Taking Radical, Bold Steps: They Apologized for the Crusades
There are times when offenses are so severe and wounds so deep they last for centuries. Individuals, families, communities, and nations are unable to listen to the Good News. This is true of the Crusades, one of the great offenses of history. Lynn Green, a key leader and early pioneer in YWAM, felt led by the Lord to humble himself and take appropriate action. About 2,500 people joined with him. Lynn tells us how the story unfolded:
Finally, I came face to face with my nightmare. We were somewhere beside a road in Southern Lebanon. I was staring at a young man who already had years of experience as a Hezbollah fighter.
Nearly ten years earlier I received a letter. It came to me because I was a leader of the movement, March for Jesus. It suggested we should sponsor a prayer walk down the route of the Crusades. I dismissed that idea as being outside our assignment and too dangerous to consider. Yet, just a few months later my view changes. It seemed clear to me that God had intervened in my life. He gave me literal marching orders to undertake the project.
After nearly five years of preparation, the Reconciliation Walk was ready to begin. We started from Cologne, Germany on Easter Sunday morning in 1996. That was exactly nine hundred years from the date that Peter the Hermit assembled an army. He and about thirty thousand peasants set out from the same spot. In fact, as the first few rows of the massive stones of Cologne Cathedral were laid, the first Crusades left.
We stood next to the same stones, prayed, and began the walk which would take three and a half years. About two and a half thousand people participated, most of them for about two weeks. Walking each day, we carried a printed apology. We translated the apology into the language of the people we walked amongst.
From Cologne, we walked up the Rhine river, then down the Danube, and finally across into Turkey. Then we spent more than two years walking throughout Turkey. Finally, we reached Lebanon in the autumn of 1998.
Nerve-Wracking Apology Inside A Mosque
My first occasion of delivering an apology was at the very beginning, to a Turkish Imam in a Mosque in Cologne. It was a nerve-wracking experience standing outside the Mosque. A hundred and twenty people stood behind me, wondering how we would be received. We were finally shown into the Mosque. We met a young Imam who, as it happened, was the senior man for about six hundred Turkish Mosques around Europe. I nervously read our apology and then he made his response.
Received With Warmth
He was warm beyond my expectations and spoke of the brilliance of this idea. He went on to say that whoever had this idea must have had an “epiphany”–an encounter with God Himself. My group and I walked out of the Mosque thrilled. For myself, I was also a bit disappointed. I thought I must have had my most exciting reception on the first day of the walk!
But that did not prove to be the most exciting response. We experienced similar warmth and enthusiasm week in and week out. We humbled ourselves. We apologized for the atrocities committed in the name of our beloved Jesus Christ.
Violence and Injustice “In the Name of Jesus Christ”?
Of course, war is war, and wherever it occurs there are atrocities. Many actions are almost inhuman in their depravity. So we weren’t apologizing for war. The sad fact was, the Crusades were conducted in the name of Jesus Christ and under the banner of the Cross. Many of those who participated had been led to believe they were advancing the Kingdom of God. These facts have festered in the hearts of Muslims, Jews, and even Eastern Christians for centuries. The injustice of them lives on as one of the great offenses of history.
We were aware that we could not make good all relationships between East and West. We could not resolve the underlying tensions between Muslims and the nations towards whom they hold such offense. There have been centuries of colonial activities. Centuries of economic exploitation. They were not resolved with a simple apology. What we did find though, were people who opened their hearts to us. They often wept. Sometimes we heard, “I have never seen a Christian humble themselves before”.
Walking Into Danger
When I first began to plan the walk, I drew out some maps. The route went around Lebanon, entering Israel from Jordan. I just couldn’t see how we could go through Hezbollah country. It seemed too dangerous with all the history of kidnappings, ransoms, and murders. Now, in the last year of the walk, I stood face to face with a young Hezbollah fighter.
A Little Humility Can Go A Long Way
He looked at me with a broad welcoming smile, setting off a friendly attractive face. He was smiling at me because he was behind the counter of his little shop selling ice cream. He welcomed us with open arms, read the apology, and beamed. In fact, throughout South Lebanon, we found only warm hospitality. It was what we had come to expect throughout the Muslim nations, but this was the warmest yet. We learned that a little humility can go a long way. When people who think they are our enemies experience apology, enmity seems to melt away.
Three and a Half Year Walk
We finished the walk on the day Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders, but nine hundred years later, July 15th, 1999. In the course of the three and a half years, my entire understanding of Muslim people had changed. I felt for the first time that I had learned to appreciate something of their perspective on the world. I gained a little more sympathy with their views.
Continuing Friendships and Openness to Jesus
As a result, I have had continuing friendships. With great delight, I spend time with Muslim people anywhere. Surely, the removal of the barrier of enmity between East and West is one helpful step towards enabling us to understand Muslims. More important, is helping remove any stumbling block between Muslims and Jesus Christ. They know Him as a prophet, but they can know Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In fact, we met many Muslim people who did, but that is another story.
How might you retell parts of this story and apologize to your Muslim friends?
What other barriers to the Gospel are you aware of in our broken world? What steps can Followers of Jesus take toward bringing understanding and reconciliation?
God gave us “the ministry of reconciliation.” (II Corinthians 5:18) Let’s listen to Him to know how to live it out in visible ways.