Making Peace: Conflict Resolution in East Africa

Kenyan, Ugandan, and American team members met together for a conflict resolution session. Working together as a team is imperative for our efforts, but peaceful relationships are the beginning of that possibility. 

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

If we want to be God’s children, we have to incorporate peacemaking into our practice. As an organization, we see this as a very important role to play, especially in our work in cross-cultural, conflict-stricken areas. But in order to become a peacemaker, one has to be well-aware of conflict. Something we practice in our ministry is “aggressive conflict resolution.” This means that we take the the gospel of Matthew seriously when it says that reconciliation with a brother (or sister) should come before one engages in worship of God (5:23-24). It means that we do not allow a root of bitterness to grow in our relationships (Heb. 12:15), and we speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We are aggressive in resolving conflict because we believe that if you wait on ‘time to heal it,’ it only gets worse. (Aggressive-ness should not be mistaken for aggression.)

We believe that learning to work together, in our own organization--filled with people of different cultural and religious and economic backgrounds--will help prepare us to be peacemakers even for others in the midst of conflict.

In East Africa, we are developing a base of cooperative families that include more than American representatives, but Kenyan and Ugandan ones too. With more people, and more cultures, and more preferences, and more languages, comes more misunderstanding, and hence, more conflict. Nonetheless, we know that what marks us as the children of God is not so much the absence of conflict, but the way we work through that conflict.

Without peaceful relationships, we cannot confront other needs that surround us. Every culture has their own way of dealing with conflict, and disagreeing with the way one deals with conflict could even cause more conflict! Unless each person from each culture understands that coming under Christ demands that their cultural particularities are subject to the holy culture that God wants to bring us into. This requires humility.

Recently, the cooperative families had to have a meeting to work through interpersonal conflict. Eight families (both Ugandan and American) talked through the cultural norms associated with conflict resolution and how those norms do or do not coincide with the word of God.  Ugandan culture would much rather avoid addressing conflict directly. American culture would prefer to utilize the conflict to gain an upper hand on the other. But the word of God compels us to approach conflict with honesty (John 4), expediency (Matthew  5) humility (Phil. 2) and give the other person the benefit of the doubt (Cor. 13).

By the end of our time together, smiles were all around. Our own unity affects our ministry efforts. Taking moments to prioritize the unity in our own group enhances anything we can do for anyone outside of our group. 

It was such an encouraging time to hear the way each of us (regardless of citizenship) sought to sift through personal perspectives in order to allow other perspectives, coupled with the word of God, to reshape former way of thinking.  People shared without fear. As everyone was honest, it allowed more understanding to take place.   The book of 1 John tells us that perfect love casts out fear.  This was certainly true of this meeting.  As love filled the room, everyone felt more free to express themselves and allow their hearts to be seen by others.

Conflict resolution is not easy but through learning and applying the word of God to our interactions, it is possible.  As the nightly news regularly reports, finding resolution to conflicts is something that the world needs more of.  We are thankful to find the way the Lord is helping us in our work in East Africa.  The conflicts that we face on a daily basis seem small when compared to what is taking place in most of the world.  But they are a beginning, a moment where peace is made, regardless of ethnicity, gender or background! We rejoice in this moment when peace was made. In such moments, we do feel like God’s children!