Peacebuilding

Enough is Enough

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Writing in 1921 after the first World War, English poet WB Yeats wrote a poem entitled “The Second Coming,“ in which he wrote:

Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats expresses a sense of the social crisis of that time and as I reflected on my thoughts and emotions on our own divisions in America today, on the immigration debates and the ease with which we descend into ugly stereotyping of whole groups of people, I could not but feel a sense of things falling apart in this nation, so richly blessed, to which I brought my own family in 2001. I could not but reflect with sadness on the ugly racist undertones in the discussion over immigration and refugees—especially on the weekend when we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and the progress I used to believe we had made towards racial reconciliation.

As leader of a Christian organization serving the most vulnerable in Haiti and Africa, as well as supporting refugees and immigrants seeking refuge from violence, disaster and oppression, how should I react to the demeaning of whole groups of people? How do I stay true to the convictions of my faith and the call to love one another in a debate that at times seems devoid of hope and nobility, a debate that seems to embrace a dystopian view of the world we live in, a debate that seems to simply divide the world into winners and losers, into my people and ‘other’ people?

As a Christian, I believe that all humans are made in the image of God. And that we are all called to care for the vulnerable and to welcome the stranger. The bible is replete with such stories as was the teaching and example of Jesus.

I have been fortunate to come alongside communities and families in some of the hardest places in the world, to talk with men, women and children who desire the same things we desire, to talk with parents and grandparents who, despite grinding poverty and lack of opportunity, often demonstrate compassion and care for one another that puts me to shame. I have walked the dusty roads of towns and villages in the nations we too easily look down upon from our perch of privilege. I have sat in the homes of people and have heard their stories of suffering, seen their resilience and seen how they can find joy and be thankful to God even in the most challenging circumstances. They have taught me what it is to love, what it is to have faith and what it is to have hope in things as yet unseen. They have taught me humility and blessed me with their friendship.  

To have these people, and in fact their entire nations reduced to a coarse and derogatory narrative grieves and offends me.

Both Old and New Testament Scripture is clear. Our God desires peace and joy for all his people, irrespective of nation, race or tribe. The vision in Revelation 7, the last book of the Bible, is unambiguous: “After that I looked and behold, a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes with palm branches in hand crying out with a loud voice, “‘Salvation belongs to to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’”

Unfortunately our politics today appear to promote partisan divisions rather than promoting civility, understanding and reconciliation amongst people.

At World Relief, we respect that many of the issues where we have expert knowledge are complex and that it is possible for people of good conscience to disagree and so we have always sought to elevate not coarsen the debate—to be grounded in both conviction and civility. We have been careful not to further division in our response to policies we believe are contrary to the teaching of Jesus or simply ill–informed.

But when is enough enough? When do we reach a tipping point that requires a different response?

The teaching of Jesus is clear. Each one of us must consider this as a question of personal conscience rather than from the perspective of tribal loyalty or group identity.

And as we do so, we would do well to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we commemorate on Monday.

All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.

5 Words That Can Change a Nation

Photo by Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch

In 2008 my wife and I were in her childhood home of Kenya when violence after the country’s election broke out—resulting in the death of over 1,100 people and the displacement of thousands more. As we witnessed the devastation in the lives of our friends and the Kenyan people, we felt called to act. And in 2013, ahead of the next elections, we returned to Kenya to participate in peace and reconciliation workshops and a peace march with local pastors. In the Kibera slum of Nairobi, and in Molo, in the White Mountains—two places where some of the worst inter-tribal violence took place—we saw communities embrace forgiveness for acts committed against one another. We saw tears shed and commitments made to be followers of Jesus first, Kenyans second and tribal community leaders a distant third. The subsequent elections were largely peaceful and celebrated as an important step forward. And so it was with great sadness that we learned this year’s elections in July had once again been disputed—largely along tribal lines. Following the Kenyan Supreme Court ruling that the elections needed to be re-run, the country was plunged into an economic crisis as investors and others fled the resulting uncertainty.

Coincidentally, this weekend found us back in Nairobi just days after the re-run election, only to find the country more deeply divided and polarized than ever and facing an uneasy peace. The root causes of the turmoil are being hotly disputed amongst factions and there is little desire for compromise amongst the political elite. Meanwhile, the working poor—those living barely above the poverty line—are seeing their already fragile lives caught in the political cross fire,  escalating rhetoric and disappearing livelihoods. Tales of violence and killing abound, though much of this will never surface in the mainstream media because what happens in and around the slums of Nairobi and the most rural parts of the country is only partially recorded.

