To celebrate International Non-Violence Day on Oct. 2, Mennonite Mission Network commissioned Ben Tapper to interview Oscar Siwali, a man dedicating his life to peacebuilding in southern Africa.
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network) — Peacebuilding, which is challenging, has become more complicated by the events of 2020. As in many parts of the world, COVID-19 locked down South Africa. This added stress to daily life and exacerbated tensions in people's homes, said Oscar Nceba Siwali, founder and director of Southern African Development and Reconstruction Agency (SADRA), a Mennonite Mission Network partner.
Despite this increased turmoil, Siwali finds inspiration in the work of SADRA-trained peacemakers who have deescalated tensions using proven techniques. Siwali marvels at the way young people have been able to create peace "right in their homes; where the challenge is," he said.
Seven years ago, Siwali felt an "Abrahamic call" to build peace in South African communities so that the church might be a catalyst for change. This led to the creation of SADRA. According to its website, SADRA creates space for peace through "conflict mediation, peace training, capacity and team building, and interventions to issues such as school violence and xenophobic attacks." The agency offers training to students — primary-school through university, pastors, and government leaders.
Even young children whom SADRA has trained have skills to create peace by facilitating dialogue when conflict arises. Witnessing the fruit that is ripening from the seeds SADRA has planted fuels Siwali's drive to continue the work.
Prior to God's call to peacemaking, Siwali understood the gospel message as being primarily about the salvation of people's souls. As he has moved deeper into the work of peacebuilding, his understanding of the gospel and his motivations have changed. The gospel includes the living conditions that people face in the here and now, he said.
"A human being is more than just a soul," Siwali said. "And thus, the gospel is about more than eternal salvation alone."
Siwali's ministry includes caring for people's souls and freeing them from oppressive systems and regimes. This approach to ministry corresponds to Mission Network's vision and the two agencies have collaborated since SADRA's beginning.
Mission Network's most recent contribution to SADRA was through Dan and Kathryn Smith Derksen and their family, who ended four years of ministry in South Africa in December 2019. At the Smith Derksen farewell concert, Siwali celebrated the couple's work in peer mediation training and community-mediation training sessions, as well as securing partnerships with new embassies.
SADRA is expanding the number of communities it works with. As the organization's capacity increases, Siwali sees his own mission shifting. He envisions spending less time in the office and more time with people in the streets. He appreciates the beauty of being a director but says "my work is on the ground." Siwali understands his vision and his call to always move him towards people and relationships.
Although Siwali understands his call to be like Abraham's, he recognizes his work to be like that of Moses. He doesn't expect his vision of peace to reach complete fruition in his lifetime, but he's hopeful because "there are Joshuas around." He sees a new generation of leadership on the horizon that will take SADRA's mission into the future and lead the people into their promised land.
Siwali decries injustice and violence, demanding that his people be set free. Yet, he realizes that he will not see the end of their journey. Like his biblical ancestors, Abraham and Moses, Siwali understands the importance of following God's call, and preparing the way so that those who come after him can step boldly into a future where peace is created and sustained.
Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the Peacemakers" has been central to Siwali's ministry.
"If I die right now, at least I can point to this one verse as one I've upheld and lived into," Siwali said.