Christians are a minority in Chad. Islam is pressing southwards and the danger of misunderstandings and conflicts between different religious and ethnic groups are present. The presence of the Divine Word Missionaries has been an instrument of dialogue and bridge-building among the various groups.
The religious and ethnic divide is also behind another recurrent conflict, sometimes with violence, between farmers and herdsmen, especially during the sowing and the harvest seasons, when numerous herds of cows threaten and invade the fields. The Church and the Congregation of the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) are promoters of peace and reconciliation. They have an important role to play in this area of Africa, where the oil industry, the tensions between farmers and shepherds, and the advance of Islam might create problems and leave some people at the margins of society. Jose Antunes da Silva, SVD strongly believes that Chad is a real missionary challenge fitted for a Congregation like ours.
The conflict between farmers and herdsmen is one of the most consistently serious and damaging problems in Chad, particularly in Laramanaye. Around the harvesting season from September to December every year, this conflict escalates in its seriousness and its intensity and often results in the loss of human lives.
Last September, the Divine Word Missionaries in Chad were terrified to learn the fact that a herder had killed a woman from the village of Betabar. Everyone was terribly scared and expected the worst. The local authorities were immediately notified and were prepared to intervene in the foreseeable event of revenge, which would surely escalate the event into heightening violence.
Like the local custom has dictated, the alleged and guilty herder had been required to pay for the damage that has been done to the victim and her family at the amount of 1,500,000 Central African CFA Francs, equivalent to around 3000 US dollars. The guilty party had made no effort to refuse or resist this customary requirement. However, that is not all. The surprise came from the victim’s family.
The victim’s family decided not to take this compensation, which would never give them back their sister. Having put all their trust in the hands of God, the victim’s family proclaimed that no amount of money could cease the painful bewilderment of their loss. They, instead, decided to forgive. It is a surprising attitude but nonetheless a noble and Christian gesture, which shows nothing but a deep faith in God and reflects beautifully the Christian value that we live by. They realized that God is a God of love, forgiveness and justice.