By: Dr. Troy Sammons, CVM Fieldstaff
The word joy seems to be the most common word to market the Christmas holiday. From the fancy font in the boulevard banner to the Christmas card message, joy is decoratively spread on all aspects of our Christmas lives.
So now its January and it is time to pack away the joy, take down the ornaments and wall hanging and mugs with our seasonal joy and pack them neatly away into the Christmas boxes, taking care not to damage the signs of joy as we put them away.
How telling, that in January joy gets packed away and out comes the “try harder” resolutions of 2017 with new themes for the year.
Doesn’t this seem rather ironic but a telling ritual of where joy fits in our culture?
For the past six months now the understanding of joy has been rolling like a marble in my brain, as it circles to and fro it constantly bumps into my normal thoughts and helps me re-arrange them with a difference in priority.
In December I was able to briefly visit both South Sudan and Kenya and was extremely blessed by the experience, reminded once again that joy doesn’t have to be tied to our everyday circumstances, and our joy shines most brightly in situations where it normally should be void.
South Sudan continues to deteriorate with insecurity, inadequate food resources, massive inflation and lack of education forcing people to make the incomprehensible choice to find whatever means possible to pack their families and belongings onto transport vans to flee to the bordering countries to start a new life in the desolate and meager resources of a refugee camp where at least a simple twice a day meal of beans and maize (corn) can sustain them as they wait what comes next.
Being present at this juncture of their lives was so impactful as I sat listening, praying, mourning and learning with those in all walks of life. Amid the heavy decisions there were incredible rays of light shining forth.
Michael and Benjamin are both in their twenties, both finished with high school, both love Jesus and both have committed to following Him by loving others. On my recent trip, Micheal was in the final preparation stage of moving to the village of Imatong to join Benjamin in church planting so together they could push forward and reach out to Imatong. Benjamin is a son of that village while Michael is from an entirely different tribe, they met in Torit town and both have been discipled by Jordan over the past years. Benjamin has been back in the village for a few years as Michael completed his studies. Now they will be partners in the work that God has put on their hearts as they practically share Jesus with the people there. This act alone is incredible and fills my soul with great joy, thinking through the obedience of this decision to follow no matter the cost.
Many of their fellow youth have left the country, seeking green cards and opportunity abroad as refugees. The NGO’s have also followed suit and packed up the remaining projects to start over in safer areas. But Micheal has decided to engage. To add to this both Micheal and Benjamin are fighting health issues that are a constant nag on them and sometimes flare up to debilitating levels, but still Micheal has decided to engage. This last week our team leader and their mentor, Jordan, drove Micheal to his new place in the village and Micheal officially joined Benjamin in the ministry there. The church meets in the school yard with a handful of adults and a large group of somewhat interested kids. There Michael and Benjamin will share accounts of the Bible through oral Bible stories and live life side by side with the Lotuko people that live there, laughing and mourning together even as the country teeters on the brink of great conflict. Benjamin’s commentary on all of it was this, “…life is tough, but God is Master. He provides.”
Coming back, I stare at the boulevard banners and lights and marketing of Christmas with a deeper understanding of what our seasonal word of joy really means. I am resolved not to pack it away this year, but live it out right. For the irony of the whole situation is that those in South Sudan taught me that the beautiful signs declaring joy is empty without the lives that really live it out and share it with the world. I need to be the life that pours it out, by living in the presence of the God, the one that provides joy in the salvation that He offered on the cross. There is no greater gift, I can give to the darkness of any part of the world than the light of joy, the light of Jesus.
Please continue to pray with us for peace and joy to reign in the countries of South Sudan, Kenya and the United States. Please pray for Benjamin and Micheal and the African Inland Mission teams that are engaged there. Pray for wisdom and safety and joy in their lives. Continue to pray for us for clarity in decision and timing as we wait for more information on my mother’s health and the status of South Sudan. Pray that amid the indecision that we would also have peace and joy and would follow obediently.
Peace and Grace,