by PeaceSigns readers
From Columbus, Ohio:
A couple of us from Columbus Mennonite Church have been speaking about peacemaking to a class at Worthington Kilbourne High School for about three years. The class is titled Radical Political Thought. I don't think the teachers think of us as radicals-they tend to invite speakers that represent a variety of current, relevant political ideas rather than anarchists and others on the fringe. We were invited to speak shortly after 9/11 and continue to receive an invitation to speak because of the Iraqi war and the potential for a draft.
The teachers tell us we are the speakers who cause the students to think the most. We don't provide pat answers, because peacemaking is difficult, messy work. We admit that sometimes peacemaking efforts fail and people choose violence.
This January, one girl told me after class that she's grown up in a conservative family and she didn't know that some Christians thought about war and peace this way. Perhaps we affirmed her discomfort with violence as a way to solve problems.
By the end of the year, we'll have the opportunity to speak to about 100 high school seniors-about one-fourth of the class.
The difficulty we have is what to say-how to be good witnesses to Jesus' command to love our enemies, not just our neighbors. My son, who says he is no Christian, said that we didn't say enough this year about why we are peacemakers. Sometimes we think we've said too much.
What I'd like is something-an outline-for a presentation about Mennonites and peacemaking. What caused Anabaptists to take Jesus' call to be peacemakers seriously? What stories are there from our history? What stories are there from other traditions?
These are some stories I know: I have read a story from the French and Indian War about Mennonites in Pennsylvania not killing attacking Native people. I found a letter from John Brenneman, an Ohio bishop, to President Lincoln asking for an option for conscientious objectors. I know the story of a Burrton, Kan., man who was nearly lynched because he wouldn't buy war bonds. My own grandfather had his beard shaved in 1917-I assume this had something to do with war and peace. I know about the treatment of Amish and Mennonites who were at Ft. Leavenworth, and of some who now refuse to register. I know about a former war tax resister. Are there other stories that might be better for 18-year-olds?
Many of these kids are not religious or only marginally so. So things I can refer to without thinking with my own agnostic/atheist but well-churched son may not be familiar to these students.
We think this is a valuable opportunity to witness to another way of life-different from but not in competition with Columbus Mennonite's youth ministry. And if the opportunity to speak arose in other places with other kids, we would take it.
[Editor's note: Readers, if you know a source for any of the stories mentioned above, please send a Reader Response!]
From Albany, Oregon:
Larry and I have been a part of a broadly based group called Albany Peace Seekers since before the Iraq war began. It's not a large group. At times, we grapple with what we can do to be supportive and be able to make a dent in this horrible mess in the Middle East.
This year, there is a major "remembering" of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki (August 9, 1945), and a steering committee is pulling together a great idea. The plan is in process to invite 2-4 high school students, a college student and several adults to travel to Nagasaki in August to be a part of the big gathering in memory of the horror of 60 years ago. It takes much planning to pull enough funds together to pay for this to happen.
Our pastor [at Albany Mennonite Church], Matt Friesen, is now confirmed to be the leader of the group. He is involved in choosing participants, detail planning, writing a letter to the mayor of Nagasaki and much more. Those who attend the special gathering are expected to return to Albany and meet talk to the various clubs, church people and the general public about peace and their experience.
This is quite revolutionary for the teens and some of the others involved. I plan to write a page about this event in our church newsletter and to invite people to be actively involved, since our pastor is the leader. (Matt will be on a three-month sabbatical at that time and is free to be gone for the nearly 10 days of the trip.)
-Mary Jane Eby