Thursdays in Black: Pilgrim Prayers for Women in Conflict Situations. Updated 17/7/2018
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.
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).
- A girl in a school class in the Gendrassa refugee camp in South Sudan's Upper Nile State. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT/LWF
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.
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)
- 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
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.
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)
- 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
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.”
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.
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)