Thursday, December 29, 2016

Looking to the Prince of Peace

On Christmas Eve, tensions were high between the 40,000 refugees and their host community in Doro, South Sudan.  We had seen this before as small issues between individuals were suddenly blown up into large conflicts between entire communities and tribes.  When we woke up on Christmas morning, we had to decide whether to allow the 25 missionaries who served with SIM in Doro to spread out and celebrate the birth of our Savior in the various churches that dotted the communities around us.  I went to the police station with our director and while we were there, we heard sustained gunfire coming from the corner of the refugee camp.  “It is just a disagreement between the refugees” we were told.  We were not so sure.  We came back to our homes and spread the word that we needed to stay close to our homes but we could celebrate Christmas with the local church in Doro. 

We had a wonderful service full of singing.  Oh My!, how the believers love to sing.  It was fun to hear Christmas songs in Arabic because there were many I had not heard before.  Like our Christmas hymns, you don’t usually sing them unless it is the Christmas season.  Our director gave the message honoring the love of Christ who humbled himself, emptied himself and came to live among us and ultimately sacrifice himself for us.  We rejoiced as about 20 people were baptized after the service. 

Those seated are about to be baptized

The boys were having some stomach issues so Bethany stayed home with them.  Instead of hanging around after the service, I went home at about 2 pm.  Bethany and I were taking a nap when suddenly Isaac came into our room at 5 pm to say that he could hear shooting.  This was unlike anything I had heard before.  There were so many shots and they were getting closer to our homes.  I quickly called our director and he ordered everyone to lie on the floor in their homes and then to gather together when the fighting was over.  We live in three separate compounds surrounded by chain-link fence.  The compounds are close to each other but separated by about 100 meters between them.  We would end up spending the next 2 and a half days separated into three groups, laying on the floor, wondering when the next round of fighting would come and when we would be able to get safely to the UN compound and be evacuated out. 

Working on security while behind the walls and having lunch
At times the fighting was so close that soldiers were about 20 feet from where we were lying down.  At other times, it was half a kilometer away.  We were not sure who exactly was fighting and what their objectives were.  The night was punctuated with the staccato of shots.  I kept saying to myself, “This is Christmas!  There shouldn’t be fighting on Christmas!”  As if somehow, this would stop the fighting.  Our Christmas evening and the following day were spent like this.

The boys hanging out at the UN waiting for the planes
On December 27, we were able to make it over to the UN compound and be evacuated out by some incredibly brave and able AIM AIR pilots.  As we lifted off the ground, we were able to see for the first time the incredible destruction and eerie emptiness of the village where we have been living for the past year and a half. 

It took two airplanes to bring out all the SIM missionaries.  Here we are flying together.

My teammate, Christiane Fox, posted these lines from I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, “And in despair I bowed by head, There is no peace on Earth I said.  For hate is strong and mocks the song, of Peace on Earth, good will to men.”  My mind has been playing these words over and over as we process what has happened in Doro.   How could this happen?  Aren’t the refugees from Sudan suffering enough?  Isn’t the host community suffering enough?  And on Christmas day!  Somehow I felt like hate won.  Evil was dancing .

Henry Longfellow
But this story isn’t new.  Henry Longfellow wrote I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day as he struggled with the pain of evil and suffering in his own life.  His wife had burned to death after an accident, he was badly burned trying to save her, and his son was injured in the American Civil War.  The United States was ripped in two and hundreds of thousands had died and were continuing to die in the war. 

Hate is strong and is a mocker.  This is just as true today as it was for Henry Longfellow.  In fact, going back 3,000 years, we hear the same voice echoed.  “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.” (Psalm 12)  David certainly felt like evil was winning the day.  Habakkuk lamented several hundred years later, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds.” (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

U2 cries out in their song Sunday Bloody Sunday, “How long must we sing this song?” decrying the violence in Ireland and throughout the world. 

U2 singer Bono
My Christmas was not like your Christmas.  I spent my afternoon lying on the floor, praying fervently for protection, more scared than I had ever been in my life.  I doubt many of you outside of Doro were doing  the same.  And yet…somehow, our Christmas was the same

Our hope.  Your hope and mine.  David’s and Habakkuk’s.  Henry Longfellow’s, Bono’s, and the believers’ in Doro.  Our hope is the same.  We declare it in faith.  We shout it in hope.  We live it out despite the pressure to give in to despair.  Listen to these refrains as each of these writers speaks truth to themselves:

David: “But I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13)

Habakkuk: “…though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The sovereign Lord is my strength…(Habakkuk 3)

Henry Longfellow: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men’”. 

Bono: “The real battle yet begun, to claim the victory that Jesus won”.

David and Habakkuk trusted in what the Savior promised, while we rejoice in the Savior given on Christmas day so long ago.  Our hope lies in Him.  Our Christmas was spent remembering that Savior born to us who would defeat our enemy.  He is the one, and the only one, that has promised to confront, battle, defeat, and destroy the evil that exists.  He alone can deliver on the promise to ‘wipe away every tear from our eye’.  

So our Christmases weren’t that different.  Whether in safety or in danger, we remembered the birth of Jesus Christ.  Whether in comfort or in pain, we hope in that child born so humbly.  Whether in joy or in sorrow, we look to him who is our Prince of Peace. 

Worshiping the Light of the World as a team Christmas Eve
We are in Nairobi, Kenya and doing well as a family.  We have no idea what the future holds but as the saying goes, we know who holds the future.  We battle against despair and feeling that it is hopeless.  We struggle with sorrow for friends who have lost loved ones.  We ache for entire people groups that have not heard the hope and good news that Jesus loves them.  Yet...We will trust in our sovereign Lord.
-Eli for the Fader Family

Here are some links to read the full lyrics of the songs: