Cattle Rustling, AK-47’s and Peacemaking

Having been raised in Montana, I grew up with stories of cattle rustling, gunfights, and range wars. Thankfully, these Wild West stories were of the distant past, so my family does not live in fear of violence today.

Not so the people of northern Uganda! In addition to the oppression they experience from rebel groups like the “Lord’s Resistance Army,” they also live under the looming threat of deadly fights within their own tribes over cattle and land. These internal conflicts claim thousands of lives each year and impede desperately needed economic and social progress. But God is raising up a group of reconcilers in Uganda who are using Peacemaker Ministries’ resources and training to turn back this tide of bloodshed with a wave of reconciliation.

The more I heard of their remarkable stories, the more I wanted to see their work firsthand. So in February I traveled to Uganda to spend two weeks with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Accompanying me were Chip Zimmer, our VP of International Ministries, as well as Jim Rosser and Mike Hildenbrand, who represent some churches in Portland that are supporting peacemaking efforts in northern Uganda.

During our visit, we listened in awe to testimonies of warriors, village elders, mothers, orphanage workers, pastors, bishops, judges, a presidential advisor, and the Paramount Chief of a 2-million-person tribe. Over and over we heard how gospel-driven peacemaking is reducing cattle raids, gunfights, land disputes, and family violence. The resulting peace has drawn thousands of people to Christ, triggered church growth, and opened the door for resettlement projects and life-changing economic development.

Dr. Val Shean cares for the cattle of the KaramajongThe first tribe we visited is called the Karamojong. Cattle stealing, primarily to pay bride prices, has been a way of life within this tribe of 700,000 people for generations. Fatalities during raids were rare until thirty years ago. Then Idi Amin fled the country and abandoned his armories in northern Uganda. This allowed thousands of AK-47s to fall into the hands of Karamojong warriors, some as young as fourteen. Since then, 50,000-100,000 people, many of them only small boys herding family cattle, have been killed in bloody raids and reprisals.

Two sub-tribes, the Pian and Bokora, had previously lived peacefully near each other in a fertile area called Nabwal. But as violence increased, they moved thirty miles apart, abandoning the fertile valley as a skeleton-covered “demilitarized zone” and living in dry lands that produced little food.  Malnutrition, starvation, and violence continued to haunt both sub-tribes.

Ten years ago, Dr. Val Shean, a Christian missionary veterinarian, came to live among the Karamojong. Working through a non-profit group called CLIDE (Community Livestock-Integrated Development Consultancy), she steadily built credibility by caring for the two tribes’ cattle, goats, and camels. Sensing an opportune moment in 2007, she sent a copy of my book, The Peacemaker, to four churches in Portland that support her, and asked them to prepare and send a team of mature men (the “grey hairs”) to provide training on peacemaking to pastors in the Pian and Bokora tribes.

One of those men was Jim Rosser, who joined us on our trip in February. As we traveled the dusty roads of Uganda together, he told me about the training he and his fellow grey hairs had done in 2008. Using the biblical principles laid out in The Peacemaker, they worked with Dr. Val for two weeks to equip sixty of the most influential pastors, tribal elders, warriors, and women in both sub-tribes to be peacemakers. Little did they know how God was planning to use that investment.

Watch this great video to see for yourself how God is using Dr. Val in Uganda.

The Peace Villages

After the grey hairs returned to Portland, Dr. Val and the Karamojong pastors arranged for a
larger training to take place in Nabwal, the uninhabited valley midway between the two sub-tribes. They brought food for 300 people, but God had bigger plans. He moved over 2,500 people to walk fifteen miles from both the Pian and Bokora areas to seek peace!

The peacemaking training went on for three days. The pastors and leaders taught the people how they could be reconciled to both God and one another through Christ. The Holy Spirit moved powerfully, bringing many people to their knees in repentance, faith, and reconciliation. At the end of the meeting, the people agreed that they should plant a “Peace Village” on that very spot, populated by people from both sub-tribes.

