With no hands to hold his small bundle of food, the man I saw at the helipad was forced to cradle his daily bread in the crook of his right arm. I had just arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, along with my colleagues from the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA). I had been in the country only minutes before encountering him, one of the many "amputees" of Sierra Leone's conflict. "Amputation" is the sanitized term for the brutal tactic of hacking off limbs to keep people from voting. His missing hands were a visceral testimony to the brutal cruelty of which human beings are capable.
I was in Sierra Leone to participate in a workshop with Christian and Muslim youth, a trip that included time in Liberia for a similar workshop and was financed by a grant from the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship. At the time, I was serving with PROCMURA in Nairobi, Kenya, as a research and communications intern. In each of these three countries I witnessed great tragedy, but also great works of compassion and healing. My experiences gave me a deeper understanding of the concept of reconciliation as drawn from a Christian perspective and the critical role it might play in grounding Christians' participation in bringing peace to a world in conflict. I am profoundly grateful to the African people whose efforts to heal their societies demonstrated this principle to me; I hope to share here some of the lessons they are teaching me.
A Christian Foundation for ReconciliationIn traditional Christian theology sin is a choice that ruptures the divinely-ordered relationships between God, one another, and the whole of the created world. The severed limbs in Sierra Leone are grotesquely eloquent illustrations of how sin fractures relationships. The hope of the Christian narrative is that God offers salvation to humankind through the divine incarnation of Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection vicariously atones for human beings' sinful choices and facilitates the restoration of the relationship between God, humanity, and creation. Kirk Harris (2006 Krista Colleague) After graduating with a B.A. in International Studies, Kirk spent a year in Kenya as a Young Adult Volunteer with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and partnered with the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA). While based in Nairobi, Kirk researched Nigerian Christian-Muslim relations and travelled to Sierra Leon and Liberia to study civil war trauma in these countries. Kirk now works in New York City with Mennonite Central Committee's liaison office with the United Nations, focusing on human rights and justice advocacy.