The articles in this book are taken from presentations at the WATU WA AMANI conference that was held in Nairobi, Kenya, August 8-13, 2004 (and some of the presentations were briefly cited earlier in the article by Russell Haitch and Donald Miller, "Storytelling as a Means of Peacemaking: A Case Study of Christian Education in Africa," that appeared in Religious Education 101/3, Summer 2006, pp. 390-40, published by the Religious Education Association). The name of the conference is a phrase in the Swahili language of East Africa meaning "people of peace." The purpose of the gathering was to provide an occasion for peace church representatives from Africa along with several peace church leaders from other continents to address the theological, institutional, and praxis issues related to overcoming violence and building peace that arise in the African context.
The conference was held in response to an invitation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) to the Historic Peace Churches (HPC) to share their experiences and insights with the ecumenical church as a part of the Decade to Overcome Violence. The Historic Peace Churches is a designation that refers to the Friends (Quakers), Mennonites, and Church of the Brethren, who throughout their histories have understood peacemaking and resisting violence to be an essential mark of the church. While considering the direction and shape of the Decade to Overcome Violence, the Central Committee of the WCC observed, "We recognize the steady witness of monastic traditions and the Historic Peace Churches, and we want to receive anew their contribution through the Decade" (Minutes of the Fiftieth Meeting, Geneva, Switzerland, 26 August-September 3, 1999, 188).
Responding to the WCCs invitation, representatives from the Historic Peace Churches met in 2001 at the Mennonite Bible School and Seminary in Bienenberg, Switzerland, near Basel. The results of those discussions have been published as Seeking Cultures of Peace: A Peace Church Conversation (Cascadia Publishing House, Herald Press, and WCC, 2004). Participants recommended that a second conference be held, but that it take into account the perspectives of people in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. When the planning committee discovered that each of the three HPC communions has more members in Africa than in North America and Europe, it was agreed to hold "Bienenberg II" in Africa. So it was that the three African churches held a conference together for the first time.
Kenya commended itself as a location for the conference because it is a country where the majority of African Friends are located, although Friends are also in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Most Church of the Brethren members are located in northern Nigeria, even though Brethren have also been active in Sudan. Mennonites are found in Congo, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Somalia, and Kenya. Because the word Bienenberg has no significance in Africa, the Swahili phrase Watu Wa Amani was chosen as the name for the conference. The phrase indicates that the focus of the conference was to be a discussion among Africans about what it means for the church to be a "people of peace." Of more than ninety conference participants, most of the speakers and three-fourths of those who attended were African.
Planning for the conference was done by a committee of nine persons, three from each of the Historic Peace Churches. They were in constant touch with the peace churches in Africa as the planning took place. Co-moderators for the event were Agnes Abuom, Kenyan and one of the eight presidents of the World Council of Churches, and North American Donald Miller, convenor of the planning committee and former member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.
The conference was built around telling stories of violence, conflict, and reconciliation that participants brought from their home communities across Africa. The stories were guided by three themes on successive days: Threats to Peace, Christian Faithfulness and the Common Good, and Forgiveness and Renewal. Threats to peace included not only open warfare but also injustice, disease, and poverty. The idea of the common good lifted up radically different religious commitments and tribal loyalties that prevail in many parts of Africa. Forgiveness and renewal opened questions of the role of faith and of the churches in meeting the situations of violence, encouraging reconciliation, and promoting healing. A theological panel provided questions for small group discussion each day. The conference was immersed in worship by having daily morning meditations and devotional services each evening led by the different religious traditions present at the conference. Translation into both English and French was provided for all sessions.
The book is divided into six parts. Part I, entitled "Marketplaces Where Africans Think and Talk About the Common Good," picks up from Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches and a citizen of Kenya, the concept that the marketplace (sokoni) is a symbol of the free and open exchange of ideas in Africa. Furthermore Kobia argues that such free exchange is needed for Africans to create a new identity and thereby gain the political will to shape their own destiny. Only in this way can Africans address the problems of violence, poverty, and disease prevalent in their continent. Agnes Abuom supports this vision when she calls for open spaces for discussion and the celebration of diversity. The Watu Wa Amani conference and the articles of this book promote a free exchange of ideas in the marketplace, which can lead to a new African identity built on the reconciliation of differences and a continuous effort to formulate the common good. Using Agnes Abuoms metaphor, such open discussion can be the central supporting pole that holds up the house.
Part II is entitled "Heritage of Peacemaking." Paulus Widjaja gives his foundational theology of peacemaking based on his experience working with the tensions between Muslims and Christians in southast Asia. Malesi Kinaro, a Quaker from Kenya; Komuesa Kalunga, a Mennonite from Congo; and Filibus Gwama, a Brethren from Nigeria, discuss the tradition of peacemaking that was brought to them by the missionary founders of their churches in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Part III addresses "Stories of Violence in Its Many Forms." Ahmed Haile speaks of the way in which Africa is linked to the world-wide networks of political conflict, terrorism and counter-terrorism, something that poses a very heavy challenge to the peace churches. There follow descriptions of violence in Zimbabwe, Congo, Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Sudan. While not dwelling unnecessarily on the disturbing details, the stories give overwhelming images of the millions of lives that have been lost and of the untold cost in human suffering.
