How can we promote peace?

How can we promote peace?

(Pictured above: A craftswoman in Kasozi, Uganda tells Tanya about how she weaves baskets, dying the rafia to get different colors.)

Why do Americans care about bombings in Paris and seem to dismiss bombings that happen in Kenya? Maybe because it’s easier for people everywhere to connect and empathize with people who look like them, and with cultures that are familiar to them. I can picture myself in Paris. I may even know people who live there. Knowing this tendency, and wanting to work for world peace, I must find more ways to connect with, listen to, and understand people from around the world. Paul K. Chappell, a peace activist who I heard speak last month, calls these “peace literacy” skills.

Chappell has defined seven forms of peace literacy. We know that reading literacy is important; lets not forget that developing tools to navigate peace is important too. Two forms of peace literacy that I am developing through Spirit in Action are literacy in our shared humanity and literacy in the art of listening.

Literacy in our Shared Humanity

“Think about how difficult it would be to dehumanize people if we were all literate in our shared humanity,” muses Chappell. Quakers talk about recognizing that, “there is that of Good, of God, in every person.” A group of peace-building Quakers use this concept in their work in eastern Africa, during which they bring together “enemies” and encourage them to listen to and learn from each other. In one of his fantastic blog posts about the transformative power of the workshops, David Zarembka writes, “participants often express how liberating the concept is when first they realize that their “enemy” also has goodness in him or her and, just as important that, regardless of what they have done or what they have gone through, there is still goodness within them that they can tap into.”

Next time you hear a news story of violence against (or violence perpetrated by) someone of a different culture, take a moment to connect with the Good in them.

mlk quote

Literacy in the Art of Listening

Part of my intention in writing each Spirit in Action blog post is to develop our literacy in the art of listening. I like when I can include words directly from our grant partners, so that we can listen more closely and discover the similarities and differences in our experiences. This listening is more than a shallow hearing of words, says Chappell, “when we listen with empathy we also hear their emotions, hopes, and fears. We hear their humanity.”

When I make trips to visit our SIA partners, most of my time is spent listening. I hear the challenges, the successes, the accomplishments, and the hopes for the future from our grant partners.

When I met Theu at his cafe (which he started with a Small Business Fund grant) in Manyamula, Malawi, I learned that he had recently returned to his home village after working in South Africa for several months. Many laborers in Malawi make the journey to South Africa where they can find temporary (and often illegal) jobs in the construction and service industry. Sound familiar? But life in South Africa as an undocumented worker is hard – you may suffer abuse from your employer and have no one to turn to for relief. The Small Business Fund grant from SIA meant that Theu could stay in Malawi, rather than leaving his family to find work. “I’m free because this is my country,” he told me.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

I encourage you to read more stories of SIA partners:

Turn to Love

Once we recognize the Good in ourselves and in others, and once we truly listen with empathy, then we are creating space for peace.

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. "People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money]."

This group of women in Kasozi, Uganda meets twice a week to weave mats under the trees. “People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money],” one of them told me during my visit.

Peace and “Soul Force”

Peace and “Soul Force”

In the swirling midst of on-going protest and the struggle for justice, I am reposting an essay I wrote for Memorial Day in 2010 about the power of nonviolent peace-building. I still believe peace is possible and worth striving for.

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I have long been intrigued by the connection between peace and prosperity. When people are safe and free I believe they are better able to participate in their local communities and economies. As they become involved, they create prosperity and security for themselves and those around them. It all starts with peace.

Del Anderson, Spirit in Action’s founder, wrote often about finding peace within oneself and sharing it with others. In 2002 Del wrote, “Being and expressing this peace and participating with God in bringing peace here on earth as it is in heaven is an activity of being a co-creator with GodBringing peace on earth is being in God’s grace activity and also brings forth a flow of health to mind and body.” In other words peace brings empowerment.

How do we begin to think about peace in a world so full of conflict? Mark Kurlansky’s book, Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea starts by exploring the concept of nonviolence – choosing to explain nonviolence as not merely opposition to violence but also as a positive action towards social change and equality. This is similar to what Martin Luther King, Jr. is advocating for when he says in his “I Have a Dream” speech“Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” Oftentimes a violent person expects the victim to react with violence, however, if one can react by standing firm in love and peace it catches the aggressor off-guard, creating space for social progress.

