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Thursdays in Black: Pilgrim Prayers for Women in Conflict Situations

Thursdays in Black: Pilgrim Prayers for Women in Conflict Situations

The World Council of Churches has been mobilizing Christians all over the world to pray, walk and work for justice and peace with our brothers and sisters living in conflict countries. In 2017 and 2018, “Pilgrim Team Visits” have highlighted gender injustice especially during armed conflict. Visits have so far taken place to Nigeria, Burundi; Colombia, and South Sudan.

In all the countries the WCC pilgrims have visited so far, our sisters have shared devastating stories. They are carrying unspeakable wounds. Yet, the women also show incredible strength that comes from their faith in God who is able to transform the conflict to justice and peace.

The pilgrims from the team visit to South Sudan, in particular, committed themselves to invite you to join the prayer for overcoming the gender violence. These reflections and prayers are shared every Thursday as part of the WCC Thursdays in Black campaign.

Our pilgrim prayers for women in conflict situations now turn to the Democratic Republic of Congo, following the WCC Pilgrim Team Visit to the country in August 2018

17. Theological education through song

The woman said, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” John 4:25

And Mary said (sung), “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in my Saviour, for (God) has been mindful of the humble state of (God’s) servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed...” Luke 1:46-48.

Dancing in Malawi
Women sing and dance a song about global climate change in Chidyamanga, a village in southern Malawi. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

Reflection

The songs of the Christian women of the Congo exude a deep knowledge and faith in God. They are a resource for ongoing theological education of the women and the wider community. Song is an important medium for teaching theology informally, which could also be appropriated by the academy. Developing the repertoire of songs intentionally to lament the plight of the Congo, inspire hope and mobilise for movement towards that hope would be an important contribution. Could this knowledge base become a starting point for formal theological education of women?

Like Mary and the woman at the well, the Congolese women’s faith is not expressed in academic discourse (although it could be). It is wrought in the crucible of experience. Their song, dance, ululation laments the injustices and woes of a country that groans in expectation. It is a public theology performed, demonstrated, creating strength where lives are broken. The healing, humour and hope of the songs of the women of Congo recall the faith confession of the broken woman at the well. They affirm Mary’s song of exultation in the upheaval of becoming an unwed mother.

Prayer

Lord God, let the wisdom, defiance, faith and hope in the songs of the women of Congo deepen our knowledge of you.  May their songs and stories of broken bodies and broken promises nurture courage in us all, inspire our actions and nourish our hope.  Like the women of Congo who grapple with systemic violence and marginalization yet remain defiantly hopeful nourished by song and deep knowledge of God. Let their example educate our quest for peace and justice in your world. Amen

By Rev. Dr Kuzipa Nalwamba, United Church of Zambia/United Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa

The pilgrim prayers below come from the experience of the WCC Pilgrim Team Visit to South Sudan in May 2018.

16. Managing fertility/infertility

There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children….
On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters;
but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb…
Therefore, Hannah wept and would not eat.
Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”…
She was deeply distressed and prayed to the
Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head. (I Samuel 1: 1-11)

Woman and child in mobile clinic
Vaccination at a mobile clinic for displaced families, South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT

Reflections

In all African societies, a marriage is only complete when there are children. In patriarchal societies it is not just children but male children. It is also not just one male child but many children. If a couple are not having children, it is quickly assumed that it is the wife’s fault. African barren women go to great lengths to seek help to have children - male children.  The story of Hannah resonates with the experiences of barren African women who despair even when they are in a monogamous loving relationship. Hanna’s story also echoes the patriarchal interpretation that when a couple is unable to have children it is a woman’s fault. It also brings in the belief that God causes barrenness but through prayers God also opens the womb. The bible story ends well. Hannah conceived and had a baby son whom she dedicated to the Lord. This story is a source of encouragement to many barren women.

However, when women are living in the context of war like the girls and women of South Sudan, being able to conceive is not received as good news.  When we visited South Sudan, we learned that in the context of civil war where there is shortage of food, threats from sexual harassment and rape, the women talked about not wanting to have more children. However, even in relatively peaceful African countries, there are too many children whom the families and governments are not able to take care.

Prayer

We thank you God that when you created the first human beings, you were very pleased with your creation. We thank you for giving humanity the responsibility to take care of themselves and all your creation. We thank you because marriage and having children is also part of your plan for humanity. We thank you for your teachings that remind us about being good stewards of our bodies and our families. We pray to you God for forgiveness where we have brought children into the world and failed to take care of them. We pray that as we take care of the earth, you give us the wisdom to be good stewards of our own fertility.
We also pray for all the couples who are suffering from infertility that you answer their prayers according to your will and purpose for their lives.
We pray for the girls and women of South Sudan who are unable to manage their fertility in the context of war. We pray that the war will come to an end and that your lasting peace will prevail. We pray for that you protect girls and women in conflict countries who live in constant fear. May they find comfort in the knowledge that you will never leave them or forsake them. May they feel your presence with them all the time. We thank you for all those organizations who are working in South Sudan to provide health care to the vulnerable, especially girls and women. We are praying in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, Deputy General Secretary, World Council of Churches.

