Peacemaker in Action Award Top Nominees: Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus

Hesston College student Brayan Martinez from El Salvador gives SEMILLA Director Willi Hugo Pérez a campus tour during his April visit to Kansas Mennonite colleges and churches. Photo from MennoniteMission.net

Last month, you helped us welcome the two newest Peacemaker in Action award recipients: Yeny Nolasco Quijada and Fatima al-Bahadly.

Yeny Nolasco Quijada and Fatima al-Bahadly, from El Salvador and Iraq, respectively, were selected from a group of highly qualified nominees for the Peacemaker in Action award.

Tanenbaum’s Peacebuilding program uplifts the voices of religiously-motivated peace actors, not just those within the Peacemakers in Action Network, but the many unsung heroes at the grassroots level, so that NGOs, academics, organizations, and governments consult their unparalleled wisdom and expertise.

Yeny and Fatima’s fellow nominees come from around the globe. They are motivated by their religious or spiritual beliefs to work peace, unrecognized outside of their local contexts, and put their life and/or liberty at risk.

Each month, we will profile some of the top Peacemaker in Action nominees.

May you know these brave peace actors, seek to work with them, and be inspired by them.

In April, we highlight Guatemalan peace actor Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus. Struck with loss early in his life, Lemus, propelled by his faith, created a Mennonite-organized peace initiative (MENOPAZ). Pérez provides an example of how trauma and indignation might be recast as a productive force.

Peacemaker in Action Nominee Profile: Top 20
Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus
Guatemala

Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus is no stranger to the fallout of protracted conflict. Growing up in Guatemala during the 1960s, violence was an everyday intimacy, a constant threat of social unravelling, of political alienation, and death. In 1960, an armed conflict broke out between leftist guerilla groups and the military-led, autocratic government. For 36 years, the civil war persisted in waves of horror and human rights violations, ending the lives of around 200,000 Guatemalans, many of them Mayan. Disappearances, mutilations, and the public dumping of bodies were commonplace. It should be noted that a U.N. truth commission found that the state and military groups perpetrated 93 percent of human rights violations. This was accomplished more effectively with the aid of U.S. funding and training.

In 1975, Willi Pérez came face to face with the government’s campaign of extra-judicial killings. A staunch proponent of peasants’ rights and living conditions, his father was disappeared and murdered by members of the Guatemalan army. The years that followed weighed heavily on Pérez and his family. Risk, insecurity, poverty, and grief enveloped them, and Pérez sunk into what those who know him describe as a “pit of pain and bitterness,” of “hate.”

Despite the trauma and disaffectedness, Pérez resurfaced in part thanks to the visceral faith of his mother. Eventually, he would join the Guatemalan Anabaptist-Mennonite community and commit himself to the Mennonite values which espouse justice, reconciliation, and the good of others. Pérez traced a path to emotional and spiritual recovery along the tenets of peacebuilding, non-violence, and restorative justice. He found a new solidarity walking and learning among Mennonite compatriots who shared similar visions of peace and misgivings toward civil war.

Pérez’s spiritual advances did not remain solely internal, nor were they restricted to his congregation. With an ambition to shore up the influence and legacy of the non-violent movement in Guatemala, he dedicated himself to the education of others. In the 1990s, Pérez played an instrumental role in the creation of MENOPAZ, a Mennonite-organized peace initiative. The association would go on to provide training in peacebuilding and conflict transformation in churches, schools, and community centers. MENOPAZ did not exclude itself from direct social activism.

Over the same years, Pérez worked to found and serve as the first coordinator of the Regional Network of Justice and Peace (REDPAZ). Through his tenure at REDPAZ, Pérez united churches and NGOs across Guatemala to provide local training in pastoral work with a focus on peace and reconciliation. Much of this work was mirrored in Latin American Anabaptist Seminary (SEMILLA), where he serves as rector. Collaborating with the 12 Central American Anabaptist conferences which comprise SEMILLA, Pérez founded the School of Peace. The School has since provided opportunities to the marginalized populations for study at Bible institutes, admitting around 800 pupils per year. The ecclesiastical formations rest, of course, on the principles of peace ministry.

