REFLECTION: TALES FROM ETHIOPIAN WAR ZONES
WCIU Journal: Community and Societal Development Topic
June 26, 2019
by Carolyn and Ron Klaus
Hope In View’s mission is to strengthen the Church, especially in Ethiopia, so that it is empowered to bring about a wholistic, sustainable transformation of individuals, churches, and communities. Visit us at: hopeinview.org.
Recently pastors from conflict-ridden Dembidollo met us in Nekempt, a four-hour bus ride away. Though Dr. Abiy’s government has made great strides toward genuine democracy in the last year, areas of conflict remain. Some pastors were absent because the government had turned off the phone network in their areas to make it harder for the rebels to communicate with each other. One pastor told us that on his way to the meeting with us, soldiers who suspected him of being a rebel had held him up at gunpoint, making him kneel in the rain for two hours before allowing him to proceed. Several others had found themselves caught in firefights, while still others had lost relatives in the fighting. One friend spent two months in detention being interrogated before he was able to convince his captors that he was not a rebel. No one is doing well; schools remain almost entirely closed, while shopkeepers do not dare to open their shops lest they be shot by rebels who want to keep the local economy shut down. This year’s entire coffee crop will rot on the bushes because guerillas kill and disappear quickly, leaving any farmer who happens to be out in a nearby field blamable for the murder. In some areas, Islamic fundamentalists are using the political conflict as guise for killing Christians. They are also blocking access to a primitive tribe that Oromo missionaries had begun to reach.
Not far from this area, Oromo missionaries who planted churches among the Gumuz people have had to flee for their lives because of ethnic fighting between these two tribes. Some of their churches have been burned. Both sides have experienced heavy casualties and thousands of people displaced.
Yet these brothers have also seen some successful peacemaking efforts. Two or three described successful efforts by tribal elders to bring peace between warring tribes. One described bombs exploding in air, where they didn’t hurt anyone, in response to prayer.
We mostly listened. Person after person expressed deep appreciation that we had come all this way just to be with them. Apparently, their own denominational overseers in Addis Ababa hadn’t bothered to do that.
Yesterday and todayRecently we were in Awasa with another group that has experienced ethnic conflict, this time between the Sidama and Wolaita tribes. One church practically emptied as its people, mostly from one tribe, fled for safety. Some of those in the group we were with hid people from the other tribe who were in danger of being killed. All suffered, though peace reigns now and they are working with both tribes to build up the churches once more.
Finally, after listening to the experiences of both groups, Ron shared some biblical principles on tribalism, peacemaking, and forgiveness. They all knew that they should forgive, but they had never heard how it could be psychologically possible in the face of severe injustice, nor how they could use forgiveness as a weapon to disarm their enemies. He explained that granting forgiveness was not a sign of weakness, but it actually was a weapon stronger than guns and bullets.
One of the brothers interrupted and shared this experience. There was a young man whose tribe had been attacked had his farm burned and a close relative killed. Without any outside encouragement, he walked into the attacking tribe’s territory. Their leaders encircled him in a threatening way. “Wait, he said. “Before you do anything, I have something to say. I want to tell you that I forgive you. And I want to ask your forgiveness for the things that members of my tribe have done to you.” He said it first confused the attackers. They could not understand what he was saying. Then, once they grasped it, their hearts melted. They laid down their weapons and began a conversation on how the two tribes could make peace.
Ron also shared that It it helps to realize that God is more interested in executing justice than we are, and will inevitably do so, if not in this world, certainly in the next. Therefore, when we forgive, we are not minimizing the hurt, pretending to forget it, or giving up on getting restitution. We are merely transferring our case into God’s court. Of course, to do that we have to relinquish our claim to judgment, as if we have to are make an out-of-court settlement with God as a condition of his accepting the case. But that settlement is not bad; we get his forgiveness, his presence, his comfort, his healing—as well as his assurance that those who have hurt us will not get away with anything. While Ron was explaining how unforgiveness leads to bitterness, our translator Mezgebu interjected, “Bitterness is like swallowing a poison and hoping that someone else will die.” Earlier our other translator had told Ron at the break, “I’ve been hurt. But while you were speaking, I transferred the matter into God’s court, and now I’m free!”