I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” I don’t think it should come as any surprise why this particular blessing stands out among the list we’ll hear in churches around the world this weekend. Cairo saw a surge in violence over the weekend as Egyptians remembered the 3rd anniversary of the beginning of the revolution. Our brothers and sisters from South Sudan anxiously await news from family and friends still in the country. One friend has missing twelve-year-old nephews, a few others have heard confirmation that family members or close friends have been killed in the violence there. We long for peace and pray for it, for Egypt, South Sudan, Syria, and so many places around the world. We need peace makers.
I’ve been working my way through the book The Sacrifice of Africa: A Political Theology for Africa, after I learned about Maggy Barankitse and Maison Shalom. Several stories of peacemakers throughout Africa are told in the book, and after reading Bishop Paride Taban’s story, I’ve been doing a little more research about him. He started the Holy Trinity Peace Village in Kuron, South Sudan, after seeing Neve Shalom in Jerusalem, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews live together in harmony. “Wow!” he recalls in an interview, “I will retire from the administration of the diocese and start the peace village as soon as the peace is signed.” Now, members of several tribes live, play, and learn together in peace and harmony that was previously unheard of. While young men had previously stolen cattle from neighboring tribes, these former cattle raiders now play football together.
Today, I watched as young men played football (soccer) in the makeshift pitch that we usually call the courtyard. The youngest is probably 10, a bright young man whose smile lights up the room and who grew about 4 inches over the Christmas break. I watched as he made a fantastic header, impressing even the coolest older boys. The young men come from Somalia, Eritrea, and South Sudan. And while the competition is fierce, the laughter is contagious. Younger students gathered around watching. It becomes a community event when they play after lunch. I’ve learned that dodging footballs can become a means of grace.
I know I’ve said it before, but it’s so true. I see hope in the courtyard pitch. I see hope in the faces of these young people, taking a break from their learning to play. And I wonder, maybe there’s something to it, blessed are the playmakers.
Maybe the world has something to learn from these young men who come from so many places, whose stories could go so many ways, and yet, find themselves together in our little courtyard, laughing and playing. From the former cattle raiders who let the cattle be so they can play football instead. Blessed are the playmakers…for in their play, we see glimpses of peace.