Saturday, December 23, 2017

Create in me a clean heart

December is a month of difficult memories in South Sudan. The current conflict began four years ago this month, and people remember the anniversary of the killings and upheaval as they pray for another round of talks and negotiations currently happening in Addis Ababa. The women of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelican Church (SSPEC), are passionate about praying and acting to encourage peace, as they know that is a prerequisite for any lasting development in the country. To that end, they decided to hold a workshop this month on trauma healing and also on the contribution of women in the development of the church. Their theme came from Psalm 51, "Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me." It was a meaningful and joyful time, as women from several congregations came together to learn, share, worship, and pray for unity in their country. It was encouraging to see this cross-section of women – some younger, some older, from several different tribes and language groups, some who are well educated and hold good jobs, and others who are not able to read or write – sharing together and bridging the obstacles that could divide them.

Women sing together at the beginning of the meeting
Achol Majok is the chairperson for women’s ministry in SSPEC, and she began the meeting by acknowledging the anniversary of the conflict, and the upheaval that many of the women have experienced. She passionately exhorted the women to pray and work for peace, investing themselves in the process. She emphasized the importance of the role of the church, saying it is like a sub-committee within the National Dialog process.

Achol exhorts women to pray and work for peace
A session that gave an overview of trauma healing was facilitated by John Orian. He invited participants’ thoughts about what conflict is, and trauma, and what signs you might see that someone has been traumatized. He gave an example of two people in conflict, and asked people to share the culture within their tribe of how those two people would achieve and demonstrate reconciliation. The women were eager to share experiences and thoughts, recognizing the traumatic experiences that most South Sudanese people have lived through. John emphasized the importance of the church being a space that is ‘safe’, where people feel at peace and can work towards reconciliation.

One woman shares her thoughts during the trauma healing session

Lunch of bread and stew
After a filling lunch, Rev. Philip Obang, the General Secretary of SSPEC, presented about the significant role and contribution that women have in the growth and development of the church. He began by highlighting women in the Bible who played a role in ministry, leadership, or through their business activities. He then identified the various ways that the church should develop – spiritually, through discipleship and also numbers, but also culturally and personally, as members are mentored and built up. There was a lively discussion afterwards – SSPEC has not ordained women pastors or elders, which means there is also little representation of women in their General Assembly.

Rev. Philip teaching about church development
Many of SSPEC’s congregations are located within refugee or IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, because that is where the peopel are. Some of the women had to leave the workshop early to return to the camp before the curfew. But it was encoruaging to see these women reconnecting with each other and feeling valued and empowered. As they prepare for Christmas, it felt fitting that they focus on peace and healing, to be able to experience the true and eternal peace that Christ came to give. We are grateful for their partners in the U.S. that supported this workshop financially, and for the vision of the church to continue to make the church a place of peace and of hope in the midst of this challenging environment.

1 comment:

Jim B said...

Thanks for these insights about the role of women in achieving peace.