A Challenging Question

So what, you might ask, has this to do with America?

On Sunday my wife and I listened to a Nairobi pastor preaching into the crisis, explaining the ways in which we as individuals can either calm or inflame a crisis. He laid out five characteristics that he believes make this current Kenyan crisis perhaps more profound and harder to resolve than previous ones. After all, Kenyans stared into the abyss in 2008. They are naturally peace-loving and optimistic people. Surely it could not descend into serious open conflict again?

As is often the case here in Africa the Pastor used a colorful metaphor to catch his congregation’s attention – and ours. He identified five characteristics that polarize and inflame crises, characteristics that each one of us can too easily embrace. And he called us to examine our own hearts, challenging us with this question:

“Are we promoting unity, as we are called to do by Christ and the apostle Paul, or are we so entrenched in our own beliefs and self righteousness that we are actually promoting division and fueling crisis?”

The 5 Characteristics

  1. An attacking mouth — Insensitivity to the reasons others might hold a different view, and worse, an incapacity to understand how our positions and words might make them feel. By our words we don’t just express disagreement, we attack, discredit, inflame, and in so doing—polarize.

  2. Blind eyes — Ignorance. An almost wilful blindness to the complexity of issues that often underlie people’s different views; a willingness to accept the narrative that corresponds to our own preference without examining facts that would be uncomfortable.

  3. Cold shoulders — Indifference to the plight of others, so long as “I am all right”. The opposite of love, this Pastor suggested, is not hate—it is indifference. His argument? At least if you hate someone your emotions are engaged. It is worse to be relegated to the status of non-person, someone whose concerns and views are simply irrelevant to you and your view of the world.

  4. Dead ears — Inflexibilty. An unwillingness to re-examine one’s own views, a preference for certainty, even when it is misplaced, over inquiry and uncertainty.

  5. Empty Hands — Irresponsibility. Denial that one might have contributed in any way to the crisis, instead searching to always put the blame elsewhere, and to always find scapegoats.

Does the Shoe Fit?

In the most sophisticated nation in the world we might assume that none of this applies. But I must ask, can we truly open the newspaper each day, watch the news, or scroll through twitter, facebook or other social media and not recognize that perhaps “the shoe does fit us too?”

Disagreements in human relationships are inevitable, yet just as marriage disagreements do not have to lead to breakdown, neither do they have to in civil society.

But genuine reconciliation requires a heart that is open and a willingness to forgive and reconcile. Indeed, the ability to reconcile is one key sign of a maturing Christian faith.

And so I challenge us as we look to the deepening divisions in our own society. Do we have something to learn from this courageous Kenyan Pastor, challenging his followers to recognize their own part in the crisis and examine their own hearts, attitudes and behaviors?

“Little children let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”
John 3:18   


(ABOVE PHOTO: Marianne Bach, Thomas Busch)


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Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.

Peacebuilding and the Evolution of World Relief’s Village Peace Committees

“Conflict spares no one,” writes Cyprien Nkiriyumwami, World Relief Africa Director for Peacebuilding. The context in which he writes is that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Agents of Peace Amid Despair

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by Maggie Konstanski
World Relief Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator


Last month, I stood in Iraq while looking out over Syria. My heart was heavy. New challenges emerged by the hour and all of our efforts felt insufficient when compared to the immense and ever-growing needs. As I stood in one land and looked out over another—both of which are entrenched in horrific conflicts, my frustration grew. I was overwhelmed by the news cycle that day: violence, terror, hate, persecution and unimaginable atrocities perpetrated against children. And, as violence continues to cause mass displacement around the world, this same news cycle showed many countries adopting increasingly restrictive policies that result in closed doors, preventing the persecuted from finding refuge.

At the end of most days, I find myself crying out questions of why and how long people must be left to languish in such circumstances. I struggle with the knowledge that we’re too often paralyzed when confronted with suffering at such magnitude—oftentimes believing there is no hope, that there is only darkness and that the dawn will never come. Today, too many of us have come to believe that the darkness is impenetrable, the conflicts too entrenched and that our resources are too small to make a difference.

But there is another story. It is the story of a small but persistent church body, isolated and under-resourced, yet powerfully engaged. It is a story of hope and light amidst the darkness.

