Over the years, Louise and I have often met Christians who have never been able to let go of their past to such an extent that, in many ways, their past had become their present identity. No matter what the occasion, these dear folks would inevitably find an excuse to drag up something from the past that, to them, explained why they were the way they were. Somewhere, someone – an individual (a parent, a sibling, a friend, an enemy, a co-worker) or a group or an organisation (such as the Church) – had hurt them, betrayed them, denied them, abused them, offended them, or whatever and this seemed to have had a lasting negative impact on their lives.
I often asked such individuals if they had forgiven that person(s), or institution(s) and I received varied responses…sometimes surprised, sometimes vexed, or sometimes even angry. It was as if letting go of the past hurt or pain would deny an integral part of their person.
I have seen this same tendency here in Gambela as well…but here the negative is not applied to an individual only, but to an entire people group. We have seen this especially when there is conflict between people groups…suddenly the past is resurrected and groups will gather together to rehash old grudges to confirm their beliefs that the other group cannot be trusted…or to justify their own bad behaviour. Sadly, we have seen this even among believers. This atmosphere of negative memory seems to be the fuel that ignites and feeds the passionate and violent responses to disputes we have witnessed over the past few years. These negative memories appear to be deeply engrained in the very identity of each group, giving rise to a culture of revenge, which is deadly.
Like the individuals in the West who nurse their grudges like suckling babes, some here hold onto negative memories as if their very lives depended on it…as if letting go would somehow bring about an end to their identity as a people group and slander the memory of those who have died as victims of violence in the past.
But the message of the cross is directly opposed to such an atmosphere…in His prayer regarding His murderers, our Lord clearly said, “Father, forgive them as they do not know what they are doing.” Indeed, forgiveness is very much part of our identity as the people of the cross. We are forgiven and therefore we must forgive. God does not hold onto our sins against Him and consequently we ought not to hold onto the sins of those who have sinned against us. It never ceases to astonish me how those who pray the Lord’s Prayer so easily still somehow justify their holding onto negative memories.
Of course we all need healing…very few of us, if any, have managed to make it through puberty without scars or wounds…but there is a point in our Christian lives where maturity demands full-scale forgiveness and a release of the past. Otherwise we run the risk of walking out of step with the Spirit…and in step with the self-righteous.
And so we need to bring about an atmosphere of forgiveness – and all that goes with true Christian forgiveness – in this place.
But this is nothing less than an attempt to change the spiritual atmosphere over this entire area and to change the perceived identity of people groups. This involves prayer at a much deeper level than we have ever prayed before and it involves what some have called spiritual warfare.
Angus Buckhan once said that the recipe for a miracle is simply to attempt the impossible for God. I am well aware of how fragile we are as earthen vessels, to use the Apostle Paul’s image…but he also said that in our weakness, God is strong and that God has purposefully chosen the foolish and weak things of this world to shame the wise and the mighty…if those things are what it takes then we are qualified. We are fragile, foolish, and weak and the task is impossible.
But our God is the Almighty God and all authority in heaven and earth is His and the chariots of God are thousands upon thousands. Indeed, the battle belongs to the Lord.
Would you pray with us, please, for the Holy Spirit to move in the Gambela People’s Region? Without Him, we are nothing and we can do nothing…but with God, all things are possible…even the casting down of strongholds that have existed for hundreds of years…even the opening of spiritually blind eyes….even the resurrection of the dead.
I was reminded this morning of Jesus’ words in His letter to the church in Pergamum. “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.” Satan has wreaked havoc in this area for years. It is time he is deposed and dethroned and his work destroyed. Pray with us, please.