Kristent fredsarbejde: Et interview med Peter Sensenig

Af Lukas Julius Kaarby, Studentermedhjælper i Dansk Missionsråd

På Dansk Missionsråds og Center for Kirkeligt Udviklingssamarbejdes fællesseminar den 14. maj havde vi besøg af Peter Sensenig. Han holdt tre spændende sessioner om trosbaseret fredsarbejde. Her kom han både ind på teologiske og praktiske aspekter af fredsarbejde. Efter de tre sessioner havde han tid til at give et lille interview om kristent fredsarbejde. Interviewet er på engelsk.

After Peter’s three sessions on peacebuilding, he was kind enough to setting down with me for an interview. I imagined he was tired after the sessions, but he had the same warm and engaged present as I experienced in his lectures. 

Peter, thanks for sitting down with me here after an interesting three sessions on peacebuilding.

You’re very welcome, Lukas. It’s a pleasure, he replied with warmth.

And currently you are living in Chad and working with the peacebuilding?

Yes, in fact I work in Chad with Mennonite Mission. And I do two things. I teach at a seminary in Chad, a Christian seminary. And I also work at an interfaith committee that does Muslim-Christian peacebuilding work.

Now that you have an idea of who Peter is, we can dive into the substance. The first thing on my mind was the relationship between mission and peacebuilding. A question he was passionate about.

How do you see the connection between missionary work and then peacebuilding?

If we think of mission only in terms of a personal gospel in which individuals are reconciled to God, then it would be very difficult to see that as peacebuilding work. But if our idea of mission includes all of the aspects of the kingdom of God that Jesus was bringing about and preaching and teaching and initiating himself, healing and reconciling. Then I think it becomes easier to say that peacebuilding and evangelism, as it’s traditionally framed, can go together very well. And that we see them as the same calling to be salt and light, to invite people to encounter Jesus and encounter the kingdom of God.

What does Christian peacebuilding look like or peacebuilding in general from your perspective?

One of the definitions that I have of peacebuilding is bringing together people who are very different in their perspectives, their communities, their practices, who might be in a conflict. Or who might be part of communities that have experienced conflict in the past. Or might in the future. Bringing them together so that they can establish life-giving, trusting relationships. So that might be between Muslims and Christians who are certainly in conflict in different parts of Africa and around the world. It might be between people in the same church. People in the same family. It might be between neighbors. It might be at an international level between countries. I think there is a calling for us as Christians to work at all of those levels. From the personal, to the interpersonal, to the communal, societal, and international. And also, in a deeply spiritual level, my relationship with God. And my maintaining the conflicts that I experience within myself. And my addressing them. And my applying the same best practices that I do to my wife, to my children, to God, to my neighbour.

This beautiful and fascinating answer with its multileveled orientation leads very well into the next question.

Where do you see peacebuilding starting? Is it like in the individual? Is it in the collective? Is it in Christ?

You could ask it also in terms of conflict. Where do conflicts start? We find different answers to that question in Scripture. The Apostle James says, conflicts come from the sin that resides in your heart. Your greed. And your being friends with the world, in a worldly way, rather than friendship with God. We could also see examples in Scripture of conflict beginning simply from situations of injustice. And when Jesus is asked, whose fault is this? Is it this person or this person? Who created this? He refuses to say exactly. And he says, let’s not start there. Let’s ask, what is it that God is calling us to do? And so, when we ask where peacemaking comes then, I think that’s where we can begin by asking, what is God calling us to be in this situation? Is God calling, and particularly for me as an individual, to address another person whom I resent, or I have something against?

Or is God calling us as a group to take some initiative and reach out to this other group with which we are in conflict? So, I don’t think we can say that it’s always an individual. Or that it’s always a group, or some kind of environment, environmental factor. But that we can always turn the question, as Jesus did, to what is the practical peacemaking step that we can take in this conflict?

That’s a great way to lead with, like a guideline for every conflict.

Yeah, I think that partly what I love about talking about Jesus in conflict is that he is always empowering people. He is not saying that you are stuck in this situation, whether you have been treated badly, whether you are victimized, whether you are oppressed, or whether you have been in an advantageous situation because of this conflict. In all of those cases, you are not powerless.

As Peter expresses, there is something creative and transformative in specific situations that you can do. You possess the agency in the situation! You possess the possibility of chancing the current state. Peter elaborates:

And I think for the people that Jesus was addressing in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, this was good news. These were ordinary peasants oppressed by the Roman Empire. Who felt like they could do nothing. In the case of a Roman soldier who was misusing them, or striking them, or compelling them to do work. And Jesus is saying, this is a terrible situation. He is naming it. It’s a very important thing. He names the injustice, and he says that you can do something about it.

Now that the interview is coming to an end, I wondered what Christian peacebuilding looks like in practice.

Can you name a concrete example where you experienced Christian peacebuilding at work, or where it presented itself?

Yeah, I met a pastor in Chad, who, when he was a young man, about 14, his father was killed by a Muslim man. In his presence, in his home. And years later, he was somewhere where his friends pointed out to him, that man across the room is the man who killed your father. His friends were suggesting that he had a chance, because the man who had killed his father was taking some beer, he was a little bit drunk, he was vulnerable, he might say. He had a chance. And his friends were saying, this is your chance to take revenge for your father’s death. And this man, the pastor heard the Holy Spirit speaking to him, to just go and sit beside the man. And so that’s what he did. He went and sat beside him. And in those moments, while he was there, he said, the Holy Spirit just changed his heart. And he felt love for this man, where he had felt hatred for all of those years. And from that moment on, he became a Christian peacemaker, who works at Muslim-Christian Peacebuilding in Chad. And now he’s in an influential position, and his story is one of the kinds of transformation that happens when we listen to the Holy Spirit, when we take a little step, and for him that step was going to sit beside the killer of his father.

I responded, not a little step, because of the courage and grace this step must have required. Peter replied, but that’s all it took, was to walk across the room. You’re right, not a little step. But he did not have to say, I’m going to change my mind totally about this situation. But just do that one thing, and see what God does with it. And for me, this Pastor Dawud is an example to me of being willing to take the little step. And see what God does with it.

So inspirational. Thank you so much, Peter, for taking the time.

You’re very welcome, Lukas. It was a pleasure. Thank you.