When we look at the news and see conflict all around the world as well as in our own neighbourhoods, we can easily feel overwhelmed and want to turn away. But simple actions can help us cross divides and become peacemakers in our own communities.
I’ve often had young people walk past me and say ‘Fed’, ‘Evening officer’ or other similar remarks. I’m not a police officer, but as a tall white guy walking around our estate I tend to be assumed to be a plain-clothes cop by those who don’t know me. In Brixton, a place with a long history of conflict between police and the community, this isn’t great.
There are so many divides in our communities, but most of them are either hidden or just ignored. Class, wealth, race, age, party, gender, power… the list could go on and on. But most of them are hidden behind closed doors – or we’re hiding behind the closed doors to keep ourselves ignorant of them.
But today, on the International Day of Peace, it’s the ideal day to get outside of our hiding place, find a divide, and cross it! Today is not just a day to celebrate with nice quotes posted on Facebook, but today is a day for trying out what peacemaking is like in action.
We learn from the life of Jesus that peacemaking is not just about trying to be an independent mediator to resolve conflicts between other people. Jesus himself was fully tied up in so many conflicts of his day – he was a Jew and so part of a people group who were being oppressed by the Roman occupiers, he was a Gallilean so was seen as low class by other Israelites, he was a leader of many people and so was hated and oppressed by the existing leaders of the time, he was an Israelite so part of the ongoing conflict between his people and the Samaritans.
But at the same time, we see Jesus spending time with exactly those people who were on the ‘other side’ from him in those conflicts. He praised a Roman centurion, he ate with the Israelite leaders, he spent time with Jews from all places, he enabled Samaritan women to become leaders and then stayed in their towns. While speaking out and acting to change the brokenness of the systems of oppression in his time, he built relationships that crossed all the divides of conflict which he saw around him. So in all those conflicts, he sought to take both sides, to love all people, whichever side they might be from.
People are trying out this sort of practical peacemaking all over the world right now. The CHIPS Ghana team is made up of people from both sides of the conflict, living and working together. They run a veterinary training programme in which they train people from villages across the district - half from each tribe - in veterinary skills. At the end of the course they take home a pack of medicines and equipment with which they can start up their small veterinary treatment business. If they want to get a good market, it is essential for them to build relationships with people in all the communities surrounding their own village - that way they can connect to farmers in many other villages and get a much larger market for their business. As they move around treating animals, they create new connections that form a network of relationships which cross the usual divides of the conflict.
So today, why not try this practical peacemaking thing out yourself. Start by asking yourself some questions:
- Where are there divides, tensions or violent situations in my community?
- In those situations, which side do you feel most drawn to, or might you be identified as being part of by others?
- Do you know people from both sides?
- Where can you go to find people from both sides/the other side, to listen to them and to hear their stories?
- Are there places where those people already come together? If so, can you go along there?
- If you’re feeling especially bold, can you even create more spaces like that yourself?
We are all called to be peacemakers and we all have a role to play. It’s not as complicated as you might think. Why not try #makingpeace today?
Take a look at this video which encourages us to take #BothSides.
This article was first published in Tearfund's Lifestyle magazine.