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Peacemaking Tag

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

‘And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.’ Colossians 3:15
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of reflection regarding the suffering, death, and resurrection of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is also time for self-examination and reflection, for us to redirect and rededicate our attention and action, prayerfully, to the most crying needs in our society.
Let us heed Pope Francis’s call to a day of prayer and fasting for peace in South Sudan the Democratic Republic of Congo, to be held on 23 February, in the first week of Lent according to the Gregorian calendar. Let us join in prayer and fasting, as part of the global ecumenical movement in light of the ongoing social- political tension, violence, and the suffering of the affected peoples in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.
In the DRC, 4.3 million people are displaced throughout the country and 13.1 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance throughout the country this year.
In South Sudan, 2 million people have fled the young nation as refugees and about 1.9 million people are internally displaced, over the past four years of conflict- with 7 million people inside the country – that is almost two-thirds of the remaining population – still need humanitarian assistance.
Children, young men, and women have been among the most affected. Millions of women and girls are exposed to gender-based violence in these crisis-affected areas.
The churches and communities are dedicated and present in these communities, accompanying the affected people through these challenging times. We acknowledge the courageous and hopeful work that carries on each day to serve the people in need. May the prayers of all Christians on 23 February for the gift of peace be a sign of solidarity and closeness to those suffering in South Sudan and DRC.

May God bless you and your ministry during this season of Lent,

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General Secretary

See Original Prayer

Leaders from our church partner in South Sudan have asked for prayer as they host training and discussions for peacebuilding in neighbouring Sudan.

Leadership and Peace Training in South Sudan, 2016

Since the civil war broke out in 2013, tens of thousands of South Sudanese have fled into Sudan to escape the fighting. Many now live in refugee camps in Khartoum, and South Sudanese Christians worship in churches there.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) have sent leaders to conduct peacebuilding workshops in five different refugee camps in Sudan.

They will be addressing issues of trauma and reconciliation among the people, and also concerns of persecution, with the threat of planned demolition of some 28 churches by the Sudanese government.

Several church pastors have also been arrested for publicly challenging the church demolitions. Thankfully, they have now been released.

This work by PCOSS would not be possible without UnitingWorld supporters, who have helped fund peace and reconciliation workshops and peacebuilding activities in South Sudan and Sudan.

The leaders ask for prayer as they carry out their critical work in Sudan this week (ending 30 March).

Please join us in praying for the work of these courageous peacemakers, as well as the international response to the ongoing famine that is threatening millions in South Sudan.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan is responding to the famine through their development agency PRDA. You can help them get urgent food and water to people in affected areas. Donate Now

The Highlands region of Papua New Guinea is known for tribal wars and this one has been deadly. After eighteen months of conflict between two tribes of a few hundred people, there are eight dead; seven on one side and one on the other.

Key infrastructure has been levelled. The aid post, school, property and gardens have been destroyed, and the church torn down. Both tribes are living in constant fear of retaliatory attack. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Am I going to lose another child, husband, brother or have my property destroyed?”

I am here in Papua New Guinea at the invitation of UnitingWorld’s partner, Young Ambassadors for Peace. Our small group has been asked to conduct a shuttle mediation between these two warring tribes with the hope of establishing a sustained peace.

We trek deep into the jungle through a valley in the Highlands, and after 50 minutes, we arrive in the presence of the tribe that had lost seven people in the conflict. The most recent died of a bullet wound the previous day. Arms are folded, pain and anger is written on every face, and the communication with us is brief. The general thrust is “the other tribe is to blame, go and talk with them!”

More trekking follows, deeper into the jungle, across a boundary line, and we find ourselves in the presence of the second tribe. They welcome us and one of the Young Ambassadors for Peace, UnitingWorld’s partner, stands to speak.

He is passionate and shares his tribe’s story of being in a similar place of anger, frustration and violent conflict with an opposing tribe. Both tribes suffered loss of lives, resulting in lifelong trauma. Most, if not all tribes in the highlands of Papua New Guinea have trodden this path before. The results are always the same: fear, anxiety, depression; loss of land, home and life.

I’m then invited to ‘take the stage’ on behalf of UnitingWorld. I look around and observe in the weathered faces of the old and the unflinching and distant eyes of the “young warriors,” yearnings common to all humanity. If this is to be a success, we’ll have to tap into their needs and fears.

What can I possibly add? I haven’t experienced tribal conflict or the murder of family members or destruction of my home. And yet, like others, I have experienced other kinds of violence in my family that destroyed my self-confidence and drive for life. I actually can share in their experience of fear, anxiety, depression and loss.

Sharing this allowed us all to empathise with one another – one of the most important steps towards peace. We all want recognition and acknowledgement, security, our basic needs to be met, love and the ability to live in peace, despite the mistakes of the past.

The tribespeople reveal that they’re exhausted from living in constant threat of retaliation. They want peace but don’t know how, because the other tribe appears uninterested. And they can’t cross the boundary line without being killed.