The Middle Eastern conflict and disruption has been devastating for millions of men, women and children. Yet, this terrible struggle has also given the church an unparallelled opportunity to reach out to their vulnerable neighbors. Though these churches are usually small and often face significant challenges, their leaders deeply desire to serve faithfully and extend love, compassion and refuge to the thousands of suffering around them.

Today—perhaps more than ever—the church in the Middle East has the opportunity to break down damaging historical perceptions and cultural stereotypes, and foster restored relationships in their communities. And as the world looks to see how the global church responds to this conflict, its legacy will be one of love and welcome. It will be a “light for the world.” A town built upon a hill that gives light to everyone and shines a path forward, one of hope and of peace.

I have seen enough to believe that there is no place secluded enough, no place dark enough and no place disguised enough to keep the oppressed hidden from a God who hears their cries. I have seen the church reaching the furthest corners of the most vulnerable communities, identifying the neediest for emergency assistance and connecting them to the services and resources they need. I have seen them reaching the unreached in fearless and compassionate service.

This is a place where I know morning will come. The dawn will break upon us. The sun will rise. Darkness will be vanquished. This is a place where the church is truly stepping out in faith as the hope and light of the world. And I have already seen this light.

I see it in the faces of children who laugh, play and show compassion to others in our kids clubs and safe spaces programs. I see it in the displaced community as they seek to serve one another and make sacrifices for others. I see it in parents here who give up their own lives and comfort in hopes of providing a different future to their children. I see it in families who welcome the refugee, the stranger and share their homes and dinner tables. I see it in the person who forgives words said in anger and frustration, and extends undeserved grace. I see it in the grace, forgiveness and kindness that have been extended to me by so many.

And above all, I see it in the church that chooses to boldly and compassionately reach out, even when they themselves are under pressure and persecution.

We may not be able to end all conflicts. We may not be able to meet all the needs on our doorstep, but we can answer God’s calling and follow the church's lead to love those in front of us. We can work through the church to push back the darkness in our own spheres of influence. We can advocate for more action. We can show compassion. And we can be peacemakers.

Across the Middle East, the church is bringing light to places of great darkness. In the valley of the shadow of death, churches are agents of peace, light and reconciliation in communities entrenched in conflict. To witness their love in action and commitment to guiding the region towards a path of peace inspires me with renewed hope each day.


Maggie Konstanski has been a part of the World Relief team for over 4 years, and currently serves at the Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator. With a passion for international human rights, Maggie often uses work-related travel as a platform to tell the powerful stories of the vulnerable families and communities we serve.

Changemakers in South Sudan — Establishing a Place of Peace and Love

This month, we’re sharing stories from our work around the world.  It is our hope that these stories will inspire, encourage, and enrich your lives. The following post was written by Darren Harder, Country Director for World Relief South Sudan.
 

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.

With God as our Father, brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother, in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now;
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow

To take each moment and live each moment, in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

The lyrics to this beloved Christmas hymn seem to ring truer with each passing year.

Peace. Something that has too often seemed unattainable in 2016. A year that has been difficult, contentious, and violent both here in the U.S. and around the world. A year that has challenged us all as individuals, as parents, spouses, friends, colleagues, even as Christians. Now, as we draw near to the end of the year, we long for a more peaceful 2017, one filled with love and with hope for a better tomorrow. 

Amidst this darkness, what better time to look to stories of incredible hope where peace can indeed triumph against the odds? Stories that encourage and inspire us. Stories that show us we can rise above our doubts. Stories like the one of the Church in war-torn South Sudan. 

Though pushed from international headlines by the tragedy of Syria and the horrifying images streaming almost daily out of Aleppo, few places have more tragic histories or precarious futures than South Sudan. After decades of civil war with North Sudan, the world’s youngest country was born to great fanfare and hope in 2011. But that hope did not last long. In 2013 violence broke out, between supporters of the President and former Vice President of South Sudan. Over the last three years, ethnic-based killings have taken place on all sides, accompanied by growing demands for vengeance. According to the U.S. Institute for Peace, nearly 4 million South Sudanese face severe food insecurity, and more than 2 million have been displaced by the war. 

The stories circulating in international media, paint a bleak picture of South Sudan and its immediate future. Even bleaker are the suggestions from the diplomatic community that the situation could get worse before it gets better. Despite multiple efforts to broker peace, South Sudan, like too many other places around the world, now faces impending catastrophe. Militias are mobilizing along ethnic lines, hate speech is circulating on social media, and international human rights groups are now documenting widespread human rights abuses.

