“I don’t want any more fighting,” our long-time friend Rebekah’s* father-in-law declared. For years there had been conflict in the extended family.
Over time, her sister-in-law, Jane*, had paid to put curses on the whole family in a jealous desire to be “ahead” of them. Jane’s husband, Simon*, defended her actions and his anger escalated the situation.
Her father-in-law sought help both from traditional community elders and from his pastor.
But nothing worked.
Finally, the elders decided the family must disown Jane and Simon. The father-in-law agreed. The family demolished their house on the family farm, as a cultural symbol of disowning. Jane and Simon had to move to another village.
Then Jane learned she had late-stage cancer. Simon had to care for her alone.
Against the family’s wishes, Rebekah met with her sister-in-law as she lay dying. Jane admitted she had been angry, jealous of the family, and had gotten help placing curses on them. At Rebekah’s encouragement, Jane chose to release the resentment she felt toward the family before she died.
In the middle of all this, Rebekah joined a Navigator training that we co-led for our church. The topic was relational healing. She realized there was hope for her family’s conflicts.
Rebekah is a mature follower of Jesus, and she knew the Bible’s command to forgive. But, as she observed, “In my family, we went to church and we prayed for things to get better. But we never addressed the deep issues in ways that the training encouraged me to do.”
Rebekah then met with Simon and her father-in-law separately, urging them to come together. Both refused, recounting the many offenses of the other. Family members even told Rebekah, who was from a different tribe in Kenya, “You just don’t understand our culture. This won’t ever work. Broken relationships cannot be repaired.”
But Rebekah didn’t give up!
Will It Work?
Finally, Rebekah convinced the two men to meet. Most of the village gathered that day to observe the meeting. “I have never seen the house so full,” Rebekah remembers. “There was no room to sit down.”
The community was incredulous; they had never witnessed such an event!
Simon approached his dad, “Please forgive me, father, for what Jane and I did and take me back as your son.” His father wept, forgave him, and welcomed him back into the family.
In a shocking step, the father also publicly confessed that he had done wrong to Simon and Jane and asked for forgiveness. The father returned their land and inheritance to Simon and his children.
The rest of the family was initially reluctant to embrace Simon. They were suspicious of his motives. But Rebekah continued to implore the rest of the extended family to follow their father’s example.
Over the following months, members of the family started speaking to Simon again. They even welcomed him and his children back into their homes. This was a huge symbol. In many Kenyan cultures, you cannot eat with someone with whom you have an unresolved conflict.
“The family was back together again—sharing food!” Rebekah recounted joyfully. “Now our kids can freely play with their cousins again.”
The father-in-law, who had been only a casual churchgoer before, now wants to know more about God. He sometimes comes to Rebekah for advice instead of the local elders. He’s seen the fruit of reconciliation.
The Daughter Who Ran Away
This isn’t the only family issue Rebekah has faced. More than 20 years ago, Rebekah’s older sister, Grace*, ran away from home. She joined a religious cult, got married against her family’s wishes, and publicly disowned her parents. Her parents responded by disowning her, too.
At the same time Rebekah was advocating for reconciliation with Simon and Jane, she also learned where Grace was living. Rebekah met with her outcast sister, breaking cultural traditions. Grace had left the cult, found hope in Jesus, and longed to come home.
Rebekah then met with her father, pressing him to welcome back his prodigal daughter. He finally agreed, saying, “I don’t want to die before I see my daughter again.”
Against the protests of other family members, the father invited Grace home. When Grace arrived, “It was like the party for the lost son in the Bible.” Rebekah says, “There was a feast!” All the neighbors came to witness this unheard-of event.
“We are now a complete family,” Rebekah rejoices. “People should not fear, thinking a broken relationship has gone too far to be fixed. Reconciliation is possible. God can heal families. I have seen it—twice!”
In 2008, the Klingforths and Kenyan Navigator colleagues Susan Kamau and Loice Kabaki were invited to co-teach these principles of biblical forgiveness to a support group of refugees displaced by ethnic violence. People wrote down whatever they needed to forgive. Then they burnt those papers at the foot of a cross.
Since then, Travis and Lydia have used RH in both churches and group settings in conjunction with their team in Kenya.