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saving south sudan

SouthSudan_02

South Sudan’s hard-fought independence was achieved on July 9, 2011 with celebration and hopeful expectation. Exactly three years later the young country tops the list of the most fragile countries in the world and finds itself in the midst of a deadly conflict and on the verge of a famine.

The situation in South Sudan is dire. Clashes that began in December 2013 have led to a full-blown civil war, with 10,000 dead and over 1 million displaced. Inter-communal fighting, typically over resources such as land, water and cattle – often with deadly outcomes – has led to severe distrust between tribal factions. The latest round of peace talks, in which the two main sides to the conflict agreed to a 60-day timeline for establishing a transitional government, have all but stalled and show little promise of achieving tangible peace any time soon.

Tragically, the greatest devastation may be yet to come. In May, the Famine Early Warning System announced that there is a significant threat of potential famine in South Sudan if humanitarian needs are not addressed immediately, with an estimated 3.5 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and as many as 55,000 children facing death as a result. Current numbers indicate that an additional $1 billion is needed to avert this devastating suffering and loss of life.

As the crisis worsens, much international attention has focused on diplomatic efforts to bring various warring factions together to cease violence. While such diplomatic efforts are critical, they are not enough. Additional efforts are needed to ensure that the root causes of the conflict – including grievances over land and inter-communal disputes – are addressed.

The engagement of civil society can help create sustainable peace. One critical institution of civil society is the local church. The local church is one of the few institutions people can trust. Historically, the church has played a pivotal role in the peacemaking process in South Sudan, engaging in both top-down diplomacy, as well as bottom-up reconciliation and peacebuilding. While political differences are ironed out at the national level, the church has and can play a greater role in bringing communities together to ensure that they do not resort to further violence.

For instance, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church was appointed chair of the national reconciliation committee. The committee is tasked with managing the process of reconciliation, and will work with the South Sudan Peace and Reconciliation Commission to do so. While it is noteworthy that a Church leader has been offered this honorable role, it should come as no surprise given the fact that at some of the worst times of violence, the Church was often the only organization was in local communities providing life-saving services.

Perhaps more importantly, the church is also uniquely placed to be an agent of peace at the grassroots level, because the church is, at its core, a grassroots entity. Conflict starts at the bottom and then trickles up. In South Sudan, there are already organizations that work on the ground to build bridges across communities and encourage reconciliation rather than retaliation when conflict does occur. Some organizations are working to train community leaders and pastors in reconciliation and implement community development programs for the most vulnerable. Such programs highlight the importance of human dignity, conflict resolution methods, forgiveness and reconciliation, and trauma healing.

Another model of peace building used in the region is the Village Peace Committee initiative. Spear-headed by local churches, leaders are elected from within the community, trained in conflict resolution and mediation techniques, and are then tasked with helping to resolve conflicts at the community level. Many of these peacebuilding efforts have been immensely successful in helping to address local disagreements and create common ground within and across communities. By mitigating conflict before it erupts, these programs help to foster a culture of peace.

The complicated crisis in South Sudan will require a range of diplomatic, humanitarian, development and peacebuilding initiatives. Given that the underlying ethnic tensions have become central to the violence, local peacebuilding efforts that build bridges between communities, seek reconciliation for past grievances, and identify areas of common ground between hostile groups can make the difference in bringing lasting peace to Sudan. The local church, as one important leader in civil society, can determine whether peace in South Sudan is short lived or sustained. And, the global Church has an opportunity to join South Sudan by demonstrating the truth behind its founder’s words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

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of possibility and promise

2013-12-19T153348Z_01_GOT01_RTRIDSP_3_SOUTHSUDAN-UNREST

Amidst the joy and happiness of Christmas, my heart is with the South Sudanese where human suffering has reached a crescendo. The New York Times speaks of civilian targets, horrific attacks, and mass graves. Today we remember “peace on earth,” the favor of God, the possibility and promise of hope for a suffering world. Yet today the mothers, fathers, and children in South Sudan are trapped in a whirlwind of terror.

For the people of South Sudan, for “those living in a land of deep darkness,” may Your light dawn, O God, and may their oppression cease.

Merry Christmas, friends, albeit in a minor key this year.

Stephan

(For those who like verse, read on.)

Of possibility, of promise, of hope
A billion sugar-plum dreams never hatched
Stolen, violently
Lost to squalor, to suffering, to slavery
To war and rumors of
To policies never done;
These friends beyond the edge
You know them
You see them
The world,
Too close
Too near.

