A demonstration of humility through footwashing in an Ethiopian peacebuilding training inspired one man to persuade more than 600 rebel fighters to turn from their violent ways.
Meserete Kristos Church, the Anabaptist church in Ethiopia, has been engaged in peacebuilding efforts in Benishangul-Gumuz Region, home to ethnic-based violence and rebels fighting the government. Trainings have included activities based on community dialogue and reconciliation, as well as humility.
In one such training, MKC director of peacebuilding Mekonnen Gemeda demonstrated humility’s importance in building peace in communities torn apart by ethnic violence.
He asked for two volunteers, a Muslim and a Christian, and informed them he would wash their feet. Many participants did not believe he would do it until they saw it.
One of the volunteers was Dergu Belena. He was from a Gumuz ethnic group, which initiated armed conflict against the government and killed people from other local ethnic groups.
After the training, Belena went to the district government administration and asked for a gun with bullets. The administrator asked him why he wanted to get a gun. He told him, “I am cleansed from my past wrong thoughts and ready to be an ambassador of peace in my community.”
Belena explained that he would be armed and wanted to join the rebel group to start peacebuilding activities among them. The administrator agreed and gave him a gun and sent him to the rebel group.
Belena joined the rebel group and stayed with them for some months. He shared with rebel cell leaders and fighters the lessons he learned from the peacebuilding training.
He convinced them to stop killing people and present their issues to the government in a peaceful manner. Then he brought back more than 600 rebel fighters peacefully. Rebel leaders and fighters sat down with government officials and discussed their issues.
The government had been unable to disarm the rebel group for a long time. However, Belena convinced them with a message of peace and brought them back to a peaceful path. His actions won admiration from many people.
When the authorities asked why he dedicated himself to doing this, he testified that what he learned in the peacebuilding training changed his life and that no service is more satisfying than restoring peace among people.
The government has made it possible for Belena to work on peace activities widely. After additional training, he is now coordinating peace work in the area, especially in Dangur district.