To the congregations of the Church of the Brethren
A New Year’s Letter from the General Secretary
January 1, 2008
“Do not be conformed to this world, but BE TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
“Peace in Our Land” was the theme when Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers gathered at the Historic Peace Churches International Conference last month in Indonesia. For two years we had been anticipating this day. What would it mean to bring together such diverse people of peace? What could we learn from one another? How could we strengthen our witness to the world?
Nowhere was the diversity of our experiences so evident than in the stories we shared. Some people spoke of “empire” and the injustices perpetrated by military and economic power, the catastrophic potential of global warming, the unbridled consumption of planet Earth’s resources. Some told how their lives are threatened because of their profession of the Christian faith. Some shared their struggles to carve out a daily living, and their desire to educate children to keep them from child employment.
Church of the Brethren members in India described the persecution they face as Christians. A schoolgirl has been told her water cannot be consumed because it is unholy, and she has faced rejection and depression for years. A school teacher who was a new Christian was attacked physically, and then forced to transfer to another school; a further attack killed him. His family continues in the Christian faith.
In Indonesia, a battleground in the international “war on terror,” Mennonites are teaching peace and reconstructing homes in the tsunami-ravaged Banda Aceh area. As they work shoulder to shoulder with members of a radical Muslim group, they are finding that the dividing wall can be breached by breaking bread together and becoming friends.
It was especially significant for the Historic Peace Churches to meet in Solo, Indonesia, where hatred between religious groups is being overcome with friendship. The mayor of Solo has helped transform community unrest through dialogue. Interfaith dialogue is encouraged and fostered. The city’s political and religious leaders welcomed us. At the royal palace, we were hosted with gracious hospitality. Heads of state receive no finer welcome than we Christians received from the Muslim royal family.
After hours of listening, discussing, and worshiping in many languages, we found that the message of peace was set in our hearts most profoundly and urgently by a choir of 100 orphaned children. These children, without parents and a homeland because of civil unrest, are being given sanctuary in Indonesia through Mennonite Central Committee. They have been through the hell of war, and yet they stood before us to sing with clarity and harmony about their love for God, hopes for peace, and yearnings to return to their beloved land. They captured our hearts, and our tears. We were reminded that only through Christ’s peace do children—young and old—have the opportunity to experience the true gift of life. As worship closed, the children encircled all of us in a prayer for peace.
I had never felt so close to the Brethren understanding that war, violence, and hatred are inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. I returned home with the renewed conviction that we must set aside the issues that divide us as Christians and commit our energy and voices to the pursuit of peace through Christ. The temptation to seek an affluent life cannot be allowed to harden our hearts to the struggle for daily bread that is faced by so many. Imagine how the world could be transformed if the nations were to commit as much to overcoming poverty as is spent on war. Imagine the possibilities for peace.
The life of a Christian peacemaker is not easy, and not for the faint of heart. But Jesus called each of us to follow his example in building a kingdom of peace. In this new year, let us speak with clarity and harmony. Let us encircle the world with a prayer for peace.
In Christ’s peace,
Stanley J. Noffsinger