During Mass at the historic St. Mary’s church in Annapolis, Md., our 3-year-old son sang loudly with the music, admired the religious art and said to me, “Mommy! God is here in this church!” “Yes,” I responded, “God is here.” “But Mommy?” he wondered. “God is with us at home.” “Yes,” I agreed, “God is with us in our home.” He craned his neck to peak through the windows outside. “Mommy,” he asked, “where is God’s car?”
We’ve had many variations of this conversation since. We live on the Chesapeake Bay, and it was not long until the questions turned to “Where is God’s boat?” At first I laughed. Then I realized I struggle with the same question as my 3-year-old. Where is God? In my home life with our three young children, it is easy to believe in the all-loving, all-powerful, miraculous creator, especially when no one is sick or fighting, on a sunny day on the bay.
In my work life of international relations, it can be harder to discern God’s presence in places of enduring violence, poverty and human-rights abuses. In Congo, babies and grandmothers are raped and mutilated during violence fueled by greed for Congo’s rich minerals. Sudan is on the tipping point between peace and genocide, the flames of war fueled by oil. Millions have died in both countries, and millions more are displaced, in the world’s most devastating and durable conflicts. Christmas promises Emmanuel, God-with-us, but I often lack the faith of a 3-year-old. Where is God?
Delegations from these countries visited Washington, D.C., this fall, trying to increase awareness and actions to build peace (The Catholic University of America, Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pax Christi, Jesuit Refugee Services, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network and others have partnered to host these delegations). Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur of Sudan spoke of how the church in his country is working feverishly to build peace prior to the referendum in January 2011, which will either plunge the country anew into civil war or provide the means for the peaceful division of north and south.
Through the Sudanese church’s “People-to-People” peacebuilding process, education about registration and voting, peace radio and other initiatives, Bishop Daniel and others hope to avert violence and build peace in Sudan (visit http://peaceinsudan.crs.org). In the Congo, Justine Masika Bihamba, the Pax Christi International Peace Laureate for 2009, works to build peace, even after armed men invaded her home and assaulted her children in an attempt to silence her. Justine works both to aid victims and to end the campaign of violence against women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These delegates have known extensive conflict, yet they believe peace is possible, and they work tirelessly to build it.
We have had some successes. The U.S. administration is now more focused on pressuring the parties in Sudan toward a peaceful settlement. Since the U.S. government passed the Conflict Minerals Transparency Amendment (as part of the financial reform act), many colleges, schools, parishes and Catholic institutions are pledging to become conflict mineral free to ensure that the electronics we buy do not finance atrocities against civilians in the Congo (see www.raisehopeforcongo.org).
Our son revisited the issue of God’s location one afternoon at the beach. “God is here with us,” he repeated slowly, trying to get my full attention. It was a gorgeous fall day—all the sunshine of summer with none of the nuisance of bugs or jellyfish—so I savored the moment and readily agreed with him. “Yes, honey, God is definitely here with us,” I said, perhaps a tad dismissively. “But Mommy,” he explained, pointing up at the perfect blue sky, clearly concerned that I didn’t understand, “God is not up there.”
“He’s not?” I asked, confused. “No,” he answered with the patience of a teacher hoping a slow student will catch on. “God is down here, with us.”
I pictured the faces of Justine and Bishop Daniel and realized my son was right. God is alive and well in the Congo, in Sudan, in those fighting so courageously to build a future of peace and justice. The question is not “Where is God?” The question is “Where are we?” God is with the people of Sudan and Congo. Are we?