The 20th anniversary of the NATO bombings of Novi Sad was all over the news in Serbia, and it was very personal for us. It wasn’t just some foreign city that got bombed; it was the places I care about—places in my neighborhood—and people I care about.
This is what happened: With the fall of communism, ethnic tensions previously held in check surged to the surface, and by the late 90’s NATO stepped in an effort to stop ethnic violence in the region. NATO forces conducted bombing raids on military, communications, transportation, and economic targets in Serbia, and Novi Sad was one of the cities that bore the brunt of 78 days of bombing.
Everybody here has their bombing stories. I’ve been living in this city for seven years and I’ve heard a lot of them. No one escaped unscathed, even if you didn’t know anybody who got killed. The woman across the hall from us talks about how her windows broke when one of the bridges in the city was bombed. There was a lot of fear and insecurity in the city and it left wounds that never healed.
As citizens of the US, we sort of represent what NATO did (US President Bill Clinton pulled the triggers). “We” had cursed this country with our depleted uranium bombs and the hurt and anger against us was still alive and well. As we faced the difficult situation of being connected to the perpetrators of so much pain in the city, my team realized we had a strategic opportunity to bring healing instead of destruction, blessing instead of bombing. We could do this through identificational repentance and speaking blessings over the bombing sites.
In his book, I Give You Authority, Charles Kraft writes that identificational repentance “consists of contemporary representatives of groups that sinned against other groups taking responsibility for the sins of their ancestors and repenting (preferably in public) to contemporary representatives of the groups wronged.”
Throughout scripture we see leaders—leaders like Moses or Nehemiah, kings like David, prophets like Daniel or Ezra—repenting on behalf of their community. They identify the sins, confess them, and repent of them. They then remind the Lord of his character and his covenant, and ask for him to be merciful in his forgiveness.
In 1 Peter we’re told that we are a royal priesthood; therefore we, too, can stand in the gap for our families, communities, and nations. Even if we haven’t committed the specific sin ourselves, we can still identify with the root sin. For example, I didn’t drop a single bomb on Serbia. But I can identify with some of the root sins that may have been behind the bombing: selfishness, fear, control, greed.
In this situation, by identifying with the US and NATO in prayer we could try to undo some of the curses that were wrought in the land through the bombs. We could stand in the bombing sites in Novi Sad, representing the perpetrators, and from that posture ask God for forgiveness, ask him to intervene and undo the curses our predecessors wrought in the land, and then speak blessings in place of that curse. Where the spirit of hatred was given an opening through the bombings, we could speak the cross and blood of Jesus over it. And we could invite the presence of God where there had been hatred and brokenness.
One of the buildings targeted was the government building, which is only a three minute walk from my house. So we gathered people to do a prayer walk around the building, starting with identificational repentance and forgiveness, and then just blessing the government and the people in the government.
One of the people who had come along with us on this prayer walk was a Serbian Christian who’s a good friend of ours. When we finished, he confessed, “I’ve been speaking curses over my government. And here you are, foreigners, and you’re speaking a blessing, speaking prosperity and discernment and all these things to try to bless the government’s decision making and policy making—just speaking Kingdom life and values into this government, even if they don’t know what they’re doing as they’re doing it!”
In Novo we believe that Identificational repentance is a prophetic act—something that reveals the values of God’s Kingdom to a watching world. Our willingness to embrace the Kingdom values of humility, repentance, and blessing not only impacted the spiritual realm (breaking bonds of hurt and anger giving the enemy a hold in this land), but also impacted the Serbian believers around us, who recognized God’s Kingdom way. Our prayers paved the path for them to begin living more fully in those ways as well.
Stepping Out in Identificational Repentance
Repentance and forgiveness change things in the spiritual realm, loosening the hold of the enemy. This opens new pathways for God’s Kingdom to break through. Remember that as members of the royal priesthood, praying for God’s forgiveness on behalf of our families, communities, and nations is not only appropriate, it’s powerful!
Opportunities to step into identificational repentance are all around us. Watch the evening news or take a look at the day’s headlines and you’ll likely discover places to begin.
Here are a couple of examples:
Crimes committed against others (as an adult I could step into repentance for crimes against children; as a man I could repent of crimes against women)
Divisiveness in the political arena (regardless of where I stand positionally, I can repent of ways I’ve been too proud to listen well, too selfish or fearful to compromise, arrogant or stubborn in my position, or idolatrous in putting my trust in a law, plan, or system instead of God, etc.)
This is what identificational repentance might look like, step by step:
Identify the places sin has been present that need Christ’s forgiveness and restoration. (What does God bring to mind when you pray about this? What has been happening in your family or community?)
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the root sins. (This isn’t an exact science, but often he reveals what is behind what we see. For example, I see people in my family manipulating others, and I sense the Lord wants to deal with it. As I listen, the Holy Spirit reveals that some of the roots are fear and hurt and control.)
Identify with and confess the root sins God has revealed, and then repent. (In scripture these prayers have language like, “We have sinned,” and, “Forgive us.” Usually there is also a declaration of an intentional turning back to him: “I purpose to change in this area and be more loving, more merciful, etc.”)
While remaining in this posture of identifying with the perpetrator, receive the forgiveness of God for the sins committed; then declare the resulting freedom from sin as you break any hold the enemy had in the past. When God’s forgiveness is applied, the enemy loses all the authority and power he had previously gained in that area through sin.
Finish by blessing your family, neighborhood, community, state, nation, etc., in the name of Christ. Bless with things that are the opposite of the specific sin. (For example, if I’ve confessed greed, I bless with generosity or contentment. If I’ve confessed fear, I bless with peace, etc.)
Taking hold of the authority we’ve been given by God is one of the ways we see his Kingdom released on earth; identificational repentance is one way we in Prime see strategic prayer making a huge difference. How might God be inviting you to step into this important work and see transformation in your family, community, and nation?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Hovda is a member of the Prime Strategic Team and also the Ethne team leader in Novi Sad, Serbia. He and his wife Jody served with Novo for 8 years in Venezuela before moving to Serbia in 2012. Partnering with Prime has given Paul a stimulating and supportive environment to learn and share what he has learned in his growing work of strategic prayer around Novi Sad. He’s also a great proponent of learning by doing—simply listening to God and taking the risk to get out there and try it.