SOTIK, Kenya — One man has transformed the warring town of Sotik into a community of reconciliation and peace.
George Nyaundi, a Mennonite pastor and church planter, has worked for peace in Sotik ever since the town erupted in violence during Kenya’s controversial 2007 elections. Although Sotik was the site of intense conflict between two groups, the Kisii and the Kipsigi, Nyaundi worked tirelessly to bring leaders together.
Nyaundi encouraged dialogue and empathy between the two groups, birthing several vibrant, peace-seeking churches in the process.
“George has done a phenomenal job of starting new churches,” said Aram DiGennaro, Eastern Mennonite Missions’ regional representative in East Africa. “The success of his work has attracted attention from other Kenya Mennonite Church leaders who want to experience that kind of growth and spiritual life in their own churches.”
Before the elections, the Kisii and Kipsigi had been living in relative peace with one another, although there was fairly little interaction. The election catalyzed conflict. Entire families were pulled into the violence.
“Men wielded machetes and rifles. Women carried stones to launch at homes, and children helped their parents however they could,” Nyaundi said. “Even the pastors, elders and church members were carrying guns and shooting their neighbors — those who called themselves Christians, all fighting together.”
When Nyaundi heard about the violence in Sotik, he was deeply moved. He comes from an area where children grow up fighting. He experienced the pain that comes with clashes related to tribalism, land and similar conflicts.
“George is Kisii, but he grew up among Maasai, so he’s fairly multicultural,” DiGennaro said.
Because of Nyaundi’s identity and heart for peacemaking, a missionary asked Nyaundi to work as a peacemaker in Sotik. After praying together, they decided Nyaundi should move there.
He visited Sotik and quickly realized people were hungry for reconciliation.
“The townspeople told me, ‘You see, we don’t like each other, but this is no way to live,’ ” Nyaundi said.
In May 2008, the people of Sotik requested he start a church to help bring peace to the town. Nyaundi began going door-to-door daily — visiting, sharing, encouraging and praying with people. Nyaundi sought out key church leaders and community leaders in the clashing communities, insisting they meet to talk about why they were fighting.
“I knew that to restore peace, leaders from different tribes and churches had to come together and repent,” he said. “When they did, they discovered that they shared the same pain and the same needs, despite cultural differences.”
Over the next year and a half, Nyaundi kept going to the villages around Sotik, sometimes with an EMM team or other neutral people to assist in mediation. Peacemakers had a broad impact in Sotik since they were some of the few people who walked around openly. Many villagers were still fearful and rarely ventured out of their homes.
Now that the Kisii and the Kipsigi are communicating and living together, Nyaundi’s focus has shifted from active peacemaking to leadership development and church growth.
“George has applied the practices for mission and discipleship that EMM is promoting and is making them work in his area,” DiGennaro said. “His work is a great example of how we can work with our partners to mobilize them for mission.”
Mennonite churches that transcend the cultural barriers that used to keep Christians from fellowshiping together have been planted in Sotik. In a setting where tribes once literally could not cross the road to the “wrong” church, the Christians of Sotik now feel God has called them to be agents of reconciliation.