Mission and conflict: daily choices to make

The expression ‘si vis pacem para bellum’ (If you want peace, prepare for war) comes to my mind whenever I think about ‘peaceful resolution of conflicts’. In fact, living is itself a fight and existing implies will, freedom, and choices. These three essentials battle constantly in a human in existence, being in conflict with himself and his social milieu. This, however, can be objectively evaluated by a soul striving to the good. That is why, guided by Scripture, church doctrine and African morality, one can study, assess and propose what is good in case of a conflict in us, in our community and outside of us…and in mission.

Third goat in the compound

We live in a partly renovated old Emmaus Centre, Nakpanduri. We have a night guard to watch over our property and to keep an eye on domestic roaming animals of our neighbors. Often, sheep and goats come into our compound for water, green leaves or herbs.

One evening, a goat entered during supper. I went out, chased it and asked our watchman to be vigilant. The second one came in when we were about to go to sleep. Around 3 a.m., a third goat entered and the watchman started stoning it. The blast of stones, his own bawling and the bleat woke me up. That night, I struggled to catch up with sleep before the morning Mass. Later, I asked him ‘what is more complicated’: ‘stoning a goat’ that is struggling for survival, or ‘keeping the gate closed.’ He looked at me and left in silence.

The question to me has always been: “Should we relentlessly be fire-fighters or preventers?” This same question came in a session on advocacy and lobbying for Community Peace Actors organized by our Diocesan Justice and Peace commission. Are we prophets enough to speak, warn and try to prevent, before a conflict breaks out?  

Some observations

The event described above is not a typical case of conflict-confrontation, because we have more complex issues in our parish (especially on chieftaincy and land dispute). All the same, this can lead to a serious conflict if not tackled in its roots. In the case of the watchman, the immediate consequences would be: sacking him, a conflict in our family-community (depriving the sleep of confreres who passed the whole day under the sun doing apostolate), a conflict in the surroundings since roaming animals are not seen as a problem. If it degenerates, we will be summoned to the chief’s palace, which is not good for our reputation. So, this small incident can trigger frustrations and make life difficult.

In the same vein, a woman was accused of being a witch in one outstation of our parish. It’s so common! As the tradition demands, she was taken to the shrine for a check-up. Others are taken to pastors. Habitually, they charge other women. Then, it happened that the whole outstation was badly affected because we were contacted late, in fact just to quench the fire. We started visiting regularly the community, the accused and the accuser. With prayers and proximity, the situation was contained. Although catechism, instructions and sermons are preventive, there is more to do; for tradition, “prophecy” and business are conflicting with each other at the expense of our mothers.

The way forward?

It is not easy to know the true causes of a conflict before managing it. Even when they are known, many factors make it thorny to solve. So, the see-judge-act method, with a certain dose of Ubuntu philosophy, is of great help in order to avoid a conflict.

Sent in mission as disciples of Christ, we have to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute; speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Prov. 31: 8-9).” With this, there is always an emergency in acting. Is it not what guided Lavigerie when he said: “I am a man and nothing that is human is strange to me”?

Saint Theresa of Avila added: “Christ has no body but yours and mine.” Hence, how can we find peace if we fear to touch where it feels bad and so preventing it? As Pope Benedict XVI said, “commitment for justice, working for openness of intelligence and will to the demands of Good, is quite interesting for the Church.” (Benoit XVI, Dieu Est Amour (Deus Caritas est), n°28).

For me, it is a must and it should be uncompromisingly done “through an active but humble involvement in the dynamics of African society, and so, will [we] be able to live and proclaim Jesus Christ as the ultimate Liberator” (Jean Marc ELA, African Cry, p. 87). This is what we tackle every day through our involvement in advocacy and lobbying, which cannot be achieved without constant dialogue and sacrifice (self, time and means). Otherwise, we will permanently be there to quench burning fire…again and again!

Conclusion

Between preventing a conflict and managing it, there is a step. But, if we remain positive, a conflict can be a felix-culpa as far as we learn from mistakes and so gain new constructive strategies as individuals, community, village, Society and Church at large. For this, we always strive for growth and community building. There is therefore a letting go for a common project to be carried out, thus, perfect management of unavoidable conflicts.

For the rest, how I wish I were the last eternal refugee, for having tasted conflict in all stages of my life! Well, I may still have to face it for long, as a missionary in existence! May God abide with us, for we are at war (Phil. 6, 12).

By: Venant Bukuru, M.Afr.

Leave a Reply