Will Ride For Peace
by Nathan F. Elmore
This reflection is based on and inspired by the fascinating story of a man named Dolkun Tunurganjan, a 31-year-old Uighur Muslim from Xinjiang, the semi-autonomous region in northwestern China. Dolkun is currently riding his motorcycle across numerous provinces and regions in China in the name of promoting greater ethnic harmony (you can read more about his story here, in the Global Times).
The largest geographical region in China, Xinjiang features gorgeous deserts and stunning mountains as well as ancient sites along the famous Silk Road. It also has become a volatile political landscape filled with ethnic strife and inter-communal conflicts between the now-majority Han Chinese and the indigenous Uighur Muslims.
The ride for peace always begins with—and within—you
Before Dolkun set out on his impassioned, improbable peacemaking mission, he spent seven years in prison for a drunken rape. Obviously he had to come to some very serious terms with himself, in a Chinese prison, before he could imagine what he might do to redeem himself.
While trekking China, he rides his motorcycle draped with a banner—proudly if not rather hopefully—proclaiming, “The Xinjiang people live in harmony with people of all ethnic groups.” Of course, to give that banner any true meaning at all, the one who pronounces such things must first be transformed and embody such things.
So, inescapably, as ever, peace is always down to you and me. Indeed, here’s the remarkable power of the individual—without sounding like a modern disciple of Oprah.
Dolkun's ride also provides another challenging provocation for peacemakers: the work of reconciliation will only happen along a road marked by sacrifice, sometimes great sacrifice. For him, the journey began in May 2013, with his wife at home and pregnant. Now, he is still at it, motorcycling here and there, having yet to see or hold his seven-month-old son.
The ride for peace necessitates creativity through the making of new narratives
By every appearance, the Uighur/Han minority/majority narrative is stale. What is desperately needed is not more of the same: social attitudes, central or local government policies, advocacy strategies, ideological narratives.
Dolkun’s ride injects a bit of creativity into the typical proceedings of strife, hostility and conflict. And he rides, however ironically, without a map and unable to read Chinese characters. Surely his ride goes firmly against the ethnic odds—cutting across the cultural grain. No matter: he is making something new from the old that is.
For the Christian peacemaker, Dolkun's ride should conjure up that famous biblical storyline of shalom—the Hebrew concept richly infused with the complementary notes of wholeness and well-being, harmony and flourishing. Peacemaking oriented toward reconciliation is always working to bring into wholeness all the broken pieces of a fractured human story.
Not in that dreamy, utopian, generically otherworldly sense. Instead, in that otherworldly but real-world sense whereby the kingdom of God is being revealed on earth as it is in heaven. Walter Brueggemann says, “The Bible is not romantic about its vision. It never assumes shalom will come naturally or automatically.” In other words, you have to put yourself on a motorcycle and ride for it—against the odds and across the grain.