May 26, 2019
They are advocates. They are interpreters. They are bridge builders. They are peacemakers.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers are men and women who have discerned a call from God to serve four or more years alongside our global partners. They dedicate years of their lives to help us understand issues of ministry across boundaries, interpreting language and culture, and sharing God’s love.
In his recent letter, mission co-worker Shelvis Smith-Mather illustrates the importance of listening to people’s stories as they experience healing from traumatic situations. The following is an excerpt:
Margret and Lucy often tell me stories of war. Some days the mood is somber, but most days the tone is surprisingly upbeat, rich in laughter and punctuated by high-fives. Their stories usually begin one of three ways: “During the war,” “When the bombing started,” or “Once in the refugee camp.” Today, Margret and Lucy’s story began with the latter.
I often sit quietly during these conversations, awed by their ability to laugh at memories that once were so painful, wondering how they became so resilient.
“Once in the refugee camp, rebel soldiers came by night in a raid,” Margret began. “Two young boys had just been tortured and their ears had been cut off. My neighbor’s brother was taken, and he saw soldiers moving toward my home, so he shouted, ‘They got my brother! Margret, run for your life. Run! Ruuuuuun!’”
“I don’t know,” Margret continued. “Maybe they would have cut off my ears. I don’t know. Maybe they would have raped me.”
Margret sprinted into the night as fast as her feet would take her. From the other side of the refugee settlements, Lucy did the same. The soldiers berated those whom they captured, asking them, “Do you want to laugh, or do you want to hear?” If the family chose to hear, the soldiers cut off their lips. If the family chose to laugh, the soldiers cut off their ears.
While the moment was terrifying at the time, today Lucy laughs as she recounts the memory. She emphatically pumps her arms to show how she ran. The corners of her smile touch the tops of her cheeks. Margret and Lucy’s laughter seems to grow as they remember the 25-year-old memory.
They can laugh at such things now, but their laughter comes only after many years of reflection and attention to healing deep emotional wounds. Lucy and Margret achieved some of their healing through the PC(USA)’s longtime South Sudanese partner, RECONCILE International. They both attended the RECONCILE Peace Institute (RPI) and completed the Community-Based Trauma Healing certificate program. Margret went on to become a prominent advocate against human rights violations in Yei. She was later elected chairperson of the RPI alumni chapter. Lucy has worked tirelessly counseling survivors of violence, as well as those responsible for war crimes. She was hired by RECONCILE years later and is the first RPI graduate to have become an RPI lecturer. Both women are committed to helping South Sudanese refugees address the trauma of war and are courageous beyond imagination. They have grappled with their traumatic pasts and are committed to helping others do the same. They are wounded healers.
I have been blessed to work with Margret and Lucy for several years, but I am especially honored to have had the opportunity to work alongside them in Africa’s largest refugee camps last year. With a team of RPI alumni, RECONCILE staff and partner organizations, we implement trauma healing activities within the same areas Margret and Lucy fled years ago.
This is just one of many stories our PC(USA) mission workers share with us in their quarterly newsletters. You can sign up to receive these letters by visiting pcusa.org/missionconnections.
Stephanie Caudill, Mission Associate for Resources and Promotion, Equipping for Mission Involvement, Presbyterian World Mission
Today’s Focus: Mission Worker Sunday
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious God, your love knows no bounds. You call people to serve alongside your children, our brothers and sisters, around the world. We pray for our PC(USA) mission workers and the people with whom they partner. Protect them and encourage them. Help them and help us be encouraged, guided and taught by our partners in mission. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, May 26, 2019, the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C)
- First Reading Acts 16:9-15
- Psalm 67:1-7
- Second Reading Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5
- Gospel John 14:23-29
- Gospel John 5:1-9