant women and new babies (Diantha) and agriculture and microenterprise (Steve). Because we want to go as part of the mission board of the United Methodist Church, the process of discerning our call is including re-application to the mission board, and approval, assignment and training by them. Our current guess is that this may mean moving the middle of 2010. This time gives us a chance to prepare by reading and attending trainings (at least 8!) in tropical agriculture, tropical medicine, etc. If you are particularly interested in keeping in touch with us during our preparation and move, please contact us.
Clearly this means Jubilee Project needs to prepare for our likely departure, so the Board and Staff have set up a transition committee that Steve meets with that is holding a series of three retreats to revisit Jubilee’s strategic plan and conduct a search for a new Executive Director . Both of us have been working to turn over more and more of the responsibilities of our work to other staff and volunteers, though Steve especially still does a lot of fundraising, particularly grant work, for Jubilee. We all are hoping that it will be possible eventually to find new leadership for Jubilee through the mission board of the United Methodist Church, perhaps other missionary(s) who come with a network of supporting churches.
Meanwhile, the work at Jubilee Project continues and grows as God blesses it! The farmers cooperative Steve helped start continues to grow in numbers of farmer members and in sales. The farm-to-school legislation the farmers helped write has resulted in a significant increase in the number of schools statewide buying produce from local farmers, and this year the Tennessee Department of Education established awards to encourage more school systems to do this. This and other agricultural development work has made Jubilee Project a leader in a new regional sustainable agriculture network in east Tennessee. Though in the last year our food product processing kitchen program had to cut back, it is hanging on through hard economic times and there has been an increase in new kitchen users contacting us in the last month. We are very hopeful to use the kitchen as part of a much bigger project launching this year: our “Food Wealth” project will involve teaching low-income people to grow more food, preserve more food, and cook with more of this food and will use our farmers as the teachers.
Diantha’s work has really borne fruit this year, with local volunteers taking over both the county Drug Use Prevention Coalition she worked hard to start, and the county grassroots leadership program she had been coordinating for 5 years. She and Steve were honored for their contributions to the community by being chosen 2009 Woman and Man of the Year by the Sneedville/Hancock County Chamber and Community Partners.
In other work at Jubilee, our youth and workcamp programs continue to do great work building internal assets for youth and financial assets for low-income home owners through improving their homes. Though financial shortfalls in each of these programs have been made up by a recent spurt in donations, all of Jubilee’s work will need continued support in the long run at a time when almost all mission projects and nonprofits are struggling.
As part of a set of medical preparations for the move to Sudan, Diantha got a mammogram earlier than usual, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy in November and is currently in the midst of chemotherapy that will be followed by radiation therapy ending in April. We both feel very blessed that the cancer was not large or aggressive and that God has worked in wonderful ways through so many people with medical, spiritual, emotional and even financial help. The doctors say we can still go to Sudan sometime the middle of 2010, and we continue to feel God’s call to move that direction.
We had a chance to see more family and friends than usual this year at our eldest daughter Hope’s wedding to Schuyler Cunningham in August. Hope is still doing massage therapy at an Aveda spa, though she plans to take a 3 week trip to Thailand soon for spiritual and artistic renewal (mainly painting). Sky is in the last semester of his Masters of Social Work program, and the two of them are considering overseas development work in either Eastern Europe or east Africa. Daughter Joy continues to be deeply involved in dance, Playback Theater, and Interplay in Asheville, North Carolina. This last year she and two other women coordinated a wonderful performance, “Emerging Seed”; and now they are working on another. Our youngest, Sugi, is working on a farm in northern California (50 degrees there while its 15 degrees here!) pruning trees, preserving fruit, and other farm work. She is thinking of traveling to South America in the spring to look for a women’s weaving cooperative.
The powerful events of the year have helped us see more clearly how little we can predict the future and how important it is to trust God from day to day. We are deeply grateful for the many prayers, words, acts and gifts of love with which we have been and are still surrounded. Thank you; keep praying!
Diantha and Steve Hodges