Peace-building

Three Reasons for Waging Peace, Guest Blog by Lynne Hybels

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In the early 90s a horrible war took place in Eastern Europe as the former Yugoslavia crumbled. It was a vicious war, complete with ethnic cleansing and atrocious crimes against humanity. Soldiers would enter a village, rape all the women, and take away all the men and boys over thirteen.  Most of them never returned alive; many ended up in the mass graves. Twice during that war I traveled with a humanitarian organization to Croatia and Bosnia.  We visited refugee centers filled with middle-class women just like me who had lost everything: jobs, husbands, homes, their planned-for future. We visited schools where social workers tried to help kids who had watched their parents die when shells landed in their homes; they suffered so severely from post-traumatic stress that they sat all day staring blankly while they silently chewed their fingernails, trapped in their own little world of horror and pain.  We walked through the rubble of entire neighborhoods, stumbling over the scattered reminders of daily life: a broken teacup, a scuffed shoe, a tattered doll.

It was the first time I had seen war up close and I was stunned by what human beings do to one another.

But it wasn’t the last time I saw war.  Years later I walked through the villages of Eastern Congo, where the deadliest war since WW II has claimed almost 6 million lives, and where rape as a weapon of war has brutally violated tens of thousands of women and girls—women and girls with whom I wept.

More recently, I sat on a concrete floor in Jordan with Syrian refugee women whose empty eyes told the silent story of their losses and their grief.  And in recent months I spent hours at my computer waiting for word from friends I’ve met during numerous trips to Israel and Palestine—friends who suffered severely during this summer’s war in Gaza.

While I never consciously decided to hang out in war zones, that’s where my path led and continues to lead.  Along the way, I’ve learned three key lessons.

1. Violent conflict has the capacity to destroy everything, from the body of the tiniest baby to the infrastructure of an entire society.

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Body, mind, soul, families, crops, wells, houses, schools, hospitals: all these can be ruined when the bullets fly and the bombs fall.  In recent decades, many American Christians have become convinced that acts of compassion and the fight for justice are central to what it means to follow Jesus.  Many churches are leading the way as agents of holistic transformation in communities throughout the world, living out the Kingdom of God in beautifully practical ways.  That’s all good, but it’s not enough—because it will all be undone if there’s war.  Violent conflict can turn the greatest of our good deeds into nothing. Our most earnest gains for justice can be lost.  Where violence reigns poverty is a given, human trafficking flourishes, disease ravages, the displaced lose everything, hope dies.  If we care about any of the great global tragedies, we must also care about waging peace.

2. What happens on the grassroots level matters more than we think.

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I used to believe that the most significant dimension of peacemaking happened on the national or international level.  The truth is that political powers can declare ceasefires and create temporary solutions, but they can only foster sustained peace when they build upon a foundation of grassroots peacemaking.  In the Democratic Republic of Congo, violent rebel groups recruit fighters by capitalizing on tribal differences and small local conflicts.  However, when local peace-builders—pastors trained by World Relief in conflict resolution—help build bridges between tribes and resolve local conflicts according to Biblical principles, the violent rebels are thwarted in their recruiting efforts; people who have experienced the fruit of reconciliation have little motivation to become fighters.

In a conflict as seemingly intractable as the one in the Holy Land, grassroots peacemakers are, even now, offering a path toward peace.  My Israeli friend Robi and my Palestinian friend Bassam each lost a child to the conflict.  Not wanting other families to suffer as they have suffered, they speak together in schools, churches, and civil organization in the Holy Land and throughout the world, representing a growing group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families who are committed to grieving together and then working together for reconciliation and peace.  While political leaders bring nothing but disappointment to the Holy Land, people like Robi and Bassam—and hundreds of others like them, whose voices we don’t hear on the nightly news—are showing up day after day, slowly building bridges of empathy, understanding and friendship.  I believe that learning from them and lifting up their voices is one of the most important things I can do for the sake of peace.

3. The call to peacemaking is a call to rigorous and costly discipleship.

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Nothing has humbled me as much as spending time with true peacemakers.  Time and again I’ve been chastised—broken—by the gentle example of men and women for whom loving their enemies could literally cost them their lives.  I look at them and I see how petty I am; how quick I am to pick sides and go for easy answers; how unlike Jesus I am.

John Paul Lederach wrote a book called Reconcile.  In it he suggests that the main thing Jesus brought to his role as a peacemaker was his presence.  There was something in his “presence”—something in who he was and how he showed up—that made the way of peace more likely. I think the “something” that was in Jesus is what the world needs to see in his followers today.

In the aftermath of the Gaza war, a friend from Bethlehem who has been engaged in nonviolence and reconciliation for many years, wrote this to me: “When all the dead are buried and the dust settles, a truer and deeper kind of peace needs to rise up from the rubble of the Holy Land.”  Not a peace that depends on the decisions of politicians or that trips off the tongues of activists, but a peace that bubbles up from the spring of God’s love as it fills us—as it pulls us beyond the limits of our own self-interest to a place where we can see the world as God sees it.

