by John Martin
"Mission, if it is to be transformed, needs to practice justice by doing justice, reconciling people with each other and with God," the Anglican Communion Mission Organisations Conference heard.
The Revd Riaj Jarjour, General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, reminded delegates that the mission of Jesus was to "restore the dignity and worth of all and set free a groaning creation."
Mr Jarjour spoke of "two broken communities" in his region. The first was the people of Iraq, he said, had suffered for 12 years under international sanctions. "A war against Iraq will destroy the country and its infrastructure with the loss of thousands of innocent lives. Already babies have died for want of food and medical supplies. Mothers and the elderly are suffering. A war, I think, will make matters worse." He then spoke of the Palestinian people. "People don't mean anything to Israeli soldiers," he declared. "We need a mission to Muslims, not to bring people to Christ but to proclaim Christ, Jesus the peacemaker, Jesus who came with justice and Jesus the reconciler." A significant number of delegates to the Conference, held in Cyprus, 12-18 February, told first hand of conflicts in their countries.
In the Solomon Islands, members of the Melanesian Brotherhood and Sisterhood had formed human shields between warring parties in their nation. Since 1986 the Lord's Resistance Army has fought a bloody campaign in north-west Uganda, kidnapping and brutalising children and causing dislocation of communities. The wife of the former Bishop of Kitgum died when her car triggered a landmine.
A bishop from the Democratic Republic of Congo told of being caught in a horrible conflict as various interest groups, including neighbouring states, fought for control of the nation's mineral wealth. "It is not our conflict but it is the ordinary people who suffer as a result."
A representative from Colombia wanted to know why conflict in his country rarely makes world headlines. "Why is it that every time there's a Palestinian bomber it's reported widely, while no one hears about what we suffer?" The conflict begun in the 1950s has created 2.5 million displaced persons in ever-growing urban slums. A cycle of violence between government forces, self-appointed paramilitaries and guerrillas takes a gruesome toll. Ordinary people forced to give food and shelter to belligerents find themselves subject to punishment and reprisals. Currently there are 3,500 known kidnap victims and churches have suffered from guerrilla attacks. A recent shooting left 30 worshippers dead.
In many conflicts, religion is misused to fuel violence. In Northern Ireland, perpetrators of violence often seek to make it legitimate in the name of religion. The question was how the Christian community can assist in peacemaking by opposing this misuse of religious symbolism.
Delegates explored how to use advocacy in bringing attention of the plight of ordinary people caught up in war and civil conflicts, and how the Church be a mediator and agent for healing memories.