Posted by: Titus Presler | March 23, 2016

Reconciliation amid poverty and terrorism highlights Church of Pakistan’s international conference

Reconciliation in the context of poverty and terrorism was the theme of an international conference held recently by the Church of Pakistan in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab.  The gathering, titled ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists,’ drew about 55 people from Pakistan, Britain, Finland, Norway and the USA.

Convened by Church of Pakistan Moderator Samuel Azariah, Bishop of Raiwind, one of the church’s eight dioceses, the March 12-15 conference was designed to highlight reconciliation as Christians’ urgent mandate from God in a world where peoples and religions are alienated from each other by the massive injustice of destitution and by intensified violence motivated by religion.  The theme was appropriate as well for Lent shortly before Holy Week, which focuses on the culmination of God’s reconciling work in Christ Jesus.

The conference was designed in large part by Church of Pakistan Coordinator Munawar Rumalshah, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Peshawar, who said that reconciliation has become the overriding passion of his life.  Formed in 1970 to unite Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, the Church of Pakistan is the largest Christian church in Pakistan.

My address to the conference, ‘International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission,’ appears below, but circumstances prevented my delivering the talk in person.  Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, was the other speaker invited to address international issues, but he was likewise unable to attend.

Speakers included the Rev. Dr. Charles Amjad-Ali, founder of the Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Justice and Christian Community at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Janice Price, World Mission Policy Adviser in the Church of England and co-author, with a body called the World Mission and Anglican Communion Panel, of World-Shaped Mission: Exploring New Frameworks for the Church of England in World Mission (London: Church House Publishing, 2012).

About 25 of the conference participants were from the Church of Pakistan, with three representatives from each diocese.  Mission societies represented included: USPG (currently called Us), represented by Janette O’Neil and Naomi Herbert, CEO and Director of International Programs, respectively; the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM); the Norwegian Mission Society; and Norwegian Church Aid.  A number of clergy and lay members of the Diocese of Los Angeles attended the conference.  The companion mission agencies met with the Pakistani dioceses for several days in Lahore following the conference.


International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission:  Address by the Rev. Canon Titus Presler, Th.D., D.D. at the Church of Pakistan Conference: ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’  Lahore, Pakistan, 12-15 March 2016

Videos of the talk: Part 1 (26 minutes)  Part 2 (21 minutes)

See also World Council of Churches article on the conference, written from the perspective of the mission companionship between Norwegian churches and the Church of Pakistan, and posted on the Anglican Communion News Service website.  Dr. Sarah Safdar, who is cited in the article, is a colleague of mine in Peshawar and a member of the Edwardes College Board of Governors.

It is an honor and privilege to address you in Lahore on the theme of reconciliation from a Christian perspective, my particular topic being ‘International and Theological Dimensions of Reconciliation as the Direction of God’s Mission.’  I am grateful to Moderator Bishop Samuel Azariah for the invitation.  I thank Bishop Mano Rumalshah, who is coordinating the conference, and Bishop Humphrey Peters, with whom I have worked so closely in Peshawar, as they have warmly welcomed the prospect of my presence.  I regret very much that circumstances prevent my being with you in person for the conference, the more so that I like being in Pakistan, enjoy its people of all religions, and love the Christian community that is so faithful in that land.

Part 1: A Reflection on the Conference Theme

You have chosen a striking title for this conference: ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation in the Company of the Poor, Marginalized and Terrorists.’  The phrase ‘Pilgrimage of Life towards Reconciliation’ emphasizes that reconciliation is a process, not a single event.  We all know from our personal lives that particular reconciling events – say, between parent and child, or between siblings, or between spouses, or between colleagues at work – do not generally heal relations fully or immediately.  Rather, they inaugurate a process that may take months or even years, with steps backward as well as forward.  Seeing this process as a pilgrimage takes it beyond psychology and locates it in its proper spiritual and theological home.  A pilgrim is a person who travels in search of a deeper experience of God.  Thus a life pilgrimage toward reconciliation is a pilgrimage into a deeper knowledge of God and a deeper experience of God, a pilgrimage in which reconciliation becomes a lens through which we see the light of God. 