Pérez provides another example—see Pastor James and Imam Ashafa—of how trauma and indignation which have seeped down to one’s bones might be recast as a productive force. Through his metamorphosis, deeply inflected with faith and the Mennonite community, Pérez has built an activist community of lasting effect. In the way of Jesus, he has found education to be an invaluable tool in the amelioration of the social, political, and spiritual circumstances of his brothers and sisters—those who have suffered and who yearn for peace.


Tanenbaum thanks Elaine Zook Barge, Retired Asst. Professor of the Practice of Trauma Awareness and Resilience at Eastern Mennonite University for nominating Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus.

Join us at PeaceCon 2020!

Join Tanenbaum CEO, Mark Fowler, alongside Jean-Marie Navetta of PFLAG, and Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins of WCAPS as they explore Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Peacebuilding workplace!

Tune in on Monday, Dec. 7 at 12:30 PM EST for this collaboration between two of Tanenbaum’s Programs, Conflict Resolution & Peacebuilding and Workplace by registering for PeaceCon here.

PeaceCon 2020 will be the most global, virtual peacebuilding event of the year and will feature diverse voices from around the world.

Workshop – Building an Inclusive Peace: In the Field and in the Office

We’ve seen many companies answer the call for change. We’ve seen many U.S.-based nonprofits pledge to “do better” as organizations who work in non-U.S. contexts. As some of the U.S. wakes up to decades of systemic oppression, this session will help U.S.-based non-profits use intersectional approaches to honoring all identities. Rev. Mark Fowler of Tanenbaum, Amb. Bonnie Jenkins of WCAPS, and Jean-Marie Navetta of PFLAG will share practical frameworks for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) conversations and actions in your workplace. This workshop will equip attendees with practical and applicable Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) knowledge.

https://events.bizzabo.com/PeaceCon2020/agenda/session/419315

 


 

DEADLINE EXTENDED: Nominate a Peacemaker in Action!

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Dr. Sarah Ahmed (Iraq) and James Lual Atak (Sudan)

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In light of rapidly changing circumstances around the world, we have extended the deadline for the Peacemakers in Action nominations to June 30th. We hope this gives everyone ample time to nominate a religiously-motivated peace activist working in an armed conflict – the next Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action. Please help us find the people committed to responding to hate and violence worldwide!

Peacemakers in Action work in their communities and in the diplomatic sphere. They are the behind-the-scenes activists we need. By supporting these individuals, Tanenbaum is taking a stand against bigotry, extremism, and hate. With our Peacemakers, we transform communities. Stopping violence. Saving lives.

Nominations forms are also now available and fillable in Arabic, French, and Spanish! We need your peacebuilder. Please click here to see the criteria and to make your nomination by June 30th.

With appreciation for your help,

Mark, Janie, Élie, and Daniel
Tanenbaum Peacebuilding/Conflict Resolution Team

P.S. We know that submitting a nomination may take a bit of time and energy, but the rewards for our Peacemakers – and our humanity – are far greater. Please help by submitting your nomination and making it possible for us to select the next two Peacemakers in Action. Feel free to contact us with any questions at conflictres@tanenbaum.org. We’re here to help!

 


 

Peacebuilding in Nigeria: Debunking a Violent Discourse

Isa, a Fulani herdsboy in Nigeria | Credit dotun55

Daniel Green is the Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding Intern at Tanenbaum. A note from Daniel: As a Tanenbaum intern, I have the unique privilege of participating in Peacemaker in Action Network calls every few weeks. Pastor James of Nigeria provided an update on Nigeria that had me curious about the dynamics of conflict in his region. Below is a researched account of the current multidimensional conflicts in Nigeria through the lens of Pastor James and Imam Ashafa’s latest efforts.


Violence in Nigeria is mounting to a point of crisis, and the Boko Haram insurgency only accounts for a fraction of it. In central Nigeria, an ongoing conflict between semi-nomadic herdsmen and farmers has swelled in recent years. Over the last four years, the frequency and severity of violence have persisted at alarming rates, with 3,600 deaths between January 2016 and October 2018. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has been blamed for a paucity of state intervention, and in some cases, for allowing the assailants de factoimpunity.” In a vacuum of law, order, and prosecution, attacks and reprisals are carried out by both communities.

