During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The relevance of this message can't be overstated as we experience conflict in our families, workplaces, friendships, and neighborhoods—not to mention our churches.
Sometimes this conflict is the result of disagreement or misunderstanding. Sometimes it is the result of wrongdoing that results in pain, trauma, and a need for support. In every case, peacemakers are a blessing. They help us work toward reconciliation and healing.
This is something the ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America are witnessing around the world.
Navigating Land Rights for Women in Uganda
For the past 60 years, World Renew has worked on behalf of the denomination to respond to disasters and work toward community development. To be successful, World Renew also works for peace and justice.
One way World Renew works with communities to address short-term crises and build long-term resilience is through land rights education. In many places, the ability to consistently provide food for one’s family is through access to land. Yet all too often, a lack of knowledge about land rights can leave people vulnerable to exploitation. Conflict over land rights can lead to tense and destructive situations. In most of these conflicts, information is power.
Joyce Ikiror lives in Apapai, Uganda. She lost her parents at a young age and was raised by her father’s brother, Francis. When Ikiror got married, she left the region to live with her husband. Together they had a son, Bernard. But Ikiror’s relationship with her husband had challenges. When things became unbearable, Ikiror decided it was best to take Bernard and return to where she was raised.
Ikiror imagined that she’d be able to start a new life with Bernard on her father’s land, but her Uncle Francis disagreed. He had been managing the land while she was away. When she asked to move home, he refused to acknowledge her right to the land. Ikiror was frustrated. Starting over and finding herself responsible for her son meant she needed a place to live. But she had no living parents or siblings, so her social support was limited. She didn’t know what to do.
Then Ikiror heard about some community meetings being facilitated by World Renew’s local partner to increase awareness about land and property rights, dispute resolution, demarcations, and legal documentation. In areas where communication can take time, literacy rates are low, and hiring a lawyer is too expensive, it is especially difficult to educate oneself on ever-changing regional laws. Ikiror reached out for support and was directed to the local Cluster Level Association chairperson, Betty Apako.
The CLA consists of members from different communities who have been trained in advocacy and mediation by World Renew. Apako agreed to discuss Ikiror’s problem with the executive members of the CLA, including Simon Oyange, a CLA member in Ikiror’s village. Oyange was tasked with calling a meeting that included the local political leader, CLA mediation members, and Ikiror’s relatives and neighbors.
At the meeting, Joyce and her uncle were given the opportunity to voice their grievances. Once each had a chance to speak, the CLA shared information about land demarcation and the rights of women under Ugandan law. Understanding he had wronged his niece, Francis apologized to her in front of all the meeting attendees.
After the mediation, three hectares of land (about 7.4 acres) were officially demarcated and given to Ikiror. Today, she and Bernard live happily on her land.
World Renew works in land rights advocacy and education in various regions throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This work has a significant positive impact on food security, safety, health, and development opportunities. With God’s help and guidance for right relationships, conflicts such as those between Ikiror and her uncle can be resolved and turned into opportunities.
A Step Toward Healing for First Nations Communities in Ontario
Tensions and mistreatment between people from different ethnicities and cultures can result in deep pain and generational trauma. Resonate Global Mission partners Anthony and Barbara Pennings witness trauma from conflict every day in their ministry with First Nations communities in Canada—and they’re working to provide steps to healing.
The Penningses work with the DayStar Centre on Manitoulin Island, Ont., to share the gospel with First Nations people by building friendships and encouraging those they disciple to reach out to their own families, friends, and neighbors.
The Penningses witness the effects of generational trauma on Indigenous populations. Forced relocation, land dispossession, boarding schools, and loss of language and culture have lingering effects, and the communities still face prejudice and racism.
“I see generational trauma, which outpours a lot of other issues,” Barbara Pennings said, noting children in single-parent families, youth with low self-esteem, and the many First Nations people who struggle with addictions, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
When the Penningses learned that Resonate missionary George de Vuyst was leading a Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations workshop, they knew they needed to join. Barbara especially knew the workshop would be helpful in overcoming her own personal trauma, but the Penningses soon realized how valuable the workshop would be for their ministry with First Nations communities.
“It was a stepping stone in my own healing journey,” Barbara Pennings shared. “It resonated with me. … I’m better able to understand just a little bit about what the First Nations people have gone through. I could see how Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations would help our First Nations friends.”
The Penningses have been able to use the tools they learned from the workshops in their daily work and interactions. While visiting a community in Northern Ontario, Anthony Pennings had an opportunity to minister on a local radio station.
“After sharing about the gospel and singing some songs, a community member called in to the radio expressing hurt from the historical wrongs people who came in the name of Jesus inflicted on his people,” he said. “After the man expressed his pain and mistrust of Christianity, I had the opportunity to share an apology over the air on behalf of the greater body of believers for the atrocities that had happened and, in some cases, still happens.”
De Vuyst said that’s the kind of ministry he hopes to see from Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations.
“I hope and pray that Anthony’s awareness of the pain of others and willingness to identify himself with the perpetrators and ask forgiveness will break down walls and lead to the healing of many hearts and lives,” De Vuyst said.
Whether it’s apologizing for harm and wrongdoing, working toward justice, or striving to be more inclusive, peacemakers continue to bless our world. Peacemaking is also an important part of the work of Resonate, World Renew, and the Christian Reformed Church, as we confess in Our World Belongs to God: "Anointed and sent by the Spirit, the church is thrust into the world, ambassadors of God’s peace, announcing forgiveness and reconciliation, proclaiming the good news of grace" (30).