Every person who dies in war is one too many. A call to make the first Sunday after Easter a day of mourning for victims of war.
In war, people die. And not only soldiers. Concluding that people might deserve to die – including soldiers on either side of the front line – rarely makes any sense. They follow commanders because they have sworn an oath to their country and have been sent to resolve conflicts in which their country is involved.
Some refuse to pick up a weapon and are forced to do so under threat of heavy prison sentences. This happens on both sides of military conflicts, including the wars between Russia and Ukraine and Ethiopia and Tigray.
Unfortunately the use of child soldiers as killer commandos, which is often seen in Africa, shows how perfidious the world’s war machinery has become (see German Unicef article). Is it children and conscripted soldiers who should be held accountable? Is it not those who cause the war, recruit people in an undignified way and send them to die? Yes, soldiers kill, but they and their comrades die themselves, and those who come back return with trauma beyond description.
More and more governments today use free armies, professional militias and private military companies that earn vast sums by killing. Such companies exist in many countries of the world, including in the West. These professional fighters often don't care who they go to war for. They sell themselves to the highest bidder.
Thus, the Wagner Group, which originates from Russia and is officially registered in Argentina, can be found on the side of Shiite Syrians and at the same time fighting against Muslim freedom fighters in Mali, Sudan, Congo, in Ukraine in the war against a brother nation, and in the Central African Republic as the guard of a dictatorial government.
Volunteers from many countries of the world are fighting in the Wagner Group. These are not conventionally recruited national armies and, while they are human beings making the decision to join for various reasons, their brutal approach and alleged war crimes speak volumes.
As evangelical Christians, however, are we not opposed in principle to any manslaughter? When people die, including our “enemies,” it should fill us with deep sorrow and lament, and compel us to pray for the bereaved and for a speedy peace. “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4) said our Lord.
Whose side are we on?
Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives in war in 2022. Many of them are civilians, mothers and children. War has once again shown its ghastly face in Europe where Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Ukrainians and Russians have lost their lives (see German article on estimated death tolls). In Africa tens of thousands perished in Ethiopia, Tigray, Mali, Congo and Cameroon, to name just a few. And to tie this grief together, a Zambian even died fighting in Ukraine.
"There is hardly a village left with us in Armenia where victims of the war of Azerbaijan and Turkiye against Armenia are not mourned," a friend in Yerevan told me just the other day. "Our population is severely traumatized. It is only good that you from the Evangelical Alliance come to us. The offer of trauma therapy is a first small step toward normality. But will there ever be normal again?"
The words of Ukrainian refugees sound similar. "We can hardly count the dead," a mother from eastern Ukraine told me. "Quickly you are caught between fighting soldiers and then who asks from whose gun the bullet came that hit your loved one?"
Stories like this are heard everywhere. "This used to be our village," a Sudanese pastor told our staff while visiting the area. "Today it is a cemetery."
In the cemeteries in Russia, too, hundreds of new gravesites are built every day. Thousands and thousands of Russian deaths have mothers weeping. Their sons were forced to fight and die for goals of politicians, with minority people groups in Russia especially feeling the pain.
One Azerbaijani Christian who was recruited to fight in Nagarno-Karabakh in 2020 prayed that he would not kill anyone, but instead be a witness of Jesus among his Muslim fellow soldiers before they died. Azerbaijani cemeteries are places of mourning too.
We Christians are called to be on the side of those who mourn. We are called to lament with all those who have suffered. This is a prophetic act, even as we call out what is evil and its insidious consequences. We call Christians throughout the world to remember in prayer all those who mourn – and especially those who are part of the family of God.
Pray for children who have lost parents, mothers who weep for children and husbands, fathers who have lost their descendants, and families who can no longer find comfort in all this loss. Let us pray without stopping!
And let us pray for those who, understandably, can no longer trust and can only hate and cry out for revenge. There is nothing these people need more than reconciliation and peace. Only God, who can raise the dead, can give the miracle of peace beyond logical understanding.
Mourning is a first step to overcoming anger, hatred and the desire for revenge. Of course, mourning is not a substitute for just peace negotiations, truth-telling and restitution. Wherever possible Christians should also participate in promoting and activating a sustained peace. War crimes must also be addressed openly, regardless of which side commits them, and neutral courts will need deal with them. This will take years.
In the meantime we the Christian community, God's royal priesthood, are called to be prayerful and active as a holy witness and as a community of pastoral hope and comfort. We weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. And this also and especially in times of tensions, war, murder and manslaughter. We are God's priests in the world. Priests represent people before God and God before people.
Mourning after Easter?
Given the state of the world and the sorrow that surrounds us, we call on our brothers and sisters in Christ in the various evangelical and ecumenical associations to make the first Sunday after Easter a day of mourning for the victims of wars. We invite the families of those who mourn – no matter who they are – to give us the names of their deceased. All these who have died carried the image of God, their lives matter, and we want to bring their families before the throne of our just God, who has overcome sin and death by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.
And, as we mourn, let us also pray diligently for peace. Might you invite representatives of refugees from war zones living in your city and provide space to tell their stories, express their feelings and pray for them?
Jesus invited people to come to Him and find peace. "Come to me all you who are weary and have heavy burdens to bear. I will give you rest," He said (Matthew 11:28). The welcome of those who know Jesus, who can help the hurting find rest in God, can open doors for the long work for peace and reconciliation.
Shall we just wait until the war is “over,” weapons are silent, and people are no longer dying? Will we only then set apart days of remembrance?
No, we Christians cannot and will not wait. People are dying now. And now we must mourn with those who mourn now. Peace never comes by itself, and the world needs people who stand up another way. Who else should take up the issue if not we Christians, whom God himself has appointed as His ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)?
This blog post is a collaborative work of and Johannes Reimer, director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s public engagement department, and Phil Wagler, global liaison for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and global director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Peace & Reconciliation Network. The PRN can do its work through the generosity of donors like you. You can connect with the PRN or donate through The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada here. Photo by Nicholas Demetriades. Read more of these blog posts at FaithToday.ca/AllThingsReconciled.