They can’t – but we can!

The Bishop of the region stands and makes some commitments to rebuild the church, aid post and school, and to resource them if a peace deal can be settled. Terms are written, including a possible meeting of key elders from each tribe and compensation. We are on the right track.

It’s well after lunch when we begin the trek back to the first tribe. The entire population of the village greet us on arrival and guide us to the ground in front of the church, which immediately causes a potential problem. It’s believed that a conversation on ‘Holy Land’ will be binding and could result in further death if broken.

Finally, the Reverend of the local church (pictured below) brings together the people, especially those who want revenge. We stand with them and empathise with their experience of loss, just as we did with the other tribe. We speak of peace and hope for new beginnings. It becomes evident that they have the same fears as the other tribe and also desire recognition, security and their needs to be met.

Two significant things then occur. One man stands and admits to instigating the conflict by stealing property and then destroying the aid post and school. Then an elder steals the attention of the audience and says that he has been wanting revenge because his son was killed in the conflict. The tension builds.

Then something incredible happens. He goes on to say that he can no longer live with this conflict and these constant threats to his tribe. He exclaims that what they need is peace to move forward into a better future.

Here he is, paving the way for an alternative future that would break the cycle of revenge.

In this moment we are all reaching together for a future of peace and reconciliation. I can see in this moment God’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18) taking place. We gather together with this tribe and pray for the families, for the children, and for a new and hopeful future. God is accomplishing the humanly impossible!

Six months later I receive a call. One of our Young Ambassadors for Peace tells me that after further peace talks these tribes are now living together in harmony, wanting to construct a new community of peace and justice. What more could we want?

As I look at this last photo I took in the valley, I’m reminded of what community should look like. As it draws me in I find it hard to imagine the violence because it looks so peaceful and serene. It provides a portrait through which we can imagine a peaceful and transformed community.

It illustrates to me that lasting peace formed out of violence and brokenness is possible. But sustaining peace demands several commitments, including:

  1. A space where people’s voices can be heard and their experiences acknowledged and validated
  2. The ability of people to be honest about their experiences of loss and pain
  3. A deep sense of empathic concern for the people whose stories are told
  4. A determination to re-see the humanity in the ‘Other’
  5. The desire and ability to equitably provide for the basic needs of every person in the communities involved

These ingredients were present in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and the results now tangibly express their importance in creating peace.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian family, but living in the Bible Belt of the United States meant that I wasn’t short of church experiences when I was a kid. For a long time the norms and traditions of the church felt strange and unfamiliar to me, and there were a lot of things about ‘doing church’ that I didn’t quite understand.

I remember the thing that seemed the oddest at the time was ‘passing the peace’. I learned very quickly what to say and do, but the reasons behind the custom didn’t make a lot of sense to me. After being a Christian for more than ten years, I still thought of passing the peace as some sort of nicety that we do as a means of encouraging fellowship and making one another feel at ease within the congregation. That is, until a trip to South Sudan made me see peace in a whole new light.

On my first full day in the capital Juba, I attended a peace and reconciliation workshop run by the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, UnitingWorld’s partner church in the country. With pride of place right up the very front, my eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the banner hanging in the middle of the stage. Written on it in both English and Arabic, was the theme of the training inspired by Ephesians 4:3:

“Do your best to preserve the unity which the spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together.”

Reading that banner I started to think about peace and my experiences of it. In Australia, peace is abundant. And I often take it for granted. But sitting in that church hall in Juba, I started to really think about what it means when peace isn’t present in a place.

As Christians, we’re called to love our neighbours and forgive those who sin against us. We’re bound together in unity because of the peace that exists between one person and another. But how many of us in Australia have ever had to forgive someone who has killed their family member? Perpetrated a war crime? Violated a loved one? How many of us has ever looked into the eyes of someone who has wronged us and unconditionally offered them peace?

For the people of South Sudan, peace isn’t a passive state of being. Without the luxury of taking it for granted, they are constantly working towards peace. Fighting for peace. Praying for peace. Throughout the Bible, all of us are called to seek peace, and many faithful South Sudanese people are answering this call. But I wonder – are we answering?

When our typical experience is the absence of conflict – the reality for most Australians – it’s easy to forget what it means to seek peace, especially when the peace we’re seeking is halfway across the world. But seeking peace doesn’t mean we have to be in the room at the ceasefire negotiations. It doesn’t mean that we have to be the ones laying down arms.

Seeking peace takes many forms. It’s the prayer you say before bed every night. It’s the letter you write your MP asking them to put peace at the top of their agenda. It’s the monthly donation you put aside to support the ministers working towards reconciliation.

It’s passing the peace, not just to your immediate neighbour, but those sisters and brothers that are keeping faith and building a church of peace in the hard places of the world.

We can all make a difference. We are all peacemakers. And together we can help bring peace to South Sudan.

– Megan

Find out how you can support the Peacemakers of South Sudan: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/projects/peacebuilding-and-trauma-healing