15. Family Life

She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strengths,
and makes her arms strong. Proverbs 31:15-17 (NRSV)

and I will be your father,
and you shall be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”  2 Corinthians 6:18 (NRSV)

and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed[a] in you and in your offspring.  Genesis 28:14 (NRSV)

Family in camp for internally displaced people in South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT
Family in camp for internally displaced persons in South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT

Reflection

During our pilgrimage to South Sudan, we heard multitudes of heart-wrenching stories of families facing insecurity, dire economic circumstances, and traumatizing experiences. The on-going conflict in the country has disrupted daily life, and many South Sudanese are unable to participate in the local economies in meaningful way due to lack of jobs, pressure to find food and provide for their families, rampant inflation, and lack of wages. Even while some women and men try to better themselves for their family and for their children by earning an income, such as participating in programs run by organizations like the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, they then fear that they become targets for those who may choose to rob others in the face of desperation.

Many of those we met emphasized by many that the only real employment in South Sudan is in the militia and your “salary” is the gun you are provided. While many men are faced with the temptation of leaving their families and joining armed groups, seeing it as their only option, often women and children are left behind without jobs or access to food. Familial connections are challenged and broken, and most South Sudanese are continuing to pray for a wholeness that seems so far out of reach.

However, despite the challenges faced by most, Bishop Justin Badi Arama, the Primate and Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, explained that when you go to the grassroots level, people see themselves as one family, even as politicians seek to separate and divide. “We call God our father, not my father; we are all children of one father” he was quoted.

While family life is challenged and the bonds of connection that hold us together are weakened in the face of such trials, we must ask ourselves if “family” is only a noun. Perhaps we must see “family” as much of a verb as it is a noun. In the midst of death, fear, and hopelessness, we must learn to “family” one another. The people of South Sudan deserve to be cared for in a familial way by the international community so that they may have the chance to reunite broken bonds, to heal wounds, and to restore relationship. When the family of South Sudan is healed, perhaps then we can begin to restore wholeness to God’s vision for a global family.

Prayer

We thank you God for giving us the gift of family and for the hope that abides in our communion with Jesus Christ and with each other. We pray that the families of South Sudan remain strong in your bond and upheld by your spirit in the challenges they face. May the church in South Sudan continue to minister to its families and may we continue to learn by your grace to embrace family as not only a noun, but also a verb. May we “family” one another, focused on your vision of all God’s people living together as one people in harmony. In Jesus’ name we pray that you continue to hold South Sudan in your arms, believing that peace will be restored. Amen.

By Jillian Abballe, Advocacy Officer, World Council of Churches United Nations Office

 

14. Healing of Trauma

The human spirit will endure sickness, but a broken spirit – who can bear? Proverbs 18:14

Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress. Proverbs 31:6

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. Ecclesiastes 4:1 (NRSV)

Woman in Rwanda. Photo: Peter Williams/WCC
Woman in Rwanda. Photo: Peter Williams/WCC

Reflection

The WCC pilgrim team visit to South Sudan learned that many of the people need healing from experiences of trauma. As in many conflicts, women and girls suffer rape as a weapon of war, including gang rape, rape of young girls, and rape in front of siblings, spouse or parents. Even in refugee camps women and girls are not out of danger as other refugees and even those charged with helping them – aid workers and peace keepers - may violate them. Rape is used to humiliate and inflict pain to the heart of the individuals and communities. “We will rape your women” is a common threat between warring tribes or communities and it demonstrates that rape is used as a symbol of conquest. There is no regard to the dignity of the victimised women.

Worse still, rape and other forms of sexual violence are strongly stigmatised in South Sudan. Women and girls who have been assaulted sexually are segregated in school and discriminated against in social life. They are not accepted in society, and when they report the cases to authorities the culprits return for a so-called retaliation. These people have to carry their sorrows alone and in silence.

To be victimised again for rape or sexual violence, and to have to suffer in silence, is a double tragedy. Such a situation indeed can cause a person to have a “broken spirit” or to be in “bitter distress”. The severity of the psychological trauma in such circumstances is underscored by the desperate prescription in Biblical days of a near-toxic concoction that was prescribed: strong drink, or strong wine. This is what was given to those on death row for the various capital offences they had committed to numb the physical and mental pain of the impending death.

It is abundantly clear that any efforts to build peace in South Sudan should include strategies for the healing of memories for the women and girls who have suffered from all forms of sexual violation, and for making communities healing, rather than stigmatising,spaces.