I know this all sounds like a far-fetched dream but Kurlansky makes a great case for the possibility of nonviolent revolution. Also, The Friends Committee on National Legislation provides some great information about the effectiveness of diplomacy and development for the “peaceful prevention of deadly conflict”. Similarly, I am encouraged when I read about the work of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which sends trained peacekeepers into conflict areas to encourage productive discussion and protect citizens. They point out that peace and diplomacy are much cheaper than war and armies.

Creating peace is a difficult and important job! At Spirit in Action we pray and act for peace with this thing Martin Luther King, Jr. calls “soul force”. We call on the spirit inside each of us to be put to action, which creates a positive force toward understanding, support, and empowerment. On this Memorial Day I hope you will join me in celebrating those brave souls who have stood up for a better world through nonviolence and the promotion of peace.

I will end with a blessing my Grandma Barbara often says: “May peace prevail on earth and in your heart.”

[Pictured above: We met this girl at a local water borehole in Kasozi Village, Uganda. She was pumping water as our group of SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators – on our tour of local SIA groups – passed by her. We paused, and Ofonime Nkoko from Nigeria helped her pump the water.]

How do we get news from Africa?

Stories about Africa aren’t always in our mainstream news. Yet, I still like to keep informed about where we are working, so today I share some of the great alternative news sources with stories from Africa.

1. Kenyan Elections

Important Kenyan elections are coming up on March 4th! Since the violent response to the last presidential elections, many organizations have been working to ensure a peaceful process this time.

You can read helpful updates about the coming election here: http://kenyanelections2013.org.

The website is an initiative of the African Great Lakes Initiative, which “promotes peace activities at the grassroots level in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda).” Let’s keep praying for a peaceful election on March 4th.

post-election violence workshop

Post-election violence and reconciliation workshop in Eldoret, 2010.

2. Food Shortage in Malawi

The United Nations Department of Public Information recently published an informative article about the current food crisis in Malawi.

I asked Canaan Gondwe, our partner in Malawi, for his view of the situation: “Yes, there is hunger in the southern regions of Malawi and the president is everyday on the roads distributing maize to thousands of people. Subsidy program seem to have flopped. Farmers can get coupons to buy fertilizer but you can sometimes hardly find the fertilizer on the market.

 

Malawian farm with corn

My visit to Kubadwa Tembo’s farm in Manyamula in July 2011.

“The past 3-4 years we had our food basket full but in the last year it has been empty. WHY? Lack of political will to agriculture programs and a “top down” approach to agriculture production. There is a need to involve and hear from people at grassroots level.

“In the north of Malawi, we are better off. A lot of food is transferred south from us. Manyamula is not very bad. Most of the members from the MAVISALO cooperative are entrepreneurs and their economy is stable. Most of them are Small Business Fund beneficiaries and this makes me happy and at ease. This shows that the SIA project is positively assisting the people.”

3. Africa Today

For people who like to listen to their news instead of read it, there is the short and eclectic Africa Today podcast from the BBC. (You can listen to the news stories on your computer, or transfer it to a iPod/iPad.)

Yesterday’s episode had a news update about the clashes in Mali, opposition in Egypt, and a beautiful story about Malian musicians singing for peace. It’s a good mix of culture, continental politics, and local stories from many countries across Africa – all with a African perspective.

**And after you’ve read the news, I invite you to experience a moment of prayer, with this, from Del, about how we can influence the world:

We can, in balance, rhythm, and alignment with God, and in working with others, open ourselves as instruments for God’s symphony, prayer-soaked members with hearts open wide to be used by God, instruments of love and caring.

Who’s afraid of diversity?

Building peace means sometimes being uncomfortable. It requires listening to the other side with respect and being civil when telling others about your beliefs. Peace often means compromise, allowing differences to exist side by side. This can be uncomfortable and it can also be freeing and expansive.

Agree with Me

City of Toronto's Coat of Arms and MottoMany proverbs tell us that this diversity worth perusing: “united we stand, divided we fall” (Aesop); “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” (Helen Keller); and “diversity our strength,” the motto of the City of Toronto (soon to be my home).

