Selam No?

One of my favorite things about being in Ethiopia is greeting people with the phrase “Selam,” or “Selam no?” They use it as an every day greeting, but it’s actual meaning is “Are you at peace?” I like it so much that if I see an Ethiopian here in the states, I’m quick to greet them with it. In fact, if we ever have another daughter, there’s a good chance her name will be Selam.

If you are at all familiar with the Hebrew language, you probably recognize that “Selam” is a cognate of “Shalom.” We usually translate “Shalom” as “Peace,” but really it means so much more than that. To me, peace means quiet and an end to fighting, or it brings to mind some kind of hippie, drugged-like state of relaxation. These definitions are bland compared to the definition of shalom. Shalom is defined as completeness, soundness in mind and body, welfare, health, and prosperity, tranquility, contentment, and harmony in relationships with God and man. So to wish “Shalom” or “Selam” to someone, is to wish them wholeness in every part of their life, not just quietness.

I was first turned on to this when I read Timothy Keller’s book Generous Justice a couple years ago. He defines shalom as “complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension–physical, emotional, social, and spiritual–because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy.”

The truth is, that this entire world is severely lacking in peace. Here in our more developed nation, we’ve gotten pretty good at trying to mask our lack of shalom. We cover it up with our abundance of material things, trying to fill up our hole by creating our own edenic garden of perfection. We blame our lack of shalom on others, ending relationships and moving on when our need for shalom surfaces. We hope and pray that if we can just get the “right guy” in the White House or have our party in control of Congress, then finally shalom will be restored. Or we blame it on the moral depravity of others, often lumping together an entire generation or an entire subset of society as “the problem.”

In countries like Ethiopia, there is little attempt to mask the need for shalom. It can be seen on every dirty street corner, in every naked child, in the eyes of every hungry mother and every unemployed father.

Every human on earth, whether they will admit it or not, is reaching out, gasping for shalom. We are all desperate for it. But we will never find it on our own, we can never have it without Christ, the Prince of Shalom. Remember, He says Himself, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). He is the only Way to complete wholeness.

Once we find this shalom in Him, we are compelled to reach out and meet the needs of others. We are sent out as ambassadors of peace and justice to minister to those who are in need of Him. I love Keller’s definition of this mission, “In general, to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it.”

Right now, we are joining God’s work of bringing shalom to some of the precious people in Ethiopia. I fully believe that He is working through Lifesong to redeem and restore families and communities in Ziway and Adami Tulu, Ethiopia. We are picking up those pieces of tattered fabric and stitching them back together again, trying to do more to actually restore shalom, selam, to those who are in such great need.

God doesn’t need you or me to do this work; after all, He is the supplier of peace, not us, but He asks us to join Him. James says that true believers must do more than just wish people peace; we must give them what they are lacking (James 2:15-17).

Right now, we are raising funds to expand our campuses in Ziway and Adami Tulu so that we can reach further into the community and impact more lives for Him. Can you help us? You can read more about our goals here and donate to the project here.

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