Prayer

God our Creator, you see the oppression that your daughters are enduring in South Sudan; you see those suffering from the trauma they have experienced. Their tears and cries have reached you. You also know the power of their oppressors. Arise strong on your daughters’ side, O God; and as you arise, Creator God, we pray that you will awaken us, your church and all your children, to rise with you on behalf of the weak and the oppressed suffering from trauma, in South Sudan and in all places under your sun. In your mercy we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Dr Mwai Makoka, Programme Executive for Health and Healing, World Council of Churches

13. Sex Education

She answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile!  As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” 2 Samuel 13:12-13 (NRSV)

Thursdays in Black at CWME
#ThursdaysinBlack at CWME 2018. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Reflection

When we visited South Sudan for the WCC Pilgrim Team Visit, we heard stories which confirmed that war brings disorder to society and that cultural and religious teachings about chastity are no longer upheld. Teachings that value a girl’s body and give her the space to keep her virginity are no longer practiced.

The story of Tamar and Amnon in 2 Samuel 13 shows similar disregard of morals even when not during war. Amnon had told his friend Jonadab that he was in love with his own half-sister. Jonadab gave Amnon very wicked counsel to enable Amnon gain unlawful (sexual) access to his half-sister and he raped her in spite of Tamar’s desperate pleas that this thing is not done in Israel. Amnon breaks Tamar’s virginity and then turns around to hate her with a deadly hatred after having satisfied his selfish lust.

What can we learn about sex education from this story? It is clear from this story that rape in our society today and particularly in South Sudan is not a new thing. Another thing we can learn is that Tamar knew some regulations (i.e., she had some sex education) that only with proper permission from parents, siblings could marry each other. On the other hand, Amnon, it appears, did not have any proper sex education or disregarded it.

Sex education that teaches respect of oneself and others is necessary particularly in contexts where the experience of violence threatens to break down morals and religious and cultural values.

Prayer

O Lord our God, we pray for courage and wisdom for parents in South Sudan to give all their children proper sex education while they are growing up in the context of war. We pray for protection from those with wicked intentions to harm and rape. May no one be lured into temptation but be transformed and renewed in their minds to turn away from evil unto you, O Lord.

Lord we pray for emotional healing for those who have been victims of rape either in their own homes or out of their homes in South Sudan and other countries.

We are in days of trouble where sex education is lacking and even where it being done, it is inadequate. Lord, do a new thing in the lives of both perpetrators and victims of especially rape and other heinous crimes. Let them experience your love and hear your tender call to repentance and salvation. In the name of Jesus Christ our Savior we have prayed. Thank you for hearing and answering our prayers. Amen.

Rev. Dr Dorothy Bea Akoto and women and youth of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Kisseman District, Accra, Ghana

12. Prayer for Grandmothers

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4 (NIV)

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 16:31 (NIV)

Woman returns to burned house in South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
Woman returns to her burned house in South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

Reflection

The Bible recognizes the contribution of elders in our community. It clarifies the value of old people, they are full of wisdom and knowledgeable. This is the general perception of the elderly in Africa.

Human Rights Watch (May 2017) writes that in South Sudan elderly people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of war. They are being shot, hacked to death or burned alive in their houses. This is because they are unable to fight back, which makes them more vulnerable to starvation and abuse.

Young people who are supposed to take care of the old people have run away to protect themselves.  The elderly are now helpless and the only hope they have is God who is protecting them. Grandmothers are vulnerable in a particular way as they take care of the sick and the many children who are left in their care while they have limited resources to take care of others. Grandmothers are now struggling with their health because of their age. The context of war makes it difficult for them to access medication.

Prayer

Dear Lord, the giver of life,
We acknowledge your mighty protection in our lives and especially to our grandmothers,
You have granted them many years of life and the young people depend on them for traditional knowledge and wisdom. We feel blessed for that wonderful gift from them.
We come before You, our Creator, praying for all the elderly, especially the grandmothers who live in countries going through conflict like South Sudan.
We pray that they feel your comforting presence in their moment of suffering from different types of abuse, hunger and diseases.
Oh Lord, you are their only hope, as you have promised to protect and rescue them,
May your presence continue to be with them in every situation.
We also pray for the people and organizations who have devoted themselves to take care of the elderly, especially grandmothers in armed conflict situations. 
In Jesus’ name we pray, believing that you will restore peace in South Sudan to the Glory of Your Mighty Name. Amen.

Esther Ngulwa, Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT)

11. Polygamous marriages

"But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh’. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Mark 10:6-8

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Woman in refugee camp in South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
Woman in South Sudan. Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

Reflection

When the World Council of Churches Pilgrim Team to South Sudan met with the Women Caucus of the South Sudan Parliament, one woman said: In South Sudan, all married men are polygamous. Maybe the church leaders have only two wives. But most men have many wives and children.’ No one challenged her generalized statement which bothered me.  In this context, the woman parliamentarian used a popular definition of polygamy which is a man marrying many wives. The technical meaning refers to marrying many wives or husbands simultaneously or marrying many times - that is, consecutive marriages.

