WEEK 5, DAY 35: UNITY
Scripture Reference: Luke 19:28-44
The other day I heard the PING! of my phone. I looked at the message and it was all to familiar and depressing. “Leaders in South Sudan (the Dinka and Nuer tribes) sign a new Peace Agreement.” Like the boy who cried, “Wolf!” we’ve heard it so often, that we barely dare to hope but HOPE we must.
My husband, “Pastor Boo” and I were United Methodist Missionaries to South Sudan from 2009-2011, sent by the Holston Annual Conference. There were two starkly opposed experiences we had on our very first day. After our small plane landed in Yei (pronounced ‘Yay’), we boarded big Land Cruisers. We set out to the office of the Governor, General Joseph (name has been changed for security reasons).
DARKNESS OF DIS-UNITY
While awaiting our interview, one of our church leaders handed us some papers. Written on those papers was the following: ATTEMPTED MURDER OF A PASTOR BY OTHER PASTORS/ELDERS! When our bishop saw that he said to us in a calm voice; “I want you to settle this ‘problem.'” That was pretty disheartening! In the following weeks we discovered there had been a violent feud. This feud had waxed and waned for a number years which ended in a church split. So there it was: the darkness of DIS-unity right in our faces.
Once we arrived at the office of the Governor we ushered into a curtained, cool office where we met and shook hands with General Joseph. We sat at U-shaped tables, with the General’s desk at the front, complete with a hand gun within his reach. As he began his speech, I noticed that, unlike most Sudanese, he was a smallish black man, approximately 5’7″ tall with a wiry build.
THE LIGHT OF UNITY
Despite the oven-like heat, he was wearing a gray suit, white shirt and tie. He had balding, salt-and-pepper hair, but bright white teeth that lit up the room like a flash when he smiled. His accented English was good. He looked at us and proclaimed himself a born-again Christian. Then he shared that he asked the Lord to make Yei a brand-new kind of African city. Not a city where people were tribes set against each other. Rather a city where brothers and sisters in Christ were living in reconciliation and peace. Like his biblical namesake, he was God’s chosen man for “such a time as this.” Wow! There it was: the Light of Unity!
For most of history, human beings’ relationships have been like dogs at each other’s throats. Full of distrust, enmity, divisions, tribalism, abuse and violence. From Genesis to Revelation we see even the ancients set against each other. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Israel against the pagans, each other and God, the Jews against the Gentiles, and on and on. DIS-unity is, and has been, the norm for us. This alone, and with little effort, could make any of us disillusioned and even callous. However, which one of us hasn’t been party to conflicts and struggles and suffering?
THE GREAT NEWS!
BUT—as the Apostle Paul says, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord….” (Romans 7:25) Two chapters before, in 5:1-5, Paul explained HOW we have peace, first with God, and then with our enemies. In Ephesians Paul teaches that Christ made us all ONE PEOPLE. “He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us (Ephesians 2:14).”
Here is GREAT NEWS! The Apostle John agreed when he wrote; “The Light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can NEVER extinguish it (John 1:5, emphasis mine).” So neither tribalism, nor hostility, nor wars, nor suffering can EVER extinguish the Light of Jesus Christ. Our prayer for South Sudan is that God will raise up many leaders with the heart of General Joseph. That the walls of hostility will be broken so the people can live in unity and in peace.
— Pastor Phyllis Hankins, First United Methodist Church, Elizabethton, Tennessee