What We Did in 2013

April 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

The peacemaking movement is officially well underway, and Peace Catalyst had a record-breaking year in 2013. We want to keep you in the know about what we’re doing, so we’ve put together this overview of highlights from 2013. This is the work of so many people who work with us, support us, and are starting peacemaking movements in their own cities, so let’s celebrate this move of God together!


Peace Catalyst 2013 Annual Report2 cover


In a recent post, I wrote about the FBI showing up at one of our Peace Feasts and how our peacemaking efforts help protect young Somali men in America from the recruiting efforts of al-Shabaab.

Today I’d like to talk more about the situation and share with you this analysis by Peter Sensenig. This post was originally published here, and I am sharing it with his permission.


by Peter Sensenig

Some historical context may help us understand a bit better how something like the mass murder at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall last September happens and how such evil takes root. And it will also help us engage the Just Peacemaking practice of acknowledging responsibility in what has happened to Somalia.

The dictator Siad Barre ruled Somalia with an iron hand from 1969 to 1991. The abuse of power in the Barre regime was so great that it cultivated a deep distrust of centralized authority. When his government fell, Somalis turned to Islamic revival in lieu of a centralized government. In the mid 2000s an alternative movement called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) managed to bring relative peace to war-torn Somalia, reducing weapons and even clamping down on piracy off the coast. The ICU had legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali people, because it was perceived as a grassroots movement that was successful in bringing about some stability.

But the US did not trust the ICU, which included both moderate and radical elements. The US hired warlords in Mogadishu to kill and capture suspected al-Qaeda operatives. The ICU opposed these US-supported warlords. Furthermore, neighboring Ethiopia feared that Somalia might be reuniting under a powerful Islamic movement. On Christmas Eve 2006, a coalition of US and Ethiopian forces rolled into Somalia in tanks, killing rather than capturing both ICU leaders and civilians.

The invasion by Ethiopia and the US achieved the opposite of its intended outcome. The annihilation of the Islamic Courts Union all but destroyed the moderate presence in Somalia, radicalizing both the religious and political leadership and the general population. It was the in wake of the ICU’s demise that al-Shabaab was formed, and aligned itself with al-Qaeda.

Simply put, the US played a major part in the creation of al-Shabaab.

Journalist Eliza Griswold describes both the invasion and the Bush administration’s policies in Somalia, including supporting notorious warlords and launching Tomahawk missile strikes against civilians, as a complete backfire. The fighting stemming from the invasion killed at least 8,500 people by the end of 2009, leaving 1.5 million homeless and 3.8 million at risk of famine. The battle for the hearts and minds of Somalis was lost, allowing al-Qaeda to plant a “friendly flag” among a population increasingly willing to side with anyone against the barbarity of the West. The long hatred for the Ethiopians (and subsequently Christians) was rekindled; Griswold reports widespread sentiment regarding the thousands of dead Somalis, including many civilians, that “Muslims wouldn’t do anything like this” (Griswold, Tenth Parallel, 130). The US and its allies had ushered in the enemy they had claimed to be destroying. Somalia was back to square one on insecurity and anarchy.

Just as tragically, the invasion and overthrow of the ICU was a lost opportunity for peacemaking. If the international community had recognized that the ICU was a genuine grassroots government with broad support from the Somali people, the focus could have turned to peacebuilding strategies rather than the endless tasks of state-building. It was an ideal moment to construct a genuinely Somali, bottom-up government, a moment that was utterly squandered by the Bush administration’s war on terror, which painted all kinds of Islamic organizations with broad and often deeply mistaken brushstrokes. The lesson of the previous military actions in Somalia – including the famous Black Hawk Down events – was still not learned: Somalis unite against foreign military intervention, to the benefit of groups like al-Shabaab.

Glen Stassen has demonstrated convincingly that combating terrorism with war, torture, and threats only increases terrorist activity. The utterly unimaginative, alienating, and futile attempts to destroy al-Shabaab with force will only yield more bitter fruit like the Westgate Mall attack.

