The “I Should Have” of Peacebuilding Gone Wrong

A few words from a novice
by Rebecca Brown


Rebecca Brown webI arrived at the Mosque that afternoon with an outline for the day’s event, a Muslim friend to co-facilitate with me, and a trust in God to do good things.

I left the Mosque with a heavy conscience, shaky hands, and no small amount of confusion.

So much for a first “real” peacebuilding event.

It all started when, few months ago, a fellow peacemaker and I talked about an event we could do together. I had attended one of her Sisterhood meetings and experienced nothing but warmth from the Muslim women there. Then recently, her Mosque graciously welcomed me to co-facilitate a discussion on the topic of “Strengthening one another: how to care for sisters of other faiths.” There were about 20 women who participated in the conversation—only 4 of them Christians. We framed most of our questions around the concept of befriending, a harmless-enough subject. I expected some tension around the concept of evangelism but mostly anticipated genteel conversation and maybe a few relational connections.

However, it did not go how I planned. It went worse.

There was one Muslim woman who disagreed with the entire premise of the conversation. She vehemently began, “This seems weird to me. Muslims cannot be friends with non-Muslims,” and proceeded to strongly condemn most of my efforts to shift the conversation in a positive direction. Her voice rose. My heart sank.

When she began to criticize, I felt adrenaline rush through my body. My face got hot, my breathing rushed. This is going terribly wrong, and I can’t recover. But Jesus calmed me and reminded me to listen. As the conversation developed, other Muslim voices in the group discussed the benefits of certain types of relationships with non-Muslims—but not friendship.

We made it through the obvious tension, acknowledging it—even referencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s thoughts on it: “I am not afraid of the word tension… there is a type of constructive tension that is necessary for growth.” But the event felt like a failure. Essentially we had been told very publicly we were not going to find friends in that community. The conclusion was basically that anyone who befriended us was being unfaithful to Islam.

It was a rough first try at more intensive peacemaking. The incessant voice of the “I should have” pierced my thoughts for days. You know that voice? It’s an ugly, “I should have” voice of regret and shame that can dominate the mind with a force more deadening than hail on tender shoots.

If it had not been for my co-peacebuilders, that horrible voice would have killed the tiny bud of peace emerging from the soil of our shared community. My fellow workers in reconciliation encouraged me, “You don’t need to be discouraged. This is life in the arena as we attempt to find our voice.”

So I decided to keep listening. About a week after the meeting, I debriefed with the Muslim friend who had invited me in. She helped me understand more about the resistance that had been present in the conversation: among other things, some of the Muslim sisters thought we were there to evangelize them… and that was offensive. I made the assumption that this was because a Christian guest had, in fact, evangelized fairly openly. In the spirit of not letting tension cause complete division, I wrote a letter of apology to the Board of Directors at the Mosque, taking responsibility for inadvertently undermining their trust.

I heard back from the Board Chair promptly. His response was gracious, kind, and clarifying. My assumption about the blatant evangelism was wrong. That wasn’t the root of the problem.

It turns out that—for this particular Muslim community—to have any Christian teachings of Jesus referenced within their house of worship is unacceptable. Even though I had pure peacemaking motives, my understanding of Jesus is incompatible with their sacred space. After hearing back from him, I get it—there are plenty of Christians who would be very cantankerous over Muslims teaching about the prophet Mohammed in a sanctuary. This group of Muslims is comfortable with the idea of working together to benefit our common community—but that “working together” has boundaries.

I now see that the confrontational Muslim sister was, in some ways, acting like Jesus… though she was much less dramatic than he! When Jesus arrived at the temple in Jerusalem, he was righteously offended by the state of the temple—there were people putting up barriers to right worship in the house of God. He became so confrontational that he flipped tables. I would say that was one peacemaking event that didn’t “go over well.” The frustrated woman at the Mosque was powerful and honest. She didn’t want inappropriate behavior to happen in her community. She faithfully did her best to stop it.

Over the past few weeks, I have tried to listen. I have not tried too hard to silence the “I should have” voice, because there were things I should have done. But I have been striving to hear more clearly the voice of Jesus, growing me through the tension.

To my fellow peacebuilding novices, never let the “I should have” thoughts or an event gone wrong stop you. You are made for this time and this place. Remain in Jesus. He is faithful to finish the good work He started.


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