The North American relief, development and peace network, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), has ben working with the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia to bring together about 40 community leaders – Muslims, Ethiopian Orthodox and Evangelical Christians – who have been affected by the violence.
Holly Blosser Yoder writes for MCC (http://mcc.org/): In rural communities outside this town in western Ethiopia, farmers and families have lost homes and livestock in interreligious violence that has swept this region since mid-2006.
Although the majority of Ethiopia’s history has been characterized by a peaceful coexistence among different religious groups, recent attacks by Muslim groups against Christians and other Muslims in this region have sparked deep hurt and mistrust within the community.
Earlier this year, Mennonite Central Committee provided assistance to families who lost their homes, reaching out to both Christians and Muslims as an act of peacemaking.
The three-day gathering in May 2007 was part of a longer-term effort to identify community members who can work for peace and give them tools and ideas for how they and their communities can respond to violence without turning to revenge.
During the event, participants reached across differences of faith to recognize the deep pain the violence has caused to both Muslims and Christians. Together, they mourned with a Muslim farmer who had recently lost his hand in the conflict. His wound was a visible reminder of what the community had been through and what individuals have suffered. They grieved not only over his hand but over the loss of his livelihood and the community’s collective loss of peace and security.
Gopar Tapkida, a Nigerian peace worker who serves as MCC Regional Peace Networker in West Africa, shared with the group about his experience with interfaith conflict and peacemaking in Nigeria.
And as participants listened to his stories, they say a deep connection was made – an awareness that others have been through this sort of violence and have found a way to work together for peace. Participants said they left believing that might be possible here in Jima as well.
In the coming months, Mekonnen Dessalegne of MCC Ethiopia and the organizers from the Evangelical Churches Fellowship will meet to plan follow-up training events.
They say they are encouraged by the openness and spirit of cooperation in this first conference and that this first experience has given them confidence and vision to continue the work.