“If I speak of Islamic violence, I should speak of Catholic violence. ... I believe that in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. ...”
Pope Francis, on why he speaks of terrorism without religious group labels
Catastrophe was years in developing, but 2014 was a year of total devastation for many in northeast Nigeria, with more than 10,000 slaughtered — men, women and children — including religious leaders, both pastors and imams; churches and mosques, homes, schools and businesses looted and burned; hundreds of women and children kidnapped; and millions of people permanently displaced from their homes to other parts of Nigeria by the actions of fundamentalist religious extremists. The entire population was terrorized, and hatred, fear, distrust and suspicion sown even between Christian and Muslim neighbors who had lived together and helped each other for years.
The largest Christian denomination in that northeast region was the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, known as Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN — currently about 300,000 members), founded in 1923 and closely related to the Church of the Brethren in America. The groups exchange clergy, teachers, mission workers and other visitors, with many close, collegial friendships built.
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Though certainly some individuals stray from this teaching, the Church of the Brethren promotes a testimony against using violence for any reason — in obedience to Jesus’ teaching to lay down the sword, to do unto others as you would that they do unto you, to love one’s neighbor and to love even one’s enemy. While the Nigerian military in cooperation with surrounding countries pushed Boko Haram out of much of the northeast, Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria has upheld the peace testimony among its members even in the face of the terrible devastation and destruction of the past several years, and even in the face of the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, most of whom were children of EYN. EYN leaders and their Muslim partners recognize no lasting peace can be rebuilt among neighbors if the suspicion, fear and trauma of the past several years remains unhealed.
EYN leaders recently visited central Pennsylvania to explain interfaith work they are engaged in, rebuilding peace in their homeland. Along with immediate food, water, shelter and clothing, professional work in trauma healing occurred, and is ongoing. Beyond immediate needs, much practical work meets the need for livelihood of displaced people. Starting small and modeling systems that can be practiced elsewhere, Lifeline Compassionate Global Initiatives is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, apolitical organization working with Christian and Muslim women and youth for vocational training, interest-free micro loans, health care assistance, school support and food relief. Since 2015, Jauro Interfaith Shades Foundation — in the words of chairman Markus Gamache, a “foundation of peace and new life and love among the two faiths” — also builds small homes and shelters, caring for more than 1,000 displaced people, both Christians and Muslims, at sites such as Gurku Interfaith Camp. Members of both faiths built a church and are building a mosque as well. To learn more about this peace-, love- and hope-filled work, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or find these websites online (if you are moved, donations to help the peacebuilding work can be made there to the Nigeria Crisis Fund of Brethren Disaster Ministries):
Sarah Q. Malone is convener of Interfaith Initiative Centre County. For the past six years, IICC has created events and settings that bring together people of many faiths to converse, cooperate, enjoy and learn from each other. For more information, email InterfaithInitiativeCC@hotmail.com.