Photo by: Janssen Powers
By: Erica Griffith
A world at peace is a lovely sentiment. Joyful communities doing fulfilling work and caring for one another; no one lacking, violence banished and anger dissipated.
But sometimes that’s all it feels like: a sentiment, a wistful hope, a dinner conversation. And we think to ourselves, this can’t possibly become reality, can it? Have you seen my news feed lately? Have you heard what they say on TV? Do you know what that person did to me? In fact, true peace—Biblical shalom—seems so out of reach that it’s often relegated to a cliché or shrugged off as idealistic. Being at peace with ourselves and with our neighbors can feel elusive, a shadow of a hope banished to the forgotten corners of our minds.
What if that cynicism is misguided? What if we do have the ability to usher in the world our hearts inherently know is possible? I believe this is true. I’ve seen it.
I work for an organization called Preemptive Love Coalition, where our mission is embedded in our name. Preemptive Love Coalition shows up in war zones with emergency relief and stays long after the immediate crisis is over. We believe violence can be unmade through preemptive love—showing up and loving anyway, despite our own biases and fears.The Preemptive Love community is a thriving coalition of people who wage peace in order to remake the world. Through my work, I’ve seen incredible examples of resilience and creativity in Iraqi and Syrian men and women who are seeking shalom and reshaping a new future, even as you read this. These people remind me that God’s kingdom is coming, and that its peace is already springing up.
Take Faris, a Yazidi man from a town on the border of Iraq and Syria. Faris fled to the Kurdistan region of Iraq after ISIS attacked his hometown and tried to wipe out his people. With a large family to care for, he needed new ways to earn a stable income. Through a small business grant, he received training and supplies to start a soapmaking business. His creativity and skill has enabled him to find dignity in his work, and to protect and provide for his family. He’s the epitome of an entrepreneur, deftly inventing new ideas and brainstorming new markets. Through his soapmaking, Faris is creating a beautiful world.
There’s also Jameela, a brilliant Syrian woman who worked as a teacher for years, raising sons with her husband. But her Kurdish minority status made her a target for ISIS and Syrians. Her identity was continually attacked as her country and aid organizations alike told her she wasn’t enough. Her family was forced to flee to Iraq, where she now lives in a cinder block home in a refugee camp. Though these attacks wounded deeply, Jameela met accusations with generosity by looking out for the needs of her neighbors. She now runs a crocheting business and trains her neighbors in the same skill. Though she is often in need, she’s able to serve her community with hope. The way she looks to the needs of others is an act of defiance against violence. Through her generosity, Jameela is waging peace in her refugee camp.
Waging peace is not always safe, and it is not easy. It can feel like the narrow road disguised as everyday life. But hope is the main ingredient. Jameela and Faris cultivate creativity and generosity in the midst of violence, resisting the urge to give up. Theirs are stories of living, breathing hope. Their acts of preemptive love are no small feats.
As Jameela has discovered by caring for her refugee neighbors, waging peace means ascribing value and worth to marginalized people. It’s enabling opportunity and cheering others on when they overcome. It’s sitting in blistering heat while listening to a person’s story. It’s taking time to imagine and create. It’s confronting our fears and biases. It is, in other words, hard work.
The passage in Isaiah that describes people beating their swords into plowshares affirms that we should not only lay our weapons down, but also recreate them into something good. The same tools that destroy can be repurposed into tools that bring life. If violence is made, it can be unmade.
The work of waging peace can happen on our own streets, in our public spaces, and in our living rooms. Most importantly, the work begins in our hearts. Envisioning and then creating shalom requires a commitment to the small details of love, and a trust that our actions can crescendo into thundering impact. And it’s not just a sentiment—it’s already happening.