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)
Advertisements
Josh and I

Platonic Valentines are the best kind

“Are you okay?”

Class has ended for the day, and I’m walking past the library toward my house when I see one of my best friends travelling in the opposite direction. I pause to greet him, white snow shining in the peripheral and wet asphalt beneath my boots.  In an instant he reads my eyes and then asks me this question. Though the event he is attending begins in five minutes, he takes a moment to refer to a previous conversation and ask what’s up, what’s wrong.

Sometimes you need someone to “get” you, to understand you without your having to explain anything. That person abides on the same metaphorical page as you, and that person knows how to read your eyes or your body language. He or she has walked through enough life with you to do that. You can trust that friend with anything, and in times of heartbreak or fatigue, you can choose to speak, cry or simply sit with him or her. You spend hours laughing together as well. Do you have a friend like this?

I have a few of those friends, my core. I couldn’t do life well without them. These friends stick closer than a brother or a sister, and they “get” me in a way that no Prince Charming could at the moment.

God brought us together fairly randomly: I met Samuel through a class, Ili and Layla in the dorm and Josh in the cafeteria. Our social circles overlapped, and enough of our interest aligned so that we grew close and could understand each other at a deep level.

“We do life together.”

We support each other and need each other in order to stay encouraged and motivated.

I’m eternally thankful to God for my core group at Wheaton, my best friends here. From the outside we may look like an unlikely bunch, being from all different races and cultures, but our hearts are united through Christ Jesus and our love for his beautifully diverse kingdom.

We comfort each other in times of pain or sorrow. I rejoice that we can call each other at all hours or crash at one another’s homes without warning. We are honest with each other and do not have to pretend to be perfect or put together. (Though Ili still doesn’t “wanna be like that [insert a face I once made].” 😉 ) We dine on kimchi soup, Thai salad and chocolate peanut butter shakes; we laugh at the ugly faces we make to underline our points in conversation; we discuss everything from relationships to race. We do life together.

Perhaps most importantly, we pray together and encourage each other in God’s Word. My best friends exemplify both the peace and passion of Jesus. Because they are filled with God’s Spirit, they are patient as Jesus is, and they persevere as Jesus does.

“Are you okay?”

Not everybody means this question, but I’m grateful that my best friends do. They take the time to care, and I am honored to do the same for them. We live in a sinful, broken, corrupt world, but we have each other, and we have hope in Christ Jesus.

We are not alone. And with the family bonds we have through Christ, we will be more than okay.