Seven years ago, my wife and I founded an organization called Free City International, presently known as Seek the Peace. Ever since, it has been our mission to build peacemaking initiatives with refugees to the U.S. from places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Burma. We have traveled to Lebanon, Jordan and Israel/Palestine in an effort to comfort and equip those in conflict. Our team strives to live as ministers of reconciliation among people in active and post-conflict situations, working toward the holistic repair of these broken communities.
A few weeks ago, I was driving away from my office in the refugee-center of Dallas with two new friends, Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart. Jon and Jer had come in from California to teach our team about peacemaking and the role it plays in God’s mission. As we drove deeper into the heart of Vickery Meadow, a neighborhood of refugees, we found ourselves in the midst of several hundred high school students. We arrived at the busy intersection, realizing that in the center of this mass of teenagers was a violent conflict in the making. Two distinct groups were in the process of spiraling into armed violence against each other.
As ministers of reconciliation, our call is to enter into the conflict of others and to seek their peace—their holistic repair or shalom (Ps. 34:14). So, after a day of learning about God’s mission of peace in the world, this is exactly what we attempted to do. We left the car at the stop light, entered the chaos and pursued each party. Both groups had taken over the street, taunting and swearing the other’s demise. I remember seeing an aluminum bat, nunchuks and a Taser. All of this was swirling around in the middle of an intersection while people and cars stopped to stare. This was the raw reality of pain and brokenness on display for all to witness.
Our response led us to come face to face with each group, giving us the opportunity to speak truth to them and, with urgency, lead them into a place of pause. I say pause and not peace because neither group understood their own value and worth, let alone the opposing group’s. From their posture, words and weapons, it was clear that their social and cultural understanding of the other kept them from truly seeing the intrinsic value and image of God in their opponent.
When we see broken identities and take them at face value as the total worth of a person or group, we have failed to see what God sees. We have failed to see through the lens of Jesus, who has made peace and is still making peace today. Jesus actively sees the image of God in creation, transcending broken social and cultural identities and turning enemies into friends and family. This is the commission given to believers and the job description of ministers of reconciliation. To miss seeing one’s enemy rightly is to miss a fundamental point of the work and mission of Jesus.
I have missed this point far too many times. In fact, I often prefer to miss it. Acknowledging and pursuing my enemy is not comfortable; it is costly. Crossing our intentionally created boundaries seems counterintuitive. But isn’t that the logic of Jesus? For the sake of those at odds with Him, Jesus leaves His place of comfort and sacrifices everything for His enemies. The logic of Jesus is to bring peace on earth through the unadulterated pursuit of His enemies. In His peace, Jesus steps into our conflict for the sake of our flourishing. This is our salvation, and all of those who live in Christ are expected to follow this standard.
In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches blessed are the peacemakers. In the words of Jon and Jer, this is not Jesus blessing peace-thinkers or peace-wanters. This is Jesus blessing those who pursue the making and remaking of peace in the midst of their enemies and strangers.
The work ahead of uncovering the true identity of those two conflicted groups in Vickery Meadow is long and costly. Transformation of the heart and mind is a slow process. Immersing into spaces of brokenness and contending for the flourishing of one’s enemy, all for the hope of restoration, is not a single act done with convenience. In fact, stepping into brokenness is most always inconvenient and takes a great deal of personal sacrifice.
As ministers of reconciliation, I encourage you to follow Jesus into the conflict and brokenness that is around you. The brokenness you witness may not be as obvious as a street fight, but when we begin to see as Jesus does, the cloak of broken social and cultural identities will begin to dissolve. From Vickery Meadow to Ferguson to Israel/Palestine, the world is hurting and in desperate need of the peace of Jesus. When we choose to see as Jesus does, we have the opportunity to seek the peace of those in pain and journey with them toward the hope of becoming a new creation.
Points of Reflection
Do you see strangers and enemies as bearing the image of God?
How do you allow broken social or cultural identities to keep you from loving your neighbor and enemy?
Where are places of brokenness around you?
What would it look like to enter into the conflict or brokenness around you?
Seek the Peace was founded by Jason and Tess Clarke, members of Normandy Church. To find out more about the organization and its mission, visit seekingpeace.org.