There is freedom in forgiveness.
It's taken me awhile to find the words to share about my experience at the different refugee settlements I visited two weeks ago. Some of the stories I heard were heart-wrenching and appalling, stories that none of us could ever fathom in our minds. They are too dark, too terrible to fully comprehend. Sitting there listening, I was reminded of the brokenness of this world, and its desperate need for Jesus.
But Jesus heals. Time and time again He creates safe spaces for us to find solace, arms open wide to hold us as He counts our tears. He puts His people in places to to help others find healing. And I would rather tell that story.
One afternoon the Tutapona team and I went out to a settlement for a group therapy program called GROW. The topic of the day was “future outlook,” where refugees were encouraged to look towards the future rather than be drug back into the trauma of their pasts.
The facilitator assured her audience that they would find peace in trusting the Lord to provide. They erupted in laughter and spoke in Swahili something to the effect of “Yeah, right. When pigs fly.”
But then she began telling the story of Joseph from Genesis 37 and 39-50, and the atmosphere in the room changed.
Joseph was favored by his father among all of his other siblings, and for that they resented him. The Lord also granted him favor by allowing him to interpret dreams. Because of this, Joseph's brothers threw him into a pit and later sold him into slavery.
Joseph remained faithful in his work and found favor with his master, Potiphar. He was placed in charge of the home. But Potiphar's wife desired Joseph, and when he refused to sleep with her she accused him of rape. Joseph was locked up in prison.
Even there, Joseph found favor with the prison guards and with God. He was chosen to take care of all of the other prisoners. Eventually (after lots of other things happened in Genesis 40), Joseph was entrusted to interpret the Egyptian Pharaoh's dreams, and quickly became his first in command.
A famine came over the land of Egypt, and Joseph's brothers were sent to the palace to receive rations. They didn't know that Joseph was large and in charge, but when he finally revealed himself to them, they were filled with remorse for what they had done. In response, Joseph said this, and it's one of my favorite verses in Scripture:
"You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people." -- Genesis 50:20
What man intended for evil, God turned to good.
By this point the group of refugees were hanging on to every word that the facilitator said, gasping at all the right parts and hurting in the moments that Joseph must have been hurting. If anyone knows the pain of betrayal, if anyone knows the pain of suffering, if anyone knows what it is like to be uprooted from home and taken to a foreign land, it is these people.
Friends, let me tell you: I visibly saw a great weight lifted off of the shoulders of the refugees that day. They were all smiling, some were crying (let's be real, I was crying), and a man even stood up to say, "God bless you all, for you have granted us our freedom today."
These people get it. They understand Joseph's story on a level that I never could. They also saw how much freedom can be found in forgiveness through Joseph's story. They recognized that Joseph could have held on to that pain, but instead he chose to remain faithful to the Lord in every season. He chose to forgive those who had wronged him, just as God chose to send His Son so that we might also be forgiven.
Forgiveness doesn't require two parties. It requires only one person, actively choosing to lay down his or her pain at the foot of the cross, refusing to pick it up again.
This Thanksgiving I am so thankful to Jesus for getting through to these people and giving them the freedom that they have so desperately been searching for, some for over 20 years. I am so thankful that He has laid it on people's hearts like the Tutapona team to go and serve and love on displaced people. I am so thankful that He has given us a word that is active and alive and just as relevant today as it was in Genesis.
May the story of Joseph be a lesson to us all, to teach us how to remain faithful in the difficult moments and forgive those who have wronged us so that we might live free.