Sunday, 26 September 2021

Forgiveness and joy of friendship

SEPTEMBER 21 — today, if you are reading this on Friday — is recognised globally as the International Day of Peace, when people across the world join together to promote

Our screens are filled with horrific images of wars that seem interminable and we feel powerless in the face of such evil acts and the human tragedies that result. What can we do?

Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth warned his followers: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage — I have overcome the world.”

He was facing his own death the following day but he said: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you, though not as the world gives.” (John16 v 33; 14 v27)

Later, St Peter urges his readers to “follow Christ’s example” (1Peter 2v 21).

Fifty-two years ago, a small charity called the Christian International Peace Service set out to do just that: to bring peace between opposing groups in conflict by living simply in a tense atmosphere, making friends of both sides, helping them to restore their houses and livelihoods after the conflict.

Suspicion and aggression gave way to acceptance, communities were transformed and old friendships restored. The principles have been replicated in several areas of the world ever since.

Elsewhere, St Paul advises us to have “feet fitted with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6 v10).

Two weeks ago, the two co-directors of CHIPS set out from Putney to walk the 24-hour Thames Path Challenge, arriving at Mill Meadows in Henley, on Sunday, September 9. Their walk mirrored much of our peace-making work: their preparation and their shoes were all-important for the long path ahead.

They listened to each other’s stories with deeper understanding and they encouraged each other when, in spite of all their preparations, one felt the night would never end and unexpected pain threatened to stop the other altogether!

What joy when they reached their goal, also raising money for our projects in Ghana and Brixton.

Peace-making requires preparation, for example, leaving behind our own preconceptions, learning the history and understanding the factors at work.

It also requires us to “walk” unobtrusively, humbly, into a situation of tension and conflict, whether in our own family, church, workplace, or where we have been invited, going with as little “baggage” as possible and actively listening to the stories of those on both sides who have suffered in the conflict.

Jesus’s way of peace-making comes at a cost and it is a long road but by sharing the danger, shocks and pain together, fear is reduced, attitudes change and reconciliation, forgiveness and joy can follow as friends are made.

Anyone can walk this walk when needed, while others can support those whose lives are given to do this work full-time.

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