And yet, against this dark canvas of suffering, fear, and forced displacement, one area stands out, determined to be a place of peace and love. This place is Ibba, a county in Western Equatoria State, where World Relief South Sudan is partnering with Church leaders, determined to become a light amidst the darkness.

In Ibba, World Relief is working in collaboration with local Churches to build homes for the elderly and the sick, run agricultural trainings to increase harvests in order to feed the hungry, and start savings groups. We are training women and young mothers in fostering peaceful family environments and in other life skills. Above all, we are focused on working together to organize spiritual activities that help build the unity of the Church, enable them to share each other’s burdens and challenges, and share in peaceful solutions. 

On November 20, 2016 a joint prayer service was held at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Parish of Ibba, which brought together more than 3,000 people from across the region for over eight hours of prayer and worship. It was the first time that four Christian denominations, namely ECSS/S, Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Seventh Days Adventists, have come together to worship in Ibba. Church leaders preached messages of peace, unity, and collaboration. Many announced it was the first time in their lives that they’d seen such unity, and challenged the congregation to take the message of peace home to their neighbors.

As I watched the church come together as a unified body of believers, to pray for their communities and to serve the most vulnerable, I reflected on how much we can learn from our brothers and sisters in South Sudan who are doing the hard work of peacemaking each day.  Even though insecurity exists in neighboring counties, Ibba has remained calm, and I have no doubt it is due to the leadership shown by the local pastors in Ibba. I thank God for them daily and pray that they will continue to find their voice as they become beacons of light in their suffering communities.

Now and in the coming New Year, let us stand up for change. Let us join together with these peacemakers. Let us come alongside them to learn from them, to stand with them, and to give to them, so that they may increase their capacity for peace in South Sudan and beyond. Let us find peace on earth, and let it begin with you.

Changemakers in Rwanda — A Story of Light Overcoming Darkness

The following post was written by Moses Ndahiro, Country Director for World Relief Rwanda.
 

Rwanda.

A country as magnificent as it is complex. A place of breath-taking beauty, and of an unthinkably violent history. A marvelous land of a thousand hills, still haunted by an eerie morning fog that sits atop the horizon and whispers of horrors passed; a genocide that shook the world so deeply, it promised, “never again”.

It is a country unlike any other, where God’s creation is on display in all its splendor and diversity. The warmth and hospitality of a people striving to rebuild and rewrite their story. The hope of a history overcome, and of a nation reborn.

And it is a country where God is at work in powerful ways. Where people’s hearts and minds are being transformed through Christ. Where the Church is stepping into its rightful place as the hope of the world. 

It is a story of light overcoming the darkness.


The Church established itself in Rwanda over 100 years ago, and today, more than 70% of the population is in a church building every week. How then, in 1994, did a genocide of such horrific proportions and unprecedented brutality take place? Volumes have been written on the underlying causes, on the immediate events leading up to the genocide and of the failure of the world to take heed of the warning signs. Little, however, was said of the failure of the Church to stand up and protect the vulnerable. Fortunately, that has changed. Today’s Church in Rwanda is quite different from the institutionalized Church of the past. It is vibrant, diverse, and growing. And step-by-step, it has begun to walk alongside its people in their journey from darkness and despair, towards hope and renewal.

World Relief first established its presence in Rwanda immediately following the genocide. Watching the international community respond with one-off emergency interventions, we became increasingly convinced that solutions needed to center on the resourcefulness and hearts of the local people, and that the Church had a unique role to play. Born out of that conviction, World Relief first pioneered its Church Empowerment Zone model in 2011. Founded on our strong belief that transformational change begins with the Church, we began teaching, mobilizing, and empowering local churches and their networks to serve the most vulnerable in their communities. Through sharing and building leadership capacity, we brought churches of all denominations together in one network to unite under a common curriculum and leadership development program, giving them the opportunity to wrestle with common problems, share resources, and join together in a common vision for their churches, families, and communities.

“We do not see one another as enemies anymore. Now we come together as brothers, bringing our strengths together. We are at peace.” – Pastor Museveni

Today, the Church Empowerment Zone model is unleashing the potential of hundreds of churches and communities across Rwanda, building a legacy of hope, generosity, and self-reliance that is sustaining progress. Local churches are no longer simply institutions for Sunday gatherings, but the epicenters of their communities—transforming hearts, minds, and attitudes. Rwanda is a vivid and timely reminder that there is more to religion than just turning up to church. It has revealed how essential it is for our faith to be strongly rooted in a holistic and meaningful understanding of the Gospel. 

