Out of the heat of that hatred and violence, both men discovered an ability to build a unique bond that has inspired people and communities across the world.
Each through his own inner struggle and facing the effects of hatred and violence, discovered the strength to cross the huge gulf dividing them. A strength buttressed by their own very different faiths. Each man was deeply rooted in his own faith tradition. Pastor James had felt a strong calling to the Church since graduating high school. Imam Ashafa was the thirteenth generation in his family to become an Imam. Both men felt a passion to unify and energize their faith communities, and to protect them against perceived threats. As the conflict escalated, both men trained militias to intimidate and even kill members of the opposite side. Crops and livelihoods were destroyed. Families were attacked. The need for revenge on both sides fueled an ever-growing hatred, and the leaders' roles became entrenched. Both suffered heavy losses. Imam Ashafa lost two brothers and his mentor in the conflict. Pastor James, in addition to losing close friends, lost his right hand.
But something happened,
In 1995, during a UNICEF outreach program about child immunization against polio, the two leaders hesitantly agreed to put aside their differences for the sake of the larger community. They realized that their voices, speaking together, could convince more people to protect their children against a common threat. Their agreement was cautious and guarded at first - and then, gradually over the years, they built up the respect and trust necessary to form a partnership.
The two men evetually formed the Interfaith Mediation Centre, a grassroots organization that heals rifts between Christians and Muslims throughout Nigeria. With over 10,000 members, they now train former militia members to become peace activists.
Today, Imam Ashafa and Pastor James work together to act as an example to their communities that peace is possible. They teach members of youth militias methods to resolve their conflicts peacefully rather than infinitely escalating violence and have led successful efforts to rebuild the churches and mosques that had fallen during their conflict.
Wednesday, 23 October 2019, 19:00St Augustine College, Auditorium53 Ley Road, Victory Park, Johannebsurg
*** Free of charge, although a cash donation to St Augustine would be appreciated