Your phrase, ‘in the company of’, highlights the accompaniment, the companionship, that has become a major theme of missiology in the last two decades.  Practitioners and theologians have realized that the mission of God and therefore the mission for which God desires our participation must begin not with trying to do things for people but rather simply being with people: walking with them, accompanying them in the joys and challenges of their lives, becoming their companions as they seek to live faithfully and fruitfully.

The groups you name in your title are striking because of the inclusion of terrorists, especially the implication that we are journeying toward reconciliation in the company of terrorists, somehow being their companions.  It is now commonplace to promote accompanying the poor and marginalized, whoever they may be in any particular society – but accompanying terrorists?!  That is a novel thought on which I will reflect later.  For now, with the mention of terrorists we are on notice that you are seeking very serious reconciliation.  Further, your phrasing suggests that you seek reconciliation with the poor and marginalized as well as other forms of reconciliation as you are in companionship with the poor and marginalized.

Part 2: A Reconciliation Story from South Africa

I have been asked to speak about international dimensions of reconciliation, so I open my reflections with a story from South Africa that brings a major social scourge together with a luminous ministry:

‘Apartheid was a terrible time.  I don’t how I can explain it.  Klerksdorp was a white town.  Blacks were not allowed to stay in town.  Blacks were not allowed even to walk on the pavement.’  William Lolwane was talking about his hometown, which is about 100 miles southwest of Johannesburg. He went on to describe his church and what had happened there in the first decade of the 21st century: ‘St. Peter’s was a white church. I was not allowed to worship there. Today at St. Peter’s, things have changed. In one short year, Father James has succeeded in uniting the different racial groups in the church, so that now we are able to worship the Lord as one.’

James and Lorine Williams were Episcopal missionaries in South Africa from 1999 t0 2010. Hailing from Buffalo, New York, they served in the Anglican Diocese of Matlosane, where Lorine was a deacon and James pastored St. Peter’s Anglican Church and handled various diocesan responsibilities.

Said James in the Windows on Mission film series, [i] : ‘South Africa is a model for the rest of Africa and for the entire world in that there was not a bloodbath and slaughter at the end of apartheid. And this is due to the capacity of the African population to forgive – not necessarily to forget – but to forgive and to reconcile the differences that they had. We see this sense of forgiveness each and every day.’

Here James identified a certain kind of response to difference – difference being a fundamental element of human experience and thus of mission – as the root of apartheid.  He identified an alternative response to difference as the root of the new South Africa’s reconciling witness to the world.  Instead of repaying the former oppressors with fear, suppression and exclusion, black South Africans were responding to the history with forgiveness and reconciliation.

Longtime white parishioner Isobella Marais celebrated what she called ‘the day the door of this church was opened to all nations, because that’s what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew. His last words were, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations.” That’s where the blessing lies – all the nations and us, worshiping together.’

In uniting racial groups at St. Peter’s, James and Lorine Williams brought with them their experience as African Americans working through the racial crises in the United States, crises that continue today. They went out of their way not only to welcome all racial groups – blacks, whites, Indians, so-called coloreds – but also to get to know and cherish each individual in the parish. There were tears of joy. People had experienced and celebrated reconciliation.

Reconciliation amid difference, I suggest, is the direction of God’s mission in the world.  Reconciliation is what God is up to.

Part 3: Reconciliation Defined and Expressed

Let’s explore in greater detail what reconciliation is.  The word “reconcile” comes from the Latin verb reconciliare.  It means most basically to restore persons and communities to friendship or harmony.  Restoration implies previous disturbance, so reconciliation addresses a situation in which relationship has suffered.  The degree of disturbance can range from alienation and estrangement to enmity and hostility.  It may be expressed in silence and shunning, covert and overt relational subversion, and verbal and physical violence.

Reconciliation in itself is the healing of relationship. In ordinary conversation, people use many metaphors for the transformation that reconciliation brings: What is torn is mended.  What is broken is repaired.  What is wounded is made whole.  Those walking away now walk toward.  The brush-off becomes an embrace. Closeness replaces distance.  People walking apart now walk together.  Those who looked away now look each other in the eye.  In relational terms, there is movement from suspicion to trust, from alienation to cordiality, from isolation to collaboration, from hostility to friendship.

