Why is bitterness a sin and the source of our problems as South Sudanese? Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” (ESV). Therefore, bitterness is a sin that catches us by surprise. It begins by peeking through the surface as a seedling of negative thoughts or complaining. The cause of bitterness in our culture is a lack of forgiveness in our community. All sides which entertain bitterness begin to hurt each other. Our emotional pain may well relate to what we focus upon: someone doing something to us in the past with malicious intent. We believe that someone did a grave injustice toward us, gratuitously wronging us and causing us grief.

Regarding the rebuilding of the walls of restoration, the Bible says, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3 ESV). In the book of Nehemiah, Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned.

Nehemiah and his team faced significant opposition to rebuilding the city walls. But they completed the task as a miraculous feat that was a monument to God’s glory and faithfulness. The Bible says, “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” (Nehemiah 6:15-16 ESV). Rebuilding the wall rebuilds hope for the people and strikes fear into the heart of their enemies. Nehemiah responds by ensuring that the people read God’s Law and understood it. He wanted them to know what standards he and they would live by.

What does Jesus say about the restoration of us in the West? “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (I Peter 5:10 ESV). But, first, let us put off our old feelings of bitterness, which belong to the former manner of our old lifestyle.

Being restored by God means that our lives are brought back from long struggles, returning us from the past and positioning us for the present and the future. We are recovered from suffering and are again empowered, reconciled, and restored. Our lives are adjusted as God puts us back together from being torn apart. The mercy and grace of God are what motivate us to rise again from the darkness. When God restores and heals us, God does not take us back to the way we were before but brings us back to wholeness from the broken pieces in which he found us. God restores us so completely, that we have no need for revenge and have no desire to see our enemies suffer. Rather, God’s restoration causes us to desire to seek the good of those who have harmed us and to strive for restoration rather than abandoning our homeland.

What does God want us to do with our lives here in the West? First, God wants to give you a purpose for your life and a new set of expectations to live by. Second, God wants to provide great wisdom to us by bringing us to America as refugees, where we can better ourselves. So, it’s not like God is holding out on you to make you miserable. Instead, he desires you to have a joyful, ambitious, and purposeful life.

How does God transform our lives in exile as South Sudanese? First, God cleans us up by taking our sins away, taking away what we are struggling with, and making us new creatures by restoring our lives in the power of Christ. Then, every day God works on us to make us into the people he intended for us to be when he created us. I have many flaws in my life, but God knows my desire to be the man he wants me to be and gives me help daily to overcome those flaws.

The Bible says that God plans for us to be good citizens for Him. “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3 ESV). So we are to commit ourselves to Him, and God will do His will through us and restore us as a people.

God as the Author of Restoration

God promises restoration to His people: “‘I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 30:17, NIV). This is a recurring theme through the Bible–God offering hope when all else seems hopeless–and his people need the hope of restoration. The most important thing that God wants us to do in our South Sudanese lives is to love God and love each other. We may be many tribes, but we are all our people under our God who loved us before we knew him.

Week 2: why did Nehemiah travel to Israel, his home, leading the third of three returns?
Nehemiah had the dream of serving God in every way he could in Jerusalem before returning to Persia to report to his king on his successes. On a second visit to Jerusalem, he instructed his fellow Israelites to observe the Sabbath and ended the custom of Israelite men marrying foreign-born wives. This latter act helped to keep the Israelites separate from the cultures of their neighbors.
Nehemiah was helped in his rebuilding by a religious leader named Ezra, who stayed behind in Jerusalem when Nehemiah returned to Babylon. When he journeyed back to Jerusalem again, he brought many returning exiles from Babylon.

In his book, Nehemiah tells his own story. Though he was a person of high prestige in his exiled state, his heart was with his beloved city of Jerusalem. What about you? Is your heart still in South Sudan? Do you still yearn to help the people of your home country?

As members of a South Sudanese community living in a foreign country, what do you think about the Nehemiah story? Are we different from Nehemiah? Your thoughts and input are welcome in this regard.

Why is the story of Nehemiah so Important to us as South Sudanese in Diasporas?

Like other laypeople in other churches, Nehemiah was a layman, not a priest like Ezra or a prophet like Malachi. He used all of his skills to make himself essential to his king, and he continued to use those skills to rebuild Jerusalem. God brings a person to new life out of a state of separation from God. The Bible says, “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” (Zechariah 9:12 ESV).

Prayer of Confession:

Father, forgive us for not acting the way You intended us to serve. You once helped Nehemiah fulfill the task you gave him, making the city of Jerusalem habitable once again after the war had destroyed most of it. Help us now to accomplish your purposes in remaining brothers and sisters to each other. You know your people’s hearts; make them be like your own.