At the start of February, former CMSI Mission Partner Billy Smyth returned to Yei Diocese, South Sudan to begin a Short-Term Experience Placement (STEP).
Billy previously served with CMSI's Global Partners in both Uganda and in South Sudan before returning to Northern Ireland with Jenny, Abigail and Caleb in 2006. Billy and Jenny's last placement was in Yei Diocese, under the leadership of Bishop Hilary Luate Adeba. Billy and Jenny's work centred around the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) in Yei, which they helped to develop.
Recent years have seen Jenny joining the CMSI staff team, which she now leads as Mission Director, while Billy, now retired, has helped lead three teams to CMSI's South Sudan partners. The most recent teams have been to Uganda; the political turmoil and violence in South Sudan have prevented CMSI from sending teams into the country.
It was on Billy's most recent visit, last October, that he felt called to return to Yei.
The team participated in a Peace and Reconciliation Conference, along with the bishops and other representatives from all of CMSI's partner dioceses in South Sudan. Visits were also made to one of the large refugee camps in Uganda, which is home to many of those who had to flee from South Sudan.
Billy speaks of the sadness of seeing friends and former neighbours from Yei in the camps. But he also emphasises the sense of a deep, strong partnership with his brothers and sisters and a growing conviction that there was more he could do to support the Church in Yei. So, when Bishop Hilary invited Billy to return to Yei, he was very happy to explore a STEP with CMSI. As Billy himself said, "How could I not go?"
"One of the UNHCR reports I had read highlighted the deep need for vocational training to equip young people who had missed out on a proper education with a skill to earn an income. To hear Bishop Hilary echo that was very moving - his vision is to rejuvenate the Vocational Training College in Yei."
Billy is spending three and a half weeks in Yei, with the prime purpose of helping explore the feasibility of re-opening the VTC, which had been closed due to the outbreak of violence. He has also been invited to participate in a peace conference in Yei.
Please pray for Billy during this time. While things in and around Yei have been a little more settled and stable in recent months, the context is still somewhat volatile. Pray that Billy would be kept safe and well throughout his time in South Sudan. Pray too for Bishop Hilary and the diocese, that God would grant them wisdom and vision at this time.