“The world changes when people have to deal with a very risky issue and either do it poorly or do it well.”

– authors of Crucial Conversations

by Nicole Gibson

71-JoCQKbHL2Peacemaking happens in big ways and in very small ways. It happens between conflicting people groups in the world and between individuals in the smallest of conversations. It happens between those of different religious or political backgrounds and between a domestic couple trying to make a decision.

Peacemaking is about relating to those who differ from us, and we deal with people every day who differ from us in one way or another. For example, a boss who’s made a decision we strongly disagree with or a coworker we feel has been stepping on our toes. Or a loved one making destructive relationship choices. Or a significant other we don’t see eye-to-eye with about a touchy financial issue.

These are all situations where peace is either nurtured or broken down. In every one of these situations, and countless others like them, we must ask ourselves, “Can I dialogue with this person and address our differences while still maintaining relationship?”

In peacemaking, we often talk about this kind of thing on a large scale, but it actually applies to everyday relationships and conversations, and that’s what makes this book such a gem. The principles in Crucial Conversations empower us to both talk about the hard things AND maintain relationship. They give us the tools to “talk openly about high-stakes, emotional, and controversial topics.”

Though not written from a Jesus-centered perspective, the authors start with the principle of “working on me first, us second,” which calls to mind Jesus’s teaching about not trying to take a speck out of someone else’s eye until we’ve gotten the plank out of our own.

The authors then go into detail about something essential to crucial conversations: maintaining safety. That is, making sure that both parties feel safe enough to express themselves openly in the conversation. This is, the authors say, the only way for dialogue to continue. “If you make it safe enough, you can talk about almost anything and people will listen.” Conversely, “If you don’t fear that you’re being attacked or humiliated, you yourself can hear almost anything and not become defensive” (p 55).

This is a book about how to foster healthy conversations about tough issues and maintain open communication in potentially explosive situations. Imagine how different our lives and relationships, not to mention our ability to affect positive change in the world, can be if we put a little effort into improving our skills in this area. It seems to me that if we can do that, we will become powerful peacemakers in all our spheres of life.

I know that, personally, this book has drastically changed the way I communicate. As you read this book and start practicing your own crucial conversations (or if you’ve read it before), share your stories, and let’s learn from one another.

refugee

 

by Susan Brooks

She was a refugee from Syria, a beautiful young woman dressed in black from head to toe. A patterned scarf was tied around her head and tucked into a lightweight double-breasted suit coat that skirted the floor. She spoke passionately in a language I couldn’t understand, and her young interpreter had to stop a time or two to choke back tears.

The refugee was a young mother, and she told of her struggles during her recent pregnancy in Syria. Her country was falling apart. As her time drew near, she scheduled a c-section two weeks before her baby was due—she needed to make sure the baby would not be born in the middle of the night. A nighttime trip to the hospital would have been too risky. When the time came for the c-section, the soldiers stopped her family on their way to the hospital. They detained her husband for no apparent reason, leaving her to deliver the baby without him.

Upon her arrival at the hospital, the warring factions were bombing the area and her heart was racing. Because of her condition, they couldn’t give her the medicine she needed to relax, so she had to find a way to calm down without medication.

“I can do this, I can do this,” she repeated, realizing she had to be strong for the baby.

In spite of the horrific conditions, she delivered a healthy baby, and some time later the husband was released. The family returned to their home, but the situation in the area only worsened. Soldiers harassed the husband when he would venture out, until one day they beat him with sticks so severely he feared for his life. By the time the baby was four months old, the family decided it was safer to flee the violence than to stay in their home. They had no passports and no birth certificate for the baby, so they would have to escape across the border illegally. Their best chance to survive the journey was to race through the forest under the cover of night. It was extremely difficult to see their way through, and at certain places they had to run or the spotlights would expose them. If caught in the spotlights, border guards would shoot them on sight. The young father carried his two-year-old son and the nursing mother carried her four-month-old baby. It was nearly impossible to keep the children quiet during their flight, but somehow, by the grace of God, they made it. This young Syrian family is now living in the States, building a new life.

