Eleven international peacemakers from different countries around the world will visit congregations and presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from Sept. 23-Oct. 18.
They will share their stories about church-based ministries in their countries that seek peace justice and pursue peace in the name of Jesus Christ. This year’s international peacemakers come from Bangladesh, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Madagascar, Mexico, Russia and Sudan.
The Rev. Hubert Rakotoarivony is a minister ordained in the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM). He leads his denomination’s Commission on the Life of the Country and at the same time works as resource person at the Christian Council in Madagascar on the forgiveness, peace, justice, and reconciliation process program.
Q: What is the situation in your country that you will be addressing?
“I’ll mainly address the importance of the church being involved in talking about justice in a practical way. It has to be talked about in an integrated way.”
Talks about justice can slide into philosophical arguments, but it’s important to remember the lesson of Micah 6:8 — do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God, Rakotoarivony said.
“If we do peacemaking initiatives in the Presbyterian church, it’s not a matter of siding with a political party. The churches are split by politics. What would God do in this particular situation? Before anything else, let’s listen to what God has to say.”
Q: How are the faith communities addressing this situation?
One of the biggest challenges faced by the FJKM is that it is leading the Christian Council in Madagascar this year. The denomination has been asked to accompany the national reconciliation process, but the Catholic church is perceived as supporting the de facto regime. The council has therefore been paralyzed because all decisions must be unanimous.
FJKM leaders were harassed after the 2009 coup, and the denomination’s radio station has been shut down. The leader of the FJKM’s orphanage is in jail.
A group of pastors was leading worship services for the nation, but the government shut that down. The pastors have gone into hiding but still lead worship. The church was also involved in mediation efforts, but leaders were arrested and those efforts stopped.
Q: What lessons from your situation are you trying to communicate to U.S. Presbyterians?
“Because of the work that I was doing — leading an international institution — I have been perceived as close to the former regime.” Rakotoarivony was put on a hit list after the coup and went into hiding. Things are now getting back to normal.
“The way you witness to your faith and stay to your convictions, people are able to see that you’re not just a blind person. People are able to see why you stand where you are. The church can play a major role to bring about stability and long peace in the country.”
Q: What is the primary message you want to communicate to U.S. Presbyterians?
“The basic message of Protestantism, the main message of Calvin, I would say, has always been social engagement. When Calvin saw the uneven and unjust economic structure, he offered alternatives — the first kind of capitalism ever.
“It is about time for Presbyterians all over the world to revisit the past. How are we going to bring that up again? Really to demonstrate the way we witness and to society and the world about these things. Bring the theological concepts back to earth in a practical way, becoming the voice of the vulnerable, minorities, those who don’t have the voice to speak up.”