How hospitality can be a vital way into peacebuilding

Integral mission and theologyPeacebuilding

In our series on peacebuilding, we have talked about the characteristics of a peacebuilder and concepts that are important for peacebuilders to think about. Now it is time to think about some more practical approaches to peacebuilding. Tearfund’s theological framework for peacebuilding has identified three approaches that can help people move from brokenness to restoration, from conflict to peace. The first of these is hospitality.

In this short clip, Ramy Taleb, who works with the Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Lebanon (FFRL), explains how his organisation identifies a hospitable place and helps people find common ground.

In an earlier blog, I wrote about hospitality as a characteristic of a peacebuilder. In this post, I’m going to look at how the creation of a hospitable space can be a positive contribution to peace.

Our thinking about hospitality is inspired by the ideas of Henri Nouwen, especially in his book Reaching Out. In exploring what it means to live a life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, Nouwen described three journeys that Christians take as their faith grows and deepens. The last of these is the journey from hostility to hospitality.

Our world is full of strangers, estranged from their past, culture, country, friends, neighbours, God and themselves. They are searching for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found. Society is growing more fearful of the stranger and the harm he or she may do. It is obligatory for Christians to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers cast off strangeness. According to Nouwen, we need to convert the hostis into a hospes.

‘Society is growing more fearful of the stranger and the harm he or she may do.’

Truly hospitable spaces have some key features: 

  • There are no barriers to entry, but there are boundaries upon behaviour. 
  • The host should allow the participants to display and develop their own self-confidence, ideas and talents, and their own ability to love others rather than fearing them. 
  • All participants ‘come as they are’ with their own identities, experiences and voices. 
  • All participants respect the identities, experiences and voices of the other people present. This allows peaceful practices without demanding that everyone becomes the same. 
  • The host is responsible for ensuring the welcome and that the participants are free to be themselves and build or rebuild relationships. They keep an eye on the boundaries, but should not privilege their own voice. 

It is in this kind of space that people will be able to share their experiences of conflict and oppression, and to hear and recognise the stories of others. This process might challenge any existing or innate hostility between people, but Nouwen argues that at this stage, behaviour towards each other is more important than the feelings inside about each other. Hospitality is something you can practise before you really start feeling hospitable – but change will only happen if participants are open to facing their feelings with humility. 

Humility and the willingness to admit that our feelings and thoughts may not always be right or universally shared are characteristics that allow us to listen to other people and build relationships. In this kind of space, difference between people is possible and is not something to be feared. Change may happen to all participants but it, too, is not necessarily something to be feared. 

Watch Ben Chikan, a Tearfund project officer in Nigeria, as he reflects on how his team brings diverse groups of people together and hosts a conversation.

You can read the latest peacebuilding resources on Tearfund Learn: https://learn.tearfund.org/en/themes/peacebuilding/publication_and_resources/

Hannah Swithinbank
Hannah Swithinbank is Tearfund’s Theology & Network Engagement Manager.