I heard this story at our most recent Peace Feast, and I had the privilege of hugging the young mother who had been through such trauma. She wants everyone to know about the suffering of her people. Her story reminded me of another flight by a family of refugees. They, too fled under the cover of night to a neighboring country. They fled to Egypt to save the life of their child from a murderous ruler. The child’s name was Jesus. I wonder who helped that refugee family. Who took little Jesus in and provided diapers for him and food and shelter for his mother and father until Joseph could find some carpentry work and an apartment? Mary, Joseph, and Jesus stayed in Egypt until Herod died. I wonder if the Egyptians resented Joseph coming into their country and taking their jobs? I wonder if the holy family feared being put in jail for illegal entry? Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” I’m finding that to be true.

 

133071_1611392057736_3864988_ogray

Susan is a peacemaker and artist from Louisville, where she works with her husband Martin, Peace Catalyst’s Midwest Regional Director. Read more from Susan at susanebrooks.com.

 


A Survivor’s Story | Christiane Amanpour | CNN 

 

by Bill Clark

On Saturday July 11, Peace Catalyst staff and volunteers in Seattle came together with our Bosnian friends to join them in remembrance of the Srebrenica genocide their people experienced in Europe only twenty years ago. In 1995 Serbian soldiers killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and many of the Bosnians present in Seattle this weekend lost loved ones in the three-year conflict in Bosnia that resulted in more than 100,000 deaths, 2 million displaced people, and the rape of more than 20,000 girls and women. These are horrifying numbers and tragic that this occurred in Europe only 40 years after the Holocaust. From 1995-2007, over 130,000 refugees settled in the United States, 10,000 of them in Washington State.

For followers of Jesus (and American citizens), what is our responsibility towards these new neighbors? They have simply asked us to join them in the act of remembering the horrific events of the 1990s so that massacres like this never happen again. On three different occasions Peace Catalyst has worked with local churches and hosted a talented group of Bosnians from the local non-profit Voices of the Bosnian Genocide to share oral history accounts of the war and their refugee experience. Given the fact that ‘Christian’ Serbs were the perpetrators of violence against the Muslim Bosnians, it has been a powerful symbol of healing to hold these events in Christian churches.

In fact, the phrase, “never again” was repeated numerous times during the moving two-hour program on Saturday. We heard accounts of concentration camp survivors and families torn apart and, in some cases, reunited after the war. Throughout the event there was no self-pity, but a clear truth-telling of the horror this people has been through. There was a strong emphasis on not wasting the sorrow of this tragedy but rather looking forward to the future and, for all of us, being the kind of people who will not stand on the sidelines when the next genocide is on the horizon. So then, through their endurance of suffering and persistence in not forgetting the past, our Bosnian American neighbors teach us to be better than we are now: to be global citizens, ready to act when required by the standards of justice and peace.

The entire 2 hour program is available here.

#10

#4

#3

#5

#12

by Rick Love

Twenty three Burmese refugee leaders gathered for a Peace Feast in Denver. We all sat cross-legged on mats, enjoying a variety of delicious Burmese foods and talking. It reminded me a lot of life in Indonesia, where I lived for eight years.

11411658_959042740804960_3609172170775939657_o

 

But this was different than most Peace Feasts. Usually, PCI Peace Feasts are held at restaurants and involve interviews, Q&A, and sharing around the table. But this was the start of a formal mediation process that I was leading. We were not just building bridges of love and breaking down negative stereotypes, like most Peace Feasts. We were beginning to address deep conflicts and divisions.

The Burmese refugee community in Denver is comprised of people of three religions (Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim) and nine different ethnic groups. One of the ethnic groups is the Rohingya – a Muslim group brutally persecuted by the Buddhist majority in Burma. These refugees have all experienced violent conflicts, significant struggles with integration, and a general lack of cooperation.

