A Different Kind of Peace Feast: Mediation with Burmese Refugees
by Rick Love
Twenty three Burmese refugee leaders gathered for a Peace Feast in Denver. We all sat cross-legged on mats, enjoying a variety of delicious Burmese foods and talking. It reminded me a lot of life in Indonesia, where I lived for eight years.
But this was different than most Peace Feasts. Usually PCI Peace Feasts are held at restaurants and involve interviews, Q&A, and sharing around the table. But this was the start of a formal mediation process that I was leading. We were not just building bridges of love and breaking down negative stereotypes, like most Peace Feasts. We were beginning to address deep conflicts and divisions.
The Burmese refugee community in Denver is comprised of people of three religions (Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim) and nine different ethnic groups. One of the ethnic groups is the Rohingya – a Muslim group brutally persecuted by the Buddhist majority in Burma. These refugees have all experienced violent conflicts, significant struggles with integration, and a general lack of cooperation.
Because of this, Frank Anello of Project Worthmore invited me to mediate between the different groups. He asked me to try to establish some type of practical working relationship between the leaders for the greater good of the Burmese community. So we have set out together, by faith, on a peacemaking journey that will take many months.
Rather than a typical, more Western approach to mediation, I decided to begin with a Peace Feast. This puts the focus on relationship and affirms the Burmese way of doing things.
Preparing for this multi-cultural, multi-religious Peace Feast was not easy. In order to honor the different groups, we served Burmese food cooked by four Burmese families from different ethnic groups. The Peace Feast/mediation took place in three languages: English, Burmese, and Karen.
We also tried some ice-breakers to lighten up the situation. I told everyone they needed to meet somebody new and that I would ask them to share something about their new acquaintance. They enjoyed it, evidenced by the fact that people were laughing and clapping as they shared.
Cultural sensitivity, good food, fun ice-breakers, and the invitation to work for peace seemed to soften hearts and engender hope. May this feast be the start of real peace for the Burmese!