In a recent newsletter, South Sudan missionaries Zach and Beth Smith related the following account. Gentle Reformation is sharing this excerpt with their permission as well as that of the young lady who is featured. Beth's vivid writing captures so well the spiritual battles and lessons of the mission field. Please end your reading of this post with praise for the gospel and a cry of justice for this young woman.
The dull thud of dirt being shoveled into a grave is a sound that one does not soon forget. As the aligning of the two planets (the ‘Great Convergence’ ) was happening on the horizon and darkness was falling, several men worked rhythmically to cover the lifeless body of a five year old boy. No one spoke. They pause when a member of their clan comes up and offers them a drink. But this drink is not intended to quench their thirst. The sip of water being offered is a mixture of water and goat blood. They are under the strong belief that a curse is on their family which caused the boy’s death. The superstitious concoction is believed to protect the life of anyone who drinks it.
It is sobering to view the realities of death, but even more so to witness the deeply held superstition that traps many in fear and hopelessness. As we remember Jesus Incarnate coming in the flesh as a baby, to offer up Himself and to shed His own blood, we long for others to embrace this good news! The atonement for sin is not in our own works, or in the shed blood of an animal, but in the resurrected Lord. We pray that this hope will permeate this culture in which we live, even as it continues to sink even deeper into our own hearts.
Finally, pray for a dear friend of our team, whom we have alluded to briefly in previous emails. In an attempt to get justice for rape, her clan recently went to court against her abuser. The court decided that there wasn’t enough conclusive evidence. So the court decided for both of them to take an oath swearing that they were telling the truth.
After they swear, then the village watches. If something bad happens to either family or clan, then - according to the superstition - that supposedly determines who is lying. The story that we began this email with was this friend's younger half-brother who died two weeks after the oath was taken.
Moments after his death, people were running through the village spreading the news. A goat and a chicken were hastily taken to the court where they would be slaughtered. Many of the clan then followed through with the superstitious drinking of the goat’s blood mixed with water so that no one else will die, and as testimony that they believed our friend had lied under oath. She is now facing the difficulties of having to stand by the truth even when she is in danger from her own family. Pray for her, that her faith in Christ would be strengthened and that she would have the courage to stand by the truth. Pray for the Lord to intervene with peace in a difficult situation.
On Christmas Eve, we walked over to visit her extended family. We passed by the mound of fresh soil which marked the small grave of the boy and entered the hut. A day after her son died, the mother gave birth to a little baby girl. She sat on the bed, cradling a tiny, healthy baby, and she had a smile. “The new baby has dried her tears” said one of the ladies - even though we know that a new child can not replace one lost. We live in this dichotomy of emotions - grief and joy going hand in hand — a picture of so much of life, isn’t it? The sting of death and the hope of new life. We pray that one day, many of these family members will see and believe the promise of new life found in Jesus Christ, the only one who can save them from the punishment of sin.
This Christmas season, we are reminded to always be grateful for the gift of the gospel and the great love of Jesus Christ. Even greater than the convergence of Saturn and Jupiter, we are thankful for the joining of humanity and Divinity in the person of Jesus. Thank you all who are standing with us in this mission and encouraging us through your prayers, your words, and your generous giving.