In view of the stories from Part III, Part IV, "Stories of Christian Peacemakers," is equally compelling in detailing the efforts of the peace churches, often in seemingly insurmountable circumstances. David Niyonzima makes a case for the absolute importance of forgiveness if there is to be any real resolution of decades of violence. Philippe Nakuwundi describes the training programs that have been established in Burundi. Cecile Nyiramana of Rwanda explains the impossibility of getting beyond the horror of genocide there unless people have the opportunity to be detraumatized. Ramazani Kakozi speaks of teaching youth, women, and others in the South Kivu province of Congo before they get caught up in violent movements. Pascal Tshisola Kulungu describes how the church in Congo was able to address tribal separations that existed within the church itself. Harold Miller portrays the peace efforts in the Sudan. Nora Musundi of Kenya tells about a prayer group that grew into an impressive national movement to address violence in Kenya.
Part V has the title, "Stories of Peacemaking in the Public Square." Toma Ragnjiya opens the chapter with a discussion of the complex interplay of political, tribal, and religious forces that shape the relationships between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. He proceeds to recommend ways in which the common good can be addressed. Siaka Traore recounts the remarkable story of how a whole country entered into a process of repentance to avoid a civil war. Cecile Nyiramana describes working at de-traumatization across religious and tribal separations. Scott Hollands interpretation of the prophet Jeramiahs counsel to the Jewish exiles in Babylonian to "Seek the peace of the City," sparked continuing discussion during the Watu Wa Amani conference.
Part VI speaks of "The Courage to Hope." Watu Wa Amani conference sermons by Oliver Kisaka Simiyu, Matthew Abdulahi Gali, Million Belete, Steven Magnana, Mkodo Boseka, Bruce Khumalo, and Abraham Wuta Tizhe address the spiritual sources of hope amid violence. Fernando Enns speaks of "Peace, Healing, Forgiveness, and Renewal" available through faith in Jesus Christ. Toma Ragnjiya looks at "The Way Ahead."
Sidebars to the narratives give brief reactions, prayers, and responses to the stories recounted here. The Afterword relates the stories from Watu Wa Amani to the themes of the Decade to Overcome Violence as understood by Deenabandhu Manchala, Program Executive of Faith and Order (WCC). Appendix I gives the historical background to the World Council of Churches Decade to Overcome Violence and the ongoing discussions with the Historic Peace Churches. Appendix II is the message from the Watu Wa Amani conference to the churches of the world, Appendix III contains a list of participants, and Appendix IV reproduces the conference program.
The editors thank all those who participated in the Watu Wa Amani conference for their valuable contributions. Many participants endured long, uncomfortable travel to be present. Those asked to make presentations, tell their stories, and lead worship services gave serious attention to their preparations and spoke from their hearts about many difficult things. In turn there were African congregational and denominational church leaders who helped the delegates attend but were not able to attend themselves. We thank the staff of Africa Quaker Vision (AQUAVIS), particularly John Muhanji, Lotan Migaliza, and Samson Ababu, who served as onsite managers and without whom the conference could not have take place. We thank the staff of the Brackenhurst International Conference Center for making last minute adjustments to accommodate the conference and for providing their excellent facilities and prompt attention to all the needs of the conference.
We thank Bethany Theological Seminary and its staff for providing a great many essential services for the conference, including the management of the funds, secretarial services for the convenor of the planning committee, and a venue for numerous planning sessions. We thank those who had the difficult job of translating the presentations between French and English. Particularly we thank the French departments of Manchester College and Earlham College for permitting Janina Traxler, Aletha Stahl, and Wendy Matheny to attend the conference and give many hours to the translation process.
We are very grateful to the donors who gave generously to support the travel costs of African participants. We thank the Plowshares Program for funding the visual and oral recording of this conference so that the materials can be available for research. We thank Dean Johnson and Ed Cundif for developing a DVD from the conference that can be used in churches around the world. We also thank the planning committee: Robert Herr, Judy Zimmerman Herr, Fernando Enns, Ann Riggs, Ben Richmond, Lon Fendall, Dean Johnson, Scott Holland, and Donald Miller, who gave much effort over three years to the planning of the conference.
Watu Wa Amani carried the conversation between the ecumenical community and the peace church tradition into the African churches. Our hope and prayer is that these conversations will continue both in Africa and the rest of the world and contribute to the birth of a peaceful Africa. We hope that they will also deepen the ongoing conversation between the Historic Peace Churches and our partner churches from other traditions within the one ecumenical movement.
© 2007 by Cascadia Publishing House