Maybe you, too, maybe me?
The inexorable grind
The disappointment
The grief
The person
You’re not supposed to be?

If you suffer,
Or fellowship with those who do
Your advent is near;
What began then
Can begin again;
Wait for it,
Out of the silence,
From within the pain,
Let it whisper,
Let it shout,
The thrill,
The shock;
Watch this weary world
Heave its gasp
Of hope,
A flicker, a flame
At last,
This reckless sojourn
This wild Soul:
God still cradles naked
In Bethlehem stone.

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why i am fasting

fasting 2

Greetings friends.

Some of you have been asking why I am fasting for our immigrant brothers and sisters and their families. It’s very simple for me actually. I am a follower of Jesus, and Jesus is always present with those who are most absent.

So I follow.

Jesus is present with fathers who haven’t seen their families in years because of our broken immigration system. Jesus is present with mothers who have lost children at the border. Jesus is present with families who live in fear in our country, ready to do anything possible to make it right, but are told it’s impossible.

Praying, fasting, and standing with our brothers and sisters during this critical hour is to join them in their suffering and believe with them in their hope.

I believe I must follow Jesus into the heart of a very difficult issue in our country, where immigrants are welcome for their labor and tax revenue (undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in 2010) but not as Americans.

Immigrants are some of the hardest working, God-loving, and family serving people I know. They will do anything necessary to begin a fair process of legalization including paying a fine, waiting their turn, and walking through the arduous process towards citizenship.

We just need to give them a chance.

Last week as a nation, we celebrated our first immigrants. The holiday was Thanksgiving and the immigrants, the Pilgrims. I am not a historian, but the last time I checked, the Pilgrims were undocumented.

I wonder if we could imagine another Thanksgiving, a future celebration. When our brothers and sisters who have wept many tears, now smile with joy. When our government joins the American people–upwards of 80% of the American public want better immigration laws–by leading our nation towards new legislation. When those of us who immigrated just a little earlier–just a generation or two or three–serve a feast to those who have endured a broken system for so long.

May that day come soon.

fasting

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Lynne Hybels for President (of Congo)

lynne_prayer16Our friend Lynne Hybels kayaked 36 miles this past Monday for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman.

Now, I’ve cycled 36 miles, and have jogged close to that, but kayaking is an entirely different thing. Only the brave, the strong, and the radical dare such a feat.

Her family accompanied her at times in, eh-hem, powerboats alongside our formidable, paddling heroine. Her faithful friend had to throw in the towel because her kayak fell apart.

But Lynne didn’t fall apart. Her challenge turned into more than 15 hours of paddling, half that time against the wind, with wise people suggesting she, too, throw in the towel (at least until tomorrow).

She finished at nightfall in dark waters to the glow of a far-away Michigan lighthouse.

Here is a paragraph from Lynne’s blog that stunned me. Oh if we all could live with such focused passion:

Why am I doing this?”… I am doing it as an act of identification and prophetic imagination. As I beat against the violence of these waves, I am beating against the violence that rips apart Congo. As I set my gaze against the wind, I am staring down the forces of evil and destruction. It is paddling as solidarity. – Lynne Hybels

Solidarity is love now, not then, not yesterday, but now. Real, raw and painful at times.

For decades the women of Congo have been striving against ominous winds in deplorable conditions with nightfall always looming while the world looks on and silently shakes it’s head and whispers, “impossible”.

Paddle on, Lynne. Fling forth your indomitable spirit against the tyranny of our age, the injustice of our times, for our beloved sisters, heroines, who will, one day, fully breathe; who must catapult their beauty upon a decadent, thirsty world; and who will grasp with ten-finger grip a better future for their children.

Never throw in your towel, Lynne. We are better because of you.

(So now you know why I am promoting Lynne for President of Congo.)

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don’t give up on congo

Women With Bundles (2)

Greetings Friends.

One of the reasons so many people give up on Congo is because its problems are chronic.

