South Sudan recently celebrated five years of independence. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since I celebrated that first Independence Day with all my friends in Mundri, the town where I lived and served with a Serge team. We were excited and hopeful for the changes freedom would bring as South Sudan became the world’s newest nation.
Last month, the BBC reported increased fighting in Juba, South Sudan, and former Vice President Riek Machar reported that South Sudan has gone “back to war.” The fighting has spread, meaning that once again, friends in my small town of Mundri are displaced, running from their homes, and experiencing loss and instability.
Meanwhile, in Kenya, Kenyan lawyer Willie Kimani, his client, and his taxi driver were all murdered in Nairobi as they sought to fight against police corruption. In northern Kenya, two buses were fired upon by militants claiming connections to Al-Shabaab, killing at least six passengers, including children.
And in recent weeks in the United States, we’ve been rocked by the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the violence in Orlando and Dallas.
As I’ve been grieving with South Sudan and Kenya and the United States, I’ve reflected on divisions connected to tribalism, racism, economic disparity, and injustice. It’s clear that whether there’s been political independence for five years or 240 years, most of us are anything but free.
So where do we go from here? These are weighty stories, hard to bear, hard to interpret. It’s tempting to make quick judgments or to distance ourselves from the reality of what is happening.
As I’ve worked in areas of war and poverty and trauma, one of my fears is that I will move from hope to cynicism. It often feels like the obvious or smart jump. Sometimes it seems like simply being realistic. But cynicism is deceitful. It promises that if you are just wise to the world and acknowledge that things aren’t getting better, then you won’t get hurt because you already knew that things were bad.
Yet, while hardening your heart in cynicism sometimes keeps you from hurt and disappointment, it also makes you miss so much of the beauty and power of redemptive grace at work in our broken world. And it can keep you from working for the potential change that hope opens your eyes to see.
The book of Proverbs says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. And I get that. My heart is sick over hopes deferred—hope that racial tensions are changing in the United States, hope that Kenya can be a place of justice and safety, hope that South Sudan will grow to be a place of stability.
And yet, as my girl Emily Dickinson says, hope is also a thing that is meant to take flight. It’s with us always, waiting in our souls to soar, even in the direst of situations.
1 Corinthians says that, in the end, only three things will remain: faith, hope, and love.
So, in a season of transition and sadness and confusing political times, it seems particularly important to cultivate the things that will remain—to remember the beautiful stories of grace that have come out of the brokenness of South Sudan, of Kenya, of the United States. And also to speak—as a form of faith—against all of the wrong that is happening, because honesty about what is wrong can be a part expressing hope that things will not always be this way.
Revelation 21 says: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”
Often (always??), I want the newness now. But, faith compels me to continue on, working for tastes of that newness in this broken world, whether that’s in South Sudan, the United States, or Kenya. And I look for the return of the One who also said in Revelation, “Behold, I am coming soon.”
As we wait for that soon-to-come return, we know that even now we are not alone. Jesus promised that, until He comes back, He has given us His Spirit. And, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3). More than political independence or personal autonomy, we need the freedom that comes with the presence of the Spirit of the Lord.
>>> Would you consider praying today for the hope and freedom of Jesus to come in a new way to South Sudan, to Kenya, to the United States? Pray for those who are grieving, those who are fearful, those who have lost hope. Pray against cynicism. Pray for things to be made new. Please pray for me for me to be free and hopeful as I prepare to return from the U.S. to Kenya soon. And pray for creativity to live out of faith, hope, and love in a world that desperately needs true tastes of freedom.