The Dangers of Just Peacemaking

Just peace theory holds that peace can only come when the basic needs of people are met. This need includes health care. Non-governmental organizations are important in the work of just peacemaking because they work to bring health and wholeness to some of the poorest and most remote areas of the world. Their presence is as important or perhaps more important than the deployment of armies. We see and understand the personal risk that warriors take; however, we very often are not mindful of the risk that peace workers take.

The murder of 10 members of the Nuristan Eye Camp Team of the International Assistance Mission (IAM), an NGO that has worked for years in Afghanistan, forces us to face this tragic reality. An investigation is ongoing into exactly who is responsible for the murders. According to The New York Times, the Taliban and other insurgents have taken responsibility. They claim the aid workers were spies and were preaching Christianity. IAM is a Christian organization, but its leaders say it does not proselytize.

It is at moments such as this when it is very difficult to be Christian. I cannot speak for others, but part of me says: "Pack up. Return home to your family and friends and leave the Afghans to the Afghans." When I think of Karen Woo, a 36-year-old surgeon from the United Kingdom, looking forward to marriage and rearing a family, dreams that will now never come true, I am at once saddened and angry. Sad because of her lost future and angry because the people who she went to Afghanistan to help would not or could not protect her team.

When I think of the other victims -- Tom Little, 61, an optometrist who had worked for 34 years in Afghanistan; Dan Terry, 64, a physician who has worked since 1971 there; Thomas Grams, 51, a dentist who had worked there for the past 5 years; Glen Lapp, 40, a nurse who is quoted in an article in The New York Times saying he was: "Treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world."; Cheryl Beckett, 32, skilled in nutritional gardening and in mother/child health; Daniela Beyer, 35, from Germany, a linguist who worked for IAM from 2007-2009 who was there to translate for Afghan women; Brian Carderelli, 25, a freelance videographer who hoped to do more work in Afghanistan; Jawed, 24, an Afghan cook at the Ministry of Public Health; and Mahram Ali, an Afghan watchman who stayed with the stuff while the others went to the village -- I think they would be alive now if they had not volunteered to be of service to people who needed their help.

Yet, another part of me realizes that death is something that we will all face. These people died living the value of service to their fellow human being. They lived and died in the on-going effort to overcome evil with good. They lived to strengthen people, not to feed upon their weakness. It is then that my grief and anger give way to a profound respect for their lives and for the choices that they made. This is a moment when force of will prays out of obedience to the commands of Jesus to love enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This is a time to pray strength for the family and friends of the peace workers. Just peacemaking is an ongoing struggle that is difficult and dangerous and the most exquisite expression of radical love.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her PhD in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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