International Ministries

Building and Planting Peace--Literally!

June 20, 2011 Journal
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Journal from Lancuenda and Kuresoi, Kenya

By Dan Buttry

Sharon jumped into the mud with her bare feet and rolled-up pants.  She was joined by an older couple.  They held hands and danced in the mud as fresh water was poured in and the red soil pushed in to make more and more mud.  Then with our bare hands we scooped out the mud and put big globs of it between the green sticks nailed to make a supporting wall.  A new house was being built for a family that had been displaced by the horrific violence that followed Kenya’s national election late in 2007 and early 2008.  Thousands of families are still in tiny temporary shelters and tents, but now a family will have a new home. 

My wife Sharon and I were part of a peace-training team this June led by Wilson Gathungu and the Rosell family from Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City where Wilson has been a student.   Wilson had written a paper for a Christian ethics course about the political violence in Kenya, which was centered in Molo District.  His professor Terry Rosell challenged Wilson to turn his paper into practice, giving birth to the Kenya Peace Initiative.  The core of this trip was a five-day training and reconciliation program, which began with a day of reconciliation projects in the larger community.

We traveled to one of the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps called Lancuenda where people have been living since early 2008.  Theses camps are scattered all around the countryside, camp “villages” much like the villages people once lived in.  They have tents from the UN and USAID.  A small police outpost is just outside the camp to protect the inhabitants from further violence.  We were welcomed by the IDP community, welcomed into their homes such as they were.  We heard their stories of trauma and loss.  Then we helped build two houses that were paid for out of the conference budget.  The basic timbers had been raised already.  So we helped put up the roof joists, nail up the long sticks that made the structure of the walls. 

Then we made mud.  Sharon took off her shoes, rolled up her pants and jumped in the mud pit with some of the other folks., much to the delight of the Kenyans.  They churned the soil with their feet as people brought water to pour into the growing mud hole.  At one point the elderly couple who would live in one home joined her.  Then we scooped up the mud in our hands and made the walls using the sticks as the “rebar” to hold it all together.  These houses were built for displaced families from two different ethnic groups who had targeted each other in the violence, Kikuyus and Kalejins, as a witness for peace and reconciliation.

After washing off our feet and hands we travelled to Kuresoi, another hotspot during the political violence.  We went to a school where hundreds of people joined with us to plant a “peace forest.”  We all carried the seedlings to the corner of the school grounds, at an intersection of the two main roads in town.  There the holes had been prepared for each seedling.  Each tree had a student’s name attached to it—students from the three main ethnic groups of the area who had been in conflict, the Kikuyus, Kalejins, and Kisiis.  These students were all attending the school at this community which had been one of the epicenters of the violence.  I planted a tree along with the girl who would care for it.  All across the field little knots of adults and students patted in the soil with their hands.  Then a peace pole was planted along with a commemorative peace plaque.  We followed with many speeches and a huge meal out of a common pot, tasting the cooking specialties of each of the tribal groups. 

Throughout the day I had some amazing conversations with displaced people, journalists, and church leaders.  I heard their stories and concerns and hopes.  It was a great way to get oriented to the context.  It was also a practicum for opening our peace training.  We were literally doing peace-building and literally planting the seeds of peace.

Pray for Kenya and for the work of peacemakers like Wilson Gathungu.  Pray that the seeds of peace would take deep root and flourish in this region.  Pray that the people of God especially would be agents for peace and reconciliation rather than cheerleaders for tribalism and violence for political ends.

Thank you for all the ways you support this work, by your giving, your prayers, your notes of encouragement and your own actions for reconciliation in our world.  Blessings on you!

In hope and joy,

Dan Buttry