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Peace and restoration through forgiveness: South Sudan

A radical story of reconciliation and healing through forgiveness in South Sudan after Tearfund’s peacebuilding work.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 30 Jun 2023

A peacebuilding workshop attendee from South Sudan draws a picture of what a peaceful community could look like. She has drawn a person farming happily in a field and people going to see a doctor in a health clinic.

South Sudanese peacebuilders attended a workshop run by Tearfund in Kenya. Credit: Diane Igirimbabazi

Trigger warning

This story contains mentions of violence and threats of sexual violence that some readers may find upsetting.

Back in 2016, during South Sudan’s civil war, most parts of the country experienced violent conflict, including the village where Nyamai* and her five children live.

‘One evening, just when we had finished having our supper, armed men attacked us at our home and held us at gunpoint,’ says Nyamai. ‘We were ordered to lie down and not move. We immediately cooperated without any hesitation. But, one of the armed men, who happens to be our neighbour, was particularly violent towards my husband whom he accused of impregnating and disrespecting his daughter.

‘He questioned my husband about his daughter’s pregnancy, but before my husband could say anything, he shot at him, killing him instantly.’

Nyamai says the gunman threatened to rape her in front of her children, but he didn’t go through with it. Once the men had left, Nyamai’s eldest son called other neighbours to help, and Nyamai was able to bury her husband the next day. 

Revenge attack plans

During the time of the civil war, even within communities, neighbours turned on each other and then revenge attacks, such as targeted killing, were common. As a result, most of the people in Nyamai’s area have experienced – or at least witnessed – horrific incidents that have caused lasting damage to their own wellbeing as well as ongoing divisions within their communities.

The incident left Nyamai’s family ‘terribly hurt and traumatised’, she says – especially because they knew the attacker very well and never expected that of him. She started to plan with her sons to avenge their father’s death, but they had not yet had the opportunity to carry them out when Tearfund’s community dialogue sessions started in the village.

Now, instead of seeking retribution, Nyamai has found the strength to offer forgiveness to the neighbour who murdered her husband in front of her and her children.

‘We stood and shook hands and I forgave him despite the pain. He also apologised and I believe we will now live peacefully.’
Nyamai, South Sudan conflict survivor

Restoration instead of retribution

For peace to be restored where there has been conflict, relationships must be restored. And our Christian beliefs teach us that this restoration comes, in part, through forgiveness – an act which costs the one who has been wronged. It’s a completely opposite way of thinking to how the world generally views justice – the suum cuique version that says everyone should get what they deserve. 

Working through our local partner, The Evangelical Alliance of South Sudan, Tearfund is helping communities in the area to recover from the deep hurts and divisions caused by the violence. Using activities that promote trauma healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, the programme is bringing community members together to share their painful experiences and discuss issues of conflict and contention. Through these conversations, people are encouraged to forgive each other, to reconcile and rebuild their broken relationships.

Radical forgiveness

Nyamai says it seemed unthinkable that she would forgive the man who had killed her husband in cold blood. But, ‘when the Evangelical Alliance [of South Sudan] introduced the peacebuilding program to us, we told them the story of what had happened and they invited us to the trauma healing and community dialogue sessions. We were counselled and taught about forgiveness. 

‘My husband’s killer was also present during the discussion.

‘We stood and shook hands and I forgave him despite the pain. He also apologised and I believe we will now live peacefully.’

This radical story of building peace and healing through forgiveness in the face of such pain and trauma is one of many similar stories from South Sudan. Through local churches and faith-based organisations, Tearfund’s peacebuilding programme is helping families to heal and community relationships to be restored and rebuilt.

Ecumenical peacebuilding visit 

With this theme of needing unity and an end to division in order for there to be peace, in February this year, Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby and Moderator Greenshields visited South Sudan together for a Peace Pilgrimage

Martha Adut is a young South Sudanese peacebuilder and women's rights campaigner who was invited to participate in the visit. She spoke to us about the jubilant, prayer-filled atmosphere during the ecumenical visit, and also the urgent need for progress towards peace in the country. We've based our prayer points below on her inspiring, uplifting account of the visit. Watch it here.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Pray for peace in South Sudan

    • Pray for a peaceful South Sudan, where people peacefully coexist and appreciate and accept their differences. 
    • Pray that different tribes will come together and accept themselves as one nation. 
    • Pray that farmers will be safe to farm their land and that there will be enough food. Pray that people will be able to move safely within the country – without fear of being attacked. 
    • Pray that the government will put more energy into implementing the revitalised peace agreement. Pray that ‘all may be one’. 

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Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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