Peace and reconciliation in war-torn Ivory Coast
MMN project offers training to 25 counselors in area where war hit hardestby Wil LaVeist of Mennonite Mission Network
As the government of Ivory Coast treads carefully toward unifying the nation after 10 years of civil war, typified by a recent post-election crisis that claimed the lives of at least 3,000 people, a Mennonite Mission Network worker, together with a team of Ivorians, is urging Christians to refocus on being living examples of peace, love and reconciliation in society.
Participants in the reconciliation training seminar share testimonies. Photo by Laura Livingston.
In a post-traumatic healing and reconciliation training project, church leaders learn systematic ways to counsel those who have been ravaged by war, to forgive in order to heal communities and help the nation move toward unity. Martine Audeoud, who along with her husband, Gary Wittig, are Mission Network associates serving with the West Africa Alliance Seminary (la Faculté de Théologie Evangélique de l’Alliance Chrétienne), has been coordinating the project’s training efforts.
Seminar sessions, which last three to four hours per day over three to four days, were held in June, July and early August. A two-member team went to Duékoué (where the war hit hardest) in western Ivory Coast for a week to train about 25 counselors on how to counsel community people directly.
“They learn to identify where their hurts are,” Audeoud said. “They learn who Christ is and that he died for their hurts, and that because of his death and resurrection they can grant forgiveness. They learn that forgiveness can be a once-and-for-all thing but that they may have to revisit it over and over as the painful thoughts come back.”
In letters to Mennonite Mission Network, Audeoud described some initial results of the seminar training:
• A whole village was burned down, and the wells had been poisoned so that people from one ethnic group would not go back. The pastor from that village, after attending a healing and reconciliation seminar, said he was now ready to go back to the village and greet his neighbors again.
• A pastor and his family were in their house when their own neighbors decided to burn down his house. He took his family inside the bedroom, and they started praying. The Lord suddenly stopped the fire, and the house didn’t burn. However, the pastor had left the village after that with his family and had asked to be moved to another pastorate. After attending the healing and reconciliation seminar, he canceled his request to be transferred and said he wanted to go back to the village and serve the people that had been his enemies.
Reconciliation is sorely needed in the Ivory Coast, a once bustling and prosperous cocoa-producing West African nation that was a beacon of success to sub-Saharan Africa. A former French colony, Ivory Coast (also known as the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire), has been mired in a horrific war rooted in political strife that feeds on ethnic and religious differences. In November 2010, President Alassane Ouattara defeated the incumbent, former president Laurant Gbagbo, in an election recognized by the international community as legitimate. However, Gbagbo refused to leave office, resulting in a bloody crisis between his southern supporters and the northern supporters of Ouattara.
In April, the new government finally apprehended Gbagbo and his wife, Simone, putting them under house arrest. The Ouattara government has called for a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with the human rights abuses that followed the election. If the new government mishandles the case, violence could erupt again.
Audeoud, who is French, said religious differences could have fanned the flames of war (the north is primarily Muslim, while the south is primarily Christian) but did not because, generally, Muslims did not retaliate against Christian aggression in support of the former president. Many Christians feared the new president, who is Muslim, would oppress Christians, despite President Ouattara’s wife, Dominique Nouvian Folloroux, being Catholic and their children being evangelical Christians, Audeoud said.
The faith-based training project is not part of the government’s reconciliation efforts but is respected and welcomed by the community because the theological seminary is known for not having taken sides during the conflict, Audeoud said.
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