"They will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war." (Isaiah 2:4)
Our New Year's greeting in January 2015 was sent soon after the "Charlie Hebdo" shootings in Paris. This year's letter comes after the even more tragic events of Nov. 13. It's been a complicated year in Paris, as well as in many other parts of the world. Isaiah's words and the celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace remind us of the promise that history is moving in another direction, even though daily events seem to proclaim the opposite.
In light of what has been going on in our world and in Paris, we want to share a recent experience with you, one of sadness and of hope. Our friend, Lambert Aboh Danrhé, originally from Chad, was a diplomat at his country's embassy in Paris. Civil war in the 1980s led to the entire family becoming political refugees in France. For a number of years, he was director of the Foyer Grebel, a center for international students supported by Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. We worked with Danrhé and Louise Zénaba, his wife, and, until 2003, we all attended the same church, the Foyer Grebel congregation that has since moved to Villeneuve le Comte. After the student center closed, Danrhé's family moved to the northern suburb of Sevran.
Danrhé and Louise went to Chad in April of this year to attend his mother's funeral. On the day they were to return, Louise died unexpectedly. In the ensuing months, Danrhé himself was hospitalized with serious health issues. On Dec. 15, their 37-year-old son, Dokmor, was murdered at the Charles De Gaulle airport where he worked the night shift, stabbed to death by a homeless person.
Dokmor had a winsome smile and personality, and was in the same age range as our own children. The sad event was in the newspapers and on the media. Dokmor's friends organized a march from Sevran to the airport to establish a memorial in his honor.
Dokmor's funeral service was held in a municipal hall. Such places are rarely available for anything religious. Sevran is a suburb known for social and economic difficulties and has a very diverse population. There were several hundred people at the service – Christians, Muslims (including the local imam), privileged and disadvantaged, the director of the Charles De Gaulle airport, and a deputy mayor. The service was led by a Baptist pastor of Laotian origin from Danrhé's congregation in Sevran.
Danrhé set the tone by expressing the family's pain, but also by reassuring the employer that there were no hard feelings and that the family had no desire to think about revenge toward the perpetrator of the crime, who has since been arrested. Family members and friends of Dokmor said similar things. A choir of Chadians living in France sang. The pastor spoke of forgiveness, renouncing vengeance, overcoming evil with good, and love of enemies. The recent shootings in Paris were also mentioned, and the pastor underlined the need to learn to live together despite differences. The deputy mayor also spoke and expressed his dismay at Dokmor's death, but also his thanks for what was being said and done during the service. After the service was over, refreshments were served and people spent quite some time together. It was interesting to see the Baptist pastor and the imam in conversation as well.
In the midst of tragedy, a message of hope was proclaimed, along with a plea to follow in the footsteps of Christ. All of this was simply and clearly stated in a way that all could understand: Christian, Muslim, or secular. We left feeling like the church had lived up to its calling. In the midst of pain and sorrow, there was a strong call to hope and to love.