Our prayer meeting for South Sudan took me by surprise. Though I led only one segment, it was extremely intense. I wasn’t expecting such a huge swing of my emotions in one sitting.
There are several approaches to holding prayer meetings. Interserve has adopted a stance of combining advocacy and disseminating information besides actual praying. We have not shunned away from praying for difficult situations, for the hard places, thus often the content shared is either sensitive or heart wrenching.
As I researched on South Sudan, it was inevitable to feel depressed, to lament and grieve over what is happening there. The world’s youngest nation had plunged into civil war as the two biggest ethnic groups fight against each other, gang-raping the other race’s women, and then killing them. To worsen the situation, many are left starving as farming is no longer viable as it is unsafe. In Bernadette’s words, ‘There were guns everywhere. You can simply pick up a gun and kill anyone.’
Bernadette, a Ugandan lady was invited to lead the second segment of our prayer meeting. She was a refugee lawyer for the South Sudanese in Uganda.
Bernadette started sharing, ‘Samuel* was a special case. One day this refugee named Samuel walked into my office. When he walked into my office, he fell face flat and started crying. I was told beforehand by the counselor to allow these refugees to cry before tending to them. But after 15 mins, I called the counselor in. It was then Samuel explained to the counselor that I looked like the daughter he just lost, who died in his arms as she was shot dead. He took out the photo and showed me, and I really do look like her. We just bawled our eyes out that afternoon.
‘When North Sudan became independent, Sharia law was implemented. It became unsafe for the Christians who stayed there. Barnabas Fund did an amazing job airlifting 3400 Christians out of the North into South Sudan, even though South Sudan was brewing with civil war.
‘Samuel was one such case. He was still being tracked and hunted down even though he had walked thousands of miles, changed multiple refugee camps across Uganda. It was not safe for him in Uganda, he had to be resettled into another country.
‘As a refugee, the first country you are registered in is known as the country of asylum. After that you may get resettled into another country, that is known as the country of resettlement. There are only 16 such countries in the world.
‘For Samuel’s case, I tried to get him and his family resettled into Canada. They did the medical screening and found one of his daughters had AIDS, so they denied his access. We tried again with Australia, and for the same reason they turned him away. It is so unfair, how can we separate a man from his family just because his daughter has AIDS. It was not like she went looking for it, she was raped when she was 13. Also AIDS can be managed when one receives medical attention.’
My heart sank deep when I heard this. Samuel is no longer a number. Neither is he a face you see on a news report. The sharing that has un-mapped all the dynamic complications tied to one man’s flight for his and his family’s life has made this personal for me.
Bernadette continues, ‘By this point I wanted to give up on the case. But he asked can we try to resettle him one last time. So I asked where do you want to go? He said let’s try USA. And within 5 days he and his family was on the plane there, it was very fast.’
At this juncture, I felt hope arise in my heart as I listened to how Samuel made it to the elusive country of resettlement after all those terrible and bitter hardships he and his family went through. He lost a daughter; another was raped and contracted AIDS; his son was murdered; the murderer was in the same refugee camp as Samuel.
It was a roller coaster of emotions. I grieved over these refugees’ painfully long and arduous journey, and then upon hearing their resettlement, I can’t help but feel joyful for them, celebrating their resettlement.
‘If there is only one thing you can remember from tonight’s prayer meeting, it is this; Ubuntu.’ Bernadette said. ‘Ubuntu is an African concept of humanity. I am sure Ubuntu runs in every African’s veins. Ubuntu means I am who I am because of who we are. We are, so you are. A person is a person only through other persons.’
‘So these refugees will get together and form their own community groups (like cell groups). They would identify who has the most resources in these groups, and who is the neediest. Then these groups will help one another.’
As I sat there, at the edge of my seat, hearing Bernadette expound the concept of Ubuntu on how these African refugees practice Ubuntu, I can’t help but feel hopeful and full of joy. Within their own worldview and culture, there is a concept of restoring their dignity, to help one another in needy times. And they are practicing it!
This seems to be mirroring 1 Corinthians 12:26, ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.’
In November, we want to identify with those suffering for their faith by praying for the persecuted church during our prayer meeting. We have invited Susanna Liew, the wife of Pastor Raymond Koh, who was extensively involved in reaching out to those of a major faith in Malaysia. Pastor Raymond was kidnapped in February. To date he is still missing. We have also invited a local MBB to share about his struggles as he persevered to hold on to his faith after becoming a Christian.
Do join us. Sign up at the link below. The venue will be released upon signing up. A gentle reminder that this prayer meeting is for believers only.