In This Issue:
+ Sowing Peace Around the World
+ Report from the Field: The Power of a Story
SOWING PEACE AROUND THE WORLD
By Molly Routson, Director of Global Education Partnerships
When Jerry and Cathie Gates were asked by their church to pursue training in peacemaking, it was so that they could help with conflicts within their Gig Harbor, Washington, congregation. They had no idea that this training would soon be the gateway for them, along with ministry partner Jon Nichols, to travel around the world training leaders of a major missions agency in biblical conflict resolution. But that’s exactly what happened.
In the last three years, Jerry, Cathie, and Jon have traveled together to teach peacemaking in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and now Senegal. Their entrée into this organization was through friends from their local church who serve as mission workers in South Asia. Having heard that the Gates were trained in conflict resolution, this missionary couple invited their friends to conduct training. They explained that team leaders were spending tremendous amounts of time and energy dealing with conflict within their team; not only was this a distraction and an enormous expense of time and energy, but also they felt ill-prepared to deal effectively with the issues involved.
Although the Gates had participated in PM’s basic Conflict Coaching and Mediation training, they began to investigate other ways that they could prepare to teach peacemaking in a culture that is remarkably different from where their peacemaking experience had been. They took the Teaching Peacemaking Cross-Culturally course in 2005, which helped to build a foundation for them to understand some of the assumptions of their Asian audience, as well as to be equipped to evaluate and adapt their approach when it wasn’t connecting well. Jon took the same course in 2007, just before the team’s second trip to India. On their third trip to Dakar, Senegal, the team felt like they had a handle on some of the ways they could anticipate needing to adjust; and, to their surprise, many of their experiences in Asia had prepared them to enter the African culture as well.
One unexpected challenge that they encountered right away in Dakar was the power supply. Cathie says, “We had no electricity so instead of using our wonderful pack of PowerPoint slides, we had to ‘wing it,’ which turned out to be a huge blessing. It allowed the conversation and problems to flow much more freely than if we were tied so much to a ‘plan.'” In fact, the team found the PowerPoint-free format to be so conducive to promoting discussion and adapting the presentation to the needs of the group, they’re not sure they will use the slides in the future, even if electricity is available.
As many of us know, we cannot guarantee results when we’re teaching peacemaking or helping people to pursue reconciliation; however, it is always amazing to see the gospel impacting lives in such tangible ways even as people are still in the process of learning peacemaking for the first time. Jon, Jerry, and Cathie shared about several such occasions in Senegal. In one instance, the team leader publicly apologized to one of his people during the morning time of devotions and, in a powerful gesture, the whole group paused and prayed for their relationship.
This morning time of praise and prayer was a significant way to start each day … even if it might have gone on much longer (in “African time”) than these Westerners’ schedule had planned! In one particularly powerful “deviation from the plan,” the man leading the devotions on the last day read from Judges 6, which describes Gideon cutting down the Asherah poles–the visible idols in the land–so that God’s people would worship him alone. After reading this text, the leader invited each participant to take out a piece of paper and to write down an idol that they had discovered that week in their hearts. “Just as Gideon brought down and burned the idols in this passage, we are going to collect these idols and burn them.” After allowing some time for reflection, they took the papers outside, put them in a can and burned them; it was an impactful moment for everyone. As Jon recounted this story, he commented, “This will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
This story is noteworthy not only because it is a visible demonstration of identifying and rooting out the idolatry in our hearts, but also because it shows that this leader had internalized the teaching so well, he was able to live it out in the moment. This is really Jerry, Cathie, and Jon’s passion: that their students understand how Scripture impacts their lives in very real, everyday ways, and that they’re able to apply that in the midst of challenging team conflicts. One way that they’ve sought to make their teaching more accessible for their audiences is to discuss plainly how culture impacts the way we apply peacemaking in our personal lives, in our churches, and in our work relationships. They’ve found it very effective to introduce these ideas early on–for example, some cultures expect people to keep the appearance of peace at any cost–so that the students can grow in their self-awareness and address some of the challenges that their particular culture presents to the principles that are presented throughout the rest of the course.