As word spread about Pian and Bokora villagers living in peace, that one Peace Village quickly multiplied. Through careful planning by CLIDE, over 9,000 others have relocated to Nabwal, founding sixty-one similar villages. Another 2,000 people have established a Peace Village in a nearby valley. As we drove between these areas, I witnessed another group of Karamojong families clearing the brush for yet another settlement. Leaving their AK-47s behind, they are eagerly moving toward a life of peace and sustainable community. God keeps his promises:

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the best from the land” (Isa. 1:18-19).

Read my entire report (1.4MB PDF file) from my trip to Uganda–I think you’ll be amazed at what God is doing there!

People at their worst and the Gospel at its best

Many of the organizations we work with don’t like to publicize the fact that they have worked with us–they’ve just been through a painful conflict that may have involved some pretty dirty laundry, and they’d rather not air out that laundry if they don’t have to do so. I can understand why they’d want to keep the details to themselves, but I wish it weren’t that way. It can be a real encouragement to others to hear how God worked in the midst of a serious conflict, and the kingdom misses out when the details are kept quiet.

That’s why it was particularly great to see a story of the reconciliation between a pastor and group of elders in a church make the news recently. Sure, a bit of their fine china is put on display. But in the end, God is glorified as they publicly give testimony of how they confessed and forgave each other. I especially liked this quote from the pastor as he reflected on the experience:

It’s people at their worst, but the Gospel at its best. It’s a great ‘God story.'”

That captures the essence of our ministry, and why we count it a privilege to be able to help churches during these difficult conflict experiences. Praise God for the gift of reconciliation!

A Prayer About Relational Messes and God’s Mercies

Pastor Scotty Smith posted this prayer a few days ago, and it’s a perfect prayer for all of us as peacemakers:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Galatians 5:13-16

Most patient and persistent Father, thank you for documenting the relational failures, foibles and foolishness of us, your people. The very fact that you have chronicled just how poorly we love one another is a witness to the steadfastness of your love and the daily-ness of your mercies. Who but you could love a people like us… a man like me?

But it’s also a warning to us and a wooing to something so very much better. That we indulge our sinful nature and “bite and devour each other,” in a number of ways, is a fact, but it is not our fate. One Day we will be made perfect in love… and already we are perfectly and passionately loved in the gospel. Sear and seal this hope upon our hearts… send this good news deep and delightfully into the very core of my being. Indeed, God the Holy Spirit…

When I am tempted to indulge in rehearsing the sins of others, turn my heart into a rehearsal hall for the symphony of grace. May the glorious music of the gospel drown out the squawks and tuneless noise of my self-righteousness and pettiness.

When I am tempted to indulge in repeating the sins of others, shut me up by shouting to my heart that the Father will never repeat my sins to me or to anybody else. For he has remembered my sins against Jesus, and I am guilty no more. May the sweet-bread of gossip and slander become like rancid yogurt or rotting eggs in my mouth.

When I am tempted to indulge in defensiveness or am overly zealous to protect myreputation, let me see Jesus, who made himself of no reputation… who was silent before his accusers. May the utter glory and grace of the gospel increasingly free me from my insecurities… my pride… my need to be understood, liked and “got,” by one and all.

Holy Spirit, I want to live by you today, and I want greater freedom from all the stuff that keeps “faith from expressing itself in love” through my life. May gospel-gratification trump all flesh-gratification. So very Amen, I pray, in Jesus’ bold and beautiful name.

Email: The Relationship Blowtorch

I really like this PeaceMeal from today–how true it is!

“Email: The Relationship Blowtorch”

Letters can sometimes serve a useful purpose. If the other person has refused to respond positively to telephone calls or personal conversations, a brief letter may be the only way to invite further communication. If you must resort to communicating by letter, write as personally and graciously as possible. Avoid quoting numerous Bible references, or you will seem to be preaching. Also, at least during initial letters, do not try to explain or justify your conduct in writing, because it will probably be misunderstood. Use your letter to invite communication, and try to leave detailed explanations for a personal conversation. If time allows, set aside the first draft of a letter for a day or two. When you reread it, you may catch words that will do more harm than good.

Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict
by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 174.

Food for Thought

Have you ever heard the story about the serious disagreement that was brought to a happy ending when one person wrote a long, powerful e-mail to the other person? Neither have we. And that ought to give us pause.

E-mail and letters are great for starting fights and deepening disagreements but far worse at resolving conflicts. Why is that?

The desire to resolve conflict via the written word is usually rooted in two convictions: First, that we need to choose our words carefully (more carefully than we might in person), and second, that if we could just get the other person to listen carefully and attentively to our perspective, then the whole argument between us could be resolved. The first of those aims is laudable; the second is usually sadly mistaken at best and incredibly selfish at worst.

The next time you’re about to hit “send” to fire off an e-mail missile, just say no. Hit delete. Take the “No E-mail Missiles” non-proliferation pledge. Try sending a much shorter, kinder message that reaffirms the importance of the relationship in question and that invites further communication in person or by phone–communication in which you pledge to listen to the other party and to acknowledge your own contributions to the conflict. When it comes to conflict resolution, there’s simply no substitute for face-to-face or voice-to-voice.

When You Are Disappointed with Your Church

We’ve all been there. The church that we love and have committed to lets us down in a big (or small) way. Or, as leaders, certain members of the church come to you to express their dissatisfaction with a decision by the leaders or unhappiness in some church program. Kevin DeYoung has a helpful series on his blog that asks some good questions of both the leader and the church member in these situations.

For the leader:

1. Do we have some mechanism for personally knowing our sheep?

2. Do we have some way of knowing when people are not showing up at church?

3. Are we confronting cliquishness in our church?

4. Are there easy, identifiable ways for the shy, the non go-getters, and the more culturally reserved to get involved and be known by others?

5. Is it at least possible that we are more at fault than we think?

6. Have we made promises we didn’t deliver on?

7. Are these critics generally critical?

For the member:

1. Did I ever ask for help?

2. Have I overlooked opportunities to fit in and get to know people?

3. Is it realistic for the leaders to give to every person in this church the kind of care I expect?

4. If I really wanted to be loved and noticed why did I stop showing up?

5. Am I willing to consider that I may be at fault more than I realize?

6. Is it possible I’ve overlooked ways the body has cared for me because I was hoping a different part of the body would care for me?

7. In general have I found this church and these leaders to be unloving and unsupportive?

Read the whole thing here, here, and here.

All Peacemaking is Possible Because of Easter

Have you ever thought about that?  All of our hope for reconciliation — with God and with others — is possible because of the death and resurrection of Christ that we are celebrating this Easter weekend.

Here are two great poems that I think speak to the resurrection hope that we have through Christ:

Redemption,  by George Herbert

Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancell th’old.

In heaven at his manor I him sought:
They told me there, that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight return’d, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length a heard a ragged noise and mirth

Of thieves and murderers: there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, and died.


An Easter Carol, by Christina Rossetti

Spring bursts to-day,
For Christ is risen and all the earth’s at play.

Flash forth, thou Sun,
The rain is over and gone, its work is done.

Winter is past,
Sweet Spring is come at last, is come at last.

Bud, Fig and Vine,
Bud, Olive, fat with fruit and oil and wine.

Break forth this morn
In roses, thou but yesterday a Thorn.

Uplift thy head,
O pure white Lily through the Winter dead.

Beside your dams
Leap and rejoice, you merry-making Lambs.

All Herds and Flocks
Rejoice, all Beasts of thickets and of rocks.

Sing, Creatures, sing,
Angels and Men and Birds and everything.

All notes of Doves
Fill all our world: this is the time of loves.

Do you have any poems that you enjoy reading at Easter?  Share them in the comments or on our Facebook fan page.   And have a very blessed celebration of this Resurrection Sunday.  He is risen!