Fostering Shalom

Dancers gather at a citywide praise dance in Macau. Photo provided.

6/13/2013

The Veith Family

Perhaps historically Christians do not associate mission with peacemaking, or vice versa. Yet as we have lived and ministered in Hong Kong and Macau for more than 20 years, my wife, Tobia, and I are convinced that sharing Jesus’ message of love and salvation is about sharing the good news of God’s kingdom of peace and reconciliation—reconciliation through Jesus to God, to each other, in the world, and to God’s creation.

The message of peace (shalom) and reconciliation in Christ intersects with the Chinese value of harmony where healthy interpersonal relationships are emphasized and sought after. Chinese culture places a high emphasis on harmony—in nature, in the human body, in society, and in interpersonal relationships. Communication is indirect, since being direct would be too confrontational. Every effort is made not to cause someone to “lose face.” When harmony in a relationship has been disrupted, it is considered very serious. Dealing with conflict is most often avoided, believing that time will deal with the situation.

A culture of peace within the church

As the church, Christ’s body, we are to have healthy and mutually edifying relationships with one another. Scripture calls us to love, bless, encourage, help and pray for one another as well as bear one another’s burdens. Jesus says that the world will know that we are his disciples by the way in which we love one another. Scripture tells us to exhibit humility, patience, kindness, and all of the other fruits of the Spirit. As well, Scripture instructs believers how to deal with conflict in the church. As each person is reconciled to God, and the Holy Spirit empowers them to follow Christ, the challenge is also to grow together in community. Building community involves establishing and nurturing healthy interpersonal relationships.

Tobia and George Veith, Mission Network workers

Tobia and George Veith, Mission Network workers

This is one aspect of peacemaking that we are focusing on in our ministry in Macau. As a doctoral student at Fuller Theological Seminary, the focus of my research has been on how to create a culture of peace (as described in Alan and Eleanor Kreider and Paulus Widjaja’s book, A Culture of Peace) in the Chinese church. How can the church be mindful of the Chinese culture’s sensitivity to maintaining relationships and indirect ways of dealing with situations, but yet adhere to Scripture’s teaching of “going to the brother who has sinned against you” (Matthew 18) or “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)? How does one create and maintain a culture of peace in the church in which there is safety, openness, grace, and acceptance of one another? How do the various elements of worship, teaching and outreach reflect the message of peace with God, with others, and with our world/creation through Jesus?

Long-term relationships with church pastors from the various different denominational churches in Macau have given me a unique opportunity to respectfully conduct research into building cultures of peace in the Chinese congregation. Engaging in this is raising awareness about this peace theology that is so at the heart of the gospel. In my interviewing of Chinese Protestant church pastors in Macau, there was overwhelming consensus that there is a need for this. Also, as a part of my doctoral research, I conducted a survey of Protestants in Macau and found that many church members wanted to receive basic training in how to deal with everyday conflict. Our hope is also to equip church leaders as mediators in dealing with conflicts that arise in the church.

Peace and justice go together

Peacemaking also extends to dealing with justice issues. Peace and justice cannot be separated. Macau, being the Asian “Las Vegas,” has been inundated with new casinos. Along with this have come other unwanted elements associated with casinos, such as an increase in gambling addictions, Chinese mafia, prostitution, and human trafficking. The church in Macau is very small (less than 1 percent of the population) and often feels intimidated when thinking about what it can do to affect the culture. Peacemaking is, therefore, also about reminding the church that it is God’s transformative agent in the world, called to be “salt” and “light.” As mission workers involved in peacemaking, we are called to stand alongside the church and encourage it to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

In Macau, there are small efforts being made at ministering to and helping prostitutes come out of their trade, helping gamblers come free of their addictions, and sharing about hope in Jesus with the many factory workers in Macau who are often exploited by their employers. As peacemakers, we hope to encourage the church to see with God’s eyes where other injustices are occurring, and to work so that God’s kingdom might come to those situations.

As the former Chinese principal of the interdenominational Bible school in Macau has said, “The Chinese churches of Macau need what the Anabaptists have to share regarding peacemaking, but they (these churches) don’t know it yet.” What we have to share as Anabaptists is not something unique, but simply what scripture teaches. Mission is peacemaking.

Contributed by George Veith, Mission Network worker

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