Thursday, December 12, 2013

Work for Peace

Many in the US and around the world often say, “We work for peace.”  What does that mean?  HOW do we do it? 

We are in advent, a season of preparation and hope.  We commemorate Jesus’ first coming and his life-saving gift.  At the same time, we look forward to his second coming which will eliminate hate, greed, evil, and destructive actions of some people against others.

As I write a neighbor is playing Christmas carols, reminding me of the season. (Yes, I know it’s not Christmas yet, but here, like in the States, December means Christmas carols – too bad we don’t have more Advent carols!)  Yet, I don’t feel joy or hope.  The news out of the Central African Republic goes from bad to worse to absolutely horrible. 

1200 people are crammed into St. Timothy’s concession in Bangui.  (That the Evangelical Lutheran church near the airport.)  Thousands are taking refuge on runways at the airport.  Then, I hear that the people of Bohong have been attached again.  Many in other towns also face death or displacement. 

Yes, neighboring countries have sent troops and now the French have sent more to help calm the situation, but, on Day 3, two young French soldiers (ages 22 and 23) were killed while trying to disarm someone.  A merchant here in Garoua Boulai said, “What can you expect?  Why would a Muslim Seleka give up his weapon when there are a group of Christians nearby waiting to kill him as soon as the French leave?”  OK.  I understand, but is killing the answer???

We all want to live.  Of course.  But vengeance doesn’t bring back loved ones; it only makes someone else want to take revenge on us because of our actions. 

I am thinking a lot about Nelson Mandela as his life is celebrated at the time of his death.  He worked for peace and reconciliation.  I am thinking of the women in Liberia as portrayed in Gina Reticker and Abigail Disney’s wonderful film, “Praying the Devil Back to Hell.”  Leymah Gbowee organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace getting thousands of Christian and Muslim women to meet in the fish market (and later at peace talks) to sing and pray for peace.  One woman started it and many others joined her.

The massacre of Christians and Muslims in CAR is horrendous.  It is WRONG!  It runs counter to the basic tenets of both religions.  These people DO NOT represent Christ or Mohamad or God.  But they have the weapons.  The Seleka are fomenting hate, discord, and greed.  They are needlessly killing, looting, and provoking a reign of terror.  I can understand those who have said “enough,” and want to strike back.  I understand, but they are now killing, and looting, and provoking a reign of terror. 

When will it stop?  Who will stand up and, in the tradition of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Leymah Gbowee, say enough – at the same time refusing to enter into the violent reprisals? 

I have avoided writing about much of the violence and bloodshed because it is all over the news.  CAR is even making the news in the US – which means the situation is dire, indeed.  Then, there is Syria and all the other war-torn places in the world.  I have thought that by bringing you thoughts and news about other aspects of my live in Garoua Boulai, you could better understand this part of the world and see how much humanity and love we share.

In the past week the news from CAR has been horrendous – again – yet worse than before.  Over 400 killed in sectarian violence in Bangui.  Tens of thousands displaced.  Now I hear that Bohong (village in the northwestern part of the country where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of CAR has a hospital) that was virtually destroyed in August was attached again yesterday morning.  Many Seleka troops were headed that way – to quell the self-defense group.  More slaughter and destruction?

People tell me that I am brave to be working in Garoua Boulai.  Brave?  To be in a peaceful town?  Yes, people here are affected.  There is virtually no commerce with CAR which greatly impacts people’s livelihoods.  I was talking to a trucker (visiting in his brother’s shop) who reported that he drives one of several trucks with food assistance for Bouar that is stuck in GB because there is not escort to get them safely to their destination – he can’t work and much needed food can’t be delivered.  Many Central African refugees have flooded town. But my life and work continue.  I am safe and comfortable in my “luxurious” house. 

I know there are many small things we do, day-to-day, that promote peace in our lives, those of our neighbors, and in our cities and countries.  Somehow that doesn’t seem like enough, but I here are some actions I am determined to continue, I:
·         great everyone as I walk down the street – women, men, children, Christian, Muslim.
·         try to greet them in their own language – as a courtesy, even if I can’t say more than hello.
·         talk to people in town to get to know them and learn about their lives in cultures – esp. those who are different than I am.  (Well, OK, that means most everyone here!)
·         focus on doing my work the best that I am able – while trying to see people as individuals who have more similar to me than different.
·         call my co-workers and friends in CAR regularly so we can work, but also so they know they are not alone.  (OK, that’s hard right now because the telephone network around Baboua is currently down and needs repairmen/supplies from Bangui – who knows when that will happen…)
·         Offer hospitality to all who come to my house.
·         feed those I work with whenever possible and offering meat or fish – not just because it is a sign of respect for guests here, but also because I know that many can’t afford the cost of meat right now.
·         communicate with family, friends, and supporters – to feel connected to you all while a world away and to keep you informed about what is happening for me.

All of these actions are ways for me to show God’s love to others.  He has blessed me immensely; I am grateful and need to pass that love on to others.

So, pray for peace – and send me examples ways you are working for peace where you are.  Maybe I can try some of those. 

If we all pray at the same time and all work to defeat hate and greed at the same time, we CAN and MUST affect change. 

(p.s. no pictures with this blog – if you need to see pictures, watch the news or check the internet; images of war and destruction abound.)


  1. Making friends and hanging out with them seems to me to be how we can all make peace. A bit mundane, perhaps, but accessible. For you to be able to do that with people who are not so accessible to most of us on the other side of the world is really special. Enjoy your friends. I'm really grateful for your work, and for your reports.

    1. Thanks for your vote of confidence Alan. I have been thinking a lot about Kaga Bandoro and N'dele - two towns that have been very hard hit in all of this. With short life expectancies in CAR, who know if anyone we knew is still there and alive. If the latter, I hope they have found a safe place to take refuge. I want to stop listening to the news and stories which make me so sad, but instead this weekend I think I will make some cookies to share with friends as a Christmas treat - even if they are not Christian... Hope you are well.

    2. I like your sharing who you are with each one you meet, and I will try to lift up your tiny slice of the world where I am. The word intractable comes to mind... but we are people of faith, and God makes a way where we and those who have come before us have not be able to see the way: for the Hebrews, in the desert, then through the Red Sea, with enemies on their heels; for Jesus, killed at the hands of those who wanted to silence him; and for frightened disciples isolated in the upper room after he died. I'm grateful that you see connections with others in what could be very isolating circumstances. I think of you often, even when I can't write. Love, Janet

    3. Your intractable examples that changed are inspiring. I am glad we are closely connected - even at a distance.