We heard something remarkable yesterday: a very senior Army Officer, Vere --, came to speak to us on Peacekeeping.
His particular story concerned the appointment he'd had as a Brigadier in 1993 - having been given a really excellent post as Deputy Warden of the Cinque Ports (and a splendid array of other honorifics), a nice house, and the happy prospect of 3 years with his wife, Penny, as Chatelaine. Overnight things changed: he was asked to go to Bosnia as chief peace-negotiator: and accepted.
He found the three groups of combatants: the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians, would not be in the same room together [one group only came if everyone was there, the other two would not come if either of their two groups was present] - but that was briskly overcome.
The UN had announced that Srebrenica was to be a 'Safe Haven' - which sounded good, but no-one knew what it might mean on the ground. So a short ceasefire was agreed while this was clarified by the negotiators, with Vere.
They were there to define what is meant by a "Safe Haven" - and they had precisely 72 hours in which to do it.
They met, and after 18 hours of talking, nothing had been agreed. Vere decided to call a break: and he went back to his room to sit and think.
He could see absolutely no way of getting agreement between the 3 groups: if something was right for one, the other two objected, and so it went on. He had all the papers and notes in front of him, acutely aware that time was so short, and so much yet to do - and he took the only step open to him.
He got down on his knees and prayed.
After some time, he got up and returned to his desk, half expecting, as he said laughing, to hear a heavenly voice. Silence. So he spread the papers out in front of him, and as he did so, his eye fell on one point - among all the others - and suddenly KNEW that was the way to get everyone's agreement. He knew without a shadow of doubt that his prayer had been answered in a way he could not have imagined.
After his talk, I asked him about the subsequent massacre at Srebrenica, which happened 2 years later - he was interesting on that, too - there had been a small group of leaders in Srebrenica, one of whom was truly charismatic. The overall leader of that area wanted to get NATO involved, and worked out that Srebrenica was key to that happening: so he called the village leaders, including their charismatic 'headman' to a meeting - and while they were away, he arranged for a major attack. without their leaders, the village could not rally sufficiently, and were overcome - Vere said he thought that no-one probably had foreseen that there could be a massacre... (perhaps, and perhaps not, the Dutch are still agonising over this).
He told us, too, that before he left Dover, the local Vicar came to tell him that the congregation in the local church had decided to meet every single day that Vere was away, to pray for him - and the vicar was among them. He gave Vere two things: one was a New Testament, which he carried in his shirt pocket all through the campaign and for years afterwards, and which is now with his son-in-law in Afghanistan; the second thing was a little card with the Serenity Prayer - 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.' That card he also carried with him, and after a time - when the Belgian General was struggling with his own negotiations - Vere leaned across during one meeting and gave it to him to read.
He was surprised not to get the card back - but clearly it had a profound effect on the Belgian General, who wrote a book in which he claimed that action [ie giving him the prayer card] had changed his life.
Serenity Prayer: [in full - I didn't know it had a further 'verse']
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen. --Reinhold Niebuhr