The traditional African reasons for polygamy are many. One reason was for “immortality”. The understanding is that with more wives the higher the chance of having more children. The more the children, the more the number of one’s descendants and therefore the higher the chance of being remembered by one’s descendants for a very long time. In the context of the South Sudanese who have experienced civil war since 1955, no wonder polygamy has normalized even among Christians as a way to replace the many people who have been killed. It was also mentioned as a solution to missing husbands who have been killed, or left to join the war or just disappeared. In this context girl child marriages to older men who already have wives is seen as a lesser evil to protect the girl from rape. The society emphasizes that a girl must be a virgin when she is gets married. Raped girls and women are stigmatized.

South Sudan has been predominantly Christian since the second half of the 19th century. The missionaries who brought the gospel to South Sudan preached against polygamy as a cultural practice of the people and held that the Bible only supported monogamy. Despite more than a century of Christianity in South Sudan, polygamy has continued. While the civil wars have been the major reason for its continued practice, many African theologians challenge the missionary interpretation of polygamy in the Bible and in African culture. Today the discourse on homosexuality has also brought back the debate on polygamy.

For the majority of African women theologians, the discourse about polygamy is connected with a life of dignity for African women who find themselves in a polygamous marriage. In the context of civil war, does polygamy protect the dignity of a girl child who is married off to be raped by an older polygamous man?  Do women whose husbands have disappeared due to the civil war find a life of dignity when they are married off to a rich polygamous man?

Prayer

We thank you God for creating marriage. We thank you for Jesus’ message of fullness of life. We pray that marriages in South Sudan should reflect dignity for the couples. We pray for all those women who are experiencing torture in their marriages in whatever form it comes. We pray that you grant them wisdom to know what to do in order to experience fullness of life as promised by Jesus. We pray that the peace negotiations in South Sudan will result in a permanent end to the civil war and fulness of life for all people of South Sudan. May the church in South Sudan continue to be a beacon of hope for all its peoples. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, Deputy General Secretary, World Council of Churches.

10.  Home-based care

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NRSV)

Alat Yai comforts her child Aguil in Majak Kar, South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
Alat Yai comforts her child Aguil in Majak Kar, South Sudan. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

Reflection

While the WCC delegation was in South Sudan, we learned that, as in many African cultures, women bear the brunt of providing home-based care to their children, the sick, and the elderly. The women shared stories of how war destroys also the relationships at home. Husbands abandon the home, and people come back from the war zones with huge physical and psycho-social wounds. HIV is on the rise, and treatment for those with AIDS and other diseases is inaccessible.

According to the women, they are the first to rise up and the last to get to bed and do not get any support from their able-bodied husbands. Though they work hard, they remain poor because of the robberies that go on each night. They go to bed in perpetual fear, since a tap at the door can result in robbery, rape or death. These women, some of whom have been deserted by their husbands, have to feed, clothe, house and school their children with very few resources, if any. They look on painfully as their children go on the streets and become vulnerable to drugs, sexual abuse, criminal acts, diseases, and other vices that may lead to premature death.

The burden is heavier because husbands marry off young girls for money, leaving mothers alone to care for all at home. Male children who should support and protect their younger sisters unfortunately also see them as bride price for their own future marriages. One young man said, "There is no value on women, they are a source of wealth; once you have a sister there should be no problem getting married".

The Bible passage above is indicative of God's will for us, urging us all to be each other’s keeper. As faith communities, we should pray for the war to come to an end so that the government, faith-based communities, civil society – and husbands – can take up their responsibilities to provide quality care for those who need it.

Prayer

Loving God, you are the source of holistic care, for you covenanted with humankind to initiate the divine-human relationship. You show us that labor is best enjoyed when it is shared. Your self-revelation in the holy Trinity attests to this truth. Supply the strength your overburdened daughters in South Sudan need, to care for those who cannot take care of themselves, especially in times of crises. Protect your persevering daughters from toxic relationships.

We pray, O Lord that you touch the hearts of husbands to share the huge burden of taking care of their families. Create the awareness and prove your true word that the three-fold cord of divine-human couple relationships is not easily broken.

We pray dear God that you will let sanity and your peace that surpasses all understanding prevail in South Sudan and other war torn areas, to the glory of your name. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

By Ms Lydia Aku Adajawah, WCRC/Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana and Rev. Fred M. Amevenku, Lecturer, Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Accra, Ghana

9: Women in Church Leadership

So Hilkiah and those the king had designated went and spoke to Huldah… And Huldah said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says…” 2 Chronicles 34:22-23

Morning prayer with Nozibele Pearl Moroasui
Morning prayer at the AIDS 2018 Interfaith Networking Zone, with Nozibele Pearl Moroasui of South Africa. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Reflection

Women have always been the backbone of the Church and have always been in leadership positions. From preaching to teaching to hospitality women are at the forefront of church leadership whether the position is ecclesiastically ordained or not. We know the church would not survive if it were not for dedicated women holding the pieces of local congregations together with their prophetic and motherly wisdom. The prophet Huldah was one such woman.

