Peacemaking Among Muslims and Christians in Nigeria
"I have always been a peacemaker," says James Kantiok (PhD '00), professor of philosophy and peace studies in the School of Education at Azusa Pacific University. In 2010, he received a Fulbright grant to study Peace and Conflict Management through Peace Education and Peace Research—and indeed, has a long and broad history of peacemaking and conflict resolution both in the United States and in his home country of Nigeria.
Before coming to the U.S. to pursue further graduate studies, Dr. Kantiok served on several government committees in Nigeria concerned with conflict resolution. In 1987, his family's house was set on fire by Muslim extremists—the same year the extremists destroyed 300 churches in Nigeria in one day. The family fled the country, and Kantiok later found his way to Fuller to study Christian leadership. "Having spent all my life in the public arena," he shares, "I thought a theological education could provide balance." However, when Fuller professor Dean Gilliland encouraged him toward Islamic studies, the direction of Kantiok's life changed. "It was those studies that turned me upside down," he remarks. While working on his PhD in Muslim-Christian relations, Kantiok conducted research for the PEW Foundation on Muslim-Christian Understanding, which he says was helpful in equipping him for his future work.
As a professor at Azusa Pacific, his research continued to focus on conflict resolution, as well as how education could be used as a tool for promoting peace. Kantiok blends the two in the nonprofit organization he founded with his wife during his last year at Fuller, BEGE Ministries International, of which he is also president. BEGE Ministries is involved in rural evangelism, leadership training, and equipping Muslim converts to reach out to their communities in Nigeria. Last year, the organization launched the BEGE Academy, a K-12 school with a current enrollment of 150 students that equips young people for the challenges of the 21st century.
Besides all of this, however, Kantiok filled his Fulbright year in Nigeria with many successful endeavors—from preparing a peace education curriculum at his alma mater to teaching International Humanitarian Law at a military university to pastoring a congregation. Although his Fulbright year ended in June 2011, Kantiok extended his stay for another year, and is currently helping the state government to set up the Center of Peace and Conflict Resolution at Nigeria's state university.
Kantiok took on some surprising roles, too, after arriving in his home country for his Fulbright work. "I went to Nigeria at some of its most critical moments," he shares, explaining that major presidential and other elections were conducted in 2011, which he says were some of the "most heated campaigns and conflict-prone elections I have ever witnessed in my life." Kantiok and his wife found themselves offering shelter for about ten families trying to escape assassination, and they took on the pastorate of a church whose building was destroyed during the election crises. "We worship in the open, without a roof over us, in the rain, in the sun and in the cold," he says. "We are loving it."
"I wear many hats," he admits, but seems to have an extraordinary capacity for his varied assignments—and passion for them, too. Fueling Kantiok's passion is a love for both Muslim and Christian Nigerians, and a sense of duty, as well. He quotes Romans 12:18, which says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone," and Hebrews 12:14: "Make every effort to live in peace with all people and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." Kantiok radically heeds these words by giving his life to peacemaking, but sees his response simply as obedience. "For Christians," he shares, "living in peace is a command and a scriptural mandate!"