The bomb that exploded in Brighton, England, on October 12, 1984, targeted then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Instead, it blew Harvey Thomas through the roof of his southern England hotel.
Left dangling on girders, he survived. Five of his friends did not. For years, Thomas, Thatcher's former public relations spokesperson, struggled with bitterness toward the Irish Republican Army.
But Thomas now plans to send letters of forgiveness to IRA leader Gerry Adams and those jailed for the attack. "I thought I should see if I can open a door of Christian communication [that] the Lord can use," the international consultant told CT. "The Lord put it strongly on my heart."
Promise Keepers vice president Raleigh Washington shares a similar story about a visit to a predominantly white U.S. church. Though challenging the congregation to cross racial boundaries, he first accepted responsibility for violence perpetrated by African Americans. Afterward, a 22-year-old woman revealed that she had been raped six months earlier by a black man who "beat the rap." Though she had forgiven him, she had been unable to sleep.
"Nobody took responsibility," Washington says. "But at the moment I said I take responsibility as a black man for rape and murder, God gave her healing instantly. She held me and wept for three or four minutes."
The power of sharing such testimonies before international audiences drives Reconciliation Networks of the World (RNOW). The nascent, all-volunteer organization held its second conference in November in Louisville, Kentucky.
Around 800 attended, twice as many as at last year's inaugural gathering in England (CT, Oct. 27, 1997, p. 106).
As organizers plan for the next conference, in Boston in 2000, they believe the increasing diversity of its audience signals God's activity.
"We're a loose fellowship," says Reid Hardin, a former Southern Baptist lay renewal director who founded RNOW. "We don't have an agenda."
Methodist Hour president John Wolfe believes the example of Jesus' many parables deeply touching crowds demonstrates the power of such a forum. "Most of us have never had an opportunity to hear stories of what people in other countries and cultures have experienced," says Wolfe, RNOW's codirector. "We're discovering a community we never realized existed. It's giving us the courage to do the hard work of reconciliation."
While race is a prominent topic, the conferences also discuss denominational, class, gender, cultural, and marital differences.
The SBC has shied away because Catholics are involved. But Hardin dreams of one day sponsoring a meeting to try to heal conservative and moderate rifts within the SBC. "We hope the global stories can affect the local church," he says.
Hardin credits God with drawing prominent leaders to volunteer in the movement, including Thomas, pk founder Bill McCartney, and South African Methodist Bishop Peter Storey, who played a role in forming the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CT, Feb. 9, 1998, p. 18).
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