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa work throughout Nigeria and the world. Some of their work takes them to the sites of these atrocities, to the interstices of warring groups. Leading their Interfaith Mediation Centre, the duo preaches peace and forgiveness in an attempt to reroute the lives of young militants and shift the bellicose ideologies of the old. However, peacemaking in this climate is particularly onerous.

Tensions first arose between herders and farmers in Nigeria in association with ecological and geographical challenges. As the majority Muslim Fulani herdsmen historically grazed their cattle in the northern Sahelian belt, which borders the Sahara Desert, their communities were the first affected by increasing drought and desertification. Contemporaneously, Boko Haram has carried out regular attacks in the North, extorted protection money from locals, and recruited younger residents for radicalization. With few alternatives, herders have moved their cattle southward, where ecosystems range from “derived savanna”–forest cleared for cultivation–to humid forests. Complicating the issue further, Nigeria’s population has surged since the mid-twentieth century: from 57 million in 1963, to 198 million in 2018. The U.S. government projects that between 2016 and 2050, Nigeria’s population will grow from 186 million to 392 million, making it the world’s fourth most populous country. In order to account for increasing food demand, farm settlements have expanded rapidly, swallowing up more and more tenable land. Thus, with herds encroaching on the prized arable central and southern regions of Nigeria, an almost Malthusian struggle over land and resources ensued.

A majority of assaults unfold over the so-called Middle Belt, a swath of land comprising several latitudinally central states. Those most affected lie to the center-east: Benue, Adamawa, Plateau, Nasarawa, and Taraba States, as well as Kaduna State, where Pastor James and Imam Ashafa base their operations. In mid-2018 the International Crisis Group (ICG) reported a spike in violence. Over 1,300 deaths between January and July of that year were attributed to clashes associated with herders and farmers. Over the same period, ICG estimated the displacement of approximately 300,000 individuals. After ICG’s 2018 report was published, a portentous statistic surfaced throughout Western reports on Nigeria’s tribulations: as of July, the “farmer-herder” violence had become six times deadlier than Boko Haram’s ongoing insurgency. The surge in violence has deeply troubled Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, who call ceaselessly for young Nigerians to lay down their arms and to accept forgiveness. However, amid the tangible horrors, a discursive polarization has further threatened the prospect of peace.

For Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, conflict mediation became more complicated when an ethno-religious element entered popular discourse. As Pastor James remarked in a recent Peacemakers in Action Network call, the conflict “has taken a new dimension.” 

“Especially in regions where Christians are dominant, these attacks are perceived to be motivated by some form of religion,” Pastor James explained on a March 20th Peacemakers in Action Network call. Assailants often attack sacred places, he said, kidnapping pastors with the idea that ransom money can be extracted from their congregations. Targeting a community “of the cloth” serves a dual purpose–if not only to extract funds, to disintegrate its social standing and organizational capacity. With such a high rate of attacks on religious institutions it is not inconceivable that largely Christian farming communities would tend to perceive these brutal assaults as religiously motivated and targeted. After all, the Muslim Fulani represent about 90% of Nigerian pastoralists.

“However,” said Pastor James, “this does not stop at only Christian communities. In Muslim communities in the north of Kaduna State, [armed bandits] are also killing people, rustling cattle, raping women, kidnapping for ransom and taking the money, sometimes killing the captives after the money is received.” The distinction, Pastor James argued, is that these attacks in the northern states are not given a “religious coloration,” whereas attacks in Christian communities are. On an earlier call, in January 2020, Pastor James argued that the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), a Boko Haram affiliate, is vying for religious war in Nigeria. “ISWA is trying to instigate interreligious violence by killing their victims and saying they are killing them because they are Christian,” James said. Regardless of these discursive colorations, members of all communities are victims.