The following note from Charles Franzen poignantly depicts the urgency of the situation against the backdrop of everyday life — moms and dads and sisters and brothers, just like you and me, working and cooking and cleaning and hoping for a better future:

Yesterday was an epic day in the history of United Nations peacekeeping in the DRC as it was the first time that UN-authorized troops engaged the M23 rebels in actual battlefield armed exchanges.  This was in response to the artillery shelling of the city during the latter part of the afternoon which resulted in the deaths of several people and several dozen injuries.  This morning, Friday, the UN troops together with the FARDC in support attacked positions of the M23 in Munigi which is only about 3 miles north of town.  Those of our staff living in that part of town reported heavy exchanges of artillery and machine gun fire throughout the early morning as well as artillery response by the UN against M23 positions in the hills overlooking the airport and the city to the north.  Despite later reports of shells falling on the town later in the day, we heard nothing in our office area and so it appears that there is enough confusion and uncertainty among those responsible to halt additional firing of shells into the center of the city.  In order to be safe and to allow people to get home in good time (with motorcycle taxis reluctant to operate after nightfall) the office was closed at 3pm.  Traders in the main shopping area were seen closing their shops early and stockpiling goods in their warehouses in anticipation of additional trouble.  Helicopter gunships of the UN have been utilized heavily against rebel positions throughout the day and this may have had some effect in pushing infantry and artillery back from their redoubts established post-Goma takeover in early December last year. 

It is very quiet now in Goma with cooking fires burning and pots simmering with porridge and relish.  Despite yet another uncertain time unfolding, people go about their daily tasks washing children and cleaning clothes while the kids play football under the street lamps.  There is such incredible perseverance and hope reflected in these routine activities, but we have to remember that this has been a regular occurrence for the residents of this city for many years. 

Many people ask – when, oh when, will this end?  And often they turn their weary eyes to the FARDC and UN as they have done so often in the past.  Perhaps this is the herald of a new day.  Who can say?  Who dares to say? — Charles Franzen, World Relief Country Director in Goma.

Belinda and I just visited Goma several weeks ago. Our staff are physically weary but strong in faith. They inspire me.  As for giving up on Congo, most people I meet shake their heads and whisper “Congo” with a sigh. Many say it’s crazy to believe peace is possible anytime soon. People politely smile at the notion of prayer changing a nation.

Yet I find a counter narrative of hope against the dominant one of despair. But it comes at a great cost.

Two weeks ago I met a Pastor who told me about a man whose wife was “stolen” by a rebel militia. The man looked for his wife and mother of his children for months, but he could not find her.  After six months he met with the Pastor who married him and his wife. “My wife is dead” he feared, “What should I do?”  The Pastor released him from his marriage. Some months later, the man took another wife.

But after nine months of captivity in the bush, serving as a slave to the rebel army, the man’s first wife was miraculously released. She came home to her husband and children.

The man appealed to the newly formed Village Peace Committee near Goma. “What should I do?” he said. “I don’t want to dishonor God or my new wife, but I want to be married to the mother of my children.”

The Village Peace Committee met with the Pastor and each wife, and counseled their extended families. After a season of prayer, the second wife asked to honorably step out of the marriage. In time, the Village Peace Committee helped her find another husband. The Pastor married the new couple and also re-married the man to his original wife.

After hearing this story, I asked the Village Peace Committee leader, “What would have happened had there been no Village Peace Committee?” He said, the wife who was held captive would have blamed the Pastor for marrying her husband when he didn’t “find her grave.” He said, “the courts would have eaten all their belongings,” meaning, they would have bribed the families for the little, if any, justice they would provide. And he said the families of the two wives would have settled into an enmity with the likelihood for life-long revenge.

Instead, there is peace. The Pastor is honored. Two women are happily married, one receiving help for her time in captivity. The extended families even worship together.

Just one flicker of hope tucked between torrents of suffering.

I hope you never give up on the Congo.

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what we can learn from africa

belinda rwanda

My wife is a natural in Africa.  She says she feels more African than American. Her African sisters say the same.

We know there is more suffering in Africa. But anyone who has visited knows there’s also more joy here too. Everywhere I look I see Africa rising, overcoming, leading. Its people, for so long the object of pity, are becoming our teachers. Mothers, fathers, pastors, children, families, communities are serving one another, and us too.

Their suffering has forged their greatness.

We just finished a month-long visit to East Africa. Once again, it gave us more than we gave it.

African brothers and sisters, we stand before you and applaud. We are honored to be called your friends.

The Bauman Family

See my sons’ blog, Mzungu Brothers, by clicking here.

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tell the world

 

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Greetings, Friends.

The following is from my favorite blogger – yes, Belinda, my wife. (This story is also found here on Huffington.)  Grateful to you all as always. – Stephan

On a rain-soaked Saturday two weeks ago, I sat in solidarity with graduates everywhere. My course of study was exhilarating despite the challenge of balancing graduate school with professional commitments, life challenges and the needs of my children. I am a different person today as a result. However, my most important lesson came not from a collegiate classroom but from a village on the other side of the world. My most important teacher was a woman without pedigree, pomp or prestige.

