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I had not expected this. The sorrow, the heaviness in my heart. A trip to the Holy Land, led by my brother Steve, had inspired me as I traced the footsteps of Jesus Christ and focused on His life and teachings. But an excursion to the Golan Heights had me standing on the crest of Mount Bental in a biting wind. My feet were planted on Israeli occupied soil, but my eyes were fixed over the razor wire border, gazing into Syria.

As our knowledgeable Israeli guide, Asher, shared the history of the conflicts in this area, I focused on the rubble visible in the distance—evidence of past bombings. On the drive up the mountain my husband and I had been shocked at the number of burned out structures we passed. Obviously, missiles had been launched from both sides of the border. Steve informed me that several years before, he and Asher had stood with another group on this same spot, watching smoke rise after the bombing of a distant Syrian village. Our tour group was invited to explore the military bunker nearby, and as I navigated its concrete passages I imagined the soldiers who retreated there for protection against enemy assault. Never had war felt so real to me.

The bus ride back to our kibbutz was a sober one for me. How tragic to see the unmistakable evidence of war in such close proximity to the places where Jesus Christ taught His gospel of love. In my sorrow over such conflict, a single question filled my mind: where will peace begin?  I had asked myself the same question years before on a different continent.

My brother, John, and I spent two weeks enjoying Ireland, charmed by castles and low stone walls, rolling green meadows, the Cliffs of Moher, Giant’s Causeway, and the glorious library at Trinity College. But for me, the most meaningful moments of our trip occurred on the gritty streets of Belfast, in Northern Ireland. We took a Black Taxi tour, exploring the districts where violence over civil rights and political control–colored by religious differences–was a daily occurrence in the 70’s and 80’s. Our guide was Robert. He drove a London-style black cab, introducing us to the huge street murals of West Belfast, and recounting the complicated political and religious history of his country. I, who had thought that this region was now fairly peaceful, was astounded to learn that the same old conflicts are still simmering just below the surface. The razor wire separating neighborhoods attested to the fact that “divisions between some Catholic and Protestant communities still run deep and raw.” (1) It was here that I first asked myself, “Where will peace begin?”

Our Black Taxi tour concluded at one of the Peace Lines, miles of high walls erected decades ago to separate hostile neighborhoods in an attempt to keep order. These walls have also provided a canvas for amateur artists to illustrate their history, as well as their dreams for subduing their enemies or creating lasting peace. Along certain stretches of the wall, thousands of tourists—including world leaders—have signed their names and left peace wishes. Robert, our excellent guide, handed markers to my brother and me and encouraged us to write something. Standing on that dingy street which has known so much violence, I could think of no better words to share than the admonition of Jesus Christ: “…love one another.” (John 13:34)

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He rocked the world with His radical command to “…Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44, emphasis added) How can the Lord require this of us? As far as I can tell, this is asking more than “the natural man” is capable of doing on its own. But God’s assistance is available to us as we persistently: “…pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love, which He hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of His Son, Jesus Christ…” (Moroni 7:48)

In the final few minutes with our Irish guide, we learned that Robert was Protestant, and the father of six children. He opened his heart to us, sharing his concerns for his oldest son who has an intense personality and a dangerous temper. A few years previously, our guide recognized that in the tense atmosphere of Belfast, this adult son was “one temper flare away” from doing something that could land him in prison or spark a serious uprising. Though he could not change his son, Robert realized that he had to break the cycle of hatred and violence by changing himself, working to soften his own heart, and trying to see people on the other side of the conflict as something more than enemies. He would start a better tradition within his family. Tears flooded my eyes as I listened to the words of this ordinary man who was trying to do an extraordinary thing.

This is where peace begins—in the heart of one person who is humble enough to lay down the hatred and prejudices passed to him by a previous generation.

Closer to home, my friend Debra is a peacemaker. She is tireless in her efforts to promote peace and understanding within her circle of influence. Recently, she testified to her state legislature in behalf of a new hate crimes bill. She also made an appointment with her state senator in order to discuss the bill with him. As Debra met with Senator “A” it was immediately apparent that they were operating from opposing points of view. Soon the senator informed her that he would not be changing his mind and he began to walk out of the room, but Debra called out earnestly to him that this bill was important to her, that he was her senator, and that she was trying to talk to him. He grudgingly granted her a few more minutes of his time.

Eventually the hate crimes bill passed, and at the end of the legislative session Debra was invited to attend an event hosted by her political party. Seeing Senator “A” across the room, she courageously made a point to go say hello to him, adding sincerely, “I want to make sure that we can be friends.” The senator responded humbly, “I was wrong. I want you to know that I changed my mind.”

This is where peace begins—in the heart of one person who believes that though we may disagree with others, we do not have to be contentious or ugly about it. Debra’s actions show that one can be passionate in their beliefs and opinions without being combative.

Though Senator “A” did not shine in his first encounter with Debra, to his credit he dared to give serious consideration to the views Debra had expressed. This is where peace begins—in the heart of one person who is humble enough to consider the opinions of someone else and admit when he or she is wrong, or that the opponent’s argument may have merit.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of peacemaking is having the maturity to refrain from lashing out at people who may reject our overtures of peace and reconciliation. Or to recognize that if we withhold forgiveness while we wait for someone to issue an apology for injuries they may have caused, we are postponing our own peace. If we wish to have peace in our hearts we must actively pursue it by seeking the Lord’s power to help us forgive others, even when they don’t appear to be sorry. No matter the actions of anyone else, our humility and our outward efforts for peace will lead to increased inner tranquility.

The Book of Mormon shares a brief account of a people who enjoyed two hundred years of peace. How was this possible?  “…there was no contention in the land because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Nephi 1:15) It is no coincidence that this peaceful era came immediately after the Prince of Peace taught His “message of peace and goodwill.” (2) This is where peace begins: when our hearts love God enough that we desire to please Him; when we love God enough that we are willing to swallow our pride, our judgment, and our tempers in our interactions with family members who frustrate us, people who judge us unfairly, toxic roommates, unfriendly co-workers, those who make different lifestyle choices than we do, or the stranger on the freeway who cuts us off. Can we love God enough to refrain from posting anything on social media that implies that people who disagree with our political or religious point of view are imbeciles?

As an eleven-year-old girl, I participated in a patriotic program at my elementary school. All of the sixth graders performed the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” (3) Though I loved singing that song at the time, I confess that in subsequent years I heard it sung so many times that the words somehow became less meaningful to me. As an adult, however, I have come to appreciate its message once again, particularly the power of the final phrase: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” This is where peace begins.

Notes:

  1. Ireland, Frommer Media LLC, p. 449.
  2. The Living Christ, The Testimony of the Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ensign, Apr. 2000, 2.
  3. Let There Be Peace on Earth, lyrics by Jill Jackson-Miller, music by Sy Miller, The UM Hymnal, No. 431, copyright 1955.