Tuesday, 28 April 2015

'If we are true believers then why are we killing our brothers?' asks my friend as we travel along a bumpy earth road.  During the years of civil war in Sudan many people turned to God for hope.  But in December 2013 the new country of South Sudan was torn apart by political and ethnic violence.  

What hope of peace is there for the ordinary people of South Sudan?  Here are three thoughts:

Turning and praying  This morning my friend Simon Juach and I shared breakfast with the one of the 11 church participants in the national peace negotiations.  As we talked I was reminded of God's promise that 'if my people, who are called by my name, will 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 7v14).  Are we doing this as we long for a breakthrough?   

Reconciling Communities 'People are saying that the politicians are talking but even if they sign an agreement will it make a difference here?'  Pastor Paul from Lozoh (see photo) is an example of someone working hard to rebuild trust at a local level.  Adding a reconciliation stage to church and community transformation might be an important way forward.  We've already seen amazing reconciliation through this in nearby Rwanda.

Following Jesus more closely At its core the challenge for those of us who are Christians in South Sudan is to follow Jesus, the 'Prince of Peace,' more closely.  'Discipleship is critical but we are not good at it' shares one friend who is a Bishop.  Maybe it's time for us to focus again on who we are called to be.  

Monday, 27 April 2015

Would you like to buy a bio-sand filter?  It might be a tempting offer, they are very effective at cleaning water, but I think carrying a 1.5m concrete tube might just be a problem with my plane weight allowance!

Benjamin is trying to sell me one.  His smiling youthful enthusiasm is pretty persuasive.  He leads a micro-business making and selling these filters and walks the talk by using one at home.  It's a great example of the dynamism of youth and making the most of local resources (they break up the stones for the concrete themselves).  The income generated from the sale of filters, combined with reduced medical costs from fewer diseases, helps Benjamin to provide school fees for his three brothers.

His pastor, Paul Ngwa, is a gentle faced man wearing a great Hawaiian shirt.  He spotted Benjamin's potential and put this 25 year old man in charge of the church and community transformation work.  It was a wise judgement call. By the grace of God and with Benjamin's leadership, this work has already resulted in 10,000 bricks being made and sold, new fields being cultivated, 15 new pit latrines built to improve sanitation, widows and orphans being cared for and dramatically improved relationships.  All without relying on outside help.  Others have wanted to know more so there's been phenomenal growth in their church (from 300 to 1,000 people in just 3 years).  

Young people in Africa (and beyond) aren't usually given such responsibility.  I think it's about time we started to take a few more risks on young women and men like Benjamin.


Saturday, 25 April 2015

'The change must start with me' says Richard from Okari.

Early this morning I ate fresh juicy mango with Richard.  It's my birthday today. It certainly was an unusual one but an inspiring day I will long remember. 

Richard is an inspirational man who lives what he believes. So as he helps his church and community make the most of the small resources they have he leads by example.  Before church and community transformation he worried about how to pay school fees for his seven children.  He doesn't mention it once but his left arm is wasted and twisted and must make life hard.

Previously he had planted 25 lemon trees but now he has made the most of some underused land to plant 169.  In time this could give a crop of over 8 tonnes of lemons!  

This along with the 402 teak trees he has planted and the small shop he has started will help him to reach his vision to provide for his children, be able to afford good education for them and even help access electricity for his homestead.

Are you and I willing to follow his example and become the change we want to see?  

Friday, 24 April 2015

'Life was difficult before' Densa tells me.  She has a strong face and broad shoulders but doesn't smile much.  As I listen to her story I begin to understand why.  

Densa's husband has died and two of her five daughters are now dead.  Her elderly mother Josephine shares her homestead.  When we arrived I saw her crawling on her knees.  She can't walk because her right foot is missing and her left foot has no toes.  It's poignantly sad to see her reduced to moving like this.

The Bible encourages us that 'to look after widows and orphans in their distress' (James 1v27) but the question is how.  Natural compassion would be to give her something and that would help short term.  But a more lasting response is needed, perhaps 'wise compassion'.

Densa has been inspired to make the most of opportunities as a result of being trained on church and community mobilisation (CCM).  She takes us along a winding path to see the results around her home.  We pass some of her 12 new goats grazing in the bushes.  At the end of the path is a field she has planted with maize.  It's 2 'fedans' (each 60m by 70m) and she will sell the crop.  She has started a small business where she sells cooking oil, salt, beans, coffee, soap and onions.

These are modest changes that make a big difference to her household.  'Now I am able to pay for school fees for my children and don't need to fear that they will be sent home'.  I ask her about her vision for the future.  'Before I grow too old I want each of my daughters to have a permanent house'.

Life is still not easy for Densa's family but hope is breaking in.  

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

As night falls here in Juba our vehicle is driven inside a compound and the gate is locked. There's a curfew in place and the risk of car-jacking is real.  I could hire a taxi and go out but I'd rather not risk it.  And this is South Sudan's capital city.  How would you feel if your capital city was that unsafe?

I'm here to help review Tearfund's work with local churches in South Sudan.  It's a challenging context.  We work to empower churches and communities to address poverty themselves but this is a country where people are long used to receiving free support.  Our approach takes time but insecurity is rife and things can change at a moment's notice.

Tomorrow I will travel out to Mundri and will see for myself what has happened.  I remember visiting there 10 years ago and sitting chatting around a fire under the stars.  It was a poor community then and people had little hope that things could get better. Will anything have changed?


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

This morning I sat on a wicker chair in our home and started to speak blessings in the name of Jesus on five people who are on my heart and on our village.  I don't know what God will do in response to this.  But I do know a few things.

I know I can't out-bless God because his heart is to bless. As Jesus put it 'I have come that you may have life and life in all its fullness' (John 10v10).  I know that I can feel my heart changing as I speak blessings, becoming more warm towards each of these people, caring more for their whole lives.  And I feel myself getting encouraged about how loving and powerful our God is.  I'm also looking forward to seeing the results - even the tiniest green shoots of God's goodness in these people's lives and in our community.

So yes, as you may have guessed if you've been reading my other blogs, we've started a local house of prayer in our village, in our home.  It's just 4 friends, my wife and I and, amazingly, God.  Watch this space!

If you think you might like to do this where you are feel free to drop me an email richard.lister@tearfund.org  

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Be careful - this is powerful

'80% of the work to bring Brazil from a dictatorship to a democracy was founded on the Bible' Paulo Ueti (Anglican Alliance)

So if we read the Bible well it can bring life. But are we tackling some of the most sensitive subjects?  In a recent report from Peru (Within Four Walls) 7 out of 10 evangelical adults say that they have suffered, at least once in the last three years, some form of domestic violence.  That's shocking and needs to change.

How can change happen?  Part of the answer, according to Paulo, is training ordinary people to engage with what the Bible really says about men and women, as 'popular Bible scholars'.

If you want to find out more about addressing gender based violence you may want to see Restored or Anglican Alliance