The Peacemakers

Essays by BIC leaders in action

Essays by BIC leaders in action

When we talk about peacemaking, it often feels as if there’s endless work to be done. Where do we even start? Zoom the lens too far out and we can become paralyzed by lofty ideals, overlooking the ways peace begins in the here-and-now. Zoom the lens too far in, however, and peace can become something designed for us or our neighbors or our country—and not something attainable on a global level.

The following essays by BIC peacemakers remind us that we all have a part to play in bringing Christ’s kingdom to earth—whether continually aligning our hearts toward peace, flushing out violence from our communities, or helping rewrite a nation’s DNA.

Heart Check

by Harriet Sider Bicksler
Harriet Sider Bicksler
Photo: Dale Bicksler

I grew up in the Brethren in Christ Church, fully internalizing the church’s peace teachings during the Vietnam War. In those years, I thought primarily of our peace position as opposition to war. My understanding has since expanded to include a more holistic view of peacemaking. Working to make peace among nations, as absolutely important as that is, has less integrity if we aren’t also committed to peacemaking in our homes or communities or even in the way we think about others. Can I think more lovingly about the unkind neighbor, the politician, even the terrorist?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). This is one of my favorite verses in Scripture, and I think about it often. Simultaneously comforting and convicting, the verse challenges me to pursue peace when it feels difficult or even impossible. With such extreme division, polarization, violence, and hateful speech these days, the challenge to live at peace with everyone feels greater than ever.

“If it is possible . . .” These words remind me that peacemaking is difficult. In any situation, achieving lasting peace may take time. Despite my best efforts, reconciliation might not happen. But I constantly ask myself: Do I truly value all human life? Am I choosing to value those who seem unlovable, who commit unspeakably cruel and evil acts, who don’t value life themselves? What difference might it make if I do?

“ . . . as far as it depends on you . . .” The second clause places responsibility on me to do everything possible to promote reconciliation. Some things are within my control. I can choose to understand where a person is coming from, to put myself in his or her shoes, to see things from another perspective. I can choose forgiveness when someone hurts me or a loved one. I can choose to work toward reconciliation with someone who has wronged me. Reconciliation takes two parties, but it must begin with me.

“ . . . live at peace with everyone.” After the two qualifiers, here’s the imperative: “live at peace.” It’s direct, calling for more than a half-hearted attempt at peacemaking. It’s all-encompassing, insisting we live at peace with everyone, not just the people we like or agree with. This includes the family member whose political ideologies differ from mine; the Facebook friends who shout at one another from opposing aisles; the church member whose sharp words cut to my core.

I often fail at peacemaking, and I am grateful for the grace the first two parts of this verse give me. But the third clause is not a suggestion; it’s an imperative. I must pursue peace at all times, both within myself and among other people and nations. If it is possible, as far as it depends on me, I will live at peace with everyone.

Harriet Sider Bicksler has been the editor of Shalom! A Journal for the Practice of Reconciliation since 1981. She is also the editor for the Brethren in Christ Historical Society and a member of the Grantham Church (Mechanicsburg, Pa.). She and her husband, Dale, have two adult children and four grandchildren.

Guns and City Streets

by Glenn Dalton Jr.
Glenn Dalton Jr.
Photo: Muriel Rus

There is an epidemic of gun violence in our nation. For us at Harrisburg (Pa.) Brethren in Christ (HBIC), this is bigger than an academic discussion or political agenda. It is about stopping carnage. In the past five years, our congregation has lost eight sons, brothers, a nephew, and a young man just beginning to attend HBIC—all murdered in cold blood. I am tired of burying people and attending funerals. I am weary of watching families’ loved ones taken from them suddenly and without warning.

Let me be clear here. Hunters and rifles are not the problem. Skeet shooters are not the problem. Gun collectors are not the problem. And while I do not personally choose to carry, legal handguns are not the problem. The real problem is the proliferation of illegal handguns flooding our communities, as easily accessible as buying a beer to any teenager with money. We have kids in our youth group who could take us directly to the locations these handguns are sold; teens know where these places are.

Often, illegal handguns flood our communities through straw purchases, where a non-criminal enters a gun shop alongside a criminal to purchase handguns on their behalf. Once outside, the criminal pays the straw purchaser a sizable fee for their efforts, in addition to the price of the gun. The criminal then sells these handguns to anyone with cash, including teenagers.

The proliferation of guns on the streets—especially with teenagers “packing heat”—makes our cities more dangerous. In recent years, shootings in Harrisburg have become more random and unpredictable. Gun violence once confined to gangs, certain clubs, and domestic situations now happens anywhere, anytime.

Many of these shootings are known as “dis” shootings. Someone feels disrespected or threatened. Someone flirts with someone else’s girl and there’s a funeral the following week. If I’m a young man and I’m upset, it’s one thing; if I’m a young man and I’m upset and I’m holding a lethal weapon, it’s a whole different ballgame. What may have ended in a shouting match or fistfight now easily and all-too-often ends in homicide.

I will never forget the night I received a call at 3 a.m. from a woman in our congregation. Her grandson, Eric, had been shot. When I arrived, none of us, including Eric’s mother, was allowed to approach the crime scene. Finally, police asked the mother to identify her son’s body. As long as I live, I will never forget the anguished scream I heard that night as a mother saw her dead son for the first time. He had flirted with another man’s girlfriend and was murdered for it.

