Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan - June 2016 Update

Rev. Jacob Kunyuat Jany, left, and Rev. Michael Machar

Rev. Jacob Kunyuat Jany, left, and Rev. Michael Machar

South Sudan

The Outreach Foundation has been involved in the ministry of Reconcile in South Sudan for about a decade. Their ministries of peace-building and trauma healing are essential components of our overall project, “Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan.” Listen to these compelling stories from Presbyterian Mission Co-Workers Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather. Then pray for peace in South Sudan and give as the Lord moves you.

Peace Institute Going Strong
The three months of Reconcile Peace Institute (RPI) are intense. Community and faith leaders from around South Sudan move to Reconcile’s campus, participate in teambuilding, attend courses, and engage in practicums in the local prison, hospital, court, and other institutions. They gain skills and build a network to strengthen their peacebuilding efforts at home. They also inspire and care for our family, and we are so grateful. 

“People are waiting for me, endlessly, outside (of Reconcile) to deliver what I have gotten here. Up to this time, my phone is not stopping (ringing), day and night, asking about what I am doing. I have been getting some piece of knowledge during the day, and in the evening I deliver (it) to my people through phone call. So, I am really happy, may God bless you.”
Rev. Michael Machar, SPLA Army Chaplain
“In RPI, I have really learned a very excellent skill that I have to go and use in the community… I have learned that I should not be driving the counselee toward a goal or towards a (certain) success. I have to move with him or her, taking the same journey, without me moving ahead.” Rev. Jacob Kunyuat Jany, volunteer counselor in a camp with 39,000 displaced people

The Power to Change Nursery Rhymes
“This is a pencil,” the teacher’s voice shouted. “This is a pencil!!!” replied a large group of excited children. The children’s voices carried a long distance, accompanying me as I walked to the office. They were excited to be in school. Just over the fence next to our house, the church that meets under the mango tree opened a school. The enthusiasm of the children made me smile. For many of the children, this was their first opportunity to go to school. I planned to get to the office in time for morning devotions, but my body moved too slowly. With a recent diagnosis of Typhoid, I cannot move as quickly as I would like. I am feeling much better than a few days ago.

“Who is preaching?” I wonder, as I stand outside the hall and listen to an unfamiliar voice. The man asks, “Who are you not forgiving?” The preacher’s mother was killed two months ago in a conflict in his home state, he explains. He acknowledges it is difficult to forgive people who harm your family. “Put your heads down on the table,” the preacher instructs, “and think about the group that you have not forgiven.” My mind went quickly to the student who received news yesterday that his father was killed in a cattle raid from a rival ethnic group. How painful this devotional must be for him, how real and raw.

I left the doorway to sit in my office. “This is a ball!!!” the voices of the children burst through my window. The young man’s recent loss of his father brought me to an emotionally heavy place. My wandering thoughts began pulling up pieces of the previous week, perhaps trying to make some sense of things. 

Peace Institute and teacher training students gather in our home to pray for their community.

Peace Institute and teacher training students gather in our home to pray for their community.

“Politics is not the cause of the fighting in our area,” another young man passionately proclaimed to those gathered in our home for prayer this weekend. “The cause is illiteracy,” he stated. In his hometown, he explained, those who are illiterate are easily swayed by a few leaders with big titles and divisive ideas. “If not for faith in God,” another visitor said, “a person would go mad.” The comment concluded his story of trying to study at the teacher training college, not knowing if his wife and children were alive or dead.

Circled in our living room, twelve young men and women shared a cup of tea and an experience of tragedy. Currently, they played the role of students, either at the Yei Teacher Training College or at the Reconcile Peace Institute, yet their roles as fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, friends and neighbors occupied their thoughts over the past two weeks as fighting claimed lives in their hometown. “There is no cell phone network there,” one student-teacher explained, “no way to communicate.” These young adults received bits and pieces of information on the fighting. They knew people were dying, but was it my wife? My child? My mother?

From Saturday tea, my mind jumped to Monday, when my three-year-old son, Jordan, came home from school and shared with me a nursery rhyme he learned in class:
“Bullets, bullets, killed my parents,
bullets, bullets, killed my brother,
bullets, bullets, killed my sister,
bullets, bullets stop killing us!”

While I do not want my three-year-old talking about killing and bullets, I should not have been so surprised by the words. Nursery rhymes often form from existing realities, which are not always “age-appropriate” in their subject matter. A few days prior, Jordan came home repeating different lines:
“Peace, peace, peace,
Where are you?
Peace, peace, peace, we need you.
We need you in our homes,
We need you in our schools,
We need you in our church,
Peace, peace, peace,
Come to us and stand.”

What does it take to change the nature of nursery rhymes? Those who repeat them will one day have the power to make new ones for the next generation; it means changing the context. Children learn what exists and also what can exist, and then they form new realities which create new words and a new world.

The heartbroken teachers and peacebuilders in our living room deeply believe in that possibility. They understand the responsibility and privilege of speaking into the lives of young ones. They understand that healing families and bringing reconciliation in communities shifts the environment. New realities form, composing new lines, passing from children to grandchildren. The old words are never erased; they are etched on the pages of history.

We thank God, as mission workers, we witness the pain and the struggle up close; we sit in those sacred moments of brokenness and sip tea together. Thank you, God, for an opportunity to share life. Thank you, Lord, for the inspiration that lifts these young adults from despair to determination. Thank you for the difference they are making in their nation and in our own lives. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather

Read more about the ministry of Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan by clicking HERE.

Amount needed in 2016

The Outreach Foundation seeks to raise at least $100,000 for Rebuilding Hope in South Sudan: $5,000/person for training in peace-building; $5,000 for emergency relief needs; Bibles and hymnals at $10/set (10,000 sets). To make a donation, click the Donate Now link in the sidebar.

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