The Great Lakes Initiative Leadership Institute in partnership with Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation invited me to Kampala, Uganda, to share what we at Musalaha have learned about reconciliation in the Israeli-Palestinian context. More than 150 African leaders from countries surrounding Lake Victoria attended this conference and for some of them it was the first time meeting a Palestinian Christian. An interesting aspect of this was their perception of all Arabs as being Muslim. It was also intriguing for me to understand how these African leaders are grappling with the issues of land and how they found several articles in the book The Land Cries Out relevant to their contexts. Other than being encouraged by how relevant our Curriculum of Reconciliation was to their local situations, I was also challenged by what they shared.
After a session on the prophet Jeremiah, we sat down to eat. One of the leaders and his wife asked me how our people lament. This question struck me, it is not something that I think about often, but I knew exactly what she meant. This is something that we have not done adequately or addressed enough in our society. We grieve when there is tragedy or great loss, but we don’t ask ourselves how we lament over the fact that there is no peace in our land, a hardness of heart among our peoples, and an unwillingness to reconcile.
Reflecting on the life of the prophet Jeremiah, several thoughts come to mind, especially as someone laboring for reconciliation. We become discouraged when a portion of the body of the Messiah doesn’t see the essential importance of reconciliation. It is like during the times of Jeremiah with people not heeding the warnings and looking to stand the tests of time. How many times do we see the hardening of hearts, embracing a victim mentality, and blaming the other without self-examination and repentance? We are living the consequences of a lack of reconciliation. It is a high price our society is paying for the enmity and hostility that we have towards each other.
Our African brothers and sisters have much to teach us about lamentation in light of the major genocides some of them have experienced. Lamenting for our people and having the willingness to change the course is something that we have not invested much in.
Prophets who suffered personal difficulty for the discredit of their work, also had to suffer for the grief and consequences their society brought on itself for not taking their warnings seriously. Taking a stand and lamenting comes at a high price. We want to remain in our comfort zones, be fearful of change, and have doubts of what will happen in the future.
Despite these hardships, we can learn from Jeremiah’s lesson of a future and a hope as demonstrated in his teaching about the New Covenant in chapter 31 and his act of buying a field in Jeremiah 32. We have a God who is constantly working through our history and his grace is new every day. We are excited that this hope was demonstrated in the recent successful events of Musalaha.
By Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D