In the same vein, John Paul Lederach argues that it is a mistake to employ a strategy of isolation rather than engagement with groups like al-Shabaab. He criticizes the tactic of creating wide ranging terrorist lists that seek to control acts of terrorism but have no long-term strategy for transforming the factors that cultivate terrorism. What is needed instead is a multifaceted approach grounded in a compelling theory of social change. Neither isolating al-Shabaab nor pursuing the organization militarily will have any lasting impact for peace.

Last month I was in Somaliland, visiting a university that has an institute for peace and conflict studies. At this institute, students from various parts of the Somali region study the power of nonviolent strategies, conflict transformation, and trauma healing. It is in places like this that the futility of both military intervention and militant Islamism are laid bare. This – not the barrel of a rifle or a tank – is the real battlefront against the violence of al-Shabaab.

by Rick Love

As I write this, I’m on a plane from William Jessup University in California, where I just finished teaching an online course on Christian-Muslim-Jewish relations there. I loved the enthusiasm of the students and had a great time teaching the course.

More than once students said something like this: “I was never taught to build bridges. We always focused on our beliefs and the differences between us and others. We want to share our faith but never learned about building bridges of truth and love.”

Why did these students at this evangelical university feel this way? Why weren’t they taught to build bridges?

I think there are lots of reasons for this, but two stand out to me. First, in practice, evangelicals act as if the great commission (“make disciples of all nations”) is more important than the great commandments (love God and neighbor). Some would never say this, but as one who has been part of the evangelical movement since 1970, this has been my experience. Obeying Jesus’s command to “preach the gospel” usually takes precedent over his command to “love your neighbor.”

Second, evangelicals joyfully affirm God’s saving grace, but few have even heard of common grace. My life was radically turned around when I encountered God in the Jesus movement. God’s saving grace ambushed me and I am forever grateful.

But what about this other doctrine called common grace?

Have you ever heard a sermon on it? I haven’t. Neither had my students. Yet God has poured out His common grace on all humanity. What is it?

1. All people enjoy the blessings of the physical world
2. All people have the ability to do good (implying restraint of evil as well)
3. All people have a general knowledge of God or a sense of the divine
4. All people are culture makers

By common grace, unbelievers, not just believers, can do good. In fact, they often do amazing things. And we should see God’s hand in it. We should be grateful that God’s common grace operates in every friendship, every act of kindness, every scientific discovery, every technological advance. Because all of this is ultimately from God.

Common grace also helps us find common ground. In fact, the doctrine of common grace is indispensable for peacemakers. Recognizing good things in others helps us build bridges for peace and partner for human flourishing — important practices in an increasingly interconnected, multi-cultural world.

Practically speaking, if we obey the great commandments we will be more effective in carrying out the great commission. And if we truly love our neighbors then we will be more motivated to share our faith with them. In addition, a natural (or maybe I should say supernatural) consequence of embracing common grace is that more people will be drawn to saving grace.

However, we don’t obey the great commandments or apply the doctrine of common grace in our relationships as an evangelistic strategy. We do so because it pleases God. We do so because we love God and want to obey Him.

Followers of Jesus don’t have the option of choosing one command or doctrine over the other. We must obey all that Jesus commanded. We emphasize BOTH the great commission and the great commandments. We prioritize BOTH saving grace and common grace. As my friend Rich Nathan says so profoundly, we need to be ‘both-and’ thinkers in an ‘either-or’ world.

And when we do this, more and more people will begin building bridges of truth and love!

by David Vidmar

Image 13 copyNear UC Davis, Muslim internationals from Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi, and Dubai, along with Christians from America and Indonesia, have been meeting together over the past six weeks. We call this a Community of Reconciliation. Sharing life together to build peace.

One of the things we do is simply get to know each other as people and tell the stories of our lives. One international told us of an ailment of his that was misdiagnosed for years. Surgeons opened him up to find his insides were severely damaged by TB. They removed his small intestines, telling him he was going to have a short life. “Don’t even get married,” they told him. Today he has three children and is so grateful to God for his extended life.

We also share what is meaningful to us in our respective religious texts and actually read from each other’s holy books.


