From our VP of Global Ministry, Chip Zimmer
In February I returned to Ethiopia after an absence of nearly ten years. In a way, it was a homecoming, for it was while working at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa in 2000 that I decided to leave the Foreign Service and join Peacemaker Ministries.
It was not an easy decision and I labored over it for months. Then, one morning in early December that year, the decision crystallized. I sat in my office looking over the morning newspapers. The previous day, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and Eritrea’s President had signed a treaty formally ending their brutal 2-year border war. Among many of the Ethiopians I knew there was a strong expectation that the two leaders would reconcile and that political and economic relations would return to normal.
But, it was not to be. “Peace, But No Reconciliation,” one headline read. The accompanying story described a scenario in which the P.M. and President had barely acknowledged each other. There would be no normalization, at least not yet. I shared the disappointment that my Ethiopians friends felt. But, while the spotlight was on the two leaders and on their intertwined history, my thoughts turned to the church.
Ethiopia is about two-thirds Christian. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was established around 400 A.D. and the evangelical church is growing rapidly. Of all the groups that should be speaking about reconciliation, I thought, it had to be the Christian community. After all, our faith is founded on the grace and peace of Jesus Christ. Scripture is full of instructions regarding how we should treat our enemies. History has many examples of brave Christians who have acted as peacemakers and reconcilers. But, as far as I could tell, the church was silent.
For me it was a defining moment. In ten years as a diplomat I had learned that there is much that can be accomplished through gentle and, sometimes, not so gentle persuasion. But, diplomacy seldom reaches the human heart and it is at the heart level that the battle for peace and reconciliation is won or lost. In a moment, I knew that my direction needed to change, that I needed to work at that deep level where lasting transformation occurs. I resigned from the State Department and we moved to Billings a few months later to begin work with Peacemaker Ministries.
When I returned to Ethiopia earlier this year it was to help a group of lawyers establish a Christian Alternative Dispute Resolution Center. Their invitation brought me full circle. Where the church had been silent previously, it now spoke through the 50 to 60 lawyers, pastors and other leaders who took part in peacemaking training. Their goal, they told me, is to transform the way Christians deal with conflict in Ethiopia. I pray that God works in and through them to bring his peace to this ancient land.