In the shadow of Mount Erciyes, west of Mount Ararat where Noah’s Ark found land, a dove gently perched on an olive branch beside me. Hot air balloons quietly floated above fairy chimneys carved over millions of years and in that moment, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Yet this land in modern day central Turkey is in a country surrounded by conflict. Turkey is bordered by the Black Sea and neighboring Ukraine, and with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Greece, and Bulgaria. This is a land where the Apostle Paul made three journeys to spread the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles living there. This is where it is believed that the Gospel of John and Revelation were written and where the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church was born. Even more than the grand marble streets of Ephesus, the early cave churches and monasteries of Cappadocia draw us into a world where early Christians were willing to endure great hardship and even death to bring Jesus’ message of peace, hope and inclusion to a people who had worshipped pagan gods for thousands of years. This was a world where the farmer tending his olives and mulberries, the shepherd with his sheep or the slave hauling water to the leaders, heard the message that they were equally loved and would find peace and everlasting life through faith in Jesus.

After centuries of wars and oppression, how deeply people must have felt on hearing, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27) With a few powerful men living lives of extravagant wealth and so many living with scraps from the table, how powerful the message that “the last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16)?

How different, if we are honest with ourselves, is life today?

With Ukraine not far to the north and Palestine and Israel not far to the south, Turkish people are acutely aware of the fragility of peace. I have become more convinced than ever that if only we could teach young people to reach across differences, understand each other’s religions and cultures, and develop empathy and acceptance, peace would be a closer reality.

Generations of trauma and conflict are not easily broken. Too often, we throw up our hands in despair. In times of relative peace, we are complacent. Yet it is precisely those times when we might reach out to neighbors, seek forgiveness for our own and previous generations’ actions and forgive our neighbors in return. Peace begins within each of us and extends out from us to the world around us. Peace is active, it requires work and thought and reflection. When it becomes static, it is in danger.

Within the cave of a 4th Century Christian church in Turkey, our guide asked me, “what is a church?” My answer, deeply felt in such surroundings, is that church is not a building or a place. Church is a community of people, each with different God-given gifts, who collectively possess the power to transform the world through faith into a world where peace overcomes conflict, relationships are healed, and the light overcomes the darkness. If each of us resolves to be the peace we want to see, and each of us comes actively into our church community using our unique gifts, we might just bring our world a little closer to the prayer we pray each week, the prayer Jesus taught us, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” I pray it might be so.