The Bible tells us that God created the world in love, for His pleasure. He ensured that every part of it was good (Genesis 1 & 2). God created human beings to live in a loving relationship with Him, and with each other, and he gave them the responsibility of caring for his creation. (Genesis 2. 15).
But the relationship between God, humans and the rest of creation were broken when people sinned and turned away from God. (Genesis 3).
Therefore, the root causes of poverty and conflict are the broken relationships between us and God, us and ourselves, us and each other and us and creation.
However, the Bible tells us that God wants to restore relationships, because he loves us and wants all of creation to be good once again. (Roman’s 8. 18 -25) Jesus’ life, death and resurrection made restored relationships and a new creation possible. (Luke 4. 16-21, John 10. 10, Col 1. 15-20.)
The current context in Northern Ireland, politically and in community is palpably defined by impasse, apathy and inertia. There is a real sense among active church and community practitioners that the Northern Ireland situation has become “stuck”. As one church leader said, “We can’t get there from here”. In other words, the goal of peace and reconciliation needs a new impetus and it is our conviction that this is to be found through global partnership.
Twenty years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, life in Northern Ireland has improved considerably. Consequently, a return to the ethno-political conflict of the past is for most people unimaginable. However, what has remained stubbornly intact is the divisive legacy of sectarianism; the socio-economic neglect in communities most affected by the conflict; the negative presence of paramilitaries; and a political inertia that has paralysed any reconciliation policy from our Devolved Government. The current environment created by Brexit is also contributing to the tensions within the political sphere and at community level. We have achieved an internationally recognised peace process but we have not ‘relationally’ made peace. We remain demographically divided, unreconciled in our experiences of hurt, unable at political and community level to affirm a reconciliation policy, and in general we have settled for ‘tolerance’ as the social ethic for building a shared future. However, for the creation of an inclusive and diverse community, tolerance is not enough. For a vision of the common good necessitates not just the values of rights legislation but also the virtues of human relationships in which meaningful encounter and vulnerable dialogue are possible. A de facto policy of ‘together – apart’ falls short of a hoped for generous and thriving society. This is not to diminish the value and necessity of human rights and we affirm good legislation that facilitates inclusion, diversity and equality. However, these are primarily functional and legislative mechanisms. Thrive Ireland’s programme will build on these with an emphasis on innovative peacebuilding practice through, global learning and the gospel imperative of the primacy of relationships as the catalyst that animates civic society.
Thrive Ireland was birthed out of Tearfund and staff from Thrive Ireland have had the privilege of travelling widely within South and East Africa and journeying alongside a group of Christian Leaders, with ministries of peace and reconciliation in areas of conflict.
Staff and in turn board members were re-energised and envisioned from the encounter, courage and creativity of the Rwandan, Congolese, South Sudanese, Kenyian and Zimbabwean experience in particular. The inspiration for global learning has come from Thrive Ireland’s staff directly experiencing the transformative learning from these contexts.
This experience clearly reinforced our understanding that community relations and community development need to go hand in hand, not try to be dealt with separately. Our Church Community Transformation programme and our global peacebuilding therefore work together as we seek to enable churches to bring transformation to the local community around them.
Thrive Ireland in partnership with Contemporary Christianity produced a peace and reconciliation resource for churches in Northern Ireland. The material is based on the Rwandan churches response to the need for post- conflict National healing following the Genocide. The resource is designed to facilitate biblical reflection with Christians to consider how the Rwandan experience might inspire and inform our commitment to peace building.
In 1994 just under one million Rwandans were murdered during 100 days of sectarian slaughter. Rwanda is considered to be one of the most ‘Christian’ countries in Africa.
In the shadow of this Genocide the Rwandan Church continues to wrestle with the traumatic legacy of the killing while confronting its own complicity in the causes and consequence of tribal division. This requires difficult conversations about history, culture, politics and religion and a willingness to question neglected or distorted Biblical themes. Rwandan Christians acknowledge that “judgement begins with the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17) and that Repentance is a prerequisite for the Church’s integrity and the recovery of an authentic witness to Jesus Christ.
In this process of honesty and confession there is much to be considered but essential to the need for national unity and healing are the Christian imperatives of Forgiveness, Justice, Reconciliation and Repentance. It is these priorities that are explored in this resource.
However, this resource is not for the Church in Rwanda but for Evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland. For it is precisely because the Rwandan Church has faced up to its role in sectarian violence and its infidelity to the Gospel that we can listen to their learning and hear God speak to us through their tested faith. For if, in the most murderous of circumstances, our Rwandan brothers and sisters in Christ can explore the legacy of hate and hurt, then humility demands that we hear the Word of God from their experience.
This booklet sets out a basic framework to explore and action the Rwandan learning in the context of Northern Ireland. However, it is not a self-sufficient guide and the course should be directed by a trained Thrive Ireland facilitator. The four essential themes are designed to be biblically explored, generously discussed and with opportunities for interactive learning. Most importantly, it is a resource to be prayerfully considered.
We are grateful to the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council for their generous funding of this resource; and our partner, Contemporary Christianity (formerly ECONI), for their enthusiastic support and the use of their archive material. Also, we thank the Board of Thrive Ireland and the project Advisory Group for their time and wisdom. And in particular, we are indebted to Emmanuel Murangera for the translation of original material used with the Rwandan churches and the many Rwandan friends and partners whose life and faith is the living witness to the Christian hope explored in this resource.