Great portions of my wakeful time are now spent thinking about the people I will meet in Rwanda and Kenya. With just 40 days until our team makes its way to Africa, my anticipation is growing and my excitement is building. I expect to be impressed with our hosts and those we train. I expect my heart to both soar and ache as I sit side-by-side with refugees and hear the stories they want to tell and see the life they now live. Displaced children, soldiers, individuals who have pledged themselves to missions to bring reconciliation and forgiveness, and people, like you and me, who simply wake each day to do the best they can — I can’t wait for my time with them. You see, I already know something about them. They all share, to some degree or another, a certain amount of innocence.
Innocence is a complex thing in many people’s lives. Yet, it can be so simple and powerful. As I’m writing this, I’m watching my neighbor pull her granddaughter in a wagon. Making their way up and down the street, the toddler beams happily, watching the passing scenes with interest. And when the wagon stops, there’s the incomprehensible jabbering that can only mean one thing — once more, please! I am witnessing the pure enjoyment of a moment. I am seeing innocence.
Every single person has this element of innocence. It may be an event unfolding at this minute, but it is often a memory of a time past when we believed that this world held nothing but good for us. And those moments of irritation and fear and pain were simply little reminders of how good things really are.
Children hold this innocence. Jesus talked about it in Matthew 18:1-5. “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And therein lies the greatest offer of hope. If we reclaim our innocence, we can reclaim our wholeness.
Thinking about some of the men I will meet in Rwanda, I know full well that among them will be those who have committed extreme acts of violence against their countrymen and even their own neighbors. Our team has wrestled with how these individuals will respond to our message disparaging that violence and promoting peace. Will the feelings of guilt and shame be too great?
We all feel shame when we do wrong. Sometimes we know better in the moment, but sometimes the realization of our errors comes later. As humans, we feel pain when our personal failings emerge. We wonder how we will ever be able to raise our heads and make eye contacts with others who know.
The call to peace reintroduces the potential of innocence to each of us. We all have failings. I am reminded daily of them. Yet it is the call to peace — the call to innocence — that provides my way to that better place.
My prayer for our team is that we can see the innocence of those we meet, whether man, woman, or child, and constantly hold out the hope for innocence. Innocence is the natural dwelling of those who are in peace. And it is the refuge that all of us in turmoil are seeking. It comes through the two-way door of forgiveness. Innocence returns through seeking and giving forgiveness.