Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Celebrations from South Sudan

South Sudan Independence day Celebrations in Lietnhom, featuring Linda Primary School
How do you celebrate a dream you have prayed for, negotiated for, fought for and shed blood for, for over 40 years? How do you celebrate a dream realized which took over 40 years to become a reality. Over 40 years of fighting for equality, freedom, a new nation and a land to truly call home, is the story of South Sudan.

It is this back drop which warms my heart as I celebrate along with the people of South Sudan this dream come true. Two holiday celebrations in one month and I am grateful for it, Independence day July 9th and Martyr’s Day July 30th.

 On July 9th I celebrated with the people of Lietnhom , Warap state South Sudan, the nation’s 2nd year anniversary of Independence. The youngest country in the world is two years old and the joy could be evidenced by the young and old alike. Those who fought “in the bush” as it is often referred, rejoice with those who had fled the country. Refugees are home again, embraced by a freedom which they have never known. The youth still remember the bombs that rained from the sky down on them as they hid in the bushes, the army still has wounds from the fights that made up all of their lives. But that Independence day, all those hurts and pains were balmed with a celebration of freedom, a new land and a new nation at last.
Traditional dances prepared for the celebration
Another celebration I have just witness today July 30, in this beautiful new country of South Sudan is Martyr’s Day. This day the country remembers and celebrates their heroes. Heroes who have shed their lives for the freedom the country has right now.
We are used to seeing Martyrs as people you read about in the history books, but not on this day. The names of the fallen are fresh in the hearts and minds of most of the people who gathered. They were their friends which they fought alongside, their fathers which they just lost a few years ago, their sisters whom they still have fresh memories of their husbands who they still grieve over. This day was a day of celebrating the power of life, the power of sacrifice and the price of freedom.
As I enter Freedom Square Juba where the tomb of John Garang is laid and where all the celebrations were to take place,  I enter with anticipation. The security is tight, the army is adorned with bullet proof vests and bomb shields as if ready for war. The president is expected to grace the celebrations today, so they take no chances. I have never seen so much security in my life. Everyone moves in after a thorough check…I was just happy they did not take my camera away. However I could not use it because only approved photography was allowed.
As I sit under a tent and watch the crowds gather, young and old I am reminded that freedom is never free, someone has to pay the price. Sitting there…watching the people flocking into Freedom Square and enjoying the traditional dances practiced on the lawns…my mind wonders back 2000 years back…I remember the ultimate martyr Jesus Christ who also gave His life, to set us free from everlasting death and separation from God. His blood is the symbol for freedom for all mankind, Jew Gentile, South Sudanese and Sudanese, Cameroonian and Ethiopian, American and Japanese…Jesus died outside of the city of Jerusalem so that all of the world may enter into the city of God.  In his words He says, “It was for freedom Christ set us free” and so although today in South Sudan we celebrate and honor the local heroes, all the world can join in with this celebration if they believe in the God who died for their freedom.
Join me Christian readers and thank the Lord for the celebrations from South Sudan because you can relate with what it means to be not a people and then a people, to be lost and then found, to be slaves and now sons of God (1 Pet 2:9-10).
However if you do not know of this Christ I speak of I invite you to believe in Him for the salvation of your soul (Acts 16:30=31), joining us in South Sudan to celebrate freedom in your own Freedom Square…for this is true comfort for the soul. Until next time, Read, share and be comforted.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Greetings from South Sudan

A city called Wau, South Sudan

Greetings from Juba, South Sudan. We interrupt our normal weekly devotional posts to share my reflections on my Mission trip in South Sudan. May you be comforted.
Being in South Sudan for a few weeks, I read my bible and I am amazed how scriptures which did not make very much sense, are screaming with meaning now to me. The South Sudan people remarkably remind me of the people of Israel, strong, defiant, resilient, a dedication to their culture even in the worst of circumstances. A war for over 40 years has not made skeptics of them, but raised a people still filled with hope, hope for a better life. The war was a time when the gospel spread and now being here as this new nation celebrates two years of independence, I see a group of committed Christians who are ready to move forward with life, acknowledging that the very fact that they are alive is an indication that God is at work and not done with them yet. Just like Israel, the people of South Sudan against all odds have a nation, a land they call their own and the will to press forward.
The streets of Juba, South Sudan
You know sometimes the Lord whispers a call to a strange land and does not tell you the fullness of the mission until the appropriate time. South Sudan for me has been a whisper which by the grace of God and the support of many friends and family has been so far, amazing beyond words.

This call to South Sudan has lead me in my first few weeks, into the privilege of teaching 30 Pastors and Church Leaders, young and older men and women (27 men and 3 women) in Lietnhom South Sudan. They are on fire for God, committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ because their lives have been changed by the Lord.

Their testimonies range from demon possession, the worship of soil, trees or animals. They narrate how they offered many cows and chickens to their gods so that they will have peace. They speak now of how they heard about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the one who offers hope and eternal life. They trust now in Jesus as the one who sets them free, the one who brings them peace. It is this truth that leads them to seek to be better equipped to do the work of the ministry. Some of them have their own congregations, some are evangelist, others teach Sunday school classes, while others are teachers in the local schools. They came from different areas of service but they all share one story, lives being transformed with peace, joy, provision, healing and a great desire to teach others about the one true God they have found.

I see in their eyes during this first week, a desire to know the truth, a desire to be the example of love, just like Christ. I also see a pain that the past has brought, a battle of forgiving the most hurtful of sins. They have stories of people they know who have killed their mothers, their fathers, who have burned their houses, stolen their cows or have beaten them because they shared their faith. It is with this melting pot of experience that our classroom simmers, cooking up, we hope a renewed mind of The essentials to Christian Ministry.

As we teach and learn together we share with these vibrant pastors and church leaders that Christian Ministry is all about service. Service expressed in loving God and loving one another, the great commandment and the great commission. We get into the word of God together, to see examples of how others were called to Christian ministry. We read the Bible in Dinka language (the local tribal language) and English. They share their own stories, we have a time of testimonies where some in the class share about how they encountered the Lord and how He has changed their lives. Even in broken English, they share the difference faith makes and we are all encouraged.

Three weeks of ministry in Lietnhom has been filled with life giving stories another one involves two women coming to new faith in Christ, underneath a big tree where we gathered for fellowship. The Lord did His work, I just showed up to be used, and enjoyed the ride. I am currently in Juba for a few days in route for the city of Yei. I hope to blog on my time in Yei and finally about my time in Juba before I head back home to Dallas. I will update with more pictures when I am back home because it took me two days of trying to upload this one. So I hope to share some more with you soon. Thanks for your prayers. Hope you are comforted by these stories in South Sudan. Until next time, read, share and be comforted.

My Testimony