Wilson Gathungu speaking about peace in the Turkwel village
"Road" into Turkwel village
Women of the village listening to peace discussions
A choir of school children greeted us with singing
Boaz Kelbarak, the young Peace Commissioner, speaks about peace and reconciliation
The Pokot old man stood up to speak in response to our peace presentations. The village was gathered around, men sitting in a semi-circle under one huge shade tree, women and young children clustered on the other side with their thatch huts behind them. Behind us about 50 yards away was the river where not too long ago a woman had been shot and killed by people from the Turkana village while she was simply going to gather water.
"We want peace, but....," he began. He then spoke about this virus, this bug that was biting and infecting them, reaching down and pinching the back of his thigh. The biting "bugs" were the Turkanas, people from the opposite village who kept fighting them. We want peace, but they don't. So we have to squash this bug. As usual what is truly important is said after the "but...."
Even getting to Turkwel was a challenge. We were in the Pokot district, a large region in north central Kenya, doing conflict transformation training. Pini Kidulah, who had been through one of my Trainings of Conflict Transformation Training, had invited me to do a training in her home area, a place plagued by continual violence often around a culture of cattle rustling and inter-tribal conflict. We had finished the three-day workshop in the central town of Kapenguria. We had been invited to Turkwel, a village two hours drive away on the edge of Pokot that was notorious for its violence. We had heard about vehicles being shot at in the region. Should we go? After discussion we ascertained that all the vehicles that had been shot at were government or police cars. We had lined up a borrowed government vehicle, so we decided to hire a private car and risk it.
Boaz Kelbarak was part of our team. He's only 22 years old, but he has already been chosen as a District Peace Commissioner, a government position in which he seeks to mediate between conflicted groups in the region. Boaz does this out of a deep Christian commitment. He was one of the organizers and participants in the training I led earlier in the week. Boaz had been going to the Turkana village as well as to the Pokot village, going unarmed where the police feared to go, urging both villages to take steps toward talking together to end their chronic violence. He invited us to join in that process of encouraging the Pokots toward peace.
Boaz, Pini, Wilson Gathungu (who traveled with me from our earlier peacemaking training in Mauche), and I all made presentations about the ways to peace. Then the village elder stood up: "We want peace, but...." I've heard that same sentiment voiced in churches in my own country when I challenge people to follow Jesus in doing the things that make for peace. We bring a "realism" that counters and discounts the "idealism" of Jesus, even though we claim to follow Jesus. Yes, Jesus, you want us to love our enemies, but those people are a deadly virus that we need to get rid of first.
Wilson and Boaz responded by gently, graciously yet firmly challenging the elder's view. Peace can be possible, but someone has to risk taking the steps of reconciliation toward the other side. Boaz had had the same conversation across the river and would be following up our discussions by his on-going communications with both parties. We didn't make peace that day, but we did bring a connection of support and encouragement to a village living on the edge of survival and violence. We also stood with a local peacemaker, Boaz, giving him the support for which he asked.
What is the "but...." that we bring to the teaching of Jesus? What is the "realistic" correction we bring to the call to faithfully follow our Lord amid the complexity of our daily lives and conflicts? Though the setting was very different from where I live, the conversation was very familiar. We would be willing to do what Jesus says, "but...." May God grant us the courage to offer all our "buts," corrections, and excuses to God so that we can truly be faithful followers of Jesus.