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A warrior turns peacemaker in Liberia

Former soldier Christian Bethelson’s only job skill was killing – until a meeting on a muddy road in Liberia changed his life, and many others.

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Today, Bethelson and Uncle Jake have embarked on an ambitious project with Jurs’ nonprofit, Alliance for the Earth, to build “peace huts” throughout the nation. A callback to the traditional “palaver huts,” where elders once gathered to resolve civil and tribal conflicts, the circular, open-walled structures offer a way for the wounded communities to unite, and like Bethelson, rediscover who they were before the conflict. The first peace hut has been built in hard-hit Lofa County; here in the United States, Bethelson and Uncle Jake are raising funds to start construction on the second.

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“The government’s doing what it can,” he says, referring to the administration of recent Nobel Peace prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, re-elected this November. “But the tribes have been divided. We all fought for different factions, and in order to have one nation, one destiny, and one people, we need to create the peace huts, where we can leave our ethnicity behind us and come together.”

As this article is being posted, Bethelson is back in Liberia, working on the peace huts, furthering his own mediation practice, and inviting former combatants to share their stories, to dance and sing, to play soccer, and to take a moment to breathe. He still dreams of attending university to pursue a degree in counseling, so that he can build his capacity as a peacemaker, and do even more to help Liberia recover. 

But for now, he’s taking it slowly, enjoying his new life as a peacemaker, a civilian, and a member of his family.

“I love washing the dishes,” he says. “I love doing the laundry, playing with my kids. It sounds foolish, but I’ve got a lot of time to redeem.

“My great Buddhist teacher tells me, ‘Slowly, slowly, step by step, we’re going to arrive.’ I believe that. We’re all going to arrive.”

• Seth Biderman wrote this article in partnership with The Academy for the Love of Learning for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Seth is a writer and teacher researching transformational education. He has reported on sustainability, education, and personal transformation. The Academy for the Love of Learning is an organization dedicated to transforming our culture and has developed a wide range of programs, including Profiles in Transformation, which collects and publishes stories of people who have reconnected to their humanity, and in doing so activated their lives and the lives of those around them. Among the most dramatic of these profiles comes from post-war Liberia, where Christian Bethelson’s transformation from career soldier to spiritual peacemaker stands as a testament to the human potential for positive change.

This article first appeared in YES! Magazine

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