By Praying For One Another

Another thing we do together is pray and thank God for one other. Eating meals, laughing, and sharing our stories help us know one another better and to see each other as fellow sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

Our Egyptian friend shared about being violently hit by a car while riding his bike. He was in a coma and hospitalized for 10 days. He had headaches and dizziness and lost his senses of smell and taste. We were able to pray for him, trusting that God is healing his brain more each day.

We also pray about our struggles and dreams. Family life, the challenges of coming to a new country, the uncertainty of visas, finances, and the dreams we all have for our families. We have prayed and grieved over the events in Ukraine, Syria, and Egypt. We have asked God for mercy and justice in these lands, and together we have imagined and prayed for a better world for us all.


Working together for the Common Good

We are now considering what we can do together before some must return home this summer. Have a Peace Feast to raise money for Syrian refugees? Do an English Club for migrant farm workers coming to our area in the spring? Maybe we can plant a community garden or clean the yard of an elderly neighbor?

In some ways, we are bold to believe that our little Community of Reconciliation can make a difference. But the truth is that we do have the power together to bring good into our part of the world. Something must change in the world between Muslims and Christians, because we form nearly one half of the world’s population, so we look forward to doing life together in new communities that reconcile.


Yeast of Peace

Jesus told the story of just a little yeast working its way into every part of the dough. The little yeast of peace and reconciliation can do the same to bring good news in this world. This yeast may end up permeating every part of our home countries and all over the world. We are not enemies. We hope for reconciliation with ourselves, God, and even across faiths.

No, in this connected world, we can’t just be enemies. Not now, not then.



by David Vidmar 

I anxiously prepared for our first Community of Reconciliation gathering. Would anyone show up? Busy international scholars and students are not the easiest people to gather together. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. Instead, we actually ran out of forks…so much for being prepared.


What is a Community of Reconciliation?

It’s so fun to greet Muslims, saying, “Assalamu alaykum.” Their faces brighten on hearing it. Try it. But it’s also rich to go deeper, and that’s why Peace Catalyst and others have been gathering Muslims and Christians together in Communities of Reconciliation. Meeting regularly helps us get far beyond greetings, and our lives and communities change because of it. On different campuses and cities in the U.S., Muslims and Christians have gathered to build greater peace and tear down barriers that have hindered relationships between us. The goal: to understand before trying to be understood.

Image 25So we began a Community of Reconciliation here in Davis, California. Muslim friends from Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi, and Dubai, along with Christians from America and Indonesia, have been meeting over the past six weeks. Men and women, scholars from UC Davis and non-academics like me. We share our journeys, talk about our families, display our cultures, and discuss our faith. And of course, we enjoy eating Middle Eastern foods like shwarma, pita, dolma, and hummus!

But what will food and talk do between such varied cultures? Won’t we just try to convert each other? Or attack each other’s differences? One of the Pakistani men in our group spoke of seeing a suicide bomber kill two UN officials right in front of him. We don’t have to search far to be reminded of the cost of extremism. Comparing the best in our faith with the worst in theirs. Surveys reveal that a large percentage of Americans have negative feelings towards Muslims.


Who will define Muslim and Christian relations?

Both Muslim and Christians know we have extremists influencing the relationship between us. There is persecution, retaliation, fear, and hatred on both sides. We can allow that to define us. Or we can agree that we must do more than read books or watch news reports about each other. More than talk about or read about each other behind one another’s backs. We must learn from each other face-to-face.

So we commit to go beyond casual greetings.


Building Bridges of Trust

This is our heart’s desire in our Community of Reconciliation:

“Instead of bringing others to where we are, we are now seeking to go with them to a place neither of us have been before. Traveling as companions on a journey. During this journey we all share gifts and expect to experience transformation through relationship.”
– Vincent Donovan and Jeff Burns

Are we being naive or compromising our faith by meeting? No. We agree that we are actually practicing our faith by gathering together. Our Egyptian friend quoted the Quran in saying, “Christians should be some who are closest to them. They are humble” (Q 5:82). Christians say, “We are trying to follow Jesus.” Jesus was honoring and relational with people from other faiths, and his longest recorded conversation was with the non-Jewish Samaritan woman at the well.

So instead of allowing our differences to drive us apart, we are drawing together with the desire to know and be known by each other. I will tell you more in the next blog, but… we may need to buy more forks.

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