I was recently shaken by a discussion with someone about interdenominational Christian nonprofits. He works for a non-denominational organization but was concerned about working with Spirit in Action because I didn’t agree with his interpretation of a particular bible verse. That he wanted to limit his interactions based on beliefs, albeit sharing the foundation of our mutual Christian faith, shocked me.

I understood that for him, to “agree to disagree” on a point of faith would necessarily mean compromise and, therefore, loss; that this compromise of beliefs would make a group weaker. However, I have found that requiring everyone to agree on specific, narrow rules does not bring strength. Welcoming multiple views breeds flexibility and trust, rather than shutting conversation down with only one way to view things.

Diversity our Strength

SIA local coordinators from all over Africa sing together in Kenya

SIA local coordinators from all over Africa sing together in Kenya

The strength of Spirit in Action is bringing people together from many different traditions for a higher good overall rather than separating people along dogmatic lines.

In fact, our missions of compassion and social justice require us to see God in all people and to serve our neighbor as we serve God. This also frees us all to do our work of fostering prosperity, rather than spend energy forcing people to believe a specific doctrine. This openness then actively encourages personal exploration of each person’s relationship and path with God.

When I visited SIA partners in Malawi last summer, I asked about the variety of denominations represented in the group. “SIA is the one place where Catholics and Protestants come together,” was the answer I got from Canaan Gondwe, the local Small Business Fund Coordinator. This response brought a sense of pride. Inter-denominational collaboration allows each person to respond to the call to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God, rather than the call to shun those who are different.

Spirit in Action local coordinators; building peace

Similarly, Benoit Malenge, the Small Business Fund Coordinator in Rwanda, reported that people of many beliefs came together, “sharing a meal, without discrimination since they are all members of Spirit in Action, who came to share the gifts.” This place of openness brought a community together, beginning to build peace after years of war in the area.

In the end, let’s stay focused on our mission, remembering the words of John Comenius, a 17th century philosopher, “Let us have but one end in view, the welfare of humanity; and let us put aside all selfishness in consideration of language, nationality, or religion.” Can we be comfortable with this, and proceed as the peacemakers we were called to be?

Nonviolence and the Promotion of Peace

I have long been intrigued by the connection between peace and prosperity. When people are safe and free I believe they are better able to participate in their local communities and economies. As they become involved, they create prosperity and security for themselves and those around them. It all starts with peace.

Del Anderson, Spirit in Action’s founder, wrote often about finding peace within oneself and sharing it with others. In 2002 Del wrote, “Being and expressing this peace and participating with God in bringing peace here on earth as it is in heaven is an activity of being a co-creator with God. Bringing peace on earth is being in God’s grace activity and also brings forth a flow of health to mind and body.” In other words peace brings empowerment.

How do we begin to think about peace in a world so full of conflict? Mark Kurlansky’s book, Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea starts by exploring the concept of nonviolence – choosing to explain nonviolence as not merely opposition to violence but also as a positive action towards social change and equality. This is similar to what Martin Luther King, Jr. is advocating for when he says in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” Oftentimes a violent person expects the victim to react with violence, however, if one can react by standing firm in love and peace it catches the aggressor off-guard, creating space for social progress.

I know this all sounds like a far-fetched dream but Kurlansky makes a great case for the possibility of nonviolent revolution. Also, The Friends Committee on National Legislation provides some great information about the effectiveness of diplomacy and development for the “peaceful prevention of deadly conflict”. Similarly, I am encouraged when I read about the work of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which sends trained peacekeepers into conflict areas to encourage productive discussion and protect citizens. They point out that peace and diplomacy are much cheaper than war and armies.

Creating peace is a difficult and important job! At Spirit in Action we pray and act for peace with this thing Martin Luther King, Jr. calls “soul force”. We call on the spirit inside each of us to be put to action, which creates a positive force toward understanding, support, and empowerment. On this Memorial Day I hope you will join me in celebrating those brave souls who have stood up for a better world through nonviolence and the promotion of peace.

I will end with a blessing my Grandma Barbara often says: “May peace prevail on earth and in your heart.”

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