Crucial to an accurate understanding of this conflict, or these conflicts, is a conception of multidimensionality. In fact, when Pastor James remarked that the violence had “taken a new dimension,” what he meant was that it had taken yet another dimension. Media outlets have struggled to approach the crisis in Nigeria with nuance and tact. Western publications as reputable as the New York Times and the Washington Post have been criticized for their portrayal of African (and Asian) conflicts as black and white confrontations, as Manichean divides. This style of war reporting, in which two antagonistic sides are framed in intractable war, can have adverse effects on the potential of reconciliation and peace. In this case, lines have been increasingly drawn along religious affiliations. Even the Los Angeles Times published an article titled, “Guns, Religion and Climate Change Intensify Nigeria’s Deadly Farmer-Herder Clashes.” It is because of and against these circumstances that Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa call for peace at the grassroots level. 

The duo’s plea is twofold. First, they argue that spirituality is essential to the process of reconciliation, not to the mechanics of conflict. The predominately Muslim Fulani herders, and the majority Christian farmers cannot be construed as two monolithic groups. Many among their ranks share a longing for peace. “[A] thing that religious leaders can do is to call for prayer regularly in their places of worship and also have time to educate the people on how to be safe, where to go, what to say and what not to say,” Pastor James said. Religious leaders have an enormous capacity to organize individuals at the community level, and in a country whose government and security forces intervene in conflicts only selectively, this mechanism is crucial to the peace process. Further, by “what to say and what not to say,” Pastor James does not mean that Nigerians ought to abdicate their freedom of speech to local churches and mosques. Rather, he posits that religious leaders can educate communities on how to discuss the violence that unfolds before them. This brings us to Imam and Pastor’s other point.

The second prong of the duo’s appeal is discursive. Because the violence in the Middle Belt and northern states is multidimensional, Nigerians must refrain from frivolously dispensing blame on this and that group. As Pastor James explained, violence reverberates in Fulani and Christian communities alike, be it wrought by cattle rustlers, armed kidnappers, farmers, herders, Boko Haram militants or any sort of violent profiteer. “Together, those who are concerned about the safety of their people can come together and condemn the attacks of violence against every individual and call them criminals, not by calling them by a particular name, but by calling them criminals and rejecting that action,” Pastor James urged. 

The ideology and theology of Pastor James and Imam Ashafa’s peacebuilding is predicated on the fundamental equality of individuals, the recognition of their humanity, and the mutual respect or perhaps even love on which it is based, and to which it leads. Agapé, it has been called. It is a concept with which all Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action are intimately familiar. It is an idea that will prove a crucial component in reconciling Nigeria’s disheartened communities.

By Daniel Green

Do you know a Peacemaker in Action?

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Dr. Sarah Ahmed (Iraq) and James Lual Atak (Sudan)

Change is inevitable.

Transformation, peacebuilding, and conflict resolution all require hard work.

Tanenbaum invites you to help us honor these hard workers whom we call Peacemakers in Action. The Peacemakers in Action award honors two religious actors central to peacebuilding efforts around the world. Emerging from the creative power of all religions, they are the individuals who make peace possible.

Nominate the next Peacemaker in Action today!

Tanenbaum’s Peacemaker in Action award acknowledges religiously motivated individuals who put their lives at risk to advance peace in areas of armed conflict around the world.

Who are Peacemakers in Action?

Peacemakers are peace activists. They positively impact local, national, and international communities. They work behind the scenes to prevent violence, mediate hostilities, negotiate ceasefires, conduct citizen diplomacy, transform conflict, and promote reconciliation. These individuals create sustainable people-to-people peace through civil society initiatives, education, music, traditional ritual, and more.

What are the criteria?

To be selected, the following five criteria must be evident in the candidates’ nomination materials:

  1. Religious Motivation. Their peacemaking work has been fueled by their religious and/or
    spiritual beliefs.
  2. Armed Conflict. They work or have worked in an area of armed conflict.
  3. At Risk. Their lives and/or liberty have been at risk as they pursued peace.
  4. Locally Based. They are closely connected to the conflict situation at the local level. Most awardees are indigenous to the communities they serve, but some have left their original homes and spent many years embedded in a new environment.
  5. Relatively Unknown. Despite their impact, they have not received significant international attention or support at the time of selection.

What do the awardees receive?

Awardees will be named Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action and given a cash prize to strengthen their work. Tanenbaum will create greater recognition of the Peacemaker by promoting their work to the public and producing a case study of their experiences, techniques, and strategies to help educate other peacebuilding practitioners.