Despite her being described as the wife of Shallum ben Tikvah, who was responsible for the King’s wardrobe, this Godly woman was a teacher of oral tradition. In fact, she herself taught the young King Josiah to live in Godly ways. She was a confidante and counselor to many and she was a prophet and woman of wisdom who would bring peace to King Josiah’s reign because of what she heard from God. And because she heard from God, the King had everything related to other gods destroyed and he reintroduced the God from the Bible.

While in South Sudan we had a chance to meet great women from various churches and with women in parliamentary positions. Many talked about their roles within their local congregations. Many of these leaders have been ordained by their churches where the work involved counseling women and girls who have been traumatized by this civil war. Women from both the ruling party and the opposition parties have been against the civil war and have worked diligently in their government roles and in their churches to promote peace.

These leaders are filled with motherly wisdom and concern for the future of their country. They seek God and hear from God. South Sudan, through its many struggles is raising up prophets like Huldah, who will speak a Word and help save their land.

Prayer

Lord God, in the Name of Jesus, we pray for women leaders in South Sudan. We pray that women in government are able to be a light in the midst of darkness as they try to change perceptions about gender. We pray that they are able to move every heart towards peace and reconciliation. May they continue to have the courage to speak truth to power despite threats against their very lives and livelihoods.
We pray, in the Name of Jesus, for women in church leadership who have young minds in their care. We pray that they may be able to change minds from war to peace, from individualism to community, through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God of mercy, allow the Huldahs of the world to practice their faith and leadership unhindered by restraints of gender stereotypes, and rather use their capabilities to love, to warn, and to refresh generations. We pray this prayer in the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

By Rev. Kymberley Clemons-Jones, Presybterian Church of the USA


8: Violence, child abuse and HIV

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.  Psalm 147:3

HIV self-test
HIV self-test. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Reflection

HIV and AIDS has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on the people of South Sudan.  UNAIDS estimates that in 2016 some 200,000 people in South Sudan were living with HIV, with only 10% of them accessing antiretroviral therapy.  It reports: “There is limited infrastructure and systems to provide HIV services in the country and low levels of investment in the HIV response.  Prevention efforts are hampered by low levels of knowledge about HIV, low literacy and harmful sociocultural practices.  The humanitarian crisis and population displacement is having a negative impact on the response, and make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV infection.”

So, when a child is tested for HIV and the test result is negative, that should be good news.  But not always in South Sudan.

On our visit we heard story after story of pain and suffering: of men, women and children experiencing poverty, hunger, looting, violence, rape and murder.  But the story I found most horrifying was of paedophiles taking children to hospital clinics to be tested for HIV, not out of concern for their welfare, but for a very sinister reason.  If the child tests positive the paedophile has no further interest in him or her. But if the child tests negative the paedophile knows he can abuse the child without endangering his own health.  And paedophiles do just that.  Not being infected exposes the child to repeated rape.

Violence and injustice have contributed to the AIDS epidemic.  HIV testing is a vital first step to receiving treatment essential for a long and healthy life, but continued violence and abuse seriously threaten progress. Let us pray for the children, for them to find safety, treatment, health and care. And let us also pray and act for an end to abuse and violence in South Sudan and throughout the world.

Prayer

Dear God, our loving Father, our loving Mother,
We pray for your children in South Sudan.
We pray for those who go to bed hungry or frightened.
We pray for those who bed down in the jungle as part of armed gangs.
We pray for girls in early forced marriages who are so young that they miss their mothers.
We pray for children who are ill or HIV positive.
And we pray for children whose good health may make them even more vulnerable to abuse.

Loving God, give them all your protection.
Holy One, breathe your healing spirit on them all.
Bind up their wounds, dear God.
Heal their broken hearts, O Lord.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

By Maureen Jack, Church of Scotland

7: Access to Education

He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” (Mark 5:41, NRSV)

Nursing student, Lesotho
Student at the Roma Collage of Nursing, a Roman Catholic institution under the Christian Health Association of Lesotho. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Reflection

In Mark 5:22-24, 35-43, 41, Jesus’ encounters a leader of the synagogue, whose little girl was sick to the point of death. Jesus was delayed in getting to the synagogue leader’s house and reports came that the little girl was dead. However, Jesus took the little girl, who had died, by the hand and spoke to her to get up – and she got up and began to walk about.

During our Pilgrim Team visit to Juba, South Sudan, we learned about the lack of education for young girls, and I thought of this story.

Young girls in war-torn areas time and again are denied educational opportunities. Their prospects die and they face further deprivation and abuse. Can somebody rise up to the task like the leader of the synagogue, to call out for help?

