Rev. Cathy Payne, DMin | Global Missions Ministries Coordinator
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.
Perhaps never has this passage been truer than in a land where there has been such heart-breaking darkness that we know as South Sudan. A place where people have been thrust into flight while their families and often entire villages have been overwhelmed with violence, loss, and death. Where raiders of anger and intolerance, have worked to obliterate entire cultures of people.
South Sudan’s refugee crisis remains the largest in Africa, with over 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees hosted in bordering nations. South Sudan continues to be on the frontline of today’s climate crisis and has been heavily impacted by flooding and food insecurity (UNHCR – South Sudan).
Allow me to share a recent update on one of the refugee centers in South Sudan on the border of Uganda. While this entire area is host to 1.2 million refugees, 95,000 currently live at this particular center. There is no milk, little clean water and food is sparse. Families share a tight space, sometimes a small tent, and few supplies.
At the call of the Holy Spirit, a young pastor from our fellowship moved from ministry in Uganda to the refugee center with the purpose to begin a church plant – a ministry center that would serve those who are living in the overwhelming surroundings trying to survive. Can you imagine looking for a missionary situation in which to serve as a more difficult place to move? And yet, it is what Pastor Levi did and his family moved with him. As a result of the ministry of this family, a refugee church has emerged. The fellowship has grown and continues to grow ministering to the thousands who are “stuck” between what used to be home and what will eventually, and hopefully lead to a new home.
As a result of this one refugee church plant, five new church plants have been established in South Sudan. One of the most important of these church plants will be in the capital city of Juba where we will legally register the church in the nation.
Partnering with this effort, one of our local churches in the United States recently provided seed funding to do the legal paperwork, build a shelter with a roof, provide the chairs for seating, and supply musical instruments for the worship center in Juba.
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up! Please pray for this effort for protection, for provision, and for the ministry of reconciliation to flourish among these people lighting the way to true relationship in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Light and the resulting revelation immediately provide opportunity for reconciliation.
Some years ago as a pastor in California, I was blessed to come for a week of revival to Tomlinson College during their spiritual emphasis week. After service one night, a young man approached me about salvation and why Christ had come to save us. He shared his story. He had cancer at a young age – as I remember, somewhere around 10 years old. He went through treatment only to have a recurrence in his teen years. He told me that he had been healed miraculously from that cancer as his mom had prayed for him. Yet at this age in studies at a Christian college, he was distant from God. He could not understand the love of God – His desire for intimacy with us. As we spoke, he finally asked, is God’s love like a mother’s love?
I remembered and said there was a scripture that said exactly that but could not have immediately found the passage. I opened my Bible to attempt the search to see the very page where I had this passage marked. I said, here it is, Isaiah 49:15–17 (KJV) 15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, That she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, Yet will I not forget thee. 16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; Thy walls are always before me. His eyes widened and he said, “I’d like to pray.” In that moment of Light and revelation, the young man received Christ for himself. He told me later, when you opened right to the very passage, God spoke to me and I experienced His love. The Holy Spirit is consistently at work in reconciling the lost to Christ.
Everyone loves a good testimony of reconciliation. But I am reminded that Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son among not only sinners but also the religious leaders (Luke 15). Jesus continued the parable with the response of the elder brother to the return of his younger brother. Jesus seems to be teaching us that we all have the tendency to wander away from God.
Not only did the younger son, the one who left the relationship of The Father’s home to drift in the darkness of the world looking for something to satisfy, get lost – the elder son who remained at home also became a lost man. He was faithful to duty and did all the things a good son is expected to do, but he allowed his heart to wander away from intimate relationship with his father. He completed his obligations but became increasingly unhappy and distant. In this narrative, Jesus is not just speaking to the lost about reconciliation, He is also calling to the religious Pharisees in the crowd to remind them that He has come to restore relationship.
While I don’t align myself with the religious duty-bound Pharisee, I did indeed experience the challenges of being the committed sibling while my sister exercised her privilege often as the prodigal. This does tend to get complicated. I have learned the ease of enjoying the benefits of Father’s house and yet become critical of my sister who got lost in the darkness for a season.
Jesus highlighted the elder brother’s tendency to bring attention to his honorable deeds, while using the opportunity to accuse his prodigal sibling and complain to his father. He was so angry he would not even enter the celebration (v. 28).
From this parable it is clear to see that while the elder brother remained in the father’s home, he did not enlarge his relationship with the father. As children of God, we are blessed with all the spiritual blessings in Christ. Whether we enjoy them or not depends on our relationship with our heavenly Father.
I have heard it taught that you can be a child of God and still live like a slave. For the elder brother, he was looking for his work to earn benefits instead of enjoying the relationship of his father’s abundance (v. 29).
It is easy to miss this. As children, our motivation to serve God is because we love him. We are not seeking the benefits or rewards of service; we are seeking Him.
And like the older brother, we sometimes forget how big GRACE is. His grace reminds us, it is not all about what we want – it is not even about what the prodigal desires – it is all about reconciliation. It is about the grace of the Light that brings us back into the intimacy where He is our God, and we belong to Him.
It is also easy to assume that our pastors and leaders serve from the point of recognizing the Light who reconciles those who are desperate to be reconciled to God. More challenging is perhaps to recognize our position in this incredibly important ministry. There is a realization that more than our emotions must be moved as we feel the loss of the Father’s children who either find themselves in a dark and desperate world crying out to be reconciled or turn out to be the resentful duty bound faithfully serving and yet distant.
Every Easter and Christmas, we pray for a fresh revelation to remember that God so loved He gave – the cost has been paid through the birth, life, death, and risen victory of our Savior and the love of our Father God. We have no part of this cost – Jesus paid it all!
And while we are praying and trusting for our pastors, leaders, and teachers, we are immediately reminded that the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 is not just given for those who serve from leadership. Rather, every believer in Christ has been called to this massive work of reconciliation, as it is God who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and He who has given to us the ministry of reconciliation (v. 18). Reconciliation is the very process of passion that moved Levi to leave his very comfortable ministry in Uganda to take the Light of the Gospel to South Sudan.
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up today!
Perhaps, as we are preparing to celebrate the hope of Resurrection Sunday, we will discover that there are those who stand in the shadows of our lives who are desperately in need of being reminded of the Light that came to reconcile us to God. Perhaps there is need of forgiving and for being forgiven. Perhaps today is the best day to put away the older brother’s resentful foolishness and come into the fellowship of full forgiveness, light, and love.