Reconcile: The Backstory

Twenty years ago, as a student at Eastern Mennonite University, I had John Paul Lederach as a professor. Like many of his students then (at EMU) and now (at the University of Notre Dame), I came to deeply admire John Paul’s work in peacebuilding and the studied combination of idealism and realism that flavors his work. The stories he told in classes—of meeting with warring factions in Central American jungles, of fleeing a country for the safety of his family, and of watching former enemies take faltering but momentous steps toward peace—fired our imaginations. I and several of my classmates dreamed of becoming mediators, preferably of the internationally renowned variety.

One assignment in John Paul’s international peacemaking class my senior year gave us some practice. We had to design a simulation of an international conflict for our classmates so that we could both understand the conflict better and try out our newly minted mediation skills. My group chose Northern Ireland, and we spent hours studying the Troubles and setting up the exercise for our class. We took over the campus center, with classrooms becoming IRA hideaways and Ulster training grounds. I don’t remember exactly how the simulation ended, but I do know that we hadn’t even convinced our faux enemies to meet together before the time ran out.

After college, I found out that real conflicts are even harder than simulated ones by working at a neighborhood mediation center. I remained convinced that conciliation was crucial in our litigious society and warring world, but I was learning to admire someone else’s vocation without assuming that it should be my own. Eventually I would also learn that you don’t have to be a professional mediator to snag a chance to transform conflict; regular life manages to offer lots of opportunities.

Five years after I graduated from college, Herald Press published John Paul’s book The Journey toward Reconciliation. That book sold well and was transformative for its many readers. As far as we can tell now, however, it was read mostly by Mennonites.

The front cover of John Paul Lederach’s 1999 Herald Press book.

Then, during this past Advent, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, preached a sermon based largely on the book. Somehow Hybels had gotten his hands on a copy, and he drew heavily on John Paul’s retelling of the Jacob and Esau story as a paradigm for reconciliation. Hybels told his listeners that the Willow Creek elder team is listening hard for how God might be calling them to use their power and privilege to work for peace and reconciliation. (You can listen to his sermon here.)

Coming from Willow Creek, where more than twenty thousand people worship at six locations each weekend, this sermon was gratifying to us at Herald Press. It was also one of several recent signals that many evangelical Christians are searching for resources on reconciliation and peacemaking.

So we got busy. We reread The Journey toward Reconciliation and wondered together how to retool this book for a wider audience. We contacted John Paul about revising and updating it, and we tested the idea with some readers to ask what they would look for in a book about reconciliation. We asked a few other folks to read the book and tell us how it could better reach an evangelical audience, and we invited several Christian leaders in reconciliation to create resources for the back. Then we asked Bill and Lynne Hybels to write the foreword, and they responded, enthusiastically, yes. “No one’s writing about reconciliation has helped us more than John Paul Lederach’s,” they told us.

Thus, in these months between Advent and Pentecost, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians was born. Packed with new stories from John Paul’s work in twenty-five countries around the globe, reflections on a post 9-11 world, and a section of resources created by leaders in reconciliation, Reconcile is poised to reach a wide audience of Christians yearning to find out more about Christ’s call to peacemaking.

The front cover of Reconcile, now available for preorder.

I’m pleased to announce that Reconcile is now available for preorder. Within hours of the book’s website going live, it had 35 Facebook likes. Just today I passed the designed pages of this book to our first proofreader, and it will go to the printer in a few short weeks.

Twenty years after we graduated, I and my college friends still haven’t made it into international conciliation work. Judging from our Northern Ireland simulation, that may be a good thing. But I’m honored to be a part of bringing this important new book by my former college professor to readers—readers who are, by all accounts, waiting for a book just like this.


Get an Advance Reader Copy of Reconcile free on Goodreads! If you “win,” be among the first to see the new edition of Reconcile (in advance of publication) which is being offered on Goodreads from now until midnight June 15th. Check here.

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.