Jessica and Jeremy Courtney have lived in Iraq for a decade and are founders of Preemptive Love Coalition, an organisation helping families recover and rebuild after conflict and disaster. In Syria and Iraq – places most of us wouldn’t dream of going – they’re waging peace, living by a conviction to love across enemy lines. Preemptive Love Coalition is setting up signposts of a Kingdom governed by the Prince of Peace. In their words, “Violence unmakes the world; it robs families of everything and seeks to drive us apart through fear. Preemptive love unmakes violence, showing up on the front lines of conflict to love anyway.”
We share the Courtney’s desire to be agents of renewal in dark places, investing in a more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible. We asked Jeremy about this journey of Preemptive Love and what it looks like to wage peace in Syria and Iraq.
When it comes to trying to understand conflict, no situation is clear-cut, or black and white. Jeremy explains, “Good guy versus bad guy stories don’t hold any water.” He cautions, “Where you see simple stories and solutions, question those; be suspicious and ask different parties if they can fill out that perspective and turn a black and white into something a lot more nuanced, grey, and colourful. That is going to serve you and the people you seek to help a lot better.” Jeremy believes that ‘listening’ is the one thing you can do above all else to reach and serve and bring about peace and flourishing in places of conflict and crisis. “Listening has gotten us further than any other single thing,” he says, “Humbly listening to those who are facing the conflict, submitting to local leaders of all varieties, asking how to help, and continually learning.”
Preemptive Love Coalition don’t draw clean lines between relief and development and peacemaking work. It’s all intertwined, Jeremy explains, “We don’t see our aid work as one thing and our development work as being another thing, or our peacemaking yet another thing. Every emergency decision is a development decision. Every development decision and every emergency decision is a reconciliation and peacemaking decision. We try to build all of our reconciliation work into all of our development and economic work, and into all of our aid work. We build our teams so that Sunni and Shia, Christian and Muslim, Arab and American, Kurd and Turkmen and Chaldean and Assyrian and Yezidi, all these different groups are working together at any one time, so we build reconciliation into everything we do. Reconciliation and peacemaking isn’t a seminar or program; that’s not going to heal the wounds of a nation after so much conflict. Reconciliation, waging peace, is what we do side-by-side with each other, hand-in-hand as we do these other things – first response emergency relief and as we stick around in a community and help them rebuild their water infrastructure, schools, and hospitals, seeking to leave lasting impacts.”
Jeremy often encounters a sense of hopelessness and helplessness at all the crisis, conflict, and drama that seems to be playing out in the world. Are we in a unique time, or is it just our connectivity that makes us more aware of what has always been going on in the world? Jeremy thinks it’s a little bit of both. Throughout history, we’ve seen huge numbers of deaths from poverty and mass atrocities through genocide and famine. We’re also seeing some staggering numbers today, from the famine impacting the horn of Africa that few are talking about, or the refugee crisis. These are significant numbers and we have to pay attention to them. Our phones give us a tool for awareness but can also exacerbate some things. A phone is not a neutral, innocent tool but can be a cause for more peace, response, connectivity, or for more conflict. Jeremy explains, “The very phone I can use to spread a message of peace is used by another guy a few miles away to record an ISIS beheading that inspires more people towards this particular brand of hate.” The tools we have, which give us the ability to reach into each other’s lives more than generations before, can be used to stem violence or peace. He encourages us, “Stay the course of connectivity; make sure we wield it well, using our tools and voices to promote the things that lead to peace and to engage the things that lead to conflict, not ghettoising them and pushing them further into the margins. Let’s use our connectivity for good. Let’s see if these tools we have at our disposal can do even more in the coming years to sow the things that make for love, peace, and the beauty that we know to belong to the Kingdom of God.”
Even on the frontlines of some of the worst violence imaginable, there is cause for hope. Jeremy says, “I know you hear about the death but let me tell you, there is a lot more life. There are flowers bursting up from these graves; life will not be denied in these places. Even where there is death and grave sadness, there is hope.”
Wage peace with Preemptive Love Coalition this Christmas season through contributing to their relief and rebuilding work in Syria and Iraq. Go to hillsong.com/tpp to GIVE.