Panels share vision for interfaith peace
By Shannon Baker
GLENELG, Md.—At nine years old, Emmanuel Jal was handed an assault rifle and given the assignment of a war-child: kill as many Muslims as you can. Having just escaped the ongoing war of South Sudan, the young boy did whatever it took to survive, eventually submitting to his mother’s God, getting rescued, and becoming an acclaimed hip hop artist and peace ambassador.
From his start in life as a child soldier in the war-torn region of Southern Sudan in the early 1980s, Emmanuel Jal has come through a huge number of struggles, from walking hundreds of miles searching for safety, only to be conscripted into armies that taught him to kill and destroy.
Jal drew on his personal experiences as he spoke and performed with a strong message of reconciliation a Night for Peace rally held October 16 at Glenelg (Md.) High School. Gethsemane Baptist Church, along with the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, sponsored the event, which featured a short concert by Jal followed by a panel discussion by area faith leaders.
In previous visits to the U.S., Jal has addressed the United Nations, U.S. Congress, the Carter Centre and the very highest level of several governments.
In his introduction, Gethsemane’s pastor, Brian Corrick, called Jal “a powerful voice on the subject of peace.”
Jal, who also presented a concert and remarks to two student assemblies at the high school earlier in the week, said peace is “food in my belly… freedom from violence… shelter… clothing… and justice, equality and freedom for all.”
Pointing to the conflict in his African nation—and to the recent riots in Baltimore, he said, “The bottom line is, I don’t believe there is racism. I believe there is fear.” He explained that a lion with a full belly can walk peaceably alongside a person.
“Every human being is a moving battlefield. We are in a war with ourselves. If you don’t have peace within yourself, then it’s hard to go with peace with others,” he said.
Jal said his mother planted the seeds of the Gospel early in his life. When faced with extreme hunger and the possibility of eating his deceased friend, he called upon his mother’s God for food. Supernaturally, God provided a crow instead, killed by a fellow soldier who died before he could eat it. Since then, Jal has come to know personally his mother’s Jesus through efforts resulting in his escape from his life as a soldier.
Jal credits another woman, Emma, for rescuing him and other boys, patiently leading them to go to school and exposing them to a whole new life.
“A lot of time, people don’t think they can make a difference. Emma made a difference!” Jal emphasized, noting she didn’t live to see his international acclaim and influence.
This sentiment was echoed across a panel discussion featuring leaders from a broad spectrum of faiths, including: Corrick; Emre Celik, president and founder of The Rumi Forum, Washington, D.C.; Joel Rainey, team strategist for evangelism and engagement, Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, Columbia, Md.; and Elamin Shringrai, lead teacher of Quran, Islamic Studies, and Arabic at Al-Rahmah School, Baltimore, and an Arabic and Islamic Studies lecturer at Tooba University, College Park, Md.
Shringrai noted, “When there are marginalized people in a society, they feel a lot of suffering … which closes down the door or communication.”
He shared two responses he’s witnessed to his own war-torn experience in Eastern Sudan. “People can react the harsh, violent way” through war and violence or they can become involved in the long-term solution through civil, educational and nonprofit work.
“There are those who look forward 100 to 125 years down the road or those who erupt at the moment,” he said. “Those who choose the violent way… I don’t think they achieve a lot.”
Shringrai shared about Dutch Christians who provided medical assistance during the Sudanese conflicts in his lifetime. It left quite an impression on him. “Think about if many more imams met them! We need more initiatives like this so we can help each other,” he said.
The way to peace is to have conversations, not to avoid the conversations or to vilify those who disagree with you, said Corrick. “Even though we disagree with each other, we can still work together to promote peace,” he said.
In agreement, Joel Rainey, team strategist for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network’s evangelism and engagement team, shared three caveats for pursuing peace among those with diverse faiths and opinions:
One: You don’t have to isolate yourself.
“In fact, it is very unChristian to do,” Rainey said, “Polarization occurs because we refuse to cross the line and get to know each other.”
Two: You don’t have to compromise your beliefs.
Rainey said some of his dearest friends are Muslims.
“We are not going to condition our friendship on what we believe,” he said, adding, “He is not my project. He is my friend.”
Three: If you are in the majority, you have the responsibility to care for the minority.
“Global religious freedom should exist in every square inch of this world,” Rainey said. “Muslims should protect Christians in Muslim-majority countries.” He said friends should guard each other’s liberty to do what they feel is right.
Corrick, carrying the thought further, expressed, “I can say I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, and I want every person on this planet to know Jesus. That shouldn’t prevent us from being friends.”
Speaking on the platform of commonality, Celik said there is virtue in every faith focusing on serving their communities well.
“We all believe in the Divine, in the sanctity of life, in the positivity of loving our neighbors. We love the creation and see it as the Creator’s divine plan,” he said.
Shringrai agreed, “Look for the common things that connect and bring us together. That togetherness is very important.”
To that end, “Spreading the Peace,” the first ever gathering nationally of evangelical Christian pastors and Muslim imams, will be hosted by First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Md., on October 22.
Speakers include Bob Roberts, Senior Pastor, Northwood Church; Imam Mohamed Hag Magid, Head Imam, Adams Center Mosque; John Jenkins, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Glenarden,Md.; Ebrahim Rasool, Recent Past South African Ambassador to the U.S.; Chris Seiple, Institute of Global Engagement; Abdul-Khabir Azad, Grand Imam and Khateeb of Pakistan; David Saperstein, Ambassador; and David Anderson, Senior Pastor, Bridgeway Community Church.
Learn more and register online at http://spreadingpeace.net.