At times, international gatherings and conferences may seem to amount to no more than an opportunity for participants to see old friends and listen to speeches. However, for me, the journey of preparing for, participating in and continuing the work of the Reconciliation Issue Group of the Lausanne 2004 Forum for World Evangelization in Pattaya, Thailand, has been one of the most exciting and meaningful experiences of my life.
Preparation for Pattaya
I was asked to be on the leadership team for the Reconciliation Issue Group at the 2004 Forum. This team, composed of members from several countries, different denominations and diverse organizations, met several times in preparation for the Forum. Together, among other things, we drafted a paper titled, “Reconciliation as the Mission of God.”
One of our meetings was held in Rwanda in 2004, the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. The very painful and sobering experience of learning about the genocide joined us together in a powerful way as a team to deal with the issues of reconciliation in a broken world. This experience prepared us for working with a much larger group of participants at Lausanne who came from conflict-ridden and broken places in the world.
Participation in Pattaya
It was very exciting to be with hundreds of followers of Christ in Pattaya. Clearly, the Pattaya participants took their faith, the mission of God and their own responsibilities in kingdom work quite seriously. Although I enjoyed participating in the larger plenary sessions, I found my most meaningful interactions and learning took place in the Reconciliation Issue Group.
Very solemnly and gently, the members of each cluster poured water into the basins and washed each others’ feet.
Our Issue Group included Palestinians and Israelis, Hutus and Tutsis, blacks and whites from North America and South Africa, men and women, Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, South and North Koreans, and representatives of other groups. We listened to each others’ stories, laughed together, cried together, worked together and, above all, prayed together.
The most thrilling experience at Pattaya occurred on the evening when we were scheduled to present a summary report of our work to the entire Lausanne assembly. We were faced with the dilemma of deciding how to present the results of several years of intense work in a five-minute report. Jeannette Yep and I shared our report as briefly as possible and, as much as possible, without using words. In three or four sentences we shared our vision.
Immediately following this, about thirteen of our colleagues from the Reconciliation Issue Group joined us on the stage, forming clusters of two or three, each with a basin, a towel and a jug of water. The clusters included a Palestinian and an Israeli; a Hutu and a Tutsi; a man and a woman; a black, an Asian and a white; and a Protestant, a Catholic and an Orthodox. Very solemnly and gently, the members of each cluster poured water into the basins and washed each others’ feet. Each of us made eye contact, giving a loving, tender look to the person whose feet we were washing. It was indeed a holy moment.
The audience responded by leaping to their feet. There was thunderous applause and tears were running down many faces. Audience members embraced and many tried to run to the front of the assembly hall to take pictures of what was happening on the stage. This emotional outpouring from the audience expressed their yearning for reconciliation among people whose relationships are torn and broken because of vandalized shalom. My mind quickly turned to how much God yearns for reconciliation among his creation and how he longs for people to be reconciled with him. How great must be the yearning of the God whose mission is reconciliation, and who made provision for this reconciliation through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ!
The Journey since Pattaya
The paper written by the Pattaya Reconciliation Issue Group, “Reconciliation as the Mission of God,” has been translated from English into French and Arabic, and will soon be available in Spanish. It has been distributed widely at conferences and gatherings and has been well received both by students of theology and practitioners.
The participants in our Issue Group left Pattaya committed to accompanying each other on the journey of reconciliation. In April 2005, fifteen members of our Issue Group met at Coventry Cathedral in England. We developed and adopted a membership commitment for the Global Network for Reconciliation (GNR). The mission of the GNR is:
As followers of Jesus Christ, we pursue God’s mission of reconciliation as we embody its vision in our network and inspire the global Christian community to engage a world of brokenness and destructive conflicts.
We agreed on the following shared commitments:
- Pray for one another, the Church and the world.
- Maintain our biblical vision for reconciliation.
- Practice confession and forgiveness in our personal lives, and seek healing.
- Build relationships and partnerships, inviting Christians around the world to join us.
- Stay in touch and gather to share stories, discern the realities of brokenness, celebrate signs of hope and work together toward reconciliation.
- Develop and achieve shared goals.
- Contribute and share resources.
- Seek the Church’s renewal and help mobilize the Christian community to be partners in God’s reconciling mission.
- Advocate and speak prophetically for reconciliation, including engaging church, religious, civic and political leaders.
The group at Coventry appointed a leadership team of seven individuals from different parts of the world to carry on the work of the GNR. In our May 2007 conference call, the GNR leadership team adopted a plan to focus on the following four activities:
Quarterly conference calls open to any member of GNR
Inviting new people to the annual gatherings
Our 2007 gathering, scheduled for 15-17 November, will be hosted by the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School (directed by Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole) in Durham, North Carolina, USA. The Center for Contemporary Christianity (directed by David Porter) in Belfast, Northern Ireland, will host our 2008 gathering. A 2009 gathering is planned for a location outside of the United States and Europe. In 2010, our gathering will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in conjunction with the meetings of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization.
I am thankful that the reconciliation work begun in Pattaya is continuing. I am excited to partner with other followers of Christ as together we partner with our God, whose mission is reconciliation. We are grateful to the Lausanne movement for their encouragement and support on this journey.