Out of the wilderness

In the Wilderness: God Does Not Forsake Part 1

Authors: Peace JV and Derrick M.

Have you ever felt just lost? Overwhelmed by events? Pulled in so many directions and drowning in so many conflicting voices that you are almost paralyzed? This is basically how 2020 felt, for many of us, and certainly for the leadership of the Peacemakers Discussion Group.

To us, and perhaps to many people, 2020 felt a bit like a scene from the movie, “The Hobbit,” the scene where the characters are hiding in the wine barrels and then dropped into a river with raging rapids. That is how it felt as if we were crashing through rapids and over waterfalls, buffeted by the current and the rocks and debris…and just when our bobbing, battered barrels reached a calm part of the river, we suddenly hurled over a waterfall. That was 2020.

Did anyone else feel alone that year? That year when our world as we knew it turned upside down? We did. It was like traveling through a long, dark, desolate stretch of wilderness, devoid of other people, signposts, and with no map (or GPS) in sight.

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Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

2020 tested many of us in ways we had not been tested before. And it tested Peacemakers. We started the year off with our Pastors Roundtable in February, in which we discussed a prophetic section from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” We had plans for Peacemakers for the year. But, like a certain song says, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

The work of Peacemakers, the work of reconciliation, of building bridges, and bridging gaps is hard enough, challenging enough in a broken, fallen, fractured world…but suddenly, we could not do ANY of things that we had been doing or were planning to do with the ministry of Peacemakers. We had nowhere we could meet for our monthly discussions or roundtables. The public library closed. The churches closed, and the few who were meeting were not allowing outside groups to use their facilities. The coffee shops closed (another favorite meeting location of ours). And it was too cold to meet outdoors at the public parks. But perhaps worst of all, we had no idea when any of this would change, no idea how long the pandemic would go on, no idea of when we might be able to meet in person again.

So, we tried to go virtual. We held some discussions and meetings on Zoom, those sort of meetings where you spend half of the time trying to figure out how to get everyone into the meeting, repeating “Are you there?” “Can you hear us?” so many times you start to feel like a parrot. In reconciliation work, body language and eye contact matter. As you all know, in Zoom meetings, no one can make eye contact, as we all stare into cameras.

We strove with all our strength to reach out to the people who had already been part of Peacemakers, and to others whom we knew were very isolated, alone, and anxious, people without much support in the pandemic. We called, texted, messaged in order to try to continue to maintain those bonds and connections and forge new ones. As time went by, we discovered we could not really plan. We could not visit other churches as we had long had a habit of doing….because they were closed. The challenge of how to connect with others and how to bridge gaps when people cannot meet in person…and when people are exhausted from working virtually and cannot bear one more zoom meeting was daunting indeed.

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Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Then…George Floyd was killed at the hands of Officer Derek Chauvin….and thus we plunged over another waterfall. Protests sprung up around the country, and a week later, they began in our own city. We attended this protest in the earliest days of it…but felt distinctly out of place. It feels quite strange to stand on a street corner holding a banner that says “Peacemakers,” when everyone around you is shouting “No justice? No peace!” While understanding there was a biblical truth to the statement being chanted…but at the same time, not being able to shout the words, “No peace!” when we were committed to peacemaking was awkward at best.

As the summer wore on, we were pulled in multiple directions. As a ministry that existed for the purpose of racial reconciliation within the Church, people had certain expectations for us, for Peacemakers, and most of those expectations were conflicting ones. Within our city there was simultaneously efforts to remove a Confederate memorial from the courthouse lawn, a group seeking to divest the police budget, armed militia persons showing up to counter-protest, and of course the ongoing “mask wars,” and increasing political tension, with some real fear that we might see violence leading up to and perhaps after the upcoming presidential election. Most of the activities, events, activism in our community seemed to be along political lines. However, the Peacemakers Discussion group has no political affiliation and seeks to bring people together across all these racial, political, denominational lines, to find common ground, to find solutions, to find a resolution to these divisions and conflict. We struggled to find our place and our way in the midst of all this. Most of all, we wanted what we did to be Christ-focused, we wanted to follow him, we wanted to obey him.

Finally, we reached a point, after leading discussion groups, some of us participating in other local efforts, of being burned out, and not being sure if we were headed on a path that God wanted us to be. So, we just stopped. We stopped the activity. And we concluded, in our physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion, that this battle was too big for us, and that we would not take ONE more step without intensive prayer, to seek where God would have us to go, for His guidance, and to call other Christ-followers in repenting and calling out to God, and to pray for revival.

So, we decided that starting in July 2020, we were going to hold a weekly prayer gathering at a public park. Those who had the same burden for prayer and repentance on their hearts, or who were struggling in some way, who needed prayer, who felt alone in these challenging times were invited to join us.

The first evening we scheduled to meet for prayer, we had to cancel, as one of us ended up in the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital. The following week, we determined we would continue. That night, it was just two of us, in the blistering, smothering July heat, and a third person joined us by phone. We prayed, we cried out to God in our helplessness, our brokenness. We had come to the end of ourselves and our own strength and our own efforts.

Thus, we gathered every week for months. It was never more than just a handful of us, and not always the same people. But of those most faithful to attend those prayer gatherings….it seemed like a tsunami had been unleashed. It seemed that if something could go wrong, or happen to any of us, it did. Everything from car accidents requiring hospitalizations, a friend dying in home hospice, a family member hospitalized with covid, a spouse fighting cancer, another friend fighting cancer, a variety of family crisis, it seemed we were being picked off one by one. But we persevered. We sat in that park and we prayed, and we cried out to God, and sometimes we wept. One of our numbers eventually ended up in the ICU fighting for their life on a ventilator. Often, it felt like God didn’t hear us. It was hard to see Him working, hard to sense his presence. It seemed we were surrounded by chaos, and it didn’t seem to be getting better. And for me, personally, I felt as dry spiritually as the brown grass under our feet. I believed God was with us, but I couldn’t feel him, couldn’t hear him, and he seemed very far away. The wilderness felt barren indeed.

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Photo by Emma Smith on Unsplash

What none of us knew though at the time……….was that during this exact same time period, in the fall of 2020, a pastor in a small community over an hour away from us, had also been praying, seeking God. And God had placed a burden on his heart for the City of Conway. God told him to go to Conway. But he didn’t know what exactly God wanted him to do here. He wasn’t from Conway, didn’t have any connections here. So, in seeking to be obedient to what God had placed on his heart, he started driving to Conway on weekend evenings, parking his vehicle in the parking lots of public parks, and praying for the city, praying for the people, praying for the churches, praying for those in our city who did not know Christ, and asking God to show him what exactly His purpose was for him in Conway. Just as we gathered faithfully to pray each week, not knowing God’s purpose for us, praying for revival, for God to bring repentance and love to the hearts of his people, to pray for peace, to pray that God connect us with the ‘people of peace,’ so did this brother in Christ. He did not know about us, and we did not know about him. We still do not know if we were all at the same park at the same time. But God knew. And though it looked as if God was silent, as if he was not hearing our prayers, as if he wasn’t moving, He was.

To be continued…..Tune in for the rest of the story…

If your heart is broken by the hurting people, the broken communities and relationships, the stark polarization and division you see around you, and you want to be a light in the midst of it, if you want to be a peacemaker, but you are not entirely sure how……..please reach out to us at pdg4gospel@gmail.com or via our Facebook page, “PeacemakersDiscussionGroup-PDG.”

We would love to hear from you.