Seven South Sudanese women crowd together on two hard, wooden benches in the little church. Despite the differences in age and tribe, they share a common despair. To me they look world-weary, eyes overflowing with hurt. They speak of war and hopelessness…of living in the agony of uncertainty as their homeland implodes. There are loved ones missing, dead. And hope that sprang up alive and green in their hearts less than a year ago has been cruelly cut down once again.
What can I offer them? I feel the enormity of their suffering wash over me. Never have I experienced the types of trauma they are revealing…how can I speak to their need? I can’t.
But God’s Word can.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.” (Lam.3:21,22)
I cannot offer these women food and medicine today – there are other great organizations who are trying to help with that. But that is not their greatest need. Their greatest need is HOPE. As they go around the circle and share their single most difficult feeling, they share the words: “Hopeless – we feel hopeless”. It reminds me poignantly of Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Truly, they are heart-sick.
We continue together and I lead them through the first lesson of a book called Healing the Wounds of Trauma. We open up God’s Word together. These women listen hungrily, eagerly, grasping for…hope. They ask questions and share stories. “Why does God allow suffering?” “Are we cursed? Our neighbors say we are…” “Can God use suffering in my life?” “Do I have to earn His favor? What can I do?”…
O glorious Gospel! The Gospel of grace, of unmerited favor… I share in English and they repeat over and over to one another in Dinka and Arabic: “because of His great love for us…for by grace you have been saved thru faith...” (Ephesians 2:4,8,9). Eyes and hearts open. I see a glimmer…as despair begins to melt around the edges.
Six more meetings to go, every Sunday afternoon. I encourage them to keep coming. We will cover topics like: Healing heart wounds, Grief, Helping children through trauma, Forgiveness, Taking our pain to the cross, and Living as Christians in the midst of conflict. They seem eager to keep going. It is only with great difficulty that I convince them that our time today is finished, and we pray together. I am just as excited as they are to see what God will do!