Suzanne learned wars are fought for many reasons that mean little to the people caught in the crossfire. Though peace accords may happen at the national and international level, peace must be built from the ground up.
How does peace happen?
If you grew up as I did in a New Jersey suburb in the 1960s, peace was a given. The war in Vietnam, anti-war protests, racial riots, the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. King – those were anomalies. Violent blips on my otherwise peaceful radar. My family and I were never directly touched by violence.
In 2018, however, I heard something at a gathering of African peacebuilders organized by Nonviolent Peaceforce in Nairobi, Kenya that radically changed how I think about the givenness of peace.
A peacebuilder from South Sudan told us what a civilian said about the civil war and the 2005 peace ensuing accord that was signed by heads of government: “I felt that the war just happened to us. And so did the peace.” The peace happened to this woman in the same way the war did? How could that be?
Questions flooded me: What did she mean? How could peace be as unwelcome as war? Did it feel as harmful and indifferent as the violence? Having never lost the security of peace, I had no way to process what the loss and the recovery could feel like.
Luckily, I had a few days more at this gathering to listen for answers, because I couldn’t make sense of it on my own.
What I heard untangled my confusion. I learned wars are fought for many reasons that mean little to the people caught in the crossfire. Civilians have their villages burned to the ground, their lives and livelihoods destroyed. They become exiles, orphans, widows, and grieving parents. Neighbors are forced to choose sides, perhaps committing atrocities in their own villages.
The givenness of peace is lost in the wounds of wars waged by rivals driven to violence. Nothing is left as it was, and no one is sure if it can ever be whole again.
Then, as suddenly as the war erupted into their lives, the peace accords were signed in far away centers of power. Everything was supposed to return to normal. Just like that.
But local people had no seat at the negotiating table. No one consulted them about what they needed to feel safe and secure again. To grieve what was lost. To trust neighbors again. Their needs and desires were no concern of the war, nor were they a concern of the peace.
It clicked for me that peace accords may happen at the national and international level, but peace must be built from the ground up. The accords are greeted with fanfare, as they should be, but the challenge of implementing them gets forgotten.
I realized I was attending a conference with the people who really should be celebrated, perhaps even more than the accords themselves. They were the ones rebuilding the lives of people traumatized by violence. They had accepted the challenge of making peace last.
That was when my husband Keith and I felt called to help local peacebuilders do their work. It became clear to us that the essential work happens in communities, where the givenness of peace can be restored. And that is why we are so proud of our work at unRival, and of our program to accompany peacebuilders who work without fanfare in their local communities.
In 2022, we designed and launched our Artisans of Peace program to provide spaces where peacebuilders can gather together to deconstruct rivalry, release creativity, inspire collaboration, and most importantly to renew their hearts. Peacebuilders emerge from their Artisans of Peace experiences with a renewed sense of their own value and strength. They return to their communities as models of what is possible when rivalry gives way to friendship.
Right now, we are accompanying a peacebuilder in Colombia who is part of a network working at the local level to implement their recent peace accords, and with another peacebuilder in Ukraine already working to restore trust in communities divided by the invasion. We are accompanying others working in Croatia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Guatemala and here in the US.
Though we are just beginning our work, we have already received our first grant and are excited by the response to our end-of-year giving campaign! Many people blessed with the givenness of peace realize that if peace accords are to hold, they can’t just happen to people. People have to own the peace.
Keith and I hope you will consider joining the unRival Supporter’s Network as we expand our program. Next year, we will gather peacebuilders in Chicago working for nonviolent social change in their communities. In New York, at the Justice Film Festival, we will gather filmmakers to support one another in telling complex, compelling stories about seeking peace with justice. We will also deepen our existing relationships in Latin America, among leaders wrestling with religion’s complicity in violence and seeking new ways forward for faith-based action.
Please accept our sincerest thanks for your support on behalf of the peacebuilders who are working to restore the givenness of peace to their communities.
Co-founder & Executive Director
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