Lessons I’m learning from the Euphrates River
A grateful farewell from the Euphrates Director of Operations, Emily Osborne
The image of a river flowing conjures a feeling of calm peace, and at the same time carries with it a powerful, life-giving force. I’m grateful that in every place I’ve lived, the defining feature has been a major waterway, drawing me back to its shores for beautiful views and quiet moments of contemplation. It’s no surprise given that rivers have served as a nexus for civilization, trade, transportation, sustenance, and the sacred throughout human history.
When I first heard Janessa Wilder share her story of transformation along the Euphrates River while working as a counter-insurgency analyst in Iraq, the concept of choosing the river deeply resonated with me and took on a whole new level of symbolic meaning. Not only is the river an object of practical use and aesthetic appeal, but in many cases, it is an essential oasis in the desert, representing hope and inspiration even in the midst of fear and conflict. Whenever I catch glimpses of light in dark times or I see compassion overturn anger, I like to think of these as Euphrates moments.
It’s been a blessing to experience many of these moments through the years that I’ve been connected with the Euphrates Institute. From joining the pilot Euphrates Chapter as a college student to becoming part of the Euphrates team and being intimately involved with our international Chapters, Visionaries, and Travel Study programs, I’ve witnessed numerous examples of peacebuilding in action.
While visiting the West Bank on a Euphrates trip to the Holy Land in September 2016, I can vividly recall a conversation with a Jewish Rabbi and a Palestinian leader sitting side by side from an organization called Roots. Both individuals had reached the conclusion that violence would never ultimately resolve their deep-seated enmity for the other side. They were able to acknowledge their mutual connection to the land and were committed to engaging in dialogue, learning to coexist with and understand the ‘Other’ against all odds. At the time, as the U.S. election season became increasingly polarized, their message for us was particularly poignant. I remember asking myself, if these two alleged enemies can meet as neighbors, how can I be a better listener to those whom I encounter, even those with diametrically opposing views?
The first time I visited a mosque as a Euphrates fellow, our tour guide explained that the Quran included 100 names for God. Wow, I thought. I could really learn something about the divine nature from such an extensive list of attributes. I felt I was able to appreciate Islam and simultaneously deepen my own faith. I love seeing this recurring theme through the activity of our international Chapters–from a curious Catholic high school student in Flint, Michigan who spent an enlightening summer attending local churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues, to a thoughtful group in Kolkata, India who voiced their appreciation for diverse religious and spiritual expressions in a series of videos for World Interfaith Harmony Week.
From where we started as a mere seed on a single college campus, I’ve watched the Chapters program grow into a vibrant network of 30 groups in 15 countries across the globe. Its foundation has strengthened as heart-centered relationships have been built, and today, it resembles a growing, learning, collaborating, and uplifting family. Just like the spirit of the river, these grassroots leaders do not passively avoid conflict; they are active contributors in their communities, reaching across lines of divide to do the challenging and courageous work of peacebuilding. Now, we are entering a new season of possibility as we expand our concept of turning “others” into brothers within local contexts around the world. We are further developing tools and training designed to better connect and equip members of our international community.
It is with immense gratitude that I write this letter, having experienced firsthand the arch of transformation through Euphrates moments that consistently inform me of the needs in our world and inspire me to take humble steps each day to increase my impact for good with the support of others committed to doing the same. I extend my heartfelt thanks to each one of you who nurtures the Euphrates vision through your generous gifts of time, resources, and ongoing encouragement. After two years as the Director of Operations at Euphrates, it is time for me to begin the next chapter of my own life, and I will be carrying the river and its message of persistent hope and unstoppable good forward with me. Euphrates is doing vital work to connect, sustain, and empower humanity just as watersheds have done for millennia, and I invite you to join me in choosing the river as our collective path to present peace.