Government legislations, traditional and cultural practices and other inhumanities have prevented our girl children from enjoying the full humanity provided to all by Jesus Christ who came to “Give life and give it more abundantly” (John 10:10b). In places of conflict, people may give up hope in the ability for change, as happened with the people, who came from the Synagogue leader’s house saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the teacher any further?” (v.35).

But Jesus has the answer to all our needs. Perhaps, the time has come for us to intercede for our “little girls” by seeking Jesus diligently. Working for peace, for government responsibility, for the support of the community – we can echo the call of Jesus, “Little girl, get up” so our girls will rise up and be educated to the amazement of those who have held them down.

Prayer

Lord God Almighty, you who created all human beings in your own image and likeness and blessed them with all spiritual and physical blessings, we your people come before you in humility to thank you for your abundant grace and mercy towards us.

We humble ourselves before you, confessing on our knees, like the Synagogue leader, to intercede on behalf of the girl children of South Sudan. We pray that governments, parents, families, guardians and those who are in positions of authority will provide education, opportunity and safety especially for girls in their country.

Lord, we pray that you will give girls living in this war-torn country knowledge and understanding and provide opportunities for them to rise up to the highest levels that they would like to go in their education. Lord, God empower them to be able to make good and right decisions in difficult and challenging times.

Lord, you who open your hands and provide all your creatures with their needs, look favorably upon all our girl children and open doors for their education by providing also good sponsors, teachers, mentors and role models for them. Above all, we pray that you will strengthen us to be always mindful to pray and intercede on their behalf to you.

We ask in the name that is above every name, the name of our Saviour Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

By Rev. Dr Dorothy Bea Akoto and women and youth of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Kisseman District, Accra, Ghana

6 : Women and Girls Refugees

"The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold" (Psalm 18:2 ESV).

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A girl in a school class in the Gendrassa refugee camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile State. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT/LWF

Reflection

Refugee International states:

"In instances of armed conflict and displacement, women and girls face exceptional danger. They live under the constant threat of acts of gender-based violence (GBV), such as rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and traditional harmful practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. In addition, women have a more difficult time obtaining access to official documents required to determine nationality, leaving them at risk of statelessness." (https://www.refugeesinternational.org/women-girls/)

This statement corresponds to the stories we heard from South Sudanese women of faith, church leaders, youth and women politicians whom we met in May 2018 when we were on a World Council of Churches’ Pilgrim Team Visit. We were told again and again that the victims of the civil war in South Sudan are women and girls. They shared with us that there are many internally displaced South Sudanese, the majority of whom are women and girls. There are also many South Sudanese refugees in camps in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya.

The South Sudanese Council of Churches shared with us their work in ensuring that the international community is aware of the specific needs of South Sudanese women and girls who are refugees. They asked that the need of protecting women and girls from “acts of gender-based violence (GBV), such as rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and traditional harmful practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage” be made a priority. They asked to assist in raising awareness for the need to support programmes directed at reducing incidents that threaten the lives of women and girl refugees. In particular they talked about the need for programmes that also highlight the dangers of HIV, access to appropriate and quality treatment from all kinds of diseases, access to education, legal systems and economic empowerment.

Prayer

God of life, we thank you because you have promised to be with your children at all times, both good and bad. Thank you that you see everything that happens to all of your people all the time. When bad things happen to your children, like the experiences of women and girls in refugee camps, you are there with them. You are their refuge in times of trouble. You protect them from all forms of evil for your name’s sake. Even when it feels like evil is triumphing, help your children in war-torn countries to remember that you are with them. Remind all of us that through our Lord Jesus Christ the devil is defeated and victory is ours.  Give strength to your children to fight the evil that comes with being a refugee and give them hope that the end of suffering is near. We thank you God for the people who have responded positively to dedicate their lives to serve the needs and advocate for refugees, especially women and girls. Continue to inspire more people to work together to end the political conditions and natural disasters that force people to be refugees inside and outside their countries. We pray for a quick political solution to the civil war in South Sudan. We pray all this in the name of Jesus our Christ. Amen.

By Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, Deputy General Secretary, World Council of Churches

5: Women Peacemakers

Deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil,  but those who counsel peace have joy. (Proverbs 12:20)
Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Romans 14:19)

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During the World Humanitarian Day 2017 Dr Rebecca Samuel Dali receives the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation Award in recognition of her courageous efforts in reintegration of returning women abducted by the Boko Haram back into their local communities in Nigeria. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

Reflection

In our recent pilgrim team visit to South Sudan, we bore witness to the cries of the South Sudanese people who are praying and working for peace with justice in their country, oftentimes feeling hopeless that their perseverance will bear fruit. Specifically, we heard the testimonies of women, who most heavily bear the burden of war and who are also the majority on the frontlines of peacemaking.