This awareness was especially important in Senegal because their audience consisted of twenty-one missionaries who serve in five West African countries, representing ten different nationalities. One man, an African who was raised in a predominantly European community in Brazil, experienced a profound realization about how growing up in this mix of cultures had impacted his relationship with his family; when he converted to Christianity, his family rejected him. As Jerry, Cathie, and Jon led the group through an understanding of how many cultures place a high value in preserving the honor of one’s family, this man realized that his conversion had, in his parents’ eyes, brought shame upon them as he seemed to be rejecting them and their heritage. Armed with this discovery, he felt more equipped to rebuild his relationship with his family.
One exciting aspect of Jon, Cathie, and Jerry’s work is that enthusiasm for peacemaking is spreading throughout this mission organization. Not only have they been invited to teach these various groups of regional team leaders–including another opportunity in Uzbekistan this summer–but people within the organization itself are becoming champions and advocates for addressing the conflicts that arise on their mission teams, and for doing it in the most biblical way possible. For example, the team leader from Asia traveled with them to Africa and, having watched them for the previous two years, assumed a role on their teaching team. This brought a valuable new dynamic to the teaching, since she teaches and practices peacemaking from an Asian perspective. As this level of interest grows, Jon, Jerry, and Cathie hope to be able to equip people on the field to do their own training and consulting in peacemaking.
The team has adopted James 3:18 as their motto: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” Cathie, Jerry, and Jon are seeking to plant seeds of peace in this mission organization where God has given them many opportunities; as a result, people in South Asia and West Africa are poised to reap a harvest of righteousness, to God’s glory and for the advance of his kingdom around the world.
Cathie Gates and Jon Nichols are pictured seated at the table as they train mission team leaders from Africa in peacemaking.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD: THE POWER OF A STORY
By Karl Dortzbach, Senior International Representative
Stories are at the heart of peacemaking. We tell stories of things someone did or said and those stories get passed into the minds and attitudes of others. What we give when we tell a story is a record of a wrong, or a stagnation of a present expectation.
Sometimes a story gives a look at a lingering frustration or it reveals the darkness of our soul that needs grace. Sometimes a story gives hope. Recently in a mediation, I asked the parties if they really wanted their joint story to end the way they were making it end. It brought a resolute “no, I don’t want it this way” from each of them and then out of the pause came a more deeply connected conversation than they had had in years.
A few weeks ago I was in Bulgaria and listened to the stories from a peacemaking class about conflict and loss. A woman told her story of being molested years earlier and struggling even then with a sense of being unworthy, used, and not able to trust men. A young man in the class told his story of teenage rebellion in a gang where one gang member was beaten by an ethnic gypsy and the gang went with him to avenge the beating. When the member could not bring himself to renew the fight, his friends turned on him and beat him again–his final rejection. The student reflected on his own subsequent conversion and interaction with that rejected gang member. He had never dealt with the relationship nor had he come to terms with his own sense of rejection from his family.
The stories of the class went on and on. In the process we re-thought the stories, re-told them, found the redemptive hope in them, and a new understanding emerged. The redemptive new story did not transform the estranged gang member who became an alcoholic and a thief to support a drug habit. But the new story did change a young man who now understood the importance of extending the acceptance and love of Christ. It was a story not of regret but of a new purpose for future engagement.
When we reframed the story of abuse it turned dishonor into the honor to suffer in some way as Christ suffered. The story was one that gave “passport” to help heal the wounds of others who had been broken in spirit by abuse. Like a crushed flower, her life became the perfume of joy.
When told redemptively, stories become tools for accurate and clear understanding of the past and the future. They focus on change and opportunity and give appropriate honor and passport to the story-bearer. Any time our stories draw attention to what God is doing, they no longer belong just to the story-bearer but to the cross-bearer, Jesus.
Peace on Earth is a quarterly e-publication of Peacemaker Ministries (www.Peacemaker.net). All Reserved.
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