A genuine peace activist tells what that really means

From Elizabeth Hankins:

Dear Dr Miller,

Thank you for your clear and tenacious voice in these days. It’s deeply important and I (amongst countless others) am so very grateful for you. 

To your writing below [My Substack on Medea Benjamin]: I’ve served more than two decades as a peace worker in, amongst or on behalf of genocide-impacted communities of East and Central Africa. I love this work and the local people I serve beside so much. When I inadvertently began the work years ago, I hadn’t yet realized ‘peace’ was politically charged, and oddly, a sometimes-cover to accomplish what I came to learn and witness as its inverse. I also had no clue the should-be guilelessness of peace was internationally charged with massive economic and political opportunities. Gullible me! Who knew? 

I completed grad studies in peace and conflict, have done advocacy work in genocide intervention and prevention here in the US, and some of my published work is used in U.K. beacon schools as genocide education. I lead a little faith-based organization focused on empowering local people in divided communities (of genocide and war-impacted regions of East and Central Africa) to build a God-centered peace from grassroots-up. Grassroots because top level agreements rarely translate into accessible, transformative peace that changes local lives and communities. High ranking arbiters of ‘peace’ decide direction (or devolution) of its form and reality.  Mid level actors and players, NGOs, agencies and the like, while having roles as stabilizing and equipping agents, drive peace from outside-in. They arrive to impart. But rarely do they invite, evoke, and welcome participation of the local people. They can forget to remember why they’ve arrived to their post in a post-war or war-impacted society. 

So over the years, by the grace of God, it’s become clear that’s it’s ordinary-extraordinary people who build peace. At the end of the day, local people are the ones who form, build upon, practice and protect peace in their lives and communities. Just as the human body is brilliantly wired to heal itself post-trauma and amidst infection, and needs only optimal conditions to assist it in doing so, so it is with authentic peace. When the things that make for peace become clear, accessible, and therefore ‘practice-able’ to local citizenry often battered by war and its countless deceptions, everything begins changing. From within and led by the local people themselves! So long story super-short, that’s been — and continues to be — my work, work that’s taken me to places, circumstances and to be with people I couldn’t have ever imagined. 

I wanted to share this because in our now-Orwellian context, the word and work (peace) I cherish most, work I believe is intrinsically connected to the very nature and character of God, is upside down in the breathtaking, divisive ways you articulate. And I wanted you to be encouraged by an imperfect counter-story of what’s witnessed and articulated below.  

In the very name of peace, there are people deeply committed to bringing its unalloyed presence into hard places. There are still those who understand the mysterious tension of peace-justice-truth and how they interlock, another kind of trinity. We know impartial truth sits at the heart of justice because to do what’s authentically right or just, we must learn what is true. And justice is central to peace, isn’t it?  There is not the wholeness of shalom in the presence of broken justice. So in all, the pursuit of peace means once truth’s light clarifies what is wrong, ‘getting to’ peace requires justice’s scales set it back to right — even if it’s imperfectly so and the work is hard and requires the full measure of our lives. 

I thought I’d share in light of your detailed peace activist below to whom peace is upside down and tragically celebratory of its opposite. I, too, am a champion of peace, a worker of it. But the peace to which I’m devoted begins, continues and soars in learning what is true so as to do what’s imperfectly right and reconciliatory. It is centered in God, His ways,  and in His love for this world and its people He created.  

Again, thank you for your incredibly important work! It, too, is the work of peace, every article you write, an act of peace. I pray you’re deeply encouraged. 

Warm regards Elizabeth Hankins 

[A reply to “With ‘peace activists’ like these, who needs warmongers?” by Mark Crispin Miller]

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