Seeing the world as God sees it—where even our enemy is a person made in the image of God for whom Christ died—doesn’t come naturally to us.  I think it only comes through a journey of transformation grounded in prayer and silence and deep immersion into the words and the way of Jesus.  Then, and only then, can we see the world the way God sees it.  Then, and only then, can we be free to #WagePeace.

#WagePeace with World Relief.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God." Matthew 5:9 Peacemaking is a Biblically-based, long-term strategy for preventing and addressing man made conflict. It directly addresses the tensions woven into the fabric of societies that often lead to conflict and violence.

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Women must be leaders of peace-building in West Darfur

World Relief deeply believes that sustainable peace-building without involvement of women is impossible. In Sudan, particularly West Darfur, deeply rooted socio-cultural issues prevent women from being involved in many decision-making processes. Usually, women assume lower positions in the community and their voices are neglected. However, women constitute a large proportion of the society and are actively involved in economic activities.

In 2011, World Relief launched a peace and reconciliation project aimed at tackling the root causes of conflict and enhance co-existence among the different tribes in the operational areas. To achieve this objective, World Relief launched community-based peace-building initiatives. Peace and Reconciliation Committees (PRCs) oversee and promote peace at the community level. Sub-committees focus on things like crop protection, water supply area protection and more.

Through these committees (PRCs) and the subcommittees, World Relief has worked to ensure participation of women by confronting the cultural practices that exclude them from leadership.

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Recently, World Relief organized workshops on peace-building and gender awareness. At first, World Relief staff and volunteers trained 150 women on the issues of gender equality and peace-building. Next, men and women were brought together and taught about the importance of women’s involvement in the peace-building process.

Following the training, 73 women joined the existing peace committees. Today, those women are working alongside men in their community to actively restore peace.

A Hero in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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The Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the second largest country in Africa, home to more than 70 million people and over 250 tribes and languages. It shares a border with eight countries, playing an essential role in the economic and social development across the continent. Its unique rainforest and river ecosystems, fertile grounds and high concentration of valuable raw minerals give it nearly unlimited potential. The Democratic Republic of Congo is also home to the largest conflict since World War II. Since 1996, over five million Congolese have died as a result. Others are vulnerable to rebel group activity, extreme poverty, prevalent diseases including malaria and HIV/AIDS, a high infant mortality rate and sexual violence against women and girls ages two to 60.

Where is God in a war-torn country like the DR Congo, where eight out of every ten women is a victim of rape? Psalm 72:14 gives us a promise of his faithfulness in regions like the DR Congo when it says, “He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (NIV).

Rutshuru is a town located in the North Kivu province of eastern DRC. Pastor Fabian is from the Pentecostal Church in Kelengera, Rutshuru territory. At 58 years old, he is the father of 7 children and a true hero in his community. He refused to flee when M23 soldiers advanced. He said he could not leave his congregation behind.

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(Image: Sean Sheridan)

On July 21, 2013, Fabian was taken by rebel soldiers from his home into the bush, without shoes, proper clothes or the ability to notify his wife. His feet were wounded on lava stone as he followed soldiers into the forest. After walking the entire night, he was brought before the Chief rebel and accused of espionage: he had hosted some Tutsi women who were passing into Rwanda, an act punishable by death according to rebel soldiers.

Fabian explained his role as a Pastor and a follower of Christ meant he had a commitment to all God’s children, regardless of their tribe. Fabian only asked that the soldiers not use machetes but a bullet to kill him, explaining that he was ready to be received in Heaven.

The soldiers held Fabian captive for ten days. Without a shirt, he suffered from the cold and insect bites that caused blood to cover his body. He was given two pieces of uncooked root to eat every day. He was repeatedly interrogated. Child soldiers guarded him by night, informing him that they were eagerly awaiting the command to shoot him. Fabian prayed aloud day and night, refusing to let rebels call his community for a ransom.

On July 31, a rebel leader told Fabian he could be free if he left his possessions, including his money. With only a cell phone and an ID card, Fabian was led blindfolded by child soldiers through the night. Fabian awoke the next morning weak, wounded and traumatized, but he was home. His family, community and church celebrated that God had delivered “Papa Fabien” from the “den of lions.”

Those with hope in Jesus Christ know how the battle ends, for Colossians 1:20 explains that through Jesus Christ all things shall be reconciled to God through the peace established for mankind on the cross. World Relief has been present in the DR Congo since 2002, responding to its Biblical mandate to empower the local Church to bring peace and restoration to torn communities through village peace committees.

In reality, World Relief has stepped into God’s pre-existing, ongoing restorative plan for the most vulnerable. And what an honor it is.

Empower a Hero like Pastor Fabian today.