What will it take to bring peace?

Yesterday I attended a peace gathering, intended to be the the last for the summer after a July full of them. They were times of prayer and marching in solidarity and love around the neighborhood, particularly by the locations of recent shootings, which are all too common in that neighborhood.

The peace gathering began at 6:30 p.m.

Just a half hour before it began, a couple blocks away from empty lot where we met, a 20 year old named Devon was shot and killed. He had just gotten off work.

We gather for people like Devon.

A couple of his relatives attended the gathering: a teenager who appeared calm and quiet in the moment and an older woman who couldn’t believe what happened, not to Devon!

Under clear skies and cool summer air, we spent time praying for the relatives in the empty lot where we’d collected and walked past the site where Devon’s life was stolen as we marched.

The pastor who organized the event called out, “I love you!” to neighbors relaxing on their front steps.

We invited some young men to join us as we walked, and one responded, “No, I don’t wanna get shot.” Despite our numbers and police entourage, our nonviolent walk through the neighborhood held the potential for harm to certain people, and we respected that. The gathering was ultimately for them, after all, so that their neighborhood could someday be safe and free from gun violence.

The weekly gatherings were also a time of music and food, collaborated and put on by an energetic local church and the local police force. On July 31, the Original Warrior Gladiators, the church’s young dance troupe, performed for everyone and ushered Holy Spirit into the gathering (see cover photo).

The Peace Warriors, a group of young men and women, taught us some claps and went over principles of peace including nonviolence and ones targeting the spiritual root instead of the person enacting injustice.

We hurt for young men like Devon.

It was an evening of mixed emotions. There was hype as the Peace Warriors jazzed up the crowd and educated us (see video here). There were smiles as friends conversed and ate hot dogs and Fruit by the Foot.

But there was also solemnity as we prayed for Devon’s relatives. After all, deaths like his are why these gatherings took place. There was passion as we prayed for the neighborhood.

Overall, it was inspiring to witness the community meet together in this capacity, to be led by youth, and to see the police, whom I’d distrusted, participate in and help facilitate this nonviolent peace event.

What’s the main takeaway, then? Maybe it’s that although the neighborhood is friendly, it’s caught in seemingly endless cycle of violence and trauma. Efforts like these summer peace gatherings and the ongoing work of local churches and groups like the Peace Warriors make a difference in changing that.

Maybe it’s an encouragement to connect with your local peace activists to create change, show solidarity, provide resources, and add value to your community. Whether you are feeling broken and need the support of others in this kind of space or you’re coming with education in conflict-diffusion, counseling resources, or as a prayer minister, you are needed and wanted.

Maybe there is no one point, but sharing about the gathering was also a way to process Devon’s death.

However you’re feeling right now, feel free to comment below and reach out if you need resources. Comment if you have any to offer, as well. Peace.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.
-Psalm 29: 10, 11 (NIV)

Racial Reconciliation: Humility, Listening, and Clear Communication

Sammy Mallow, a sophomore at Wheaton College in IL, spoke about racial reconciliation when I interviewed him for an article this past weekend. His words were simple yet deep, profound and refreshing. I’d like to share some of it here since it does not all fit in The Wheaton Record.

Mallow shared the story of racial reconciliation between him and his former RA and now dear friend, Joseph McGann. Mallow grew up as a half Cambodian, half American missionary kid. He spent four years in Cambodia, one in the United States, back and forth and back and forth, for most of his life. McGann was socialized in New York, did home school and went to a Christian private school, and never left the country. “We learned a lot from each other,” Mallow said.

Mallow said, “I basically learned to appreciate more growing up in America like the way he did.” Mallow said he learned that he can still have a lot of fun with people who are different than himself, adding, “I can still connect with them and be understood by them and enjoy their company.”

On the other hand, Mallow said, “(McGann) learned that there’s a lot to the world.” He elaborated, “Different cultures are immensely important to learn about and to appreciate.”

Mallow continued with some solid advice. He said, “It’s important to be careful and be patient with people. When you’re trying to build a relationship with someone who is different than you — this applies to everything, but especially racial issues — you have to be careful to listen to what the other person is perceiving from you. Also, (you have to be careful about) what you are intending to communicate.” I believe that by “careful,” Mallow meant perceptive in listening and clear in speaking.

From Sammy Mallow, from the Solidarity procession about which I was writing when I interviewed him, and from my friend Mark Andersen, I have been reminded to listen to other people’s stories. How have our brothers and sisters of various skin colors or facial structures been hurt by comments that were allegedly jokes? What words have bad connotations or are degrading? Avoid those terms. Learn from those who are different than you. Their stories are important, and their experiences are valid. Affirm your brothers and sisters. Apologize if need be.

Jesus embodied ultimate humility and reconciled mankind to God so that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish but have eternal life. As Jesus did, so we must do. We must be humble before our powerful God and before our fellow humans. If we understand who God is and what He has done for us through His great love, there is nothing else we can do! We must reconcile with each other; in this case, we must reconcile the wrongs done by racial prejudice and discrimination.

Why is this important? We must practice racial reconciliation because together we comprise the church, the body of Christ. We need each other. Furthermore, God is glorified before all mankind when all His people unite to follow Jesus.

As you go on with your daily lives, I pray that you will take this to heart. You ought not to be reconciled because I say so or because Mallow said so or for any other reason besides its importance to Christ Jesus. What I have said in this blog post is based in the Bible, and it has massive implications on the real world in which we live. Please read the following passage from God’s Word as you prepare to return to your school work, cleaning, job, parenting, web surfing, or whatever it is you were doing.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5 verses16-21, Paul wrote, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (ESV).