Magazine article The Christian Century

Pastor Resists Extremism in Nigeria

Magazine article The Christian Century

Pastor Resists Extremism in Nigeria

Article excerpt

In northeastern Nigeria, devastated by the extremist group Boko Haram for eight years, it would be easy--understandable even--to see Christians as the only ones suffering.

Abare Kallah resists that temptation, even as militants have killed many of his fellow pastors, burned churches, and kidnapped hundreds of women and girls--infamously, the Chibok schoolgirls, most of whom are Christian. More than 100 of the girls remain captive as Kallah and others work for their release.

In all, Boko Haram has displaced more than 2.6 million people and murdered thousands, including Muslims who would not comply with its extremist version of Islam.

"I see conflict without any border," Kallah said. "It affects the church, it affect the Muslims, it affects the larger community."

For that reason, he wants to respond in a way that engages all people of faith in Gombe, the state where he lives, and to move beyond simply receiving relief materials.

Kallah is partnering with the Omnia Institute for Contextual Leadership, an organization formerly called the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education. Omnia is now a global effort and is assisting Kallah in training clergy in northeast Nigeria to resist extremist ideologies and to see how their own theology may contribute to such thinking.

"Since the emergence of Boko Haram, the Christians and the Muslims have been fractured," Kallah said during a recent visit to Chicago, where Omnia is based, to talk about the work he and Omnia are doing in Nigeria.

Both religions have extremist elements, with pastors sometimes making inciting statements and spreading false teachings, said Kallah, who is a leader in the largest denomination in northern Nigeria, the Evangelical Church Winning All.

Most clerics lack adequate education, he said. "They are so local they think that the world around them is all there is."

To address this, Omnia offered an initial training event in March in Gombe, bringing together 400 government officials and religious leaders. Seventy imams, pastors, and lay leaders--men and women--spent four days learning peacebuilding skills. Participants have formed local interfaith groups to work on joint projects.

The second event for Omnia trainers will take place July 30-August 5. Thirty leaders from the first cohort will receive training in teaching these skills in their congregations, with Kallah continuing to work with them. A second cohort of 70 will receive basic training.

Kallah strives to correct harmful beliefs without attacking the person. For example, at a burial attended by thousands of Christian and Muslims, a pastor preached that all of those gathered were condemned to death unless they accept Christ as savior. Afterward, Kallah told the pastor, "You have preached well, but you need to observe some of these areas: one, read your audience any time you are speaking. We were not in a church, we were in an open environment."

Kallah asked the pastor to quote John 3:17, but the pastor could not. Kallah then reminded him that it proclaims that "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Instead of pushing people away, the pastor could draw people closer, Kallah advised. "If you're taking Jesus as your role model, then don't look at somebody as a condemned person. Try to bring hope out of that person."

In such ways, Kallah and others strive to heal divisions. The religious leaders who gathered for training in March had the chance to ask each other theological questions and then listen, said trainer Mohamed Elsanousi, who directs the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers in the Washington, D. …

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