Reconciliation restores joy.  Something good and loving used to exist, and then it disappeared, or it was withdrawn or destroyed.  You know this experience in Pakistan.  As one of my Muslim colleagues at Edwardes College exclaimed in response to news of yet another terrorist act: “We were not like this!  We used to get along very well!”  What was a garden became a relational wilderness.  In reconciliation the garden comes back. When the relationship is restored and friendship or love returns, there is an extra measure of joy compounded of recognition, reentry and relief.

Working as Presbyterian missionaries in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta teach in Indonesian universities through the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, the only cooperative program worldwide among secular, Christian and Muslim universities. Bernie and Farsijana built their home in an all-Muslim neighborhood, and they use it for hospitality and community outreach.  So not only do the they teach about inter-religious relations and carry out projects with both Muslims and Christians, but they have offered their home for the project of building bridges between communities.[ii]  In today’s world, that is a work of reconciliation.

The Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi is a similar effort in inter-religious reconciliation as it brings Muslims and Christians together for dialogue and equips Christians for reconciliation work through congregations and institutions in their home communities.  We sent a busload of students from Edwardes College, both Christians and Muslims, to the center for one of its programs, and they all came back excited about what had been a unique experience for them in inter-religious encounter.

Kids4Peace is an inter-faith initiative that brings Jewish, Christian and Muslim children together for mutual understanding in programs in Jerusalem, Atlanta and Vermont.  “If you know and respect my religion, you respect the deepest part of me,” said a child at one of the Kids4Peace summer camps.  Said founder and former missionary Henry Carse, “What began as a reaction to violence and suffering is now much more proactive.  The interfaith learning which these children inspire is the first step in a new culture.”[iii]  We might might term that new culture a culture of reconciliation.  Is that not what the world is longing for in the many religious, social, economic and political alienations of our time – a culture of reconciliation?

Amid the disputes that are afflicting Christian world communions today, people yearn to restore relationships that have been strained or broken by controversies such as the turmoil about different approaches to human sexuality. Following the 2009 decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly to allow people in committed same-gender relationships to be on the church’s official ministry rosters, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson said, “We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements, but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.”[iv]

The Indaba Mutual Listening Process of the Anglican Communion, which has been roiled by the sexuality controversy for two decades, does not seek or encourage persuasion by either side, much less unanimity. Based on a model of consultation used by the Zulu people of South Africa, Indaba’s purpose is to develop patterns of listening and conversing over the divide of deep differences so that relationship can grow and Christians can collaborate in mission together. Disagreement may continue, but the aim is to build the relational capacity that will support shared mission amid disagreement. The process is designed to catalyze reconciliation.[v]

The first appointment made by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby after his enthronement was the February 2013 naming of David Porter to the new post of Canon for Reconciliation at Lambeth Palace.  “How we live with our deepest differences both within the Church and our increasingly fractured world, is one of the major challenges to the credibility of Christianity as good news,” he said.[vi] Porter has just been reassigned to a more administrative post, and we hope that the reconciliation work will continue to be prominent.

For about a decade the Anglican Church of Canada has been working on reconciliation with the First Nations of Canada over the residential schools scandal, in which indigenous children had been forced into boarding schools where, in addition to being deprived of their language and culture, they were often abused.

Reconciliation is more explicitly on the agenda of the world community today than it has been before.  Spurred by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that sought healing in South Africa after apartheid, people in many societies are recognizing reconciliation as central to healing after mass atrocities and violence.  Rwanda’s National Unity and Reconciliation Commission was designed to illuminate the decades-long ethnic tensions that built up to the 1994 genocide and to develop a national reconciliation strategy.  Given the large number of imprisoned perpetrators, gacaca, a traditional community-based healing process, was activated to help establish truth, explore the trauma, and offer justice.[vii]

Commissions to clarify truth and foster reconciliation have worked with varying success to bring healing after oppressive regimes and civil wars in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru. Some have suggested similar efforts in the wake of communal violence in Northern Ireland.  The legacy of slavery and continuing racial conflictin the United States, where there have been many instances of police brutality against blacks in recent years, prompt similar calls for justice and reconciliation.  Today leaders in government and civil society call for reconciliation after and even during wars, such as those in Sri Lanka, Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

An often-cited diplomatic achievement of USAmerican foreign policy after World War II was that former enemies Japan and Germany became major allies. While ‘reconciliation’ as a term did not appear so often in that era, that shift would have been impossible without many and widespread steps to reconcile.

