Mission co-workers and partner churches embrace evangelistic ministries and social justice
June 30, 2021
The year was 2009, the place was Yei in what is now South Sudan, the newest country in the world. I was a mission co-worker serving as the first principal of RECONCILE Peace Institute, and our first class of students had arrived. The student body included about 45 church and community leaders from a dozen or more ethnic groups on opposing sides of a two- decades-long civil war. They had come to Yei to take courses in community-based trauma healing, peace studies and conflict transformation.
Some people thought we were crazy to attempt to have this group of leaders who had been on opposite sides in a brutal civil war living, eating and studying together in a very intense community for three months. I remember that a European expatriate who also lived in Yei said to me, “I’m afraid that they are all going to kill each other!”
But believing in the Prince of Peace’s call for Christians to pursue justice and reconciliation, the Sudanese church leaders followed their vision to trust God with what seemed humanly impossible. RECONCILE International was established, and my husband, Del, and I were invited to join their staff. So, there we were — ready to dig in and expecting to see God at work.
As American Christians, we tend to compartmentalize our work into neat categories. So, working from an American perspective, I viewed the work we were sent to engage in as mission co-workers as being clearly in the “Peace and Justice” realm of Christian ministry. A perfect fit for that categorization … right? Weeeeelll … not really.
What I saw happening, spontaneously, was that the students, who were deeply committed to peace and justice work, were also involved in evangelistic ministry among themselves. While RECONCILE Peace Institute was formed by the council of churches and rooted in the Christian tradition, courses were open to church and secular community leaders. And what we observed was that Christian students were often sharing their stories of how the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ had transformed their lives. Now this was not a great surprise because, for the three previous years, Del and I had seen bits and pieces of this happening as we went to various corners of Southern Sudan with our Africa colleagues to facilitate one- to two-week workshops in areas experiencing high levels of interethnic conflict and trauma. Whether it was a workshop on conflict resolution, trauma healing or human rights, we saw participants talking very openly about their faith.
But spending the three months together very intensely with this group of 45 adult students and living, eating and studying on the same campus with them allowed me to understand how this worked at an even deeper level. What I saw was participants talking very naturally about their faith in an invitational manner.
From what I could observe, the thought of not sharing the story of the comfort you received from Christ, after your siblings were killed, when you are in a classroom discussion on trauma healing is unconscionable to a Sudanese Christian. They took the approach of “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food” and it greatly impacted me. These dear Sudanese sisters and brothers in Christ helped me to more deeply understand that although American Christians tend to polarize on issues of social justice and evangelism, a true witness to God’s love in Jesus Christ includes expressions of both.
And whether these expressions occur in Community Health Evangelism (CHE), water and sanitation programs, or village savings and loan groups, I see this sharing happening again and again. Congregations of our partner churches in Africa engaged in transformational development and social justice initiatives are simultaneously sharing stories of God’s love as expressed in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a result, the Church in Africa is growing at amazing rates.
In the CHE program of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in Malawi, needs identified by 13 communities are creating transformational development programs at the grassroots level. Food security, deforestation and disease prevention are being addressed by teaching good home hygiene, practicing sustainable agriculture and constructing toilets and efficient cooking stoves.
Rev. Debbie Braaksma, Retired (2020) Area Coordinator, Presbyterian World Mission
Today’s Focus: Evangelistic Ministry in Africa
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Lord, teach us that leadership begins with compassion and prayer and ends in service. As we model giving, remind us that all good gifts come from you. Amen.