Thursday, February 23, 2017

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

We are in Kampala this week running errands and doing paperwork/ doctors appointments. Today we had the privilege of spending time with three South Sudanese friends. Rina Bismark, the wife of Bishop Bismark, the Bishop of Mundri. We lived next door to the Bismarks when when lived in Mundri and have kept in touch with them since evacuating. Mama Penina and her husband were also able to come today. Mama Penina is the leader of the Moru church in Arua that we partnered with while we were living in Arua last year.

It was such a joy to catch up with these friends today. It's always interesting because it never takes more than about 5 minutes in these visits to hear devastating news. Today, that news was the death of a woman from the Moru community in Arua. She was traveling to a funeral in Juba and was shot by a soldier while she was sitting on a bus. She was holding her young baby and the baby was also shot in the leg. The woman died three days later, but the baby was okay. The devastating news is never-ending. There are always stories of deaths- either directly connected to the war (being shot by soldiers) or indirectly (sickness, but not being able to find basic medicine because of inflation or a lack of availability due to fighting). It goes on and on.

During the conversation, we talked about the need for Christ to change the hearts of the people in the government in order for true peace to come to South Sudan. Mama Penina's husband said that he and the other elders of the church in Mundri held peace meetings after the main fighting last year. They got together and publicly forgave the soldiers who had come in and destroyed their homes, businesses, families, etc. He said that by speaking forgiveness, they were releasing these men in their hearts. They wanted them to know that they no longer condemned them and they saw them as forgiven. He said this was a way to show them that Christ also forgives them and desires a relationship with them.

I was blown away.

These are the men that caused them to hide in the bush with their small children and old grandparents for weeks on end. These are the men that ignited fear in their hearts and caused their bellies to be empty. They stole everything they had and destroyed the rest just because they could.

But they forgave them.

They wanted them to know they were released from condemnation.

Men like Penina's husband are why I still have hope in South Sudan. God is moving through people like this. God is using His people to show His love to those in desperate need of it.

The issues in South Sudan right now are completely man-made. Two men are the cause of thousands of deaths, huge gaps in education (kids having to be out of school due to fighting), lack of food (people away from farms during planting season because of fighting), etc. Pure evil.

We have a God who is powerful enough to work in even the most stubborn and ill-intended hearts.

My prayer for South Sudan today is that more people would be willing to stand up through the power of Christ and work of the Holy Spirit and forgive their perpetrators of the evil they have done and are doing. I pray that in doing so, hearts would be completely changed and the gospel would take root in the place where evil once reigned.

I don't say this lightly. Forgiving such atrocities is not easy to do, and definitely nothing that can be done on our own accord. But that is exactly why true forgiveness can lead to reconciliation- because it is not something we can muster up by our own strength. It takes the intervention of the Holy Spirit. When we are able to forgive, it opens up the opportunity to share about the One who forgave us of our own sin and evil.

Please join us in praying for South Sudan. Pray that as most of the missionaries have been forced to leave due to the fighting, that God would continue to rise up South Sudanese Christians who will take a stand for peace, forgiveness and grace. Pray that God would continue to protect His people and strengthen them for the work He has prepared for them. The stories are devastating, but our God is stronger and our God is able.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I've Been Lost (Returning to Gratitude)

In Uganda, if you haven't seen someone for a long time you tell them, "You've been lost!". This is a way of saying, I've missed you and I've noticed you haven't come here for a long time. If you have been traveling or haven't been somewhere in a while, you can say, "Sorry, I've been lost!" as a way of acknowledging your absence.

So, blog-followers (aka: Mom ;)), I've been lost! It's been a busy season with welcoming Jenna to Fort Portal and having her live with us, and we have been dealing with some major sleep issues in our house, so all of that lends itself to not easily finding time to blog. However, if I'm totally honest with you, I also just haven't known what to say.

It's been a hard season. We were hoping to finally find a place to find our footing and thrive when we settled on moving to Fort Portal, but that hasn't been the case yet. In general, we're just very weary. However, having new team members here and getting to live life with them and with Pat has been a huge bright spot in this season. We are so grateful for team. We are excited about the team God has placed here in Fort Portal and looking forward to seeing what he does through each person on the team.

A verse that God gave me after our season of evacuation and a miscarriage last year was,
"Be at rest once more, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you." Psalm 116:7
In this season where we were hoping to feel settled and able to put down roots, I'm reminding my soul to be at rest even in the disappointment. I'm remembering all the times God has been good to us before, and recounting daily the ways He IS good even now in this season.

Taking the phrase, "I've been lost" to heart, it reminds me to think of all the ways I get distracted by difficulty and allow it to lead me astray. I believe the way we return back from being "lost" is through gratitude. When we get stuck in the daily difficulties we are facing, it causes us to look at ourselves and feel depressed and disappointed. However, in the midst of disappointment and struggle, when we can recount the ways we are thankful, it returns our gaze to the Creator. When we acknowledge the giver of the good things in each day, it reminds us that He cares for us in the little things and therefore is also present in the big things of life, even in our circumstances don't convince us of that at the moment.

Ellie with "Aunty Beth"
One current example of this in our lives has taken place this week. On Saturday, a good friend of ours, our neighbor and Jenna's landlord, passed away from breast cancer. Beth was one of the first people I've connected to her in Fort Portal and we had discussed getting together regularly to fellowship together and pray together. I was really looking forward to getting to know her more and having a prayer partner across the street. My heart was so heavy when we heard she passed away, and it is still heavy now. Beth was an incredible woman and loved by many people. She loved Jesus and was a person of peace and truth to others. I wanted to sit in my sorrow over her death. I wanted to allow it to be another reason why this has been a hard season. I wanted to use it as an excuse to be sad and discontent. However, although I am extremely sad about her death, it has also been an opportunity for me to praise the Lord for the depth of relationships we have already been able to form here. I'm grateful that I truly felt like I knew Beth. We've only been here a few months and I already had a friend that felt like a family member. When I went to pay respect to her family, I recognized many people there and knew a lot of them by name. I'm grateful for this community. My gratitude in no way covers up my sadness of Beth's death. I am still mourning her loss and wishing I had more time with her. However, my gratitude points me back to the Creator. It reminds me of His gifts in the midst of the challenges.

So, friends, I hope I will not get lost again. Meaning, I do hope to blog more regularly ;), but also that I will always have a heart of gratitude, despite my circumstances. My prayer for myself, and all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ, is that gratitude will be our default- so that even when life gets hard, our hearts remain steadfast on the Creator.