The northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado was described Rev. Arnold Temple, bishop emeritus in the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone, as "a sad story."
A member of the World Council of Churches' central committee, one of its main governing bodies, Temple spoke at the October 29 International Ecumenical Conference for Peace and Security in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.
"The happenings in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, in the northern part of Mozambique are a really sad situation. It's a sad story," said Temple.
"As ordinary citizens suffer at the hands of the Islamic State-affiliated, Al Shabaab, that are conducting sophisticated military operations. And the suffering also comes while they're still trying to cope with the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic."
Temple said, "We are here not only to listen to stories of what is happening in Mozambique, what is happening in Cabo Delgado, but we're also here to ask, why is it happening?"
He noted that the churches are dealing with "situations" in Cameroon, in Nigeria, with Boko Haram insurgents, in Mali, in the Republic of Guinea, and Sudan, "and now we are also dealing with a situation in Mozambique.
"God save our continent, and the nation of Mozambique, particularly the people of Cabo Delgado from violence and insecurity," said Temple.
"We are called to be ambassadors of peace and point to the world kingdom of God in our needs."
In collaboration with the All Africa Conference of Churches, ACT Alliance, Methodist Church of Great Britain and the Council of Churches in Mozambique, the WCC convened the international ecumenical conference.
"This conference is a very important one for the World Council of Churches because it is within the mandate of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace," said Dr. Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary.
The virtual meeting brought together national, regional and global ecumenical partners, church-based organizations, and networks,
They were there to listen, learn, reflect and explore possibilities of developing an ecumenical action plan for a short, medium and long-term response to the conflict situation in Cabo Delgado and surrounding provinces.
Mozambique is in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to its east, Tanzania to the north Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west, and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and South Africa to the southwest.
Phiri said that since October 2017, the Islamic extremist armed group had launched violent attacks on Cabo Delgado civilians of Mozambique that has an estimated population of some 31 million and has South Africa as its biggest neighbour.
"The group's activities have been concentrated on the coast of Cabo Delgado from Pemba city to the Tanzanian border, and by the end of 2020, the conflict had displaced almost 670,000 people," said Phiri.
She noted that about 580,000 people were displaced in 2020 alone, as violence intensified throughout the year. Nearly 950,000 people face higher levels of acute food insecurity in three provinces of Mozambique.
Insecurity has disrupted markets, blocked supply routes, and increased food prices, while repeated displacement has destroyed livelihoods in the former Portuguese colony.
Journalist and researcher Fatima Mimbire spoke about the economic potential that Cabo Delgado has presented before the current conflict due to the presence of minerals and natural resources that might have uplifted the lives of people in the province.
She cited three major liquified natural gas developments that have offered "a huge economic hope for Mozambique," a country torn by war for much of the latter part of the 20th century.
Mimbire said, "especially these three resources, gas, natural gas, and the graffiti stones, have the huge potential to produce income, and revenues for Mozambique for the present and future generations and also to solve the challenges of the province of Cabo Delgado."
The project has been "paralyzed" due to the insurgency situation in Cabo Delgado, said Mimbire, noting there was a US$20 billion project related to the resources which would have lifted the local economy.
"We have high levels of unemployment in the province because the companies which used to be linked to this industry had to stop, and people who were working there had to be laid off," said Mimbire.
As part of the conference, the ecumenical partners came together for peace and security in Mozambique and to listen, learn, reflect and respond accordingly.
Mimbire said they "were reminded that the God we worship is a God of peace (2 Cor. 13:11) and that we as his children are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) and comfort his people (Isaiah 14:1)."
They called "for urgent and coordinated regional and international action to respond to the humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado."