Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
It is a joy for me to extend my greetings to you as you attend this Pastors’ Book Set conference in Cote d’Ivoire. My hope is that the time you spend together in this conference will help solidify your unity in Jesus Christ.
We know that you have experienced much conflict, pain and anguish these past months in Cote d’Ivoire. We know that over 3,000 people lost their lives during the trouble. Homes were destroyed; families separated; plans and projects came to a halt; countless lives were permanently altered — and all of that applies to people on both sides of the political divide in your country.
Each party in the conflict can point to far too many victims of violence. Each side views itself as working for justice. Each side sees the other’s errors as far more serious than its own. Yet each side committed its own wrongs. And in the midst of these accusations and counter-accusations, the Church of Jesus Christ was often sucked into the murky waters of party politics. Christian leaders ignored God’s command to love their neighbors as themselves, forgetting that God had entrusted them with the ministry of reconciliation. They saw others as their enemies.
If we are to truly understand that God loves all of us, we must recognize that He also loves our enemies. We try to claim God for ourselves and for our cause, but God’s love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict.
The need for reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire is very great indeed. Just as reconciliation with God could not have happened without the incarnation of Jesus Christ, so true reconciliation among women and men cannot happen until we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and begin to relate to the other person’s perspective.
Reconciliation involves identifying with the other person just as Jesus identified with us by becoming a human being.
Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones is not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the pain, the hurt, the truth.
Reconciliation means acknowledging that each side has legitimate grievances and justifiable claims against the other. It is more than a superficial exercise of saying I’m sorry. Rather, it needs to look deeply and intentionally at the root causes of the animosity that eventually blew up into a civil war. How could anyone think that true reconciliation can avoid proper confrontation? Reconciliation includes understanding why the other side feels so mistreated. It means forgiving and asking for forgiveness for both the intentional and unintentional hurt and pain inflicted on real people just like you and your family members. The ability to forgive others ultimately comes from the humble recognition that we are all flawed and all human and if the roles were reversed we could have been the aggressor rather than the victim.
Reconciliation also means working together to no longer allow the destructive nature of animosity and revenge to take root and bear fruit. It means working for what is right and fair and good for the entire nation and not just for one people or one region. Reconciliation requires a vast amount of hope.
Who is better equipped to offer hope to the Ivorian people than the Church of Cote d’Ivoire? Who can better demonstrate the love, mercy and compassion needed for reconciliation than the Church of Cote d’Ivoire?
As followers of Jesus we are to live out the Gospel in very practical ways. We are to demonstrate compassion, not apathy; kindness, not animosity; humility, not arrogance; gentleness, not meanness; patience, not jumping to conclusions.
In our African idiom we say, “A person is a person through other persons.” We call the recognition of our interdependence ubuntu in the Nguni languages. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours. People with ubuntu know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.
Jesus became a human for our sake, emerging alive despite the efforts to end his life, thereby enabling us to be reconciled to the Father. The Church in Cote d’Ivoire, a Church called to peace and to a ministry of reconciliation, needs to model these aspects of the love of Christ to a watching society. May the Lord strengthen you and guide you as you lead your country toward forgiveness, reconciliation and lasting peace. May He also wonderfully bless your time at the Pastors’ Book Set conference.
God bless you.