In Africa, when we talk about celebrating, we are unpacking robust and unfettered joy, loud and heartfelt singing, vibrant dancing to music and drums, ululating, whistling, stamping of feet and clapping of hands. Celebration denotes a merry heart! We celebrate when there is love, joy, peace and happiness.
In Southern Africa we have a concept called Ubuntu. Ubuntu says, “I am because you are … a person is a person because of other people.” This concept embraces all sorts of values such as love, respect, togetherness, forgiveness, kindness and others. I believe that the Ubuntu concept is strongly akin to Christianity, because it says, “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12a, NIV). It is, after all, the Jesus way.
Having said that, Ubuntu does not always function perfectly. We live in an ailing planet, where people are broken, hurting and miserable as individuals; as families; as church and communities; as nations and globally too. Love, peace and joy are a far cry from many of us in a society filled with pain. Strife is rife within and without. There is need to rebuild destroyed relationships.
The story of the prodigal son has always been an excellent illustration of how we leave the comfort of God’s goodness and push for our own way as our hearts direct. When we hit brick wall after brick wall and begin to suffer, we then come to our senses and plan to go home to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. And our loving Father is, in essence, always waiting to slaughter a fattened calf and call for celebration and jubilation.
I wish to share a testimony, which might be a reflection of what happens in families, in communities, in any nation and also world over. Though it happened a long time ago, I have witnessed similar happening all the time in families and in my community.
This is the story of a prodigal daughter, spiritually, and a prodigal father.
I was brought up in a home that espoused the Lord God deeply, a legacy of my paternal grandfather, further nurtured by my devout mother. Life was good. My father was brilliant, well respected and he had a very good and well-paying job that cared for the family well. But in my youth, things began to change. Sin had been crouching at the door, and as Peter says, the enemy is forever prowling around like a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:7).
Father strayed from home, then on his return, he decided to kick my mother out of her matrimonial home. I was the eldest child in the family. I began to see my siblings suffer at the hands of the new woman brought into the home. I was away from home at college most of the time, but I kept getting disturbing and stressful reports of how my siblings were being abused. So, I decided to keep a little diary where I recorded each negative action committed. Each time I made an entry, my heart became more bitter, and resentment created a cold hardness within. The wrongs recorded filled pages and pages. My heart was filled with venom and the wall of hostility toward a man I had loved and revered as a father grew thicker and taller.
It took one uncle that I highly respected to try and talk me out of that bitterness. He reminded me of the commandment that comes with a promise: “Honour your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12, NIV). I thawed somewhat, but I still planned revenge. The very following weekend was Passion weekend. On the Friday, I attended a sermon where the pastor really nailed it as he emphasized Jesus’ words when he hung on the cross. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34a).
I was not hearing that Scripture for the first time, but that day it pierced my heart. Jesus was wounded for me and was nailed on the cross for me. Jesus forgave me. So, who was I to hold a deep grudge against my one and only father who brought me to this world? What did I mean when I said the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12, NLT)? I wept. I repented. I sought forgiveness from God. I could not wait to seek forgiveness from my father as I had become rude and disrespectful to him, negatively influencing the brood behind me.
When I got back to residence, I fished out the vile diary, shredded the pages and made a bonfire outside. As the soot particles blew away in the wind, I felt the heaviness lift off my heart and my shoulders. Sweet relief. When vacation came, I sought my father’s forgiveness. It was a meeting of both the prodigal daughter and the prodigal father. There was rejoicing at the reconciliation. We became the best of friends from that time, and I even cared for my father when he was terminal with cancer until he passed on. Christ is our peace… He “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (Ephesians 2:14, NIV).
It is good to have the love of family members, which does not depend on feelings and circumstance. That love should be like that of God, who says: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands …” (Isaiah 49:15-16). This is deep love, unfathomable, without depth or breadth or height.
People are not really separated by race or creed or colour. We are separated by sin that grows and festers, spreading like a cancer within our hearts. In any one country in Africa, people are separated by barriers of ethnicity and tribe. Evil thrives when people focus on their own tribal groupings at the expense of those who are considered outsiders. The same applies anywhere else in the world. We need Christ, the Great Reconciler. The Word says, “… if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” The Word goes on to say, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:17,18, 21).
It is when we believe and live in Christ that we experience love, forgiveness and the joy of reconciliation. Those we considered enemies and foreigners before become “… members of the household of God …” (Ephesians 2:19c).
In conclusion, there really is no love, joy and peace or any other spiritual gift when people dwell in sinful ways. Sin begets loneliness and strife. Only in Christ can we celebrate together true love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Hallelujah!
—Barbara Nkala is an experienced leader in education and publishing. She served as MWC Regional Representative for Southern Africa (2016-2022).