Years ago, as I watched my congregation suffer, I decided I could not be like the priests who walked by the bloody, beaten man on the road to Jericho.1 Jesus calls us not only to bind wounds but to help prevent them. At HBIC, we teach our kids peace and peacemaking. Even a few skills in this area go a long way.

We have joined Heeding God’s Call, a national ministry organization focused on stopping the flow of illegal handguns into cities. In the wake of a handgun murder, our local chapter holds a prayer vigil for the victims and their families at the location the shooting took place. The victim’s family often joins us as we pray. We also set up a mobile display at schools, parks, and churches, with T-shirts bearing the names of shooting victims and the dates their lives ended. It is profoundly moving to see a row of these shirts hanging on crosses.

We also help people in our congregation with the ongoing process of healing after losing a loved one to gun violence. We bear and bind each other’s wounds. And we pray. We pray for those in pain. We pray for protection. We pray for God’s shalom, His peace, to come to Harrisburg and this nation. We pray to stem the flow of illegal handguns into our communities. Prayer is still our greatest weapon.

There are ways the Brethren in Christ can contribute in this area. For instance, we can support limiting handgun purchases to one handgun per customer per month. This effectively eliminates the profit motive for criminals who would go broke selling only one illegal handgun a month, while still leaving room for the enthusiast or collector. The few states that have enacted stricter gun laws have seen gun-related homicides decrease dramatically—roughly 40%.2

In conjunction, we could pass a law requiring all stolen or lost guns to be reported to police immediately, providing accountability to the straw purchasers. We can also repeal the law barring local communities from obtaining information from the federal government as to where the illegal handguns come from. The overwhelming majority of all illegal handguns come from an incredibly small minority of gun shops and gun shows. By obtaining these records, communities would be empowered to confront these injustices.

I’ve heard the argument that if criminals want to get their hands on guns, we won’t be able to stop them. And I agree. But teenagers and young adults shooting other teenagers and young adults over manageable conflict issues are not shootings committed by professional criminals. The problem goes much deeper than that.

Our Lord still lives and wants to invade this world with His peace. He wants to change hearts and destinies. And He calls us to be His voice. The Anabaptist voice needs to be heard—now more than ever.

Glenn “Woody” Dalton Jr. was born in Virginia, but has made Harrisburg his home since 1980. In his spare time, he can be found on the golf course or in front of a chessboard. Woody and his wife, Kim, have three sons and a daughter-in-law.

1 Luke 10:30–31

My Life in God's Hands

by Jacob R. Shenk
Jacob R. Shenk
Photo: Nancy Shenk

I grew up on the younger side of nine children on a farm near Mt. Joy, Pa. With nine children living under one roof, we argued often and occasionally fought. I’ll always remember when one of us would run crying because a sibling had hit us, my father would respond, “And what did you do to them?” The tears usually stopped, and he would require both parties to apologize, kiss, and make up.

As a child, I attended Mt. Pleasant (Pa.) BIC with my family. Messages like, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9); “. . . as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18); and “. . . seek peace and pursue it,” (Psalm 34:14) made a deep impression on my young mind.

At about 10 years old, I felt God calling me to serve as a missionary in Africa. In 1958, shortly after graduating college, my wife, Nancy, and I set sail for Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). And as I stepped into this new context, I began to grasp how valuable it was to have grown up in a peacemaking tradition.

Zimbabwe’s colonization by the British government in the late 1800s began a cycle of violence that has, in many ways, continued to this day. Between the 1930s and the 1960s, animosity escalated between the majority black citizens and minority white rulers, eventually breaking out in war. After Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, one of the country’s two main tribal groups seized control of the government. Without a common enemy, conflict arose between the two groups. The party in power dispatched soldiers to deal with so-called “dissidents.” They were ruthless: eliminating potential threats, shooting citizens, burying people in mass graves, and throwing bodies down long drop toilets or mine shafts.

I was preaching in Bulawayo one Sunday morning when the police arrived. They removed one man from the congregation. We never saw him again. After the service, the police accused me of preaching politics—a serious allegation. One policeman asked for my address, saying they might want to interrogate me. In that moment, the Lord gave me courage. “Tell them to come, because I want to see them,” I responded.

In the mid 1980s, I attended an interdenominational church meeting in the capital city of Harare. I spoke out about the evil and hatred I saw, and many people feared I would “disappear” one day. Yet I could not remain quiet. I always knew my life was in God’s hands and that I must speak out against violence.

A while later, the heads of denominations met with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. They took a stand against evil, speaking out against violence and promoting conversation and reconciliation. And with the atrocities brought into the open, the conflict between the two groups turned around.

There is still work to be done, and I believe Christians should be at the forefront of peacemaking. I will always be grateful to the Lord for the teachings I received as a child and for the privilege of being nurtured in a peace church. I praise the Lord for leading me into a ministry where opportunities abound to practice this important biblical teaching and where the fruits of such teachings are abundantly evident.

Jacob R. Shenk and his wife, Nancy, live in Zimbabwe where they have served as missionaries with the BIC U.S. since 1958. Jake currently serves as the Regional Administrator in Southern Africa.

This article originally appeared in the spring/summer 2016 issue of In Part magazine.


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