Thursday, October 16, 2008

God in the Pit

Daniel 6:16-23

Trusting God in “The Pit”

“And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God...” (v. 23 b)

Rev. John Khamis, was one of 40 students who attempted to escape from Juba to avoid the systematic killing of intellectuals by the Government of Sudan (GOS). John, who had just graduated from Bishop Gywn Theological College, thought it better to die trying to flee these ruthless henchmen than to be falsely accused of being a Sudan People’s Liberation informant and be taken to the White House - the “Auschwitz of Sudan”. Although they made a successful escape out of Juba eventually the group was ambushed by GOS soldiers. Six of the party, who tried to run for their lives, were killed. After burying their dear friends the remaining 34 were placed in an underground pit (a typical jail during the war) for two days to await death as they were told, “your cases are for the firing squad”.

Besides being subjected to the mental anguish of awaiting their deaths, conditions in this pit were terrible: it was excruciatingly hot, these prisoners were given no food and to compound the torture only two cups of water were given for them to pass around 34 parched bodies. They carefully shared it sip by sip - no one went without. John says that while he was in the pit this passage from Daniel was a great comfort to him as he knew that the same God who was able to save Daniel from death as he spent a night in a den with lions was right there with him. He was able to be an encouragement to these other students taken as Prisoners of War and they spent much of their time praying and singing.

During the time my friend John Khamis was in the pit in South Sudan the very Government of Sudan soldiers who had captured him asked John to preach to them! Amazed by this request John preached boldly from Psalm 91. The verses from this Psalm were a great encouragement to John, not only when he was in the hole but also throughout the next 3 weeks in which he lived through what sounds like a nightmare.

As they were brought out from the pit John and his colleagues were told that until their executions they were to act as servants for the soldiers as they travelled from Juba to Yei amidst very heavy onslaughts by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA). Under continual bombardment it took this GOS military convey 3 weeks to travel the 100 miles. One of John’s duties was to bury the remains of the 96 GOS soldiers killed in the ambushes. Conditions were terrible: these POW’s were given little food or water and their dirty, blood-soaked clothes were never washed.

The group decided that each of them should individually try to escape if they had opportunity. So, with God’s promises to be his shelter and refuge in his heart (vs.1-2) John, who also served as the commander’s cook, took the opportunity to “make a run for it“ when sent to collect firewood. Once this was discovered the GOS soldiers followed him in hot pursuit but with God’s help he was able to dodge the bullets and make his way to safety. Nevertheless, in order to intimidate the other POW’s, the soldiers reported they had killed John. Word of his “death” reached his family and friends so a funeral was held. But saved ”from the fowler’s snare”, even as his funeral was occurring John was making his way home to Yei. Three and 1/2 weeks after his capture and after one final traumatic event, of being robbed and narrowly escaping execution from SPLA soldiers, John stumbled into Yei town to the utter amazement of family and friends.

Forgiving When it Hurts

“….I tell you, not seven times but seventy times seven.” (v. 22)

After 3 weeks of continual trauma, in which his life was at stake, our friend John was emotionally, spiritually and physically spent. However, as he arrived in Yei, which had just been captured (liberated) from the Government of Sudan (GOS), he found himself in a situation in which even more was asked of him. John arrived in a very different Yei than that from which he left years earlier: virtually all permanent buildings had been bombed and destroyed, food was scarce and much of the civilian population had fled. 10,000 GOS soldiers, captured as POW”S, were crammed into a local school and, not being provided with food, were dying at the rate of six per day.

The local Catholic priest’s heart went out to these captives and he requested relief food from CEAS (the relief wing of the New Sudan Council of Churches). Just after his arrival, John was asked to join the priest in distributing rations to these POW’s. John admits his initial reaction to this request was reluctance – one can understand how difficult it would be for him to assist soldiers of the army which was exterminating his friends in Juba and which tried its best to kill him as well. However, John shared that as this passage from Matthew came to mind he knew God was calling him to not only forgive those who had inflicted him with such pain but that he was to minister to them. So for the next 2 weeks these two Christian ministers single-handedly carried out a sacrificial ministry of mercy by feeding these 10,000 prisoners who everyone else refused to help.

As John does training with us in the areas of trauma healing, human rights and reconciliation he has powerful stories to share and the people really listen. He has “walked the talk” as with God’s help he has faced situations of torture and danger, but probably what is most miraculous is how John has learned to forgive and practice reconciliation. We are blessed to count him as our friend and colleague.

Dear Lord, Help me to remember that just as there is no limit to the forgiveness you have offered to us through Christ we are called, through the power of your Spirit, to a lifestyle of forgivenes and reconciliation.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rush Hour on Main Street, Yei, Sudan

Well, we're closing in on the end of a month in Africa. I'm preparing my heart to leave for home today. The beauty, warmth, and hunger of the continent weigh on my soul, stir it, and send sparkles around my skin when i stop to think and feel. which isn't too often as I thrash about trying to do some good. Since being in Africa I have done the Healing Trauma work and balanced that with orphanage work. On the other hand, my best laid plans to balance being and doing were mostly thwarted. Some quiet sitting, but not much. I, and you as well, perhaps would be advised and in-formed to listen to Parker Palmer in his book, A Hidden Wholeness:

The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But is is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we wil walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance. …

Later, Ruth says, “…It’s tricky to get the soul to come out. We are not very safe for ourselves, because our internal experience involves continual critique and judgment, and the tender soul does not want to risk it. Unfortunately, a lot of our religious activity is very noisy as well; oftentimes we’re just an organized group of people crashing through the woods together, making so much noise that there’s not a soul in sight. (p 33).

My own quest to hear the voice of God directing me, might in fact boil down to not taking the time to listen carefully and quietly to my own soul’s desires. Lord, quiet me so my soul is in sight. Tender my spirit to your Voice so I can hear here. Thanks!