New awardees will also automatically become part of the extraordinary group of their peers in Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network. Upon joining, awardees will be expected to participate in Network activities such as calls, collaborative projects, and working retreats, where they will have the chance to learn from their fellow Peacemakers and work together to benefit each other’s communities.

Who should be nominated?

Nominate any candidate(s) who meets the criteria. We also accept self-nominations.

Tanenbaum actively seeks to identify women Peacemakers in Action. While religious peacemakers of all stripes are often categorically excluded from peace processes, many women face the added challenge of working in deeply patriarchal societies. Around the world, women testify that their critical work is frequently undermined and worse, prohibited. Distinguishing them makes it harder to sideline their work. Today, Tanenbaum looks to recognize women in conflict zones across the globe.

We are now accepting applications for the 2020 Peacemaker in Action Award.
Please click here to fill out the online nomination form.

Alternatively, you may
 download the nomination form (also available in French and Spanish) and email the completed form or any questions to conflictres@tanenbaum.org.

We also offer Google Form options:

Google Form in English

Google Form in Spanish

Google Form in French

Thank you for submitting your nominations!

Tragedy struck again in California

Non-Violence – a sculpture by Karl Fredrik Reutersward at UN Headquarters in New York

Friends

Last night, three men were fatally shot and nine others were injured in a shooting at a Halloween party. Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network—religious peace activists from across the globe—took note that once again, the U.S. suffers from such violence. They are both concerned and outraged at the escalating rate of mass shootings taking place in the U.S. I am proud to share their words. 

We are Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network: Religiously motivated peace activists from armed conflicts across the world and recipients of the Peacemakers in Action Award. Spanning different religions, beliefs and conflicts, we have experienced violence and reconciliation. We know the pain of loss, the destruction engendered by hatred, and the possibilities of peace.

The Peacemakers in Action Network is dedicated to conflict transformation and reconciliation. Our vision is to build a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world. As individuals who work to resolve armed conflicts, we stand together and raise our collective voice to denounce developments that threaten peace and human security.

Today, with profound sadness, we call on the people and the lawmakers of the United States to stop the proliferation of dangerous weapons across the U.S. and the rhetoric of hate that is fueling America’s epidemic of mass shootings.

This summer alone, mass shootings have left over 120 people dead, and many more survivors and families who will long carry their wounds. Tragedy struck again in California yesterday, where 3 people were killed at a Halloween party and too many others injured. As a Network, we are deeply pained and outraged. We work in 23 global conflicts and dedicate our lives to peace within our own communities—and we are heartbroken to see the United States, once a beacon of hope for all of us, devolve into repeated outbreaks of preventable violence.

Responsible societies throughout the world regulate and control weapon ownership and availability, especially military-style weapons of war along with high capacity ammunition. As a result, the citizens of these responsible countries live in greater security and safety. Incomprehensibly, this responsibility continues to elude the United States government at the expense of thousands of victims every year.

To those who support the current legislative inaction, ignore the overwhelmingly popular demand for change, and oppose comprehensive reform, we say to you: Your choice is tantamount to participating in these crimes. The guilt of those who fire the weapons at innocent civilians is shared with those who stand in the way of reasonable and responsible laws and policies.

We stand in solidarity with the women and men across the United States, and the world, urging U.S. lawmakers and weapons manufacturers to take overdue action on these crimes fueled by hate and misunderstanding. Only by doing this can the U.S. put an end to the reactionary cycles of violence that have become systemic in a nation once revered for its ideals and freedoms, and halt the spread of the very same weapons that go on to enable violence and conflict around the world.

Protecting humanity is a primordial need, and it is through reflecting inward, to the wisdom of our faith traditions, that we are reminded of our interdependence and that violence perpetrated against one group of people is violence directed at us all.

As Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists, we offer these reminders from the books of Genesis and the Quran:

Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 27

So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God He created them;
male and female God created them.

Al Quran 7:56

And create not disorder in the earth after it has been set in order
and call upon Him in fear and hope.
Surely, the mercy of Allah is nigh unto those who do good.

