Uniting Christian and Muslim Women

Esther Ibanga pastors a church in Jos Nigeria. She remembers the day in 2010, when Islamic militants set fire to her mother’s home. “It really hurt me because it was like my whole childhood just went in the flames.”

That same year, less than five miles away in Dogo Nahawa, more than five hundred women and children were slaughtered by Islamic militants.  “The Christian women leaders in the city began to come to my house. They said to me ‘Pastor Esther, what should we do?  This cannot go on.”

Esther says they dried their tears and organized a protest. Thousands of women marched and petitioned the government to end the corruption and violence.  Shortly after, women from a nearby Muslim village responded with a march of their own, for women and children killed in an earlier attack by Christian militants.  

“So I decided to reach out to the Muslim women and I said ‘Listen, you’re not my enemy and I’m not your enemy.”  She called Kadijah Hawaja, a Muslim community leader to help her come up with a solution, but Esther had to give her own anger and bitterness over to God.  “And I told the Lord, No. I’m not going to forgive because I was hurting so much. I just did not want to have anything to do with any Muslim.”

Then she heard Kadijah’s story. “Her personal house was set on fire by Christian youths. And when she said that, I just stopped right there in my tracks because she understood what I felt and I understood what she felt. And we just realized we needed to come together and help these kids. And so that healed me and that brought me to the point of actual forgiveness.”

They established Women Without Walls Initiative, working to help Muslims and Christians resolve their differences, to bring peace to Nigeria. They believe women are natural agents for social and national change, because they know the key to transforming Nigeria, is to reach the children.  “The mother school basically is raising local women to be the first line of security for their families and their communities. We take them through a 10-week model of training on how to recognize the signs of radicalization in their children.”

They’re also giving at risk youth scholarships to finish school, offering support for physically challenged students, and helping communities engage in dialogue. But Esther says their message of peace hasn’t always been welcome.

“They said, ‘We don’t have drinking water in this community and you’re coming to talk to us about peace? What is peace?’ So we said to them, okay, if we get you drinking water, will you talk with us? They said, yes.”

WOWWI pursuaded an engineering company to dig what they call The Peace Well, a source of clean drinking water shared by Christians and Muslims alike.  Through this and other efforts, Esther sees lives being changed. .  

“I’ve had a Muslim boy call me mother. I’ve had a Muslim boy listen to my tape and just quote my sermon. He said he can relate to what pastor is saying. So for him to just want to see Jesus, to hear Jesus, just through associating with me, I think God is glorified.”

Esther has been criticized by Christians for partnering with the Muslim community but she’s not quitting. She says the stakes are high, and the only way to bring peace is through God’s message of hope and love through Jesus Christ.

“He died for the sins of the whole world. He didn’t die for Christians. He died for those Muslims. He died for those unbelievers. God is ready to transform lives if we would let Him use us as vessels.”

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