In global forums, and particularly the United Nations, it has long been recognized that war impacts women differently. In 2000, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325, which recognized the need for inclusivity of women in peace talks, yet from 1992 to 2011, only 9% of negotiators at peace tables were women, and only 2% of chief mediators were women. It is also well known that when women are included in a peace process, there is a 20% increase in the likelihood of the agreement lasting at least two years, and a 35% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years. (See http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/peace-and-security/facts-and-figures for more on women in peace and security.)

In South Sudan, women are at the forefront of development activities, community reconciliation processes, trauma healing and counseling, and advocacy for peace. They work to enable other young women, through their churches and local or global networks, to become peacemakers, empowering them with the tools of post-conflict peace building. Women inspire collective ownership and the sustainability of peace in their resilience, determination, and leadership.

In light of these reflections, we invite you to pray for the full inclusion of women, who are most impacted by the war and conflict of South Sudan, in the peace processes and peace building activities.

Prayer

God our creator, in whom lies the origin and source of all peace
We pray for the peacemakers, in who shine the light of the world.
We express our gratitude to you that you guide them and protect them
as they act lovingly, courageously, wisely, and powerfully in order to build your heaven on earth.
Blessed be the women peacemakers of South Sudan, as they carry out your mission of peace with justice that can be shared by all
May you bless their tired yet resilient spirits and their hearts for justice
Those who tirelessly urge for dialogue
Especially in their daily work of reconciliation, advocacy, mobilizing, prophetic witness, and healing.
We pray that your grace fall upon the ears of decision-makers in the halls of power of our world
That they may bear witness to the dignity of women peacemakers for their full inclusion.
Light the way for women peacemakers to model just and inclusive peace, surrender the human ego, and reflect the sovereignty of divine love and love alone
May their appeal to the authorities be honored as an appeal to the Almighty.
Lord, we pray for respect for the human rights and dignity of women everywhere, and especially in South Sudan.
May all hear the passionate outcry of the women peacemakers.
May they be united in cause despite being divided by conflict and war.
May they be united in love despite being divided by human constructions of difference.
May they be united in courage despite being divided by insecurity and fear.
Please bless the instrumental role of your peacemakers, now and into the future.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

By Jillian Abballe, Advocacy Officer, World Council of Churches United Nations Office

4: Women forced into sex work

For the Son of Man came to seek out and save what was lost. (Luke 19:10 NRSV)

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Prayer procession during the Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Pope Francis and the WCC. As the prayer took place on a Thursday, the stewards leading the procession were dressed in black. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Reflection

In South Sudan, women explained to us on our Pilgrim Visit how girls are forced into the sex business to earn their living. Most of the women and girls do not have a chance to go to school in South Sudan. Those who manage to receive education find it difficult to find jobs without first subjecting themselves to sexual abuse from the people who hire them. The young women we met also shared stories of sexual abuse from male teachers.

We also heard stories of brothels owned by some government officials. Young girls from poor families are driven to work in the brothels as sex workers. It should be the government that rescues these girls by ensuring that they get an education and stop selling themselves. But instead the politicians were contributing to the destruction of the future of these girls.

There is hope in Jesus Christ. An end to civil war in South Sudan will give a chance for girls to stay in school and complete their education. The laws of a stable government would protect the girls from sexual abuse by teachers, employers and government officials.  By the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, peace will come  back to South Sudan.

Prayer

God of Life, our Creator,

Thank you for the gift of life you have granted all of us; men and women, girls and boys. You have created us all in your likeness, we glorify Your Name.

As we come before you, Lord, we acknowledge that we have sinned against you by not treating each other fairly.

Many women and girls have been made poor and live lives of fear and neglect.

They feel desperate and helpless.

We pray for the girls and women who are forced to become sex workers because of challenges they face in life which are beyond their control. Protect them against all abuse and evil.

Open doors of opportunities for them to live a life of dignity and respect. May all of us and our governments take responsibility for your creation, ensuring an environment of care, support, and empowerment for girls and women.

Thank you God, for hearing our prayers and healing our nations. In particular, we pray for an end of civil war in South Sudan. We pray through Jesus Christ who died to bring us peace. Amen.

By Esther Ngulwa, Christian Council of Tanzania

3: Domestic violence

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. (Psalm 103:6)

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Woman in Durban, South Africa. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

Reflection

In addition to the violence that all South Sudanese are experiencing as a result of the civil war which has been going on since 2013, the women of South Sudan also talked about the oppression of domestic violence.  It takes the form of experiences of physical, psychological, economic, sexual and spiritual abuse. The majority of the women we talked to reported that abandonment by their husbands to fend for themselves and the large number of children was the number one form of abuse. They felt that the men left to join the war or to marry another woman who was not a financial burden to the men. Most women with no financial means to feed the children ended up in the streets begging, the girls being married off at a very early age or joining prostitution houses. For the boy child they would end up being recruited as child solders, or on drugs or taken for sexual abuse. Some women talked about being raped in front of their family members by the armed robbers who break into people’s homes at night,  and afterwards they experience physical and emotional violence from their family members. It is another major reason for being abandoned by their husbands.

