Address to Mennonite World Conference, Paraguay, July 2009
by Sandra Milena Rincón (translated by Carol Rose)
Twenty-five years ago during Mennonite World Conference in France, Anabaptists from the north received a challenge to heed the signs of the times calling the pacifist church to intervene actively as a nonviolent army of Christians in war zones.
Christian Peacemaker Teams grew out of that challenge. It took several years to define the mission, vision, objectives and methods of work appropriate to the contexts in which volunteers would be serving. From there, CPT began a sustained program of spiritual and political accompaniment of communities affected by violence and armed conflict around the world, and prophetic proclamation within and outside of the churches.
During these years, the loving hands of the Creator, through the communities with whom CPT has worked closely, have constantly molded and profoundly transformed the organization. CPT has grown in ways no one could have predicted.
Truly, we would not be where we are today were it not for the local communities who have given us the opportunity to be present in their nonviolent struggles to live with dignity on their land.
Shepherds, farmers and students in Palestine; indigenous communities of the United States, Canada and Colombia; displaced villagers of Iraqi Kurdistan and families of detainees in Baghdad prisons; mining communities and social organizations in Colombia; women’s groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo; indigenous Mayan peoples in Mexico; villagers in Haiti and many other communities and organizations have opened their doors to us during these 25 years − sometimes with doubt or questions about what we wanted or what we might do − but they let us in, to participate actively in their hopes, their challenges, their efforts for justice and peace. They have offered us warmth and hospitality; and they have welcomed us as brothers and sisters, companions on the journey.
As a Christian organization, CPT has traveled many paths. Together we have made errors in judgment, honored moments of grief, worked through difficult situations and joyfully celebrated profound commitments to life.
We have shared with visionary men and women whose accumulated life experience challenges our faith and our commitment to justice and peace on a daily basis.
These peacemakers have given us a task: to work for the transformation of the policies and structures that oppress and violate their communities. Such efforts cannot be successfully carried out by a small group of people with good intentions. The work must be undertaken in conjunction with grassroots communities and organizations that believe nonviolence is a viable option for creating peace.
This commitment includes a serious analysis of how the structural roots of violence, such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc., perpetuate capitalism, neo-liberalism and imperialism which give rise to violence expressed as hunger, poverty, discrimination, insecurity, displacement and war. To be relevant, this analysis must involve other communities, organizations and churches going through similar processes. That requires CPT to become vulnerable, humble, and to transform ourselves as we discern the role that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, have in a changing and complex world.
CPT’s original vision has become broader, deeper and more challenging. Even as we seek to accompany local communities rooted in a more authentic identity, we also strive to create among us a more loving, inclusive, diverse community where God’s grace and wisdom flow continually. And we continue our work of education and consciousness-raising within the church to encourage active participation in transforming the systems and structures that perpetuate violence against these communities.
I have been in CPT for seven years and have seen this organization become more human and humble. As a group of activists, passionate pacifists, followers of Christ, we have been profoundly transformed by the communities that we accompany who have given us a new vision of life, resistance, justice, peace and the Reign of God. We each come with our own story, but it is our interaction with the stories of these diverse communities that gives deeper meaning to our work and the conviction to continue accompanying them. Yes, we come from the Church and we depend on the support of the Church, but above all we depend on God.
CPT is still far from being the organization that we long for, but I feel hope because CPT understands that working in partnership to build peace is a long-haul journey in which we must recognize our own responsibility in oppression and respect the strong voices of those have taken on the challenge long before us. Many communities continue to believe that we have a role to play in their struggles for justice and life, the role of companions on the journey. We wish to honor their trust and the opportunity to join with them in the change that is to come.
Twenty-five years later, the challenge for CPT is much greater, though no less enriching, in a global context where the struggle to keep hope alive is so fundamental to experiencing the Reign of God. “Getting in the Way” has not, is not, and will not be easy. There is much work to do and our strength easily falters. Nevertheless, CPT will continue to answer God’s call as it rises up in the voices of communities in struggle and through the support of our own faith communities.
If CPT is to keep “Getting in the Way,” we will need many more men and women, organizations and churches ready to commit themselves in the deepest sense to the pacifist, anti-oppressive, nonviolent message of Jesus − men and women working to break the chains of oppression that bind humanity; men and women who understand that peacemaking starts with sincere transformation of our own hearts, guided by the Holy Spirit, and only then shines forth as an ethical commitment to the communities with whom we work.