An uncle of mine fought in the US Army in the Philippines in World War II.  He was in the Bataan Death March, then spent three years in a Japanese prison camp where he was terribly abused, and his family, including my mother, did not know whether he was dead or alive.  His health was permanently affected, but he lived to a good old age.  Years later my sister led various joint learning projects between her college in Colorado and colleges in Japan.  At one point my aunt asked her, “How can you work with those people after what they did to your uncle?”  One answer, of course, was that the people she was working with were not the same people who abused our uncle.  But the more important answer was that she was able to work with them because of reconciliation: reconciliation between two great peoples and reconciliation in her heart.

Part 4: Reconciliation in Scripture and Theology

Your focus on reconciliation in this conference highlights what scripture and theology demonstrate is the ultimate direction of God in the world.  The first step in participating in God’s mission is to ask, ‘What is God up to in the world?’  Scripture’s answer to that question is reconciliation.  Reconciliation is God’s overall aim, God’s ultimate direction, the omega point of what God is up to in the cosmos.  So in focusing on reconciliation you are resonating with the heartbeat of God’s nature, God’s work, God’s mission.

Our biblical and theological traditions testify that the fundamental fact of the human condition is estrangement from God.  We see it in the Garden of Eden, as Adam and Eve hide themselves from God after eating from the forbidden tree. Creatures bearing God’s image and thus created for friendship with God now treat God as stranger and adversary.  God’s calling out to them in the evening breeze, “Where are you?” can be taken as the cry of God throughout the drama of biblical revelation.  We are used to hearing the question posed from our side as people in desperation cry, “Where are you, God?”  The reality is not that God is hidden, but that God is seeking us. We are the hidden ones, concealed in the effects of sin.  The estrangement brought by sin spurs God to action throughout scripture as God seeks reconciliation with humanity.

The nature of reconciliation and its place in God’s nature is dramatized in one of the most moving reunions in all of scripture, the return of Jacob, son of Isaac, who stole the birthright of Esau by deceiving their father and then fled his brother’s wrath. On his way back to Canaan, Jacob was terrified to imagine how Esau might receive him, so he sent his possessions and family ahead and bowed and scraped his way toward his brother. Against all expectation, “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” “Truly,” exclaimed Jacob, “to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favor” (Genesis 33:3-4, 10).  So the face of God is not primarily a rule-giving face, a judging face or a punishing face, but a reconciling face.  In that story we see Jacob repent, we see Esau forgive, and we see the two reconciled.

It is in the apostle Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians that the centrality of reconciliation in God’s purpose is set forth with unequalled eloquence:

17 If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

“In Christ God was reconciling the world to God.” Paul is claiming that reconciliation was the intent and the desired fruit of what God was up to in the Christ event.  The Greek verb Paul uses for this work is katallasso, which means to reconcile those whose relationship is broken.  The verb builds on its root in the verb allasso, which means to make other than what is now, thus to change, to transform.[viii]

How was it that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to God”? Christ “died for all,” says Paul, “not counting their trespasses against them.” In that dying of Christ, says Paul, “all have died,” meaning that Jesus, who himself knew no sin, suffered the consequences of sin on behalf of all sinners. So sinners – meaning all people – would not need to suffer sin’s consequence, the eclipse of God that Jesus experienced as he cried out on the cross, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15: 34).

Christian devotion has interpreted Jesus’ suffering in two ways. Jesus suffering for humanity stresses the depth of sacrifice Jesus undertook to suffer the consequences of sin and thereby remove the obstacle of sin between humanity and God.  Jesus suffering with humanity stresses his solidarity with the human experience of suffering, which gains depth and meaning as God in Jesus suffers with us.  This second interpretation resonates with the accompaniment that you’re stressing in your conference title: ‘in the company of the poor, the marginalized, the terrorists.’

Reconciliation with God is the foundation of Christian ministry, according to Paul.  Having received the transforming gift of reconciliation with God, all in Christ are called to and entrusted with God’s own ministry of reconciliation in the world.  Paul himself longed to be reconciled with his critics among the Corinthians.  And he passionately promoted reconciliation between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians who were at odds over the place of Jewish law in Christian practice.  These initiatives in reconciliation were across boundaries of difference.

