Interfaith Community Is Built for Nigerians Displaced by Boko Haram

By Peggy Faw Gish

A view of the construction for the interfaith community in Nigeria

Children sat watching, under a shady tree. Women in colorful Nigerian dress, carrying babies on their backs, wandered by to greet us. The sound of hammers filled the air at the building site, shortly after I arrived in Nigeria in late March. Men were nailing sheets of metal roofing on the three-room houses that would make up the Gurku Interfaith Camp for families who fled the violence of Boko Haram and lost everything.

Near the houses were latrines and small block structures for kitchens that two families will share. Families moving into the camp have done much of the building, from making mud bricks, cured in the sun, to building the walls and roofs.

Markus Gamache, a staff member of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), spoke about the vision he and other members of the Lifeline Compassionate Global Initiatives (LCGI) have to bridge the growing divide between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. In a country where the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has generated a new wave of horrific Muslim-Christian violence, what better way to resist the growing religious tensions than to start a new community of displaced Muslims and Christians, representing many tribes, villages, and languages, to live mixed together as a model for inter-religious reconciliation?

Since Boko Haram escalated their violence against Christians in northeast Nigeria, but also against Muslims who won’t cooperate with their goals, Markus and other members of LCGI have been responding to help those affected, often at risk of their own lives. He travels to the northeast where Boko Haram has been attacking and meets with Christians and Muslims under threat. He has given money to Christians and Muslims to help them escape, and pay for rent and food where they resettle. He has helped young men forced into the Boko Haram ranks to escape and start a new life. He and his wife, Janada, have taken in many displaced families to stay in their home, and are currently caring for 52 men, women, and children.

The new interfaith community is for displaced people in Nigeria, Christians and Muslims, to live side-by-side

Markus told me, “It is especially important now, if we are ever to have a peaceful society, that we work together to try to bridge the gap of mistrust and hatred between Christians and Muslims and work for reconciliation…. Christian and Muslim leaders must come together and acknowledge that terrorism is our joint problem…. People must meet face to face and participate from the heart. Otherwise it will not work.”

With a joyful celebration on May 12, with music and dancing, the Gurku Interfaith Camp was officially commissioned. Most of the families have now moved into the 62 completed 3-room homes. Christians and Muslims are interspersed evenly throughout the camp. Families are already starting to farm on the small plots of land they’ve been given. In a few weeks they hope to start building the new medical clinic [with funds provided by the Swiss Embassy], and after that, a school. In the fall, they hope to add more housing for another 71 families.

What may seem like a small project in the whole picture of what is happening in Nigerian society, is actually a bold step. LCGI hopes this will become a model for others to work for peaceful relations in their communities.

— Peggy Faw Gish has been volunteering with the Nigeria Crisis Response of the Church of the Brethren and its Global Mission and Brethren Disaster Ministries, in cooperation with EYN. The Gurku camp and LCGI receive support and funding from the Nigeria Crisis Response and the Church of the Brethren’s Nigeria Crisis Fund. This report first appeared on Gish’s blog “Plotting Peace” at https://plottingpeace.wordpress.com . For information about the Nigeria Crisis Response go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis . Personal stories from Nigerian Brethren and more reports from the crisis response are on the Nigeria blog at http://blog.brethren.org/category/nigeria .