The new Lutheran Center in Juba would have never happened if churches like Zumbro didn’t first welcome South Sudanese refugees to worship with them. Their faith compelled them to help their families and friends back home, and their stories of survival and hope inspired congregations, synods, and the churchwide staff in Chicago to partner together to bring hope to the people of Juba. Over five thousand people celebrated the opening of Reconciliation Lutheran Church, Community Center, and Clinic. Children wandered the open corridors, women gathered around the clinic thankful for a safe, clean space to deliver babies, and receive primary care for them and their children. Youth choirs sang and danced in the streets with hands lifted in praise to God for all that is happening there. In this space, people from all tribes will gather as community and be a visible sign to the rest of South Sudan that peace and reconciliation is possible.
Thank you, Zumbro for being part of building bridges of understanding and peace with and in the South Sudanese community. Thank you for providing me this amazing opportunity to represent you in the global church. Continue to hold our brothers and sisters in your prayers. Together, God is working in Christ’s church to do amazing things.
For all intent and purposes, South Sudan is an idea not yet realized. Sixty-four tribes of people live in this area. The borders of the country are relics of colonialism, which took into no account how boundaries would unite or divide people. It is one of the sins of Europe and America that impacts people to the fifth and sixth generation.
Tribal violence has dominated the narrative of this country. Much of the fighting is happening between Dinka and Nuer. The sins of the past continue to breed sin in the present. From a distance the situation seems hopeless.
But today, some of those sins of division are being healed. Hope is finding daylight. Yesterday, I watched Pastor Wal Reat, a Nuer, walk down the street holding hands with Pastor Mawien Arik, a Dinka. (In east Africa, it is very common for men to walk together holding hands.) Mawien walked Wal to a small shop just down the road from the new Lutheran Center. The woman who runs the shop is also Nuer and is from Pastor Wal’s home village. It may seem like a very small gesture, but when you consider that people in each of their tribes have been killing each other for the last three years it feels like a pretty big bridge was being built. Relationships are forming like this throughout this new Lutheran church in South Sudan.
We spent the afternoon yesterday and the morning today at the Lutheran Center in Juba. The Center hosts a beautiful sanctuary that has room for about 450 people, a school that will provide learning and skills for adults to get better jobs in the community, and a clinic that will focus on antenatal care and house the first permanent fistula clinic in South Sudan.
The name of the church is Reconciliation Lutheran Church. Their key goal is to bring peace between peoples and tribes, bring hope through education and medical care. Little by little, hope is showing up and peace is being found. It will take tremendous courage to bring tribes together to worship and serve alongside one another. It has been and will continue to be messy. But that’s the way God works, in our messes and our struggles. That’s the way that sin is healed, and divisions mended – through digging in deep and trusting that God is already there. God is definitely up to some amazing things here in Juba. And it’s because faithful, messy people have been willing to jump into the mess and find holiness in it all.