Many people in Southern Sudan are Christians. About two thousand in my village attended a Presbyterian mission church. People prayed to God every day. They prayed just as the psalmist did. Then one day our faith was greatly tested. Psalm 44 applies to my experience in Southern Sudan.
In verse 11, it says, “Thou hast made us like sheep for slaughter, and hast scattered us among the nations” (RSV). It reminded me of when I was 15 years old. That year, 1985, in January, I was married, and war broke out in our village. Soldiers came and started killing people and burning houses. They wanted the chief to pay a bribe to the government. He refused because he said the land did not belong to them. We fought the soldiers all that day and the next morning. But they had too many guns and soldiers. My cousin was shot and died in my hands. I ran into the woods along with other villagers and the soldiers started our village on fire. I felt afraid and angry. We couldn’t return home for three months. Then the soldiers met with the chief and told him we could come back to the village. They promised not to fight any longer. But they had put mines in the ground and they blew up and killed many more of my people. We were like sheep being slaughtered. In verse 22, it says, “Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (NIV).
When the soldiers came to our village, they burned the church. People started crying. They asked God why He had let this happen. They blamed God just as the psalmist did. In verse 13, it says, “You have made us a reproach to our neighbors, the scorn and derision of those around us” (NIV). The psalmist felt the same way my people and I did. This was a comfort to us because we knew he understood how we were feeling. I was such a young man and had to trust the chief and men of the village were making the best decisions. I had to trust God to take care of me.
My family and I, and the other villagers, ran away to a refugee camp in Ethiopia to get away from the soldiers. Our village had been destroyed and the soldiers had stayed there to keep us away. We all walked seven days without food. I only had water. I thought about how hungry I was, how afraid I was, how I wanted to live in a safe place. I knew God was with me helping me even though I was hungry, tired and afraid. I lived in the refugee camp for six years. There were 500,000 people in that camp, including me and my family. Every morning at the camp, at 4:30 AM, we went to church where we cried and asked God to please help us. God heard our prayers and gave us food to eat every day. We were safe. It was there that I learned to speak, read and write English. This has been very good for me.
We thanked God for the help from the United Nations. There was medical care, food and shelter, security, education and the opportunity to apply to go to the United States and many other countries around the world. It was also there in the refugee camp that my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our son. But like in Psalm 44, we felt disgraced and humiliated. When we had lived in our village, everyone worked hard to make a living and take care of one another. In the refugee camp everything was free. This made us feel disgraced and humiliated. But I continued to love God because I believed that He created me and would continue to take care of me and my people. I know I can trust God no matter what happens because it is His character to be faithful and to take care of His children. I learned this from the Scriptures. Psalm 23:1, 6 say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need … Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever” (NLT).
My faith in God is very strong and I have learned through these difficult times that sometimes God chooses not to come and directly fight the enemy. (Psalm 44:23-26) But He does directly work in our lives today. When I was walking to the refugee camp, He made sure I had water to drink. I had food to eat at the refugee camp. I did not die like other people in my village had. My family was with me. He made a way for us to come to America when I was 23 years old. I trust God to know what is best for me because He has always taken care of me.
Everyone faces the enemy in their life and we must resist with the help of God. The enemy is false teaching from the Devil. This false teaching was what brought the soldiers to my village to kill and destroy us. Ephesians 6:12 and 13 say, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (NLT). Even though I have seen terrible evil, through the power of God, I am standing firm against evil in God’s strength.
Psalm 44:6 says we should not put our trust in weapons. I don’t think that weapons will save us. They didn’t in my village. But we pray to God just as the psalmist does in verse 26: “Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love” (NIV). We don’t trust in weapons because weapons only are a short-term solution to fighting. This type of solution will not last because it has not reached the heart of man.
In my opinion, true followers of Jesus would seek to use God’s truth to change the hearts of people rather than weapons of war. God tells us to love one another in John 13:34, 35. “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (NLT). So we need to find ways of fighting violence with God’s love. As I said earlier, violence is only a short-term solution to fighting.
I think that people today are the same in many ways as the first ones who prayed this Psalm 44. Some people today still blame God for everything that goes wrong, including things that they themselves did wrong. Even in Old Testament times there was a lot of fighting as there is now. It seems as if people will always think they have the right to fight for whatever they want. These situations will always test our faith. But if our faith is based on the character of God rather than on situations, our faith will endure. This describes the faith of my people as well as my faith in God.
Pastor James Puotyual & Nyandit Rika
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