Life is sacred, and it is our mission not to harm it, but to protect and honor it.

Peacemakers in Action Network

Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed – Iraq
José “Chencho” Alas – El Salvador
Betty Bigombe – Uganda
Abuna Elias Chacour – Israel/Palestine
Ricardo Esquivia – Colombia
Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento – Philippines
Azhar Hussain – Pakistan
Dr. Ephraim Isaac – Ethiopia
Father Sava Janjic – Kosovo
Dishani Jayaweera – Sri Lanka
Hind Kabawat – Syria
Dr. Yehezkel Landau – Israel/USA
Dr. William Lowrey – USA/South Sudan
Rev. Jacklevyn Manuputty – Indonesia
Friar Ivo Markovic – Bosnia & Herzegovina
Rev. Canon Andrew White – Iraq
Pastor James Movel Wuye – Nigeria

 

Joyce Dubensky,
CEO, Tanenbaum

Looking Toward New Models for Reconciliation

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa

Today marks the sixth annual Global Ethics Day, launched in 2014 by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Last year, we spoke about what ethics mean in today’s world and how the work of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action actively defines that role. This time around, we decided to take a look at the aftermath of violence driven by hatred and how ethical reconciliation plays a part in the entire process, from initial reactions to post-traumatic healing.

On March 15, a gunman entered the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and opened fire, killing 51 people and injuring dozens more. By now, this is an all-too-familiar tragedy, but what sets it apart is the united answer of the New Zealand people and government. The immediate actions taken are well known, and ongoing efforts include creating a registry of all guns and enacting a gun buyback program for anyone in possession of any gun or modifications that are now banned.

What remained to be addressed, however, was the risk of a divided community giving way to mounting suspicions and resentment. This prompted Initiatives of Change NZ, a global organization dedicated to “building trust across the world’s divides”, to invite our Peacemakers in Action duo from Nigeria, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa, to New Zealand this past August.

The Imam and the Pastor were brought to help build trust and forgiveness among the people, and began their trip in Dunedin, meeting and engaging with professors and students at the University of Otago. At the Linwood mosque in Christchurch, site of 9 of the 51 victims, Imam Ashafa led a powerful prayer on forgiveness.

The Peacemakers next met with the interreligious council and engaged with its Christian members on how to engage with Muslims and increase Christian fellowship with their Muslim sisters and brothers, specifically those who were impacted by the tragic shootings. Lianne Dalziel, Mayor of Christchurch, met with Pastor James and Imam Ashafa and praised their interfaith training and capacity building.

The pair then visited Al-Noor Mosque, where 42 worshippers were shot and killed. No strangers to interfaith conflict and reconciliation, Pastor James and Imam Ashafa engaged the mosque constituents on reaching across to their fellow Christians and building trust. Their last stop in Christchurch consisted of meeting with representatives of the Christchurch police force. The two imams of the Linwood and Al Noor mosque accompanied them to help deepen conversations between Muslim community leaders and the police.

Traveling on to Wellington, they made their first stop at the Wellington Kilbirnie mosque and opened a dialogue with the imam and Muslim community on how to connect with other religious traditions. This proved necessary, as local Muslims had expressed fear after people started highlighting the dangers of Muslims in the country following the killings.

Finally, the pair ended their New Zealand efforts in a Wellington church, where they participated in a public Q&A for a full house! With the combined efforts of New Zealand representatives, communities, and peace promotors like Pastor James and Imam Ashafa, the nation of 4.9 million people have elicited an ethical reaction to a deeply unethical action, providing an alternative model in the wake of tragedy: one of sustainable trust, understanding, and of comprehensive initiatives from the governmental level down to local communities.

You can read more about the Pastor and the Imam’s time in New Zealand, or listen to either of their radio interventions, both local and national.

Faith-based Peacebuilding: Not for the Faint of Heart

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Deng Giguiento and Azhar “Azi” Hussain

In August 2018, Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Deng Giguiento and Azhar “Azi” Hussain came together in Mindanao, Philippines, for the Interreligious Dialogue Learning Conference (IRD). The IRD, hosted by the Catholic Relief Services in partnership with the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, and Tanenbaum, was organized around the theme of “Theology and Practice of Just Peace and Pluralism: Dialogue Among Religious Leaders, Youth and Women Peacebuilders.”

