Cumbria is fresh! A few nights ago, we went to a colleague’s housewarming party and even in the pitch black you could make out Blencathra in the background. I love that Cumbria is full of wildness. You might say that it’s always raining, but then again, that means you remember the sunny days very well – they are especially beautiful. I grew up in Cairo and London and lived in Edinburgh for a few years. Big, busy, crowded capital cities. Even though I’ve been a city boy growing up, I’ve always felt like my home was in the country. And now that I have a car, I love exploring different places, breathing in the fresh air.
I first found out about RCF through a good friend of mine. I was working at PwC and I was invited by a friend to a meeting with three people, one of whom was Sarah Snyder. At first I couldn’t go because I was on study leave for exams, but the nearer it got to the meeting, the more I realised this was an exciting opportunity to talk with people about things I’d been interested in for years and hoping to connect with. That’s where I met Sarah. We went out for lunch. She told me not about Lambeth Palace, but this organisation she had a vision for called Rose Castle Foundation. She talked about the Emerging Peacemakers Forum, where 50 young Muslims and Christians came together. I was inspired by that, and that began a six-month conversation, ending with an interview and me starting back in April.
Every month at RCF is different to the last, consistently evolving at a rapid pace. I joined initially thinking I’d be doing a lot of programme coordination. What it became quite quickly after I joined was actually trying to meet the need to build relationships with different partners around the world, and with my background being from the Middle East, trying to use the gifting and skillset in line with where it is needed most.
The team is relentless. There’s a huge amount of energy and can-do spirit. We’re consistently pushing on the boundaries in really positive and exciting ways. It helps that we are led by someone who is an incredible visionary and who is allowing us to peek into what could be possible. As a young team and young organisation, we’ve picked that up and it’s been really contagious. There’s a real relentless spirit around equipping leaders to transform conflict and sharing a meal table together to see mundane, powerful reconciliation happen.
We provide people with an opportunity to have a healthier relationship with themselves and with others. Anyone from any walk of life, even if they’ve not experienced deep conflict, could gain something really powerful from our programmes, because we start with inner conflict; a lot of our themes are about relationships. Yes, it’s incredibly powerful when you have a group of people from a Nigerian context where they’re consistently having to face a counter-insurgence, but even for someone who has never been somewhere near that context, there’s the possibility to be in a space where you’re thinking about resilience, where you’re thinking about what it means to have a healthier, more wholesome relationship with others. In an age where there’s so much incredible, available information coming our way, even though there’s been an increase in connectivity, I think there’s been a real need for resilience in how we stay connected to people and connected well and have those wholesome relationships rather than save them for one paradigm, which is technology.
When I see enemies become friends, I think that’s a wonderful image of reconciliation and something we all hope to see. But sometimes people don’t even have the capacity to imagine what friendship might look like if they’ve been enemies with someone who’s wronged them. Or it might be the other way around, it might be someone they’ve wronged that they may not be able to face, and perhaps they don’t feel like they deserve a relationship. So that’s kind of the two extremes, enemies to friends, and it tries to capture the whole spectrum in between. One of my favourite definitions of reconciliation is to be able to tell the story of the other person in a way in which they say: yes, that’s my story.
I immediately think of my family. I think that’s often where the messiest examples come from, and it’s quite a nice place to start because it’s very true about life that things aren’t neatly packaged and families rarely are neatly packaged. But my parents were very clear about who they wanted to be, and they were excluded from their families because of that. I grew up in a context in which I misunderstood my parents a lot of the time. There were deep cultural differences, and perhaps because of the trauma that they experienced, there wasn’t a deep relationship there that felt like we were talking about the same thing or having a healthy relationship. I didn’t really understand them. That is something that really stuck in my mind as a deep rift. Last February I went to Egypt to reconnect with a part of me that is so at the core, but has been at best ignored, and at worst denied. I went there and I met my parents’ families. I came back and grew in love for my parents. I found my dad’s brothers cracking the same jokes as my Dad, and they even looked exactly the same. And even though that sounds so obvious, I had been given a relationship where I had pieces of a puzzle, and going to Egypt helped me put some of those together. Is the relationship completely better? No, it’s sometimes still really messy, but what I have now is more space and better understanding of who my parents are and why.
I want to say to our community that you are already a reconciler. It can be really easy in this line of work to make reconciliation into a grand thing. Of course, it can be amazing to see enemies become friends. But the question is how we can be curious to understand something about something or someone we don’t know very much about, and maybe that’s the beginning of a journey of reconciliation for you.