A STORY OF RECONCILIATION AND HOPE
"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7:14
We were not naïve about the challenges ahead as we travelled there, but we were certain God was calling us to go.
HE HAD A PLAN.
South Sudan is an infant nation, born in 2011, still struggling to establish its identity and address issues we take for granted -- political structure, currency, language, justice system, business principles, security, infrastructure... and the list goes on. Just two years after its birth, the Vice President had fled the country, fearing his life was in danger from the President and the military.
About 120 women had gathered in a room designed to hold 100. It was hot and crowded, but there was joy and a sense of anticipation in the atmosphere. In attendance were women in leadership: representatives from seventeen denominations from across South Sudan. Their love for God was evident in their exuberant worship (in both English and Arabic) and in the warm smiles on their faces.
In the opening ceremony on day one Bishop Tombe had challenged them...
“Who will be the Esther who will save the orphans on our streets?"
"Who will be the Esther who will be the champion for the hungry and thirsty in our nation?"
"Who will be the Esther who will stand before the president and press him for peace?”
We had taught them about “Walking in the Spirit” and “Nurturing Our Relationship With God,” and after each teaching session they had the opportunity to meet in small groups of five, randomly chosen according to their language preference - a way of encouraging discussion and deeper relationships.
AT THE END OF THE FIRST DAY, FOUR HAD RESPONDED TO THE GOSPEL INVITATION.
BUT THIS SECOND DAY WAS DIFFERENT.
The schedule after lunch called for a short teaching on inner healing, followed by small group sharing and listening for God to speak and to bring the emotional healing only He could provide to those who had survived a civil war that had lasted almost 50 years.
As I carefully threaded my way among the groups, one of the women called me over. “The Lord is saying that we cannot be healed until we forgive one another. There are women in this room who hate other women because of their tribe.”
This was clearly beyond my area of expertise, so I quickly prayed for wisdom as I made my way to the front of the room to confer with the leadership team about next steps. On my way a second woman called me over with essentially the same word. Clearly God was up to something in this room! As I spoke with the leaders, the face of our Nigerian host lit up. “This is God! This is what we have been praying for! I know what we need to do!” Relief flooded my spirit as Amos took charge, and I began to pray.
Pastor Amos requested that a representative from each tribe present come to the front of the room. These sixteen women were then divided into pairs, each woman introducing themselves by name and tribe. The events that followed could have only been orchestrated by our great God. One by one, each woman confessed the sins of her tribe, repented on behalf of her people, and asked for forgiveness from the other tribes. Most of the confessions were lengthy and spoken in Arabic; we were told they included rapes, murders, and other acts of violence. As they spoke, the tears flowed. As forgiveness was extended, hugs and joy followed. A day that began in division ended in unity as the women gathered together for a celebratory picture with the flag of South Sudan.
Only God knows the long-term impact of the Esther Conference on the nation as a whole. One media representative told me she had never seen such a reconciliation process take place within the borders of the country. A few days after the Esther Conference, one of the attendees told me that when she returned to her family compound that night, she could tell there was a difference within her heart – a result of the love she saw and experienced at the conference. The anger, frustration, and aggression had been replaced by hope.
After we returned home, I received an email saying it seemed there was a spiritual breakthrough at the time of the conference. A week after our departure the Vice President re-entered the country and was reconciled with the President. The President extended a public apology for his actions in 2013, and now they are both encouraging the people to put the past behind, to unite as one, and work together to rebuild the country. There is still much work to be done, but with God’s help, all things are possible. May that small spark lit by these courageous modern day Esthers grow into a mighty flame, and may the light and love of God light this young nation.
Connie Parker, Global Advance Esther Ambassador