This week’s blog is written by Mark Tymm, currently serving with MCC as Peace and Justice Assistant for the Department of Ethics, Peace & Justice in Chad. Mark is a former MCC Ottawa Office intern.
I recently boarded a plane in N’Djamena, Chad, and returned to North America after completing my second term with MCC. During the past year I have been serving with the SALT program, working as Peace & Justice Assistant to MCC’s long-term Chadian partner, the Department of Ethics, Peace & Justice (EPJ).
It’s been an interesting year to serve overseas and to monitor issues of peace and justice both in N’Djamena and around the world. My year has been filled with learning about the Chadian context, building connections between MCC and its partners, learning Arabic, and improving my French. Additionally, I had the amazing opportunities to manage a water project in a displaced-persons camp, and work closely with some remarkable people.
In the mid-1990s MCC encouraged its local partner, the Coalition of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Chad (EEMET), to address issues of injustice and conflict. As a result, the Department of Ethics, Peace & Justice (EPJ) was created.
Since then, EPJ has become a recognized leader among Chadian organizations in the field of interfaith conflict transformation.
EPJ’s peacebuilding work brings together religious leaders from Catholic, Evangelical and Muslim backgrounds. In our week-long seminars, we sit together, eat together, schedule time for both Muslim and Christian participants to engage in prayer and worship services, and, of course, provide Arabic and French translation of all our speakers. We discuss the importance of peace in the central African country. We invite guest lecturers to speak on Islamic peace traditions. We plan sessions on mediation and nonviolent conflict management, and always leave lots of time to address questions, discuss in small-groups and review practical case studies.
Our programs are well-known and respected among Chadians, and we have been welcomed and endorsed by the local government in each province we have worked in.
The act of the religious leaders actively engaging together in peace dialogue is recognized by the public as an important step in the right direction, especially given the challenging experiences Chad is undergoing.
As a pacifist I am often challenged to know where to stand on various issues. Not least of these are the security threats that face Chad: to the north, a civil war rages in Libya; on the eastern border, conflict shrouds Sudan; the southern region of the country has suddenly become home to over 100,000 who have fled violence in Central African Republic; now, Nigeria’s challenges with Islamic extremist group Boko Haram are spilling in from the west. In the past several weeks, the group has been responsible for four bombs in N’Djamena that have left dozens dead and hundreds wounded. Thankfully, I have been told that these events have not been particular sources of division or discontentment between Christians and Muslims in the capital.
What is a peace-loving boy from Chilliwack, BC to say? That the Chadian military should disband when the general population trusts them for their protection? That local law enforcement should not be apprehending insurgent cell groups in the Chadian capital?
How do we find a balance between witnessing to the powers who seem to be trying desperately to protect their own people, and rejecting the use of force to contain violence?
What can be said is that although the Chadian military is regarded as a force to be reckoned with in conventional warfare, like many other militaries around the world, it seems ill-prepared to deal with the unique challenges it is now facing.
Dealing with complex security issues—like extremist violence—certainly isn’t a simple task. Programs that promote anti-radicalization, initiatives that help narrow economic disparity between peoples, and projects that build community across religious or social divisions take years of work, stable civil society organizations, and a very engaged and involved public. Without the time to establish these civic structures, I am at a reluctant and unfortunate loss of words for how to contain violence in the present.
And yet the AK-47s posted on street corners don’t seem to be doing much better to promote peace either…
I used to think most of these challenges had easy answers: “Violence, even defensive in nature, is never acceptable.” “People should look past their differences and accept others.” That has changed. Certainly, I haven’t abandoned any of my nuanced Anabaptist perspectives on the importance of peacebuilding, reconciliation, or justice-seeking. If anything, my convictions and passion to contribute to these efforts alongside respected local partners have only deepened and grown. But I recognize the complexity of dealing effectively with the challenges violence brings.
And so our work continues. Progress is made one small step at a time. Muslim and Christian leaders come away from our workshops as friends, and begin new relationships built on mutual understanding and respect. They call each other in times of conflict to make sure that the others family is safe. Slowly, walls of division are broken down and bridges of relationships are built.
To be sure, there are days of uncertainty, but we see small glimmers of hope in our pursuit of peace and justice.