A handful of Christians living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, are making use of the age-old nonviolent practice of hospitality to 60 community representatives who suffer constant threats and intimidation as they work to protect land, fisheries, forests, and waterways from development projects (see this blog) that are more likely to entrench poverty than alleviate it.
The road to Phnom Penh has been difficult. Two-hundred and fifty community leaders, representing 11,923 families at risk of losing 733,966 hectares of land, traveled far from their homes to present a petition with more than 15,000 signatures on it. Many pages of the petition were confiscated on their journey to the capital, and they face probable retribution from local and provincial authorities on their return. Even the Buddhist pagodas, the pillars of the national religion tasked with providing hospitality to those in need, have turned them away in fear and rejection.
The simple act of hospitality provides a safe space for our new friends to rest, eat, and chat about their lives and their worries. It is a temporary haven for them to return to after each day of confronting government ministries, land authorities, and guaranteed harassment from police. Hospitality also lets us share life up close with 'the stranger.' It is a kairos moment for developing relationships with women and men we are unlikely to meet in everyday circumstances. Our world is expanded by human interaction and by their stories of faith-in-action.
In the gospels Jesus warns his followers that the path of discipleship is the path of conflict born from confronting evil and injustice:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household. (Matthew 10:34-36)
Time and again I am told of how distressed my guests are that their own people have turned away from them, refusing to help them. They feel deeply betrayed and disconnected from their culture. They have become like aliens in their own land and I, the foreigner, must provide hospitality.
Despite the horrifying images we see and rhetoric we hear from current global events, the Christian faith-response to our enemies is not retaliation, revenge, and blood-shed, but love and hospitality. For a third night tonight five national and foreign Christian households will host Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians as they engage the Cambodian powers-that-be.
Chris Baker Evens lives with his family in Cambodia. As a 'peace student' Chris has experimented with active nonviolence to support communities at risk of forced eviction and land and natural resource 'alienation' over the past 2 years. For more information about the land crisis in Cambodia go to: http://peace-and-justice-cambodia.awardspace.com/