During the first week of February I was invited to speak at the School of Reconciliation and Justice of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in the UK, using Musalaha’s Reconciliation Curriculum that has been two years in the making. This was the first time we have used it outside of the country. It was an invaluable opportunity for us at Musalaha to see how our work is applicable to those from other cultures, countries, and conflicts. Speaking to this group, which consisted of an African majority mainly from Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ghana, as well as some Europeans and Americans, was a most rewarding experience for me. Seeing how powerful and effective the materials that we are developing can be was immensely gratifying for me, especially as they were able to speak to the heart of individuals that have experienced the severity of conflict.
As Palestinians and Israelis, we sometimes get caught up in our own issues to the point that we forget the serious conflicts happening constantly around the world. Some of the Rwandan students in my YWAM class had become soldiers by the age of twelve, a number of them having witnessed the massacre of 1994 in which 15-20 percent of the Rwandan population was killed. While the entire week of teaching was quite moving for all involved, the most fascinating part for me was observing how these students reflected and responded to the curriculum’s subject matter compared to Israelis and Palestinians. In our twenty years of ministry, we have witnessed a trend in the issues that Israelis and Palestinians find especially difficult, and I was interested to see if the same applied to these students from conflict areas throughout Africa.
As I presented to them the stages of reconciliation I was encouraged to hear and see how these students could apply these principles to their own lives and conflicts. As we delved into deeper issues, pain that had been suppressed, ignored or by-passed reared its head, demanding to be addressed in order that healing could follow. It was striking to see similarities between these students from Africa and those involved in the conflict in the Holy Land, especially concerning the understanding of forgiveness in contrast to reconciliation. All of us need to understand that while forgiveness is a commandment from our Lord and a decision that each of us must embrace, the act of forgiving is not a replacement for reconciling. Reconciliation is a process that requires patience, and a willing, careful participation from both sides.
The second lesson that struck a chord with this group was about Biblical justice. We looked at how the concept of justice and the need for restoring relationships relate to the loss of family members that tragically befell many of my students due to the conflict. No amount of reconciliation and no human justice can bring them back, but our calling to both of these principles still stands. As has often been the case with groups of Palestinians and Israelis, it was clear that this group too needed clarification between the concepts of revenge and justice. The path to revenge is the simplest to embark upon, and in our teaching we must set boundaries, removing the desire for payback from our pursuit of justice.
When we moved on from speaking about justice to discussing identity, the students reacted in a way completely contrary to my expectations. As an individual looking on from the outside, and from what I have read about the conflict between the Hutu and the Tusti, I was surprised that the participants wanted to repeatedly stress the fact that they are all Rwandans and greatly play down their tribal identities, almost to the point of neglect. Although the Rwandan unity has become a commonality under which the two tribes can comfortably come together and address the pain of the past, it neglects the important role of their tribal identities in conflict and therefore cannot truly bring the fruit that is required for reconciliation. Whether we want to address them or not, these personal identities whether male or female, young or old, Hutu or Tutsi not only exist, but are designed by God, as all of these groups reflect an aspect of the image in which we all are created.
We must acknowledge our own and each other’s earthly identities, appreciating their positive effects as well as their roles in conflict. There is a grave danger, however, when these personal identities are exalted to the point that they become exclusive, leading to completely overriding our true joint identity as people of God. For reconciliation to ultimately and genuinely occur, a change in the way we embody identity, in light of our oneness in the Messiah, is required. By taking on this process with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can celebrate not only our general, or “Rwandan,” identities, but also embrace the distinctiveness of our personal, tribal, or “Hutu and Tutsi” identities. Only after this duel-sided identity transformation can we reconcile without being exclusive, accepting the other as an essential aspect of who we are in the Messiah.
By Salim J. Munayer