Her name is Esperance.

“You remind me I am still human,” she said, unfolding the corners of each sentence in the light that filtered through the glass-less windows of the cinder block church. Her name, Esperance, means “hope.” She lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the poorest country in the world, where a woman is subject to sexual violence every 60 seconds and where rape is cheaper than bullets. We knelt together on the dusty concrete floor. We embraced. We laughed. I lent her my tears as she described her story of suffering. She astonished me with forgiveness. Could I love like her?

Later that summer, I found myself on another floor — the gray carpet of a college dorm room for summer term. Sociology, philosophy and applied research methods were supposed to be my focus. But Esperance filled my mind; her eyes followed my busy days. Books and classrooms, debates and discussions seemed luxurious now. Not a natural student, I worked hard for each concept, each paper and each class. My experience in the Congo left me wondering, What could my last four years possibly mean for vulnerable, beautiful souls like Esperance? In the face of a broken world, did my learning really matter?

I said a prayer that day on the dorm floor, asking God to remind me of His call and purpose. It was the words of my college chaplain, now retired, that came resounding back to me: “God…calls us to do something about what we know.”

I carry an image of Esperance’s thumbprint with me everywhere I go — her signature courageously stamped underneath three words written by her Congelese Pastor at her request: Tell the world. Esperance chose to give her story away — her pain and her redemption — for the sake of her sisters. She wants their suffering to stop.

The degree I gratefully received also bears an image, though more eloquent than my sister: a signature that confers merit. But for all the hours, the papers, the credits, the knowledge, even the wisdom, my diploma does not mark completion, or success, but rather a commission to serve, “to do something about what I know,” to live out who God is.

What if our pomp and circumstance is not only meant to celebrate our past but also inaugurate our future? What if, like Esperance, our degrees are thumbprints too, mandates to engage the world with something greater, selfless and more essential then our diplomas tell? We have the opportunity to do as Esperance did, to give our stories away for the good of others, to love despite the suffering, and to radiate hope.

Esperance, my degree belongs to you.  - Belinda Bauman

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justice is personal.

Several weeks ago, nearly five thousand people gathered in Philadelphia and various simulcast sites across the country for The Justice Conference, an annual pilgrimage convened by World Relief and Kilns College for justice workers, students, and learners from all over the world. The topics covered a broad spectrum, from abolishing modern day slavery, to bringing peace in the Congo and confronting urban poverty. Some say justice is merely fashionable today, a luxury of the rich. Others say justice belongs to politics or the courts. Some say justice waters down faith. But the thousands of pilgrims in Philly and across the nation beg to differ: faith without justice is dead.

 Two words are used for justice in the Tanakh, the Old Testament of the Bible. The first, mishpat, means “rendering judgment,” or “giving people what they are due,”[i] and is sometimes referred to as “rectifying justice.” The second word, tsedequa, means “the right thing,” or especially, “right relationships,” and is referred to as “primary justice.” These words are often paired together in Scripture as “justice and righteousness” and, in some instances, one means the other [ii]. Taken together, mishpat and tsekequa present a relational definition of justice: justice is about right relationships—relationships that work. Injustice is about relationships that don’t. This is illustrated by what some call the “the Quartet of the Vulnerable”[iii]—the orphan, widow, immigrant, and the poor. Injustice occurs when these people are left out, oppressed, or exploited. Justice happens when they are included.

The Hebrew vision of justice converges in the life and message of Jesus. Jesus not only teaches justice [iv], he becomes justice. To fully follow Christ means we must seek justice among the oppressed, the vulnerable, the left out. We must live and breathe justice as he did.

Last year I joined a delegation of faith leaders at the Capital in Washington, D. C. to discuss our government’s commitment to fighting poverty. An Orthodox Rabbi seated near me whispered, “tsedequah.” He said,In our language justice and mercy share the same root.” In Mother Theresa’s words, “Justice without love is not justice, and love without justice is not love.” For the Gospel to truly be good news, justice and mercy must both be present.

But for those who suffer, justice is deeply personal. Madame Odile (pronounced “o-deel”) devotes her life for Congo’s mothers, sisters, and daughters; women who are raped every 60 seconds as weapons of war in one of the greatest tragedies ever to disfigure human history. Her generous smile hides the suffering around her. As she embraces and cares for the 15-year-old who escaped terror in the Virunga forest, her mission of justice is to work with the community so that one day the rapes will stop.

