Dan Buttry with representatives of the two largest armed Naga factions during the Chiang Mai reconciliation talks
The first Naga reconciliation soccer game in Chiang Mai.
Participants at one of the Chiang Mai meetings for Naga reconcliation
Dr. Wati Aier and his wife Alongla (who participated in Dan Buttry’s missionary commissioning at the World Mission Conference in 2003)
This verse from Galatians is one of the great words of encouragement to me, for most serious peacemaking work takes a lot of time and is characterized by moments of frustration and discouragement. We labor intensely for what we believe is right, for what we believe is God’s will, only to find our work crumble like a sandcastle before the assaults of violence and war.
This June all of the top leaders of the Naga insurgent factions have signed a “Covenant of Reconciliation.” For over thirty years these groups have split Naga society, and the warfare between the factions has left thousands of Nagas dead and deep divisions within the Naga people. In 2008 a process of reconciliation was launched that brought people from the factions face-to-face, developing momentum that couldn’t even be halted by violent outbursts. Thanks to the persistence of Naga peacemakers and the moving of the Holy Spirit, all the major leaders have publicly committed themselves to the reconciliation process.
For over twelve years I’ve been working for peace and reconciliation with the Nagas who live in northeast India and northwest Burma. The war between the Nagas and India has been going on since 1955. Then in 1975 a flawed peace agreement sparked division among the Nagas that has been as bloody as the conflict with India. In 1997 I participated with Ken Sehested Baptist Peace Fellowship and John Sundquist of International Ministries in the Atlanta Talks. Wati Aier was the leader of the Naga mediation team with whom we worked. All four of the major Naga factions at the time were due to attend, but at the last minute one of the largest groups pulled out. Though the participants drafted “The Atlanta Appeal” for reconciliation, the splits were still very deep and expressed in on-going violence.
Wati, John, Ken and I continued to work on Naga peace efforts in various ways over the years. There were rounds of shuttling back-and-forth between the key groups. Cease-fires were established with India and sporadic negotiations on political issues with India were undertaken. Informal cease-fires between the Naga factions were established that were periodically shaken by assassinations and firefights.
We trained the Naga civil society leaders in conflict transformation—church leaders, human rights activists, women’s leaders, student activists, civic leaders. Out of their growing relationships and skills they launched “The Journey of Conscience” nonviolent campaign that changed the context for political discussions both in the Naga homeland and in Indian society. The people with the guns were no longer running the debate but were now being pushed by an organized, vocal and focused civil society that was sick and tired of the violence.
Year followed year with progress in fits and starts, but also much frustration at the seeming stubbornness of various leaders and anguish as yet more lives were extinguished. Then a breakthrough happened. Wati Aier, who is the Principal of the Oriental Theological Seminary, the leading seminary for Naga Baptists, helped pull together a series of meetings in Chiang Mai, Thailand that brought together all the Naga factions for reconciliation talks. Wati was joined by Naga civil society leaders and community activists who eventually formed the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR). The Forum was supported by a team of British Quakers and me as well as by John Sunquist at some points. Traditional tribal leaders were brought into the process to work on the social divides which somewhat paralleled the divides between the political factions.
During the Chiang Mai talks the basis for reconciliation was hammered out in what became known as a “Covenant of Common Hope.” The Covenant had ten action steps and commitments to give substance to the reconciliation process. The FNR has followed-up on the Chiang Mai meetings with on-going communication efforts back in Nagaland to keep the momentum going. They have facilitated technical talks about cease-fire modalities and engaged in the detailed work of forging peace in a concrete conflict.
One of the symbols of reconciliation has been soccer. During Chiang Mai 3 Wati announced that we would have a soccer (a.k.a. “football”) match. All the factional representatives were on one side, all the tribal leaders on the other, with civil society folks mixed between the two teams. Even before halftime participants were excited at how being on the same team working for the same goal made reconciliation tangible. As we drove back from the soccer field we were making plans for reconciliation games to be held in Nagaland. Shortly after the Chiang Mai meeting, a game was held in the main stadium in Kohima, then another in Diampur. The games were watched by thousands, with days of prayer and other reconciliation activities around the matches.
The Nagas have had the gospel percolating among them for over 140 years. They left head-hunting to embrace the love of Jesus. The trials of the Indo-Naga conflict have wracked the Naga society with many divisions and have challenged the faith that has brought 80% of Nagas to identify themselves as Baptists. But that faith evidenced through many creative and courageous leaders like Wati Aier has begun to bring the harvest of reconciliation out of the hard ground of chronic conflict. Wati may have had his weary moments, but he persevered in doing good, joined by many other Naga peacemakers.
I had planned to be in Nagaland this June (as well as in Orissa, India), but had to cancel the trip for cancer surgery. The surgery was successful. It appears I’m cancer-free, thanks be to God! I deeply appreciate all the prayers, cards, e-mails and messages of love and concern. I’ve had an astonishing recovery with no side-effects except sore and itchy incisions. I’ll resume my international travel in September with a 3-week trip to Burma (Myanmar). Then I’ll be back in the Naga areas in December, God willing.
I also deeply appreciate all who have given financially for the support of this peacemaking ministry. A number of new donors—individuals and congregations—stepped forward these last few months to have their contributions to my support doubled by the Luther Rice Society. Even though that matching grant program is done, I still need and deeply appreciate the on-going support for my mission work. Contributions can be sent “for support of Dan Buttry” to International Ministries (P.O. Box 851, Valley Forge, PA 19482) or made on the IM website: http://www.internationalministries.org/give (I’m under the “Global Consultants” category—pull down the menu there to see my name and following the giving process). Thank you!
For those of you who have followed the Naga peace efforts or been involved in the process in some way through prayer, travel, financial support, advocacy, etc—don’t grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up! We’re not at peak harvest yet, but the first-fruits are coming in!
In peace, hope and trust,