A Centre for Peace in the Centre of Violence
by Tiffany Randall Su, Langham Scholars
|Dr Sunday Agang,
Thirteen days after our staff sat down for lunch in San Francisco with Dr Sunday Agang, a Langham Scholar from Nigeria who was visiting the USA for a few weeks, there was a violent attack in his homeland that killed 37 people. Just two weeks prior to his departure, there had been an attack on a Christian church in a village close to Kagoro. Kagoro is the city where Sunday now lives and serves as President of the Theological Seminary Kagoro, 92 kilometres west of Jos.
Shortly after these incidents, a BBC correspondent wrote, ‘The Nigerian city of Jos has become synonymous for the bloody violence which occasionally breaks out between its Christian and Muslim communities.’ Many local Muslims do not agree with the attacks against Christians, although they cannot publicly express this sentiment for fear of retaliation. Though often it is the Boko Haram, a Muslim sect, which initiates the deadly attacks, Christians – especially youth – are enticed into retaliation, which escalates the death toll. The Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, reflected, ‘You only need to study the reprisals in Jos and Kaduna and you’ll see that the young people are getting out of control … After all what have they got to lose? They are jobless, they are unemployable, they are hungry, they are angry and it may spiral into anything.’
What can one academic scholar do in the face of such bloody battles for political and religious control? Besides serving at the seminary, Sunday has taken up the role of community leader and mentor to the local youth, helping them push for justice and confront the government in a nonviolent manner. In this way, Sunday hopes to direct their energy and emotion toward a positive end. They have responded to his leadership and encouragement by telling him that they wish he had been there for a long time – he is someone they can fall back on.
This isn’t Sunday’s first peace-making venture. Once there was a river that divided a Christian community in half during the rainy season. The river, located in Moro’aland in Southern Kaduna State (where Kagoro is located), would swell and become dangerous to cross, but people had no choice but to make the attempt. Many people drowned, and members of that community appealed to government officials to build a bridge. The officials were Muslim, and they apparently didn’t care to help the Christians. Then, in 2001, Sunday co-founded Gawon Ministries, which provides humanitarian and spiritual care for widows and orphans. Gawon started a programme in this community by the river, and the governor caught wind of the loving care provided to Muslim widows and orphans by a Christian organization. He was deeply moved, and he decided to award a contract to build a bridge that would prevent the drowning. This was not just any bridge – it was a world-class structure that went above and beyond their expectations!
Sunday’s heartbeat is to work for peace between Christians and Muslims. He says about his seminary, ‘I ask myself, ‘Why is the seminary here? How can the seminary serve the people – not just the church?’ The seminary can be a place where we only think about people within the church, and not society as a whole, and we are detached from what is happening in society. If you do that, then the relevance of the seminary is lost. We need to remember that we are there not just for the church, but also for the whole society. So, for us to be a part of society and understand what is happening and prepare people for public life, we need to be engaged with what is happening.’
His dreams for the seminary include the establishment of a linguistics department so that the process of translating the Bible into the eighteen languages in Southern Kaduna state can be done locally. Also, not surprisingly, he wants to establish a centre for peace. He says, ‘In spite of all this killing, what other options do we have? How do we discuss it? How do we go forward from what has happened? How do we break the cycle of violence? Is it possible to do it? Yes, it is.’
Related Langham Publication
The Impact of Ethnic, Political, and Religious Violence on Northern Nigeria, and a Theological Reflection on Its Healing
by Dr Sunday Agang