One pastor in Bushenge, Rwanda said, “Now we are caring for the poor and most vulnerable. We are creating love where the Devil was bringing hate and division. We are bringing the Kingdom of God down to Earth. Our families are in harmony. And a family in harmony will prosper in everything.”

Over the last five years, we have seen families reunited and health and nutrition outcomes improved. We have seen neighbors, siblings, spouses, children, and friends overcome their challenges and experience renewed and strengthened holistic relationships.  We have seen the transformation of lives.

The story of the church in Rwanda is powerful and inspiring. But it is not the only nation where the church is catalyzing transformational change.

Now is the time for the U.S. church to join in this rebirth. We have a unique role to play in helping African churches increase their capacity, and they have much to teach us about what it means to truly trust in God. When we work together in harmony, uplifting one another, and placing God at the center of our partnership, we have the true potential to transform the lives of millions of vulnerable people.

Half the Sky

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The 1MT Kilimanjaro team summited Kilimanjaro on International Women's Day to honor their sisters who suffer violence in war zones.

Editors Note: What follows is an update about One Million Thumbprints from Stephan Bauman, President at World Relief. 

Today at dawn, my wife, Belinda and 13 other climbers, summited Mount Kilimanjaro, the rooftop of Africa, in honor of women worldwide who face violence in conflict zones around the world.

Belinda met Esperance while visiting the Democratic of Congo several years ago. Esperance watched her husband die at the hands of rebels and was violently raped. She would have died if her sisters hadn’t rescued her. Across a blank sheet of paper, Esperance had someone write the words: “Tell the world.” Then she stamped her thumbprint underneath. Esperance's thumbprint became Belinda’s mandate: "Violence against women in war is violence against me," Belinda says.

Esperance's story gave birth to One Million Thumbprints (1MT), a grassroots movement focused on women who’ve been affected by violence in war zones. 1MT is advocating the UN and other governing bodies to follow through on resolutions and laws passed to protect women in conflict zones and are partnering with proven organizations like World Relief working in countries where women experience violence.

“I realized that no matter where violent conflict occurs, it has the capacity to destroy everything, from the tiniest baby to the infrastructure of an entire society,” says Lynne Hybels, peacemaker, catalyst and visionary of One Million Thumbprints, having pioneered its precursor, Ten For Congo. Lynne summited Kilimanjaro today to raise awareness and invite thousands more to join Esperance's cause.

Esperance from Congo inspired 1MT with her thumbprint and the words "Tell the World."

Today is International Women's Day where we honor "half the sky" by remembering the plight of women:

  • One out of three women in the world experience violence in their lifetime.
  • More than 530,000 women die in childbirth every year even thought the vast majority of these deaths are avoidable with simple and cost-effective health interventions.
  • An estimated 100 million to 140 million women and girls undergo female genital mutilation/cutting each year and thousands more are at risk.

The most vulnerable people in the world are hands-down, women. Esperance, Valonia, Lynne, Belinda and millions invite you to join them. Giving our lives to half the sky is absolutely a worthwhile call.

Celebration, Hope and Giving - Looking Back and Planning Forward

In just a few days, many people around the world will ring in the New Year. It’s a time of celebration, a time of hope and generosity. Here are a few of the things we’re celebrating at World Relief…

Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Though there is still much work to be done for stability and reconciliation to ensue in the DRC, people like Pastor Fabian are paving the way for sustainable peace. Having been kidnapped by rebels himself, he leads his congregation in word and deed as he cares for all people, no matter their tribe or ethnicity.

Pastor Fabian in Congo
Pastor Fabian in Congo

Friendship for refugees in the US.  Remember Michael andAwet? Both originally from Eritrea, they were forced to flee because of violence. Leaving everything familiar, they were resettled as refugees in the United States, where they met and became roommates. World Relief in DuPage-Aurora helped these new friends transition to their new reality in this new environment. Today, Michael and Awet are paying it forward by helping other refugees with transportation in their time of need.

Good local leadershipand forgiveness in Cambodia. Orn Raim is a leader in her community in Cambodia. Trained by World Relief in anti-trafficking and conflict resolution, she’s teaching others in her village what she has learned and seeing deep transformation – violence against women and children has reduced by 90% in her community.