Leading up to the reconciling event of the cross, reconciliation was central in Jesus’ three-year ministry as he crossed boundaries of difference to reach people on the margins – tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the psychically disturbed, and sometimes Romans and other Gentiles. He sought to catalyze reconciliation between them and God and between them and the communities that had pushed them out into untouchable status.

The vision and fruit of God’s quest is reconciliation: reconciliation between God and humanity, and reconciliation within the human community.  Reconciliation is the overall concern of the biblical story.  Reconciliation is the mission of God.  Reconciliation is the divine mission in which we participate. Again as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Part 5: ‘Praying with our enemies on their knees’: A Personal Experience

“To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless . . . We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things,” writes Paul to the Corinthians about the suffering that that he has experienced in his mission work (1 Corinthians 4.10-13).  Rubbish and trash refer to what is dirty, as in sweepings from the floor and discarded packaging, what in Urdu might be called kachara or gandagi.

As some of you know, in February 2014 I was physically beaten and threatened with death by Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agents on the outskirts of Peshawar as part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s drive to assert its control over Edwardes College, a church institution of which I was Principal.  Getting beaten up was a shock. One immediate response I had was to realize anew that Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan have been experiencing much greater abuse for decades, and so my first prayer was one of solidarity as we drove on to Islamabad.

Another initial response, however, was silence.  I found it difficult to discuss the incident.  In beating me, accusing me, tearing up my visa, threatening me with death, and so on, the ISI agents had treated me as rubbish.  They heaped blame and shame on me.  Cognitively I knew it all to be false.  Emotionally, though, some part of me was asking: “Does this happening to me mean that they’re right?  I must have done something wrong to deserve this.  I must be to blame.  Maybe I am rubbish.  I feel deeply shamed.”  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things” (1 Cor. 4.13).  Such internalization of blame and shame is widely noted as common among victims of abuse, so it is not surprising that it occurs in the persecuted psyche.

Evil and enmity are realities that a physical attack brings home.  ‘Love your enemies,’ says Jesus, ‘and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5.44).  Personally helpful to me has been how Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, further radicalized Jesus’ words when he said, ‘A church committed to the reclaiming of the gospel of peace looks like those who join their enemies on their knees.’[ix] Join their enemies on their knees!  This challenges our tendency to objectify enemies by reducing them to their negative qualities.

Kneel with our enemies – that’s the challenge.  Praying for the enemy is generous, but in doing so we can retain our distance, even our sense of superiority.  Praying with the enemy is humbling, for it puts us alongside the enemy in a relationship of equality before God.  It may mean joining an enemy who is already at prayer, and we must recognize that we have enemies who pray.  It may mean inviting an enemy into prayer.  In the natural course of things, none of that may be possible, as it has not been possible for me in Peshawar.

But I have found that praying as though my enemy were kneeling and praying beside me has been profoundly edifying.  Praying with the enemy forces me to open up to the other’s full humanity.  The other is just as complex as I am, with just as many strong points as I have alongside the weak points, and probably just as faithful as well as unfaithful.  Joining enemies on their knees and mine moves me to accept the authenticity of the other’s relationship with God – the faith, the struggle, the prayer life of the enemy.  When I embrace this, inner walls against the other begin to come down, opening the way to reconciliation, at least from my side.

In a similar vein you are now suggesting that you are on a life pilgrimage of reconciliation in the company of terrorists – militants who are zealous for persecuting Christians and other religious minorities, intent on destroying educational opportunities for girls and women, and keen to bring down the Pakistani government.  It would seem that you are willing to pray alongside your enemies while you both are on your knees.  In that willingness you are taking the first step in being open to the call to be reconciled.  In that spirit you may be able actually to draw militants toward reconciliation when they take advantage of your ministries in education and healthcare.

Your wish to be in the company of the marginalized I interpret as your wish to make common cause with other religious minorities who have similar experiences in Pakistan, refusing to feel superior, but seeking reconciliation alongside them.  The marginalized could also include ethnic and linguistic minorities, such as Balochis and the many different mountainous tribes along the Afghan border.  It could also include the many women who experience discrimination and violence.

Your wish to be in the company of the poor – who overlap with many members of religious minorities, many tribespeople and many women – I interpret slightly differently: You realize that seeking justice and a fair share for the poor must include repentance for how the Christian community in Pakistan may have participated in keeping the poor in their place.  Reconciliation may be needed between yourselves and the poor, as you pray with them, you on your knees and they on theirs.

