JIMA, Ethiopia - In rural communities outside this town in western Ethiopia, farmers and families have lost homes and livestock in interreligious violence that has swept this region since mid-2006.
In May, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia brought together about 40 community leaders - Muslims, Ethiopian Orthodox and Evangelical Christians - who have been affected by the violence.
Although the majority of Ethiopia's history has been characterized by a peaceful coexistence among different religious groups, recent attacks by Muslim groups against Christians and other Muslims in this region have sparked deep hurt and mistrust within the community.
Earlier this year, MCC provided assistance to families who lost their homes, reaching out to both Christians and Muslims as an act of peacemaking.
This three-day gathering is part of a longer-term effort to identify community members who can work for peace and give them tools and ideas for how they and their communities can respond to violence without turning to revenge.
And during the event, participants reached across differences of faith to recognize the deep pain the violence has caused to both Muslims and Christians. Together, the group mourned with a Muslim farmer who had recently lost his hand in the conflict. His wound was a visible reminder of what the community had been through and what individuals have suffered. They grieved not only over his hand but over the loss of his livelihood and the community's collective loss of peace and security.
Gopar Tapkida, a Nigerian peace worker who serves as MCC Regional Peace Networker in West Africa, shared with the group about his experience with interfaith conflict and peacemaking in Nigeria.
And as participants listened to his stories, a deep connection was made - an awareness that others have been through this sort of violence and have found a way to work together for peace. Participants said they left believing that might be possible here in Jima as well.
In the coming months, Mekonnen Dessalegne of MCC Ethiopia and the organizers from the Evangelical Churches Fellowship will meet to plan follow-up trainings. They say they are encouraged by the openness and spirit of cooperation in this first conference and that this first experience has given them confidence and vision to continue the work.
Holly Blosser Yoder is an MCC representative in Ethiopia.