By Dan Buttry
Cross-published at http://www.internationalministries.org/read/36929.
Dan Buttry is an author and serves as global consultant for peace and justice for the American Baptist Churches, USA. He has mediated, negotiated, and led seminars on conflict transformation throughout the world. He is one of many church workers who plunges into dark places beneath publicity’s radar. Here, he tells of his recent experience in violence-prone Molo, a community in Kenya’s Rift Valley that received world-wide attention in 2007 and 2008 after a disputed election. Dan, his wife, Sharon, and others led a five-day training and reconciliation program that culminated in a march for peace. For more on Dan, go here. For more about Molo and its perennial violence, go here.
The rains poured and poured, soaking the hundreds of people marching for peace through the streets of Molo in Kenya. The deluge started just as we turned down a side street into the Molo town stadium where we were scheduled to have a peace rally. By the time we got to the shelter at the stadium, which wasn’t big enough to cover everyone, we were all soaked to our skin, shivering with the cold. We set up a wall of umbrellas to protect us from the driving rain, which turned to hail a couple of times. Everything for our rally was wet. The soccer field had turned into puddles and mud. In the US the event would have been cancelled, and people would have gone home disappointed. But this is Africa, and the rainy season is part of the rhythm of life.
My wife Sharon and I had been part of a peace-training team led by Wilson Gathungu and the Rosell family from Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City where Wilson has been a student. Wilson had written a paper for a Christian ethics course about the political violence in Kenya which was centered in Molo District. His professor Terry Rosell challenged Wilson to turn his paper into practice, which then gave birth to the Kenya Peace Initiative. The core of this trip was a five-day training and reconciliation program, which culminated in the march and peace rally, or “convention,” in Molo.
On that Sunday afternoon following the church services, people gathered in Molo coming from all the surrounding villages: Baptists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and the Salvation Army. Participants from our training brought “matatus,” the Kenyan minibuses, full of people from their communities. We gathered at a key intersection in downtown Molo, hundreds of people lining the street. All the training participants stood out in the crowd with our white “Kenya Peace Initiative” baseball hats on. The Salvation Army band led the way, and motorcycles made noise with their engines and horns to get attention. We had the big Kenya Peace Initiative banner in front. We walked down the streets with some on-lookers joining in as we marched.
Just as we turned down the side street to the stadium it began to rain. Soon it was a deluge that went on and on and on. Many of us popped up umbrellas, but the ground turned to mud, and our lower halves were drenched. Those without umbrellas or coats were soaked clear through, including the band members. We came into the stadium, which had no seating just a big wall around a soccer field. There was a covered structure, but the roof was so high the rains just blew into most of that area as well. Everyone tried to jam in under the shelter, and we made a wall with the umbrellas to protect us. I wondered what we would do, whether there was an alternative plan, or whether we should just call it a day and go back to our places to dry off. But as I said above, this is Africa, and there is a determination and resiliency you don’t find where life is easier.
Folks were rejoicing in the rain, because rain brings life here. There has been a drought, and many were worried that some people might go hungry. So we praised God as the rains pelted us. The band quickly regrouped and began to play vigorously. Old women moved to the front and danced. Pastor Grace, one of our training participants, was in her dress with the Kenyan flag’s colors. She waved a palm branch and eventually led the band and a few intrepid folks out in a procession around the field in the rain and mud. She was like Joshua leading people around Jericho, claiming this place for the Lord in the name of the Prince of Peace. After a long time the rain finally slowed and eventually halted. The sun even briefly came out. And people set up to start the convention, even if we were delayed a lot and soaking wet.
First there was lots of music. We moved out from the shelter and into the muddy field. Chairs were dried off, and people got on the stage. After lots of vigorous singing, a series of youth poems and presentations were given on themes of peace, some of them incredibly direct at people in power and calling for the giving up of weapons. Wilson spoke of the peace initiative. Later I preached on Romans 12.21, overcoming evil with good. Pastor Simon, who had translated much of the workshop, was my translator, and we were like a choreographed team preaching side-by-side. I spoke of transforming actions by Christians in theRepublic of Georgia and Liberia, then made direct and pointed applications to their context.
Terry Rosell called the children to the front of the stage, some smiling and laughing but many with the deep serious faces of children who have seen too much suffering already in their young lives. Terry said our peacemaking was for them. He called us all to say “Never again” to the children in English, Swahili, and all the tribal tongues. Voices were raised in waves of language on this Pentecost Sunday saying “Never again!” and “Peace Forever, Amani Mulele.”
Though it rained on our parade, the spirit of the event was even richer and more determined. Peace will require such determination if it is to be brought forth here, and it was moving to be part of such an event to bear witness to the gospel and the work of peace.
A lot of people contributed to this particular peace initiative besides the local people in Molo District. Central Baptist Theological Seminary played a major sponsoring role in support of Wilson. The Rosell family made this their personal mission. Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village Kansas and the First Baptist Church of Royal Oak, Michigan Mission Fund gave generously, along with some individual donors. International Ministries in partnership with many of you made my participation possible. Peacemaking is not easy. As one of the Kenyan training participants said, “Peace is expensive.” Peacemaking demands our commitment and dedication. The Kenyans refused to be discouraged by the torrential rains that drenched our parade and rally. May we not be discouraged in our efforts and commitments to bring Christ’s peace to bear on places of conflict near and far.