For the inter-religious reconciliation that is crucial to the future of Pakistan, mutual learning is essential.  There is often a startling lack of knowledge among people of all religions about the faith of those in other religions, whether Muslims’ knowledge of Christians’ faith, or Christians’ knowledge of Muslims’ faith, or either of these communities knowing much about Hindus’ faith, and vice versa, and the same with Sikhs and minority Muslim groups.  Not only is there lack of knowledge, but many textbooks and teachers convey distorted impressions of various religions to children in Pakistani schools, so you are swimming upstream in order to promote even minimal understanding.  And then, of course, many in the Sunni Muslim majority continue to oppress and persecute minority religious communities such as Christians, Hindus, and minority Muslim groups such as Shias, Sufis, Ahmedis and Ismailis.  Here is where praying with your oppressors on their knees is a discipleship step that can catalyze transformation and reconciliation.

Part 6: Resources for Reconciliation Mission

As reconciliation has come into focus as a central mandate around the world, there are international resources you can turn to for consultation, example and solidarity:

• Coventry Cathedral, England, and the Community of the Cross of Nails: Coventry Cathedral in England is one of the world’s oldest religious centers for reconciliation. Following the bombing of the Cathedral in 1940 during World War II, it made a commitment not to revenge, but to forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible.  This led to the establishment of the Community of the Cross of Nails, which today is an international network of over 170 partners in 35 countries committed to a shared ministry of reconciliation in contemporary conflicts.  It would be very appropriate for the Church of Pakistan or for individual dioceses to become partners with the Cross of Nails Community.  For instance, a center for reconciliation is planned at All Saints’ Church in Peshawar, where so many were killed in a suicide bombing in September 2013 – that center could become a partner in the Cross of Nails, which would strengthen your vision and fellowship around reconciliation ministry.  (

• St. Ethelberga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, London: In April 1993 a lorry bomb was detonated by the Irish Republican Army in the old City of London, England. Damaging the targeted banks and other financial institutions, the bomb also left in ruins the tiny medieval church of St. Ethelburga’s, which had survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Blitz during World War II. The church’s insurance did not cover terrorism, so there was a financial incentive to sell the site to wealthy institutions for another skyscraper.  Instead, Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, embraced a vision to found there a ministry to heal the enmity and violence that had destroyed the church.  Money was raised, and a creative architect designed a sanctuary incorporating what remained of the church.  In 2002 the church was reconsecrated, and St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace opened to focus on the religious dimensions of conflict and the role of faith communities in resolving conflict. The center convenes people across religious differences.  Their work could inform your reconciliation ministry here in Pakistan. (

• St. Paul’s Chapel, New York: St. Paul’s Chapel has played a similar role in New York City since the September 11 attacks of 2001.  After ministering to rescue workers for many months, St. Paul’s became an international pilgrimage site for commemoration and prayer.  Walking in the way led by Coventry Cathedral after its destruction in World War II, St. Paul’s is a center of the international Community of the Cross of Nails.  That could be another partner organization with you in reconciliation.  (

• Tanenbaum Center, New York:  Combating religious prejudice is the focus of the the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York.  They have a dedicated staff, numerous publications, and international peacemaking awards that are made annually.  Their resources could be especially helpful to you since they focus specifically on interreligious conflict.  (

There are many published works that could be helpful to you, but such centers are especially important because they provide personal and community support and solidarity in the ministry of reconciliation.

Part 7: Mission and God’s Reconciliation

Understanding reconciliation as the fundamental vision of God’s mission in the world has several important implications for our participation in God’s mission:

First, reconciliation radicalizes mission. We have long been aware that simply giving money to provide the poor with food, clothing and shelter – what is often called “charity” – does not respond to the fullness of God’s vision. While it benefits recipients for a day or a week, it does not address underlying conditions of injustice that perpetuate their poverty, and the exclusion that deprives them of the right to flourish as human beings. Working for justice, therefore, has become more central in mission, and today empowerment and capacity-building are keywords in that struggle.

If we then ask, “Is this a reconciled community?” we realize that even justice is a penultimate goal, a milestone on the way but not the destination. When we ask the reconciliation question, we are forced to address not only the economic, educational and health needs of a group but the quality of life within the group and in relation to other groups.  Reconciliation as the vision keeps us attuned to signs of estrangement and keeps us from complacency when intermediate goals are fulfilled.

