Peacemaking demands Christian presence in violent places, former missionary says - Word&Way

Peacemaking demands Christian presence in violent places, former missionary says

SUNNYVALE—Peacemaking means waging spiritual warfare against evil, David Balyeat believes. So, if Christians want to stop violence along the Texas/Mexico border, peacemaking prayer warriors need to report for duty on the battlefield, he insists.

"The reason violence is there is that we don't go. When you and I say that we—as Christians—won't go, that's where Satan sets up camp," said Balyeat, president of No Mas Violencia International, a nonprofit ministry based in Sunnyvale.

He understands the concerns of mission leaders and pastors along the Rio Grande who have urged caution in sending large volunteer groups to the areas of northern Mexico where gangs and drug cartels battle for control over territory.

As a veteran missionary, associate pastor of Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church in Dallas and frequent mission team leader, he agrees upstate volunteers should develop relationships with church leaders along the border and follow their direction.

However, he fears the consequences if Christians who don't live along the Rio Grande abandon the area altogether. While he recognizes God has not called and equipped everyone to do it, he remains convinced some followers of Christ need to be the presence of Christ in dark places.

"Our task is to set the captives free. The person who is without Christ cannot fight Satan and win. We must fight for them. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness," he said.

Balyeat hopes to see the No Mas Violencia movement he started in Argentina spread along the Texas/ Mexico border, just as it has to other parts of Latin America.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas has endorsed No Mas Violencia and sponsored training events in several border cities to teach its principles to church leaders.

Balyeat grew up in Argentina, where his parents served as missionaries. He returned in 1996, leaving his position as soccer coach at Dallas Baptist University to serve with the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board as a sports evangelist.

"Soccer is the national religion of Argentina," he said.

And in the late 1990s, holy war was raging in the nation's soccer stadiums as fans of rival teams engaged in brutal—often deadly—acts of violence.

"I knew God could do something about the violence, but only if we would. God is all-powerful, but he chooses to express himself through his people," Balyeat said.

In 1997, he began to lead Christians to go to the soccer games to pray for peace. The Christian peacemaking movement became public when he received permission for young people wearing the jerseys of rival teams to go on the field at halftime and display a huge banner that read: "No More Violence—A Message from God."

Soon, Christians in black T-shirts bearing that message became increasingly visible at major soccer games.

"Baptists began to have a platform we'd never had before," Balyeat said, recalling the phone call he received in November 1999 from the office of Argentina's president requesting a meeting. "After that, it was like we had the keys to the country."

Balyeat worked with teachers to develop an anti-violence public school curriculum that subsequently was approved by the nation's Ministry of Education.

"The material deals with issues of identify, self-esteem and purpose, and it offers an alternative way of living. In the soccer culture there, it's just an accepted way of behaving to hate any person associated with the other team," he explained.

Baptist volunteers enter the schools to teach the eight-week course. Most volunteers are young people in their late teens or early 20s—slightly older peers of the students, not experts who claim to have all the answers, Balyeat stressed.

During the last couple of lessons, students are challenged to take a pledge to become "agents of change."

That commitment includes agreeing to volunteer to serve the community—collecting books for a school library, repairing school facilities or other projects—working alongside the young instructors who taught them in the classroom, he explained.

"Essentially, it's discipleship that takes place prior to conversion. Some call it pre-evangelism," Balyeat said.

"The older students who volunteer are living testimonies, and they build relationships. As they work together, they can say: 'It's what believers do. I am living it. I invite you to live it with me.'"

That does not mean No Mas Violencia necessarily results in dramatic church growth, he noted, although some students subsequently have become Christians after completing the program.

"Is our goal to fill the church with the community or to fill the community with the church?" Balyeat asked.

Community transformation often occurs slowly, he acknowledged. No Mas Violencia has not put an end to all soccer-related violence in Argentina—nor has it completely stopped violence in El Salvador, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela, where the movement has spread.

But individual lives have been transformed, volatile situations have been calmed and Christians have been recognized as people of peace, Balyeat said. And he remains convinced the same thing could occur along the Rio Grande.

"When we go in as believers with a kingdom purpose, the Holy Spirit invades those places, and change happens," Balyeat said.