By David Whitten
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” — Romans 12:18
In a far away place in the savannah of Nigeria, West Africa, there sits on the banks of a river a quiet village named Garkida. For the most part, the village lives out its days in its regular routines of subsistence. However, once a year a group of Americans, Swiss, and German workcampers sponsored by the Global Mission Partnerships of the Church of the Brethren General Board invades its boundaries to discover the roots of the Brethren beginnings in Nigeria.
The world has much to learn of peace and harmony by the example of Garkida.
I led a group of workcampers through this village this past January on our way to our work project at the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) Secondary School on the campus of the EYN Headquarters. We visited Garkida because it is the location where the first Brethren missionaries, Stover Kulp and Albert Helser, preached the gospel in 1923. It is also here that one can witness how Muslims and Christians can live together in harmony. Both Christians and Muslims live together in Garkida, in the same neighborhoods, the same streets, and sometimes even in the same compounds.
As part of our excursion to Garkida we went to visit the chief of Garkida. The Muslim chief and his two wives greeted us and exclaimed their appreciation for all that the Brethren missionaries had done for the village including the hospital, leprosarium, and school that had been started by the Church of the Brethren. We shared our appreciation for his leadership and how well the Muslims and the Christians get along in Garkida.
At the end of our greetings, the chief asked that we would pray a Christian prayer for him, his family, his leadership, and his village. And so we bowed our heads and one of us prayed for just this; that God would bless this man and his family, that God would use his leadership for the well-being of the village of Garkida. We prayed for peace and for reconciliation for all the peoples of the world. We prayed in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Following our prayers for him, one of the workcampers, Joe Wampler, asked the chief if he would pray for us. And so again we bowed our heads as the chief prayed a Muslim prayer in Arabic. And in so doing, our prayers reached across the chasm of religious intolerance, cultural differences, racial prejudices, and built a bridge of mutual respect and admiration.
If only this could happen in villages, towns and cities, in mosques, synagogues, and churches across the world. If only the world could model the respect and tolerance the village of Garkida has for one another. If it is at all possible, as far as it depended on us, we would live at peace with one another.
Even as news reports of religious violence come out of Nigeria, other surprising stories of peace and harmony also come, setting an example for how the rest of us “civilized” people could co-exist.
As I prepare to leave for my new position as Nigeria mission coordinator for the Church of the Brethren, I set a goal to involve myself with sharing this vision with other villages, cities, and rural areas, to model the example of the little village named Garkida.