Azi, Deng, and about 80 religious and spiritual leaders, dialogue practitioners, and youth and women peacebuilders, came together to galvanize faith-based approaches in peacebuilding and nonviolence.

The two Tanenbaum Peacemakers closed the ceremony with a presentation of Deng’s journey as an interreligious peacebuilder. Azi and Deng concluded by discussing the chapters they each contributed to the book on interreligious peacebuilding, “Making Peace with Faith: The Challenges of Religion and Peacebuilding (Peace and Security in the 21st Century)” (editors Michelle Garred and Mohammed Abu-Nimer).

Azi detailed his work with Madrassas in Pakistan where his interfaith project promotes peace in the area through conflict mediation and dialogue with different actors. His chapter in “Making Peace with Faith” is “Faith-based Peacebuilding in Pakistan: Not for the Faint of Heart.”

Deng went on to present her chapter, and explained how she almost gave up writing it because the process had brought up too many bad memories. She used this experience as a lesson, noting that peacebuilders often forget to address themselves and their inner demons. Her chapter is “Dili Sayon ang Pagsunod kang Kristo (It is Not Easy to Follow Christ)”.

Azi had the unique opportunity to interact with the local communities. He provided training for local imams and Muslim community members in Mindanao area schools and mosques. These trainings led by Azi were crucial in a region with increasing Muslim insurgencies. Deng’s connections provided both an audience and opportunity for Azi’s training. With the help of other scholars from CRS and Notre Dame universities, Azi also discussed tough issues with the imams and religious leaders.

Azi’s presence was powerful. What was initially supposed to be a 2-hour program turned into a 5-hour discussion, wherein Azi provided the Muslim audience with a resource they were not familiar with: The Ashtiname of Muhammad. This charter, ratified by the Prophet Muhammad, guaranteed the protection of the followers of Jesus Christ and helped Azi provide deeper knowledge to his audience, who have asked him to come back since! The Peacemakers in Action Network not only enabled Deng and Azi to collaborate over the course of this forum, but it allowed for the local Muslim leaders to receive training and resources that were new and eye-opening, bringing this information back to their communities to help foster sustainable peace and understanding to a steadily declining conflict.

Stronger than the Storm

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye (Nigeria), Dr. Yehezkel Landau (Israel/Palestine) and Imam Muhammad Ashafa (Nigeria)

“Only together, we were stronger than the storm.”
–    Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Abuna Elias Chacour (Israel/Palestine)
 
To most people, the idea of the Tanenbaum Peacemakers Network’s Working Retreat may bring to mind images of a relaxing week, with people hanging out, enjoying good food and having friendly conversations. And in some ways this is true, but it’s very far from the whole story.
 
Tanenbaum’s Retreats—like the week-long session we just held—are unique because they bring people together who stretch themselves beyond exhaustion to pursue a vision of peace. In the face of often violent conflict, they work for basic rights (often in isolation) so people can live without extremism, hatred, and violence. Together they strengthen each other.

But don’t take it from me.  After our very first Retreat in 2004, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi recognized the value of the retreats, when she told me,
I go to many conferences, but this is the first one that’s for me. Thank you.
 
Her fellow Peacemakers agree, and believe their Peacemakers’ Network supports them and their work for peace.
 
“The need to study other religions is the same as needing to know ourselves better. That’s one of the best things Tanenbaum is doing – creating opportunity where people will study themselves at the very close range…It is the dream of Marc Tanenbaum really coming true.”
– Peacemaker Imam Muhammad Ashafa (Nigeria)
 
“You feel that you have a community. And it’s a team of the same wavelength…
And they’re always there, like the stars are there. So that’s a good feeling.”
– Peacemaker Dishani Jayaweera (Sri Lanka)
 
“This work has opened my eyes to a lot of other faith traditions and their perspective and perception of peacemaking… As I learn those new things, I contextualize them in my religion and it strengthens me more to do my work.”
– Peacemaker Pastor James Wuye (Nigeria)