We’ve also welcomed 7,948 refugees out of danger into loving communities in the United States. 147,083 women and men have been equipped to overcome material poverty through Savings for Life groups. 3,100 peacemakers have been trained to resolve conflict at the community level in war-torn areas. And more than 3,000 churches have been mobilized to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.

Even though we’ve seen incredible progress, there’s much more to do and we can’t do it alone. Will you be a part of this work in 2015 and join us as we continue to celebrate with hope and generosity?

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.

World Relief Jordan, October 7-8, 2013- Sean Sheridan Photographs

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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So Much Happening in Twenty-Thirteen...

by Larissa Peters, World Relief Communications Liaison I don’t know about you, but I have an especially good feeling about 2013. I admit, I keep a journal, and on the first of every year, I wonder what will fill its pages. The same is true in managing this blog – what will be the stories, reflections, and prayers that fill this year?

So many things are happening at World Relief, and so many great things we get to be a part of this year as more and more stand for the vulnerable! So I thought I would share 13 of the ones that I’m personally excited about and that others could even join:

In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Immigration Reform: From publishing the book Welcoming the Stranger in 2009 to speaking at Willow Creek Church and the G92 Summit, Jenny Yang – Vice President of Advocacy & Policy  and Matt Soerens – US Church Training Specialist are truly affecting change for the immigration system. We believe this is the year for reform. Want to keep up to date on the issue? Follow Jenny and Matt on twitter at:  @JennyYangWR and @MatthewSoerens.
  2. Peace building in the Congo: Village Peace Committees are changing their communities in the DR Congo. Conflict still abounds, but the grassroots movement of the Church is transforming lives. This is something to be a part of!  Follow updates and watch our video.
  3. Our partnership with Pure Charity: if you haven’t checked this organization out and you shop online or use a credit card (which should cover most of you), click here now. Here is a creative way to raise funds: shop and the stores you shop at will give to your charity of choice. World Relief has a few projects of their own there, and you’ll find Pure Charity at the Justice Conference. I already wish I knew about them earlier – I have to admit I’ve become slightly addicted to online shopping.
  4.  Fighting the battle of slavery: more and more people are taking on the cause of anti-trafficking. Currently, there are 14,500 people trafficked into the US each year (this is a low estimate). But our offices in Spokane, Tampa, High Point (and even internationally in Cambodia) are fighting to prevent that number from going up. Follow World Relief’s efforts on twitter and find out how you can promote awareness through races, workshops, or advocacy.
  5.  Church Partnership: Churches around the US have partnered with World Relief with a commitment of investing in a country or program for 3 to 5 years. Building relationships with the field and giving opportunity for long-term sustainable development, partnership is about wholistic mission. More and more churches are signing on, and we are excited about the changes it is bringing! Want your church to be part of this?
  6. Catalog of Hope: This year, our Catalog of Hope has a new section: fair trade items that benefit refugees in the US, empower women in Burundi, Rwanda, and Indonesia, and provide a monster for children in the US. A monster? Yes! See what this is all about.
  7. Stand Together Project: The premise is simple: Empowering women who are heroes in their own communities around the world. Check it out here: www.standtogetherproject.org.
  8. Savings for Life: A woman in Rwanda had never held a 5000 Franc note (worth $8 USD).  For the first time in her life this year, she saved up SIX of them because of her Savings group! How much more exciting can that get? Savings for Life is making credit available to those even the microfinance institutions can’t consider.  Watch a video on what Savings group is here: www.savings-revolution.org .
  9. Reviving and strengthening marriages in India: There is a quiet and unique program in India. One that is saving marriages, helping couples to be faithful to each other, and actually preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Check out the story on India.
  10. Volunteering with refugees in the US: more and more people are asking, “What can I do?” Our US program with refugees provides tangible volunteering. I can promise you that your 2013 will be incredibly enriched by befriending a refugee and welcoming them into your home and life.
  11. Volunteering with refugees in Indonesia: you have to check this unique opportunity out:  living in Indonesia and ministering to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka. You can read about some of the volunteers’ experiences here: www.worldreliefindonesia.com .

12   AND 13

Tis the season for conferences! So I’ll have to just wrap them all up into the last two: Churches and organizations are stepping out and bringing awareness to issues of injustice, educating their communities on how to respond. World Relief is privileged to be a part of these conferences with other Justice advocate hall-of-famers:

My hope is that these 13 (and then some) inspire and encourage you.  And may this year be full of all that is more than we can ask or imagine!*

*Ephesians 3:20