Domestic violence is a global problem. The majority of people who experience violence during peaceful times are women and children. It becomes worse when a country is war. The Bible passage above is an encouragement to all people experiencing violence that the Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed, including oppression through domestic violence.

Prayer

Sovereign God of love, thank you for being the Light of the world. Nothing is hidden from you. Just Lord, we confess that we have been indifferent to the people suffering from domestic violence, especially in war torn countries like South Sudan. We repent and pray for forgiveness.

We pray for the young girls who are forced into marriage because their fathers have abandoned all the children as a result of not having enough money to feed the children. We pray for women who are victims of abandonment by their families for various reasons and are not able to take care of themselves and their children. We pray for their physical, mental and spiritual healing. Most of all, we pray that the war will come to an end in South Sudan.  We pray for leaders who put their people first and therefore are willing to negotiate for peace with justice for all the people of South Sudan. We pray for homes where each person is valued and is healed from the trauma of war.  We are praying in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

(Rev. Fred M. Y. Amevenku, Lecturer, Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon-Accra, Ghana and Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, Deputy General Secretary, Public Witness and Diakonia, World Council of Churches).

2: Breaking the Silence of Rape

And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom's house. (2 Samuel 13:20)

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Photo: Becki Bolinger/WCC

Reflection

Too often the voices of women go unheard and none are more silenced than women and girls who have experienced rape.  Survivors are often forced into hiding after rape because of feelings of shame, guilt, and fear of retaliation.  We have seen this all too well from celebrities and everyday women alike who shout #MeToo via social media platforms.  Young men, once only boys when they experienced rape, have also been brave enough to speak out in defiance against a culture that seeks to silence them.

During the WCC pilgrim visit to Juba, South Sudan in May 2018 we bore witness to the atrocity of rape perpetrated upon women and children.  We listened to many stories of rape and continued victimization forced upon women, girls and young boys.

We heard the heartbreaking experiences of home invasions that resulted in the rape of mothers, wives, and daughters. We heard stories of children being kidnapped by members of the military to be used as sex slaves and tragic accounts of girls being plucked off the street and literally raped to death.

We mourned with the survivors of this country as they begin to heal from these evils of violence.  Most of all, we allowed them an audience to tell their stories, to give voice to their pain, and to break the silence.

Prayer
Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, we come before you with prayers for victims and survivors of rape. We ask you in the Name of Jesus our Christ to bless all of those affected by these violent acts. We ask you to bless these women and children with comfort as they seek to see you more clearly despite these acts of terror.

God of miracles, we ask in the Name of Jesus, that you help these your children have hope again and to believe in God’s peace; that “peace that surpasses all understanding and which guards their heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.4:7).

Lord God, we thank you in advance for your mercy and compassion towards those who have suffered much.  Hold all of us in your loving arms, O God, and bring upon us your Spirit of love.  We pray this prayer in the name of Jesus our Christ; the One who died on Calvary and forgives us our sins.

(Rev. Kymberley Clemons-Jones, Presbyterian Church U.S.A.)

1: #MeToo in South Sudan

“Reverently honour an older woman as you would your mother, and the younger women as sisters.” 1 Timothy 5: 2 (The Message)

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During the WCC Pilgrim team visit to South Sudan. Photo: Geoffrey Alemba/AACC

Reflection
by Maureen Jack, Church of Scotland

“The Me Too movement (or ‘#MeToo’, with local alternatives in other languages) is an international movement against sexual harassment and assault.  #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.”
(Wikipedia)

In the West, publicity and, sometimes, legal action have empowered women to speak out.  During the WCC pilgrim visit to South Sudan in May 2018, we heard stories of how South Sudanese women seeking employment or in junior positions in the workplace suffer sexual harassment and sexual abuse at the hands of more powerful men.  Sadly, given the generally low status of women in society, and the apparent breakdown in the rule of law in the country, speaking out is not an option for them.  Even women parliamentarians told us that, on injustice in general, speaking out may put your life at risk.

In the context of South Sudan, in the workplace older women are not treated as mothers nor younger women as sisters.  Far from seeing themselves as reverently honoured, women to whom we spoke said that in South Sudan they are regarded “as animals”.

May we pray with our sisters in South Sudan for transformation, respect and justice.

Prayer
God bless us with insight to recognize violence in all its forms,
And the courage to name it.
Speaking out for those who cannot speak for themselves,
And seeking justice in the world in which we live.
Give us compassion for the vulnerable
And grace to stand alongside them, through the strength of Jesus our Lord.
Holy Spirit, give us a prayerful heart
Touching others with your peace,
As together we face the challenges that lie ahead.
(The Church of Scotland)Woman in Rwanda. Photo: Peter Williams/WCC