I should have been history by now. In 2001, I was caught in a Muslim community with one man on one side who wanted to kill me because I am Christian and the man on the other saying, “He hasn’t done anything to us. Let us not kill an innocent man.”
While they were debating, two other Christians driving by were shot. I said, “God, I surrender all. Take me; here I am.”
Then a nearby photo laboratory began exploding. All of us took to our heels. The men started running in the same direction. Somewhere it dawned on me that I could take a different direction. I turned and walked another way.
There was a reduction of tension by 2003 when I began working for MCC partner Justice Development and Peace Caritas (JDPC) Commission.
My first assignment was to take notes at a five-day training on conflict resolution and management. Gopar Tapkida (an MCC peacebuilder in Nigeria who is now an MCC representative in Zimbabwe) was there with his wealth of knowledge.
JDPC took the 30 Christian and Muslim leaders in the training to a resort out of town. In that period, I would have thought that it was crazy to suggest that Christians and Muslims could be friends.
The first night, we looked at each other with some fear. We said hello in the morning. At lunchtime, we started discussion, and by evening everyone wanted to meet again. We were able to exchange numbers.
During the discussion, the Muslims in the group listened to my suffering and I listened to theirs. It helped me to shift my mind on who Muslims are.
I attended meeting after meeting as JDPC trained those leaders in conflict management. Although I was the secretary, I also became committed to peacebuilding.
Peace is part of every person. Whether you like it or not, you must embrace peace and you must adapt peace to be part and parcel of you, to have in your personal growth and transformation. In so doing you will grow to affect others around you.
Then in 2004, ethnic and religious conflict flared again. We lost so many lives. “All this work and all this training; yet this thing took place,” I said to myself. “It’s not worth it. . . There’s no point in discussing with anybody from the opposite faith as mine.” I was fed up.
But the magic behind the whole thing is that I never lost contact with our trainers.
When I wrote to Gopar to say I was really upset with this work, he told me, “No. I have been in this work before you joined me. If I have not thrown in the towel, you are not expected to do so. Carry on.”
So, in 2004, with the support of Catholic Relief Services and MCC helping with peacebuilding and relief materials, I managed the relief distribution for 35,000 people south of Jos who were displaced by violence.
The majority in need after the crisis were Muslim. Their perception was that their property was destroyed by Christians. We feared our response would not be accepted. We managed to bring a Muslim group from Jos with us to administer relief to our Muslim brothers and sisters. Some were still not talking with us, but they were more open.
From this cooperation, I helped develop the proposal to form an Emergency Preparedness and Response Team (EPRT) of men and women, Muslims and Christians. We used a step-down training model (where the trainers train others who train others) so that many people in each community would know how to respond to emergencies more effectively.
By 2008, MCC was supporting EPRT and training teams on conflict resolution and management, peacebuilding and how to monitor conflict indicators.
Today I look at the fruit of this effort and labour. Sometimes something will happen within the community, and Muslims and Christians will be able to contain it without anybody hearing about it or without any other part of the state erupting. For me this is a big achievement.
MCC photo/Matthew Lester
In 2010, I had reason to say no to senseless violence between Christians and Muslims myself.
A Muslim man had packed his family in the car, fleeing the latest wave of violence, but unknown to him the route he took went through a Christian area. His car was stopped and people from the neighbourhood pounced on the women and were about to stone him.
I said, “No, you can’t do this while I’m here.” I turned the family over to the police and military for their safety.
I never knew if the man knew who rescued him until I was in a nearby city for a visit and this humble man approached me and greeted me very well. “I was the man with the family. I could see and hear you shouting, ‘Before you kill these people, you must kill me first.’”
I said, “I know that if you find me in the same situation tomorrow, you will do something similar. You won’t let anyone harm me . . . you will also risk your life for me. That is life.”
One day when I retire, I will say I have run the best race, fought the best of all battles because it was not easy, and I am waiting for my crown!
Boniface Anthony of Jos, Nigeria, is program manager for Emergency Preparedness and Response Team, an MCC-supported program of Justice Development and Peace Caritas Commission.