Banner for the peace workshop for Baptists in Lower Assam, India
Participants in the peace workshop engage in an problem solving exercise
Workshop participants act out a Bible story about marginalized people finding their voices
At the break time during a conflict transformation training workshop for Baptists in Lower Assam, India, I joined a cluster of the younger folks. One of them had just come from a youth leaders meeting. We had just finished a section of the training that I call "Mainstream and Margins" in which we deal with the issues of diversity in groups and ways that conflicts are related to that diversity. "Now I know why I am so angry!" this youth leader said. He was a Christian leader, yet he had this smoldering anger within him that he couldn't understand or deal with. In the workshop as we focused on the experiences of marginalized people the pieces fell into place for him. He saw how the weight of continuous experiences of being pushed aside and treated unjustly because of his ethnicity had stoked a deep anger. This part of his life was untouched by his experiences in church, leaving him in a bifurcated spirituality. The anger didn't go away.
It's not just a matter of understanding how situations of discrimination and injustice fuel anger, but what do we do with those feelings. Self-understanding then leads to conscious choice. What will you do with what you now know? The workshop explored the positive and negative attitudes and actions people can take toward their conflicts, whether they happen to be in a mainstream role or a marginal role. Both mainstreams and margins can act in destructive ways. Both mainstreams and margins can act in constructive ways. We explored in detail those various ways of responding to the conflicts around us, turning to some biblical stories to shine further light on these choices.
By the end of the workshop all the participants, including this young man, were excited about what they had learned and the steps they could take for transforming their conflicts beginning within themselves and then acting into the conflict situation. We had participants from four different ethnic groups in Lower (western) Assam: Bodos, Adavasis, Garos and Rabhas. They had all been in massive violent conflicts with each other in the past few years, leaving many people killed, villages destroyed, people displaced, and deep wounds of bitterness. Enash Basamatary, a Bodo leader among the Baptists, has been engaged in peacemaking for many years. He has crossed lines of division to find other peacemakers and to begin the hard work of recovery and reconciliation. He organized the workshop and invited me to come as the trainer/facilitator. Through the workshop Enash now has many other leaders in the various communities ready to do the "things that make for peace." The circle of peacemakers had grown larger including a youth leader who now understood how to channel his anger into positive energy for justice and healing.