Second, reconciliation retains relational focus.  Reconciliation may be expressed in diverse ways, but its essence is a healing of relationship that builds community.  In situations of estrangement, the vision of reconciliation keeps us asking the relational question even after people have been empowered and capacity has been built, after the school or clinic has been constructed, after every woman in the village has her microenterprise underway, after the historic wrong has been righted, after some approximation of justice has been achieved.  We must keep asking and encourage others to keep asking, ‘How are we living together? How are we seeing each other? Are we truly neighbors? Are we building a shared community?’ If relationships between individuals and communities are indeed being healed, then reconciliation is on the way and the restoration of the community has a chance to endure. Otherwise, not only is the work incomplete, but from a systemic perspective dynamics of estrangement, enmity and even violence are likely to be reactivated later with destructive force.

Third, reconciliation unifies diverse forms of mission service.  Reconciliation as the ultimate aim dissolves artificial boundaries between different forms of mission and should reduce the competition among their advocates.  Reconciliation-focused evangelism heals people’s relationship with God and does not count converts.  Reconciliation-focused pastoral work seeks to heal the wounds in congregations and restore relationships between congregations and their surrounding communities.  Reconciliation-focused health care attends to the whole person and the whole community and is not content only to cure bodily ills.  Reconciliation-focused poverty work strives for economic justice and also seeks to heal the wounds inflicted by deprivation and heal the relationships between the poor and their oppressors.  Reconciliation-focused education seeks to form young people to be reconcilers in the world and is not content only with high exam results and university admissions.  Christians working in all these areas can find that they have common ground in the overall aim of reconciliation.

In Pakistan virtually all the outreach work of Christian churches can be seen as reconciliation work.  You are an oppressed and persecuted minority community.  Yet you do not withdraw into your shell to nurse your wounds and grudges.  Instead you continue to support and build up your network of educational and healthcare ministries that serve primarily the majority community.  Thereby you are every day extending the olive branch of service and peace to the Muslim majority, saying, in effect: ‘You have hurt us, you are hurting us now, and we know many of you will continue to hurt us in the future.  Nevertheless we continue to be open to you, we continue to serve you in the name of Christ.  And we pray and hope that together we can be reconciled.’

Fourth, reconciliation transforms difference from a source of division to a source of discovery.  When estranged from God, people fixate on differences between themselves and other groups and use these differences as pretexts for sin, a platform on which to construct entire systems of sin that oppress other people and groups of people because they are different.  The pretext may be language or nationality, religion or political affiliation, skin color or physical disability, sexuality or caste. Whatever the pretext, it is being used as an occasion for sin – personal sin, communal sin, societal sin, global sin. God’s mission is to reach across those differences to discover one another, care and form relationship, liberate and work justice, and finally to reconcile. God invites us to join in that mission.

God’s mission is into difference.  The mission is to reconcile.  May God continue to bless you and the communities you serve in your reconciling work.

Titus Presler is a missiologist with experience in India, Zimbabwe and Pakistan, where he has been Principal of Edwardes College in Peshawar.  He has taught at Episcopal Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was Academic Dean at General Theological Seminary in New York, and was President of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.  He was a researcher for the Global Anglicanism Project and a consultant for the Anglican Indaba Project.  His publications include many articles and several books: Transfigured Night: Mission and Culture in Zimbabwe’s Vigil Movement; Horizons of Mission; and Going Global with God: Reconciling Mission in a World of Difference.  He holds degrees from Harvard, General and Boston University, and honorary degrees from Seabury-Western and General.  He is married to the Rev. Jane Butterfield, an honorary canon of St. John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, and they have four grown children and three grandchildren.  He blogs at   

[i] “The Scroll of Thanksgiving: James and Lorine Williams in South Africa,” in Windows on Mission video film series, by Philip Carr, produced by Jane Butterfield (New York: Anglican and Global Relations of the Episcopal Church, 2006).






[vii] Phil Clark, The Gacaca Courts, Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Justice without Lawyers, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010);

[viii] H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, Greek Lexicon, 9th ed., with revised supplement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996): s.v.

[ix] Justin Welby, Address at “Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace” conference, Oklahoma, 10 April 2014.


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