For Madame Odile and the women of Congo, justice means surviving war. For millions of others, justice means overcoming chronic hunger, conquering malaria or HIV/AIDS, or escaping modern day slavery. “We know what justice is,” shouted a group of Latino women during a conference on poverty, “it is bread for our children!”

When we live out justice in our relationships, we give witness to the person of Jesus and affect change. When we help others become the hands and feet of Christ in their own communities, justice becomes tangible and accessible. For a 15-year-old victim of violence in Congo, justice wears the skin of Madame Odile. For a woman who cannot feed her child, justice comes in the form of a community banker offering a microloan, or an agronomist teaching techniques to increase her crop yield. For a refugee, justice comes with a hospitable heart and an open home.

Neighbor to neighbor. Tribe to tribe. The wealthy to the poor. The poor to the wealthy. Governments to their citizens. God to his people and his people to creation. These relationships, when stitched together justly, weave a tapestry of hope that fundamentally changes society for the better, and touches every citizen of the world.

We are experiencing a radical redefining of justice today. Justice is being reclaimed, stolen back from social and political camps, and rediscovered. What is emerging is something beautiful; a new and ancient justice, anchored deeply within the person and sacrificial love of Jesus, and inseparable from the very essence of the Gospel. As we recover its biblical meaning, we encounter a God who loves justice, demands justice, and executes it for the needy.[v] With such a glimpse, “how can we be deaf to its cry?”[vi]


[i] Keller, Timothy, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, 2010 (Penguin Books: London), Chapter 1.

[ii] Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Justice: Rights and Wrongs. 2008 (Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey), Chapter 3.

[iii] Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Justice: Rights and Wrongs. 2008 (Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey), Chapter 3.

[iv] For example, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6.

[v] See, for example, Isaiah 61:8, 9:7, 42:3; 30:18; Psalms 11:7, 33:5, 37:28, 99:4, 140:13; Jeremiah 9:23; Deuteronomy 16:20; Is; 58:6; Matthew 25. , and; Micah 6:8.

[vi] Newbigin, Leslie. “Whose Justice?” 1992, Ecumenical Review, 44, p. 308.

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The Audacity to Believe

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. ‘And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.’ I still believe that we shall overcome!”

- Martin Luther King, Jr., Acceptance Speech, Nobel Peace Prize

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a collective gasp

Greetings, Friends. Every December 24th, I begin the day by filling  a blank screen with words. It’s become a Christmas tradition says my wife. I like to think of it as liturgy. My youngest son’s response? “Wow. Intense.”  Maybe I should apologize? Maybe not. You may feel a gnawing at your soul this Christmas too.  The world’s suffering is just too near. Intense, perhaps, but hopeful too. So read on, lover of verse in a prosaic world. And Merry Christmas: the nearness of God is our good.

Before the hallelujah chorus
The Prince of Peace
The Wonderful Counselor;
Before the government falls upon His shoulders;
Before the Child was born unto Us
A peasant girl fell to her knees
And sang with abandoned praise:
“My soul glorifies
My spirit rejoices
For You look down upon
My lowly state”.[1]

She wore a blue dress
The day she was sold
Because she thought
She was going to grandma’s house
Three villages away.
Instead
Her sister said
They couldn’t pay
For her anymore.
For seven years
She peered between
Bamboo slats,
And knelt to tremble
And to pray.

The boy said no
So the man cocked his gun
And said,
“If you don’t…”
So he did
An unspeakable thing
That day he became a soldier.

Two thousand years hence,
You look down again
Upon the lowly state
of child, of daughter, of son
And steal back
The blue-dress girl
Who says, today, she loves herself again
Who says she knows
You did not forsake;
You gaze upon the soldier boy
And slip your grasp around his heart
To remove his torment:
Today, he says he prays.

O how to reconcile
This happy day with sorrow stretched
Across our earthen clay?
The sugar-plum joy with blood-soaked pain
So close and yet so far?

Unto Us a Child is born
Not because the world is calm
Not because all is bright
No, the thrill of hope
Lies beyond our furthest reach
The fable still comforts the feeble
You still Bethlehem yourself
You still slip on fragile human skin;
And join our suffering;
You shatter the yoke of slavery
You break the oppressor’s rod;
You destroy the soldiers’ boots
And burn the bloodstained garments of our wars.[1]

You, O Fury
O Relentless Soul
O Holy Fire
Tonight, You thunder;
Tonight, You speak.
Tonight the universe draws
Its frail and frantic breath
Into one collective gasp
And for just one barren moment
One Sabbath second
The world is

Silent.

sjb
12.24.12


[1] Luke 1:48
[2] Isaiah 9:4-5

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