In August 2017, Nosima Khatu’s family was happy. It was long into a late night of celebration when they were surrounded by the sounds of chaos at the home next door. Nosima rushed outside. She nearly passed out as she dizzily watched what happened next.
She stood there. And witnessed her brother and his two sons slaughtered. Before her eyes.
Her fifteen year-old son, still a young boy himself, held his mother in his arms to lead her back into their home. Away from the scene of violence.
That night began days of crying. Nosima wept when her family fled their homeland to seek refuge across the border. Their journey began with days of walking. The family carried nothing. They were starving after four days of eating nothing. And they were not alone. Nosima burst into tears when her family reached the country border and most of their old village was there too.
And Nosima cried again when she realized, “We’ve lost everything. Now we have nothing but our lives.”
The next day, Nosima’s family arrived at the Thengkhali Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Conflict At the Heart of the Refugee Crisis
Nosima’s story is tragic and heartbreaking. It’s also the kind of sensational story that we are used to hearing. 2018’s International Day of Peace begins with the reality that the world is full of violence, war, and conflict. In fact, Nosima’s story is far from unusual. Today, there are five major conflicts at the root of the world’s refugee crisis. A United Nations report states that in 2017, 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced due to conflict and persecution. This is the highest number seen since the end of World War II. Nosima is among the 1.2 million Rohingya refugees seeking safety in Bangladesh, most in crowded camps along the Cox’s Bazar coastline.
What is flourishing?
One of my favorite words to use when talking about culture and human development is “flourishing.” That word brings to mind images of blossoming plants, laughing families, and thriving communities. At Food for the Hungry (FH), we follow Jesus. That’s our #1 value because we believe that people only flourish when their lives are focused on God. Our fifth value is that we pursue beauty, goodness, and truth. The first must come before the fifth because, as philosopher-theologian Miroslav Volf writes, God is the “source of everything that is true, good, and beautiful.”
Essential to the understanding of “flourishing” in relationship to God is the biblical concept of Shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word often translated as “peace.” But a better definition exudes the idea of wholeness. Shalom is peace + justice + hope shared across individuals, communities, nations, and the entire world. Shalom is more but not less than peace. And that’s what it takes to allow true human flourishing.
In a time when refugees like Nosima flee their homes and communities to escape persecution and violence, the absence of Shalom is obvious. Where is the peace, justice, and hope for Nosima? And if it is true that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” maybe it’s also the case that a lack of Shalom anywhere indicates a lack of Shalom everywhere.
I do not believe that means there is no hope. On the contrary. I think that it means that those who follow Jesus must create peace as we live out our call to pursue beauty, goodness, and truth.
This International Day of Peace, I want followers of Christ to answer our call. To be peacemakers.
What is peace?
To talk about what peacemaking is, I think we first need to define what peacemaking is not. Even Martin Luther King Jr. distinguished “the devil’s peace” from the Lord’s true peace. Christian writer and activist Shane Claiborne writes, “A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm.” That isn’t true peace.
When I argue with someone in my family, walking around the house ignoring each other is not true peace.
If you see something wrong and do nothing to stop it, your passivity is not peace.
The silence of someone too exhausted to resist their oppressor is not peace.
Instead, true peace involves justice, restoration, forgiveness, and freedom.
What is peacemaking?
Shane Claiborne describes peacemaking as “the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer.” Instead, it’s “the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight.” What is the third way?
The third way is the pursuit of reconciliation and justice through radical love. A love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free. A love that comes from knowing the God described in God’s Story, who brings restoration, justice, and peace back to the whole world.
Because the Absence of Shalom Is Obvious
And because the vulnerable and marginalized who feel pain and suffering the most. And in a time with more than 25 million refugees, the chaos of conflict robs the vulnerable of their right to peace in a major way.
I believe that those who believe God’s Story and follow him are to be peacemakers. Not in the passive sense. Not just by avoiding conflict. But by creating peace. By engaging brokenness. Seeking to serve. Loving others in that radical way.
Peacemaking Actions for Every Day of the Week
- Pray for those who annoy you.
- Seek to bless and affirm the people who tempt you to complain or argue.
- Refuse to end friendship or family relationships because you disagree on political, social, or religious issues.
- Forgive those who offend you and let go of anger.
- Learn about current international efforts at peacemaking.
- Go out of your way to show kindness to your neighbor, even when it’s not required.
- And.. I believe that one way to do be a peacemaker is by committing yourself to help those most affected by violence and conflict.
The inspiration for Food for the Hungry (FH) was the passage of Psalm 146 that says,
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is the Lord his God,
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
Give to FH’s work in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and help provide support and medical aid to Rohingya refugees like Nosima and her family.