Peace on Earth
by corinne gunter
In July 2016, a team from Grace Church arrived for the first time in Kigali, Rwanda. Thankful to have completed the long journey, our thoughts turned to the cohort of Rwandan female leaders with whom we would partner for the next three years. How could two groups of women with such different backgrounds and cultures connect?
The next morning, we were awakened by the sounds of birds singing. Not sure what to expect we made our way to the conference room. One quick scan of the room revealed that though it was filled with 55 eager participants, our translator was nowhere in sight. With no one to bridge the gap, our team and the Rwandan women found themselves staring at one another.
I awkwardly eased away from the comfort and security of our team. All I could offer was a smile, an outreached hand, and a few a Kinyarwandan phrases I’d been practicing. A simple good morning and introduction eased the awkward silence. Almost instantly we began exchanging tentative but genuine greetings. It’s amazing how a simple gesture can lessen the distance between individuals.
For the past two years, Grace Church has partnered with ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries) to offer a holistic leadership training program for female leaders in Rwanda. Selected because of their leadership roles in their churches and communities, the participants come from all over country. Although these leaders had never met, they are all survivors of the horrific 1994 genocide. They know firsthand how division and discrimination can be a breeding ground for hatred and dehumanization.
What began as an unlikely gathering of strangers, divided by tribe, church denomination and experiences, has grown into a unified family. In just two years, these Rwandan women have joined arms to support each other. They have forgiven. They have carried one another’s burdens. And now they are better equipped to bring hope, healing and transformation to their country.
The reality of divisiveness is not limited to Rwanda. It is more than apparent right here at home. Lines drawn based on differences are causing division and resulting in anger, abuse and violence.
Disunity is a far cry from Jesus’ heart for his church. His prayer to the Father is this:
I pray they will all be one, just as you and I are one… May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. (John 17:21-23)
Reconciliation is a hot topic these days. I know it’s complicated. But if we want to join Jesus in his mission of reconciliation, we must engage.
What can we do?
Perspective. We must acknowledge we can learn a great deal from other perspectives, rather than limiting our understanding to the parameters to which we’ve clung.
Proximity. We must move outside our familiar circles. We must listen to others with a sense of curiosity and respect so we can carry on meaningful dialogues.
Presence. We must be present so that trust can be built over time.
If we remain persistent in our prayers and practices, God will give us His eyes and ears, allowing us to be more aware and responsive to what He is trying to do.
Division seems to be permeating our world. But don’t lose hope.
In Rwanda, we’ve witnessed strangers becomes friends and enemies forgive each other. We’re seeing courageous women stand up and be agents for peace building and reconciliation.
And here at Grace, we’re hopeful, as more diverse groups of people gather to humbly listen to each other.
Maybe reconciliation begins with an awkward walk across the room toward someone who speaks a different language. Maybe we could start by extending a hand, uncrossing our arms and leaning in to listen.