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Agnes in Maaji

Restoring Broken Relationships

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Healing the Trauma of War

One of the most important words in TEAR Australia’s vocabulary is one that is central to our name: it’s “Restore” which forms the letter “R” in TEAR. Unfortunately, it can sometimes seem overused. I say unfortunately because we don’t want to lose touch with the power of its meaning, both theologically and practically.

A couple of months ago, during a visit with TEAR’s partner Tutapona to the refugee camps of northern Uganda, 90I encountered afresh the powerful meaning of restoration when I saw their beautiful life-changing work. Through psycho-social support, trauma rehabilitation and group trauma care they are bringing healing, and yes, restoration to traumatised, war-affected refugees from South Sudan.

Relationships that had been in tatters were being restored, and those who have suffered have been able to find hope.

As with any community development process, restoration is not a single point in time but a journey of change. Each of us is somewhere on that journey in our own discipleship – being restored through Christ to God and to one another (2 Corinthians 13:11). However, while acknowledging that this is an ongoing process, we can probably all think of particular points in time during our faith journey where significant events have led to restoration. Often, repentance and forgiveness are key elements of that change.

Tutapona recognises these core elements, and uses them to address the trauma of war. Few of us in Australia will have followed the details of the conflict in South Sudan – other than to be aware that there was a decades-long war between the North (predominantly Muslim) and the South (predominantly Christian). In 2011, the people of South Sudan celebrated, at long-last, their independence with hopes for lasting peace. Sadly, that peace never materialised and the new nation quickly fell into their own civil war. As so often happens, violence has bred violence.

Alice Bau
Tutapona helps families like Alice’s to heal from the trauma of war.
Agnes in Maaji
Agnes, one of Tutapona's staff, in Maaji, South Sudan.

During my first trip to South Sudan several years ago, I talked with an Anglican Bishop about the clan- based fighting that was ravaging his community. He quickly put his finger on the root cause of the problem: A nation filled with guns and a history of violence is ill-suited for peace when its people live with the open wound of generational trauma and broken relationships. He didn’t blame the North for this problem. In fact, he noted that the broken relationships and clan violence pre-dated the war with the North. The Bishop had seen people outside his own door kill their neighbours, and with a broken heart, predicted that violence would continue until the root issue of broken relationships is transformed and healed.

I have to admit, that visit to South Sudan was perhaps the most depressing trip I have ever taken. The lack of hope due to generational violence and trauma, and the expectations that things will get worse, left me with more questions than answers.

In the work of Tutapona, I found life, freedom and good news for South Sudan.

My recent trip to Tutapona’s project focused on those who the Bishop highlighted, South Sudanese people affected by generational trauma and war-related violence. As I listened to their stories, my heart was broken by the pain they have experienced: families murdered, loved ones raped, homes burned, everything stolen, lives destroyed. Their stories spoke of the repeating cycle of violence.

However, I didn’t end this visit with the same sense of despair that plagued me a few years earlier. Miraculously, in the midst of their pain, restoration was taking place. Survivors are finding healing from trauma, new hope, and liberating freedom from the cycles of violence. Where once there was the expectation of vengeance, there is now space for grace and forgiveness.

Central to this restoration is Tutapona’s approach to trauma-informed care, which is modelled on the forgiveness that Jesus talked about in Matthew 18; unmerited forgiveness that has proven to be an important foundation for breaking the cycle of intergenerational violence. Tutapona has been delivering interactive healing workshops using a methodology anchored both in Scripture, and best practice in community-based trauma counselling.

Everyone I met who had been through the two-week program told me how their lives had been restored in ways they never thought possible. Relationships that had been in tatters were being restored, and those who have suffered have been able to find hope.

Restoration is a process, and healing from deep trauma doesn’t happen overnight. However, it can, and does blossom when people find ways to forgive, process their trauma, and break the cycle of violence. In the work of Tutapona, I found life, freedom and good news for South Sudan.

I left proud of work supported by TEAR Australia, and thankful for the opportunity to see Scripture and best practice in action.

Pray & reflect

Read Matthew 18:21-35 and reflect on the role that mercy and forgiveness have in God’s work of personal restoration. With this Scripture in mind, bring the trauma- affected people of South Sudan to God in prayer. Pray that the work of Tutapona will continue to be effective in bringing about healing that extends from the individual, to the community, to the entire nation.

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Matthew Maury is TEAR Australia's CEO.