Pastor Victor Dogos of N’djamena, Chad, is the first recipient of the newly established Michael J. Sharp Global Peacemaker Award. Created by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 2023, the award acknowledges courageous peacemakers across the world.
As a Christian, Dogos works collaboratively with Catholics, Muslims, Protestants and tribal leaders in Chad to encourage people of all religions to live together in peace. National and community leaders call on him to resolve violent conflicts and intervene in situations that have the potential for bloodshed.
He uses his training in theology, law, communication and peacebuilding to mediate and to teach men and women how to resolve conflicts. He has negotiated with the government and the military for the release of innocent civilians and has worked with government security forces to help them see the long-term effectiveness of peace over violence.
Dogos is a member of the Chad Advisory Council, which advises the government on matters of government policy and reconciliation with opponents. In this role, Dogos reported minutes and recommendations from 32 meetings that helped pave the way to a peace accord between Chad’s provisional government and 45 of 53 armed groups in 2022. This led to the joint creation of a new transitional government.
Sharp’s commitment recognized with award
MCC established the $4,000 prize this year in honor of the courageous peacebuilding work of Sharp, a former MCC staff person in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While working for the United Nations in 2017 to verify human rights violations in Kasai Province, Sharp, 34, and his colleague Zaida Catalán were executed by unidentified assailants.
Sharp’s commitment to peacebuilding was inspired by many people dedicated to peace who came before him and is shared by many others who dedicate their lives to building peace today. This award recognizes peacebuilders who exemplify MCC’s commitment to peace and justice in the 40 countries where the international nongovernmental organization carries out its relief, development and peacebuilding work.
“‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ we read in Matthew 5:9, and we want to recognize the courage of those in our MCC work around the world who are living out this call despite great cost to themselves,” says Mulanda Juma, an MCC representative in Rwanda and Burundi who was on the selection committee and is a committed peace practitioner.
Dogos was selected for the award because of his commitment to nonviolence and his courageous, creative peacebuilding work, which has impacted the people of Chad and the surrounding countries, Juma says.
“Pastor Dogos is from a Muslim background but converted to Christianity,” Juma says. “Against this background, he would not be easily accepted as a mediator, facilitator or bridge builder between Muslims and Christians in Chad, a country suffering from armed conflicts in the northern part. It required creativity, courage and peace leadership skills on his side, to successfully build bridges between these two faith communities in conflict.”
“Live or die for Christ”
Dogos says his conviction for peace began early in his teenage Christian faith when he learned that killing was sin. So, when war broke out in 1980, he chose to leave the country instead of fighting. He ended up in the Ivory Coast, where he struggled with whether to continue in his Christian faith or to return to beliefs of Islam he learned while growing up.
At a church service at Evangelical Baptist Church of Côte d’Ivoire, in Adjamé, Abidjan, on July 18, 1982, Dogos says he was convicted that he should dedicate his life fully to Christ.
“Whether I die or whether I live, it’s for Christ,” he says.
Dogos says he has feared for his life a few times including when he was negotiating a conflict that came up when Christian children refused to eat meat that came from a Muslim ritual involving an animal sacrifice. The imams (Muslim leaders) told Dogos that this refusal indicated a personal rejection of the Muslim community.
Doctrinal disagreements can become quickly inflammatory, Dogos says. “So one has to be careful because a response that’s not careful in those contexts, can really set fire to something. It can get people very angry.”
Dogos explained to the imams that the refusal was not a rejection of the Muslim community but one of living out of different belief systems. He narrated the Christian story from David to Jesus, explaining that to Christians, Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice. The imams were able to recognize that the children’s actions were guided by different beliefs their parents had taught them, not a rejection of Muslims.
“We know that we believe different things in this context, but we need to be able to respect each other so that we live with each other,” Dogos said. “I just want different people, different families, different communities to just live and accept themselves, knowing that there are differences, but the differences are not a cause of conflict.”
Building capacity in youth, women
Since 2012, Dogos has led the Département Ethique, Paix et Justice (EPJ: Ethics, Peace and Justice Department), which is part of the umbrella organizations of Protestants, Entente des Eglises et Missions Evangeliques au Tchad (EEMET: Partnership of Evangelical Churches and Missions in Chad). Both EPJ and EEMET are MCC partners. Currently, EPJ is focusing on building the capacity of youth and women leaders to gain increased knowledge and skills in peacebuilding and conflict analysis in the southern part of Chad.
“For the women, you know they have good influence among the men, so when women are convinced, it is easy to find a solution to a conflict,” Dogos says.
He observes that when women and young people learn about peacebuilding, they are ready to put it into action today, while men take some convincing.
To offer this training, however, he needed to lay the groundwork with the local leaders. He brought with him a Catholic priest, an imam and a traditional leader to talk with leaders. Together they explained that peacebuilding is not proselytizing for any religion, but it helps people of all religions to learn to resolve conflicts.
MCC encouraged EEMET to develop EPJ in 2000 and has supported Dogos’ training in peacebuilding since he began leading EPJ. He trained at the West Africa Peacebuilding Institute in Ghana in 2012 and at Eastern Mennonite University’s School of Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) in 2015 and 2018. This year, he taught a class at SPI, “Transforming Environmental Conflict.”
“Almost an expert”
In Chad, he says with humility, he has become “almost an expert” in peacebuilding. As an influential member of the Interfaith Platform of Chad—a national organization comprised of the Catholic Church, the High Council of Islamic Affairs and EEMET that collaborate to spread the message of peaceful coexistence—he is called upon by all the groups, including the government, to mediate conflicts.
One of the keys to conflict resolution, Dogos says, is learning as much as possible about the situation before suggesting any solutions.
“When you understand a person better, you understand their culture, kind of what makes them tick,” he says. “That helps you to better understand their situation and their perspective in that context. It helps you to approach them.”
Dogos says that he nurtures his own heart by listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as he “takes time just to talk with Lord.” Knowing that God is part of his work helps give him courage to go into frightening situations. When a conflict comes to a successful conclusion, he is encouraged, he says.
This award also encouraged him, he says. “It surprised me. It also fills me with joy. The joy is partly because it reflects the work that we’ve been able to do together, and it encourages me and us in our work going forward.”
He encourages Christians around the world to work steadfastly for peace despite the many reports of violence.
“We serve a God of peace,” Dogos says. “So, working for peace is a profound commitment because we are acting as God acts. The way we talk, the way we carry ourselves in the world, the way we work – all of those things we do in the way God has modeled.”
He says, “We can’t put an end to all conflicts. Only God can do that. What we can do is commit to work in a way that we know God guides us in working for peace. We can plant seeds of peace.”
Linda Espenshade is MCC U.S. news coordinator.
Mennonite Central Committee is a global, nonprofit organization that strives to share God’s love and compassion for all through relief, development and peace. MCC is committed to relationships with their local partners and churches. As an Anabaptist organization, they strive to make peace a part of everything they do.