29 March 2013
“Peace I leave with you”
Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ,
It is heartening and encouraging to learn that on His way to the cross, Jesus told his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
What a great comfort to hear such a strong affirmation from somebody who was himself facing great challenges, even the threat of death. It seems so ironic, and impossible for human imagination to say ‘peace’ in such a life threatening situation. But Jesus believes that he will go to the Father who loves the world so much, the world He created which has been destroyed by human sinfulness. It is the parent God who sent him to the world so that the world may have life, and have it abundantly.
Our world today is crying out aloud for peace. Tension and conflict abound in many communities and this has become the rule of the day rather than the exception. During this month we were disturbed by reports of such incidents not only in Asia but all over the world.
Myanmar which was hailed as a country that was opening up to development and progress, took a turn for the worse with growing religious tensions, giving rise to a situation where the military has to intervene. In the midst of all efforts to promote reconciliation and peace, the recent conflict that has displaced more than 12000 people, is indeed a tragedy that has resulted in losing the little that had been gained in terms of peace and stability.
This incident was followed by the fire that destroyed Mae Surin refugee camp at the Thai-Myanmar border last week, which killed 37 Karen and Karenni refugees, injured over 100 and left more than 2,300 homeless. The camp is home to about 3000 refugees who fled from their homeland Myanmar many years ago due to the suppression of ethnic minorities. This horrific blaze has not only added fear, trauma and despair to these refugees, but they have also accumulated a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. The incident reminded them of the fire that had destroyed their villages when they were attacked by Myanmar soldiers about 30 years ago, causing them to flee the country.
We were also shocked by the incident of a mob setting fire to a Christian housing complex in Lahore this month, burning around 280 houses of Christians. Minorities have suffered various forms of discrimination in their daily lives, and this incident further made them aware of the fragility of their lives; primarily because of their faith in Christ, which is very dear to them. In such situations, Jesus reminds us “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world! (John 16:33)
We also view with great anxiety the escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula. We uphold in our prayers the serious efforts of the Christians and many people of goodwill, in South and North Korea and beyond, for peace and reunification in the peninsula.
These are just a few illustrations of the realities surrounding us that trouble our hearts and disturb our minds and make those who are the victims of these incidents feel helpless and cry out: “we look for peace, but we find no good, for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.” (Jeremiah 8:15) During this holy week, we are reminded of the suffering of Jesus Christ who was willing to take the ‘way of the cross’ so that peace with justice can be restored, based on true repentance and reconciliation.
Is there any sign of hope? We are heartened by the continuous attempts of Christians in Pakistan and in other similar situations to show their love for their neighbors and maintain harmony in their diverse communities despite their suffering experiences. In the recent conflict in Myanmar, there were incidents where there was co-operation among people of different faith. Interfaith organizations helped in relief work and issued statements calling for peace. About a month ago, the Muslim and Christian religious leaders in Asia held a conference in Jakarta, Indonesia. They declared that “We, the Muslim and Christian leaders of Asia, affirm our commitment to bringing the Common Word into Common Action by intensifying our effort for peace and justice, trying to prevent violence in contexts of tension and facilitate dialogue or mediate agreement in situations of conflicts… We will do all we can to help our brothers and sisters to understand that genuine religion is meant to enlighten believers with regard to the nature of God and their duty to their fellow human beings and the rest of creation. It is a great tragedy when people make a negative use of religion for their own selfish ends.”
As we walk towards Easter, let us remember the unselfish love of Christ, and that through his resurrection he has conquered the power of death. The resurrected Christ came and stood among the terrified disciples, saying: “Peace with you!” This is our hope and our source of inspiration especially in the midst of fears and desperation, to continue to work for peace with justice. We thank God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can continue to sing: ‘Alleluia…alleluia! Christ is risen!’
In prayer and solidarity
Henriette Hutabarat Lebang