Because of this, Frank Anello of Project Worthmore invited me to mediate between the different groups. He asked me to try to establish some type of practical working relationship between the leaders for the greater good of the Burmese community. So we have set out together, by faith, on a peacemaking journey that will take many months.

Rather than a typical, more Western approach to mediation, I decided to begin with a Peace Feast. This puts the focus on relationship and affirms the Burmese way of doing things.

Preparing for this multi-cultural, multi-religious Peace Feast was not easy. In order to honor the different groups, we served Burmese food cooked by four Burmese families from different ethnic groups. The Peace Feast/mediation took place in three languages: English, Burmese, and Karen.

We also tried some ice-breakers to lighten up the situation. I told everyone they needed to meet somebody new and that I would ask them to share something about their new acquaintance. They enjoyed it, as evidenced by the fact that people were laughing and clapping as they shared.

Cultural sensitivity, good food, fun ice-breakers, and the invitation to work for peace seemed to soften hearts and engender hope. May this feast be the start of real peace for the Burmese!

by Rick Love

This is the third of three blog posts about my recent trip to Indonesia. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Two leaders from the Hizb ut-Tahrir spoke to our group in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. These men outlined a bold, utopian Islamic vision. They saw themselves at war with Western civilization and sought to establish a global Caliphate – an Islamic government with a leader over their entire Muslim community, known as a Caliph.

11294523_10204802780924269_277599847_o (2)

 

I was stunned when I realized how radical their vision was. This was a sophisticated, non-violent version of ISIS (at least they were non-violent to this point). But they were planning and plotting for an Islamic takeover of the world. And they shared about this in a public forum.

They began by explaining that capitalism is the enemy and Islam is the solution. I admired their zeal to win the world for Islam – after all, I want the whole world to follow Jesus. So I get that part of their vision. But… a global Caliphate?

During the time of Q&A one of the members of my group asked where this version of Islam is presently being lived out. The leaders of Hizb ut-Tahrir paused and replied, “Nowhere!”

My friend’s followup question was just as incisive: “You argue that the Caliphate is the rule of God. But people are sinners. So how can sinful leaders implement the rule of God on earth?” “The Caliphate will be led by devout leaders who want to obey Allah. And if they deviate from Allah’s path, we have lots of rules and laws to protect us,” the Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders replied.

Next I asked three questions: 1) What is the relationship between Democracy and Islam? 2) Can Muslims and Christians live at peace? and 3) Do you believe in freedom of religion?

I talked to Muslim leaders in four other cities in Indonesia, and they were positive about democracy. But these men from the Hizb ut-Tahrir stated bluntly, “democracy is the rule of people, whereas Islam is the rule of God.”

They said that Muslims and Christians can live together in peace and that they believed in freedom of religion. But in an unbelievable contradiction to these positive affirmations, they added rather nonchalantly, “If someone is a Muslim or becomes a Muslim and then leaves the faith, they must be put to death.”

If that is what religious freedom looks like, I would hate to see what religious repression is!

I spent the month of May in Indonesia – lecturing and peacemaking in five cities: Jakarta, Bandung, Salatiga, Purwokerto, and Jogjakarta. This whirlwind tour gave me a fascinating window into the beauty and diversity of Islam in Indonesia – which is a microcosm of Islam throughout the world.

The majority of Muslims I met were classic peace-loving people who were positive toward Christians and feared radical Islam. Other groups were less favorable toward Christians but still not radical. When I teach on Islam I remind people that the majority of people killed by terrorists are Muslims themselves. So for the most part, what we are seeing around the world is not a clash of civilizations but a clash within civilization.

However, the two men from Hizb ut-Tahrir represent the radical end of the Islamic spectrum. Fortunately, they represent only a miniscule minority of Muslims.

[For more about Hizb ut-Tahrir you can read The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I left by Ed Husain.]

11297332_10204802780844267_1134201251_o (2)