Gene Stoltzfus (1940-2010) was the Director of the Christian
Peacemaker Teams (CPT) from its founding in 1988 until 2004.
Gene traveled to Iraq immediately before the first Gulf
War in 1991 and spent time with the Iraq CPT Team in 2003 to
facilitate consultation with Muslim and Christian clerics, Iraqi
human rights leaders, families of Iraqi detainees and talking with
American administrators and soldiers. The Team’s work contributed
to the disclosures around Abu Ghraib that gave impetus to the still
tentative, worldwide movement for military forces to attend to the
rights and protection of civilians.
From mid-December 2001 to mid-January 2002, Gene and
current CPT Co-Director, Doug Pritchard, were in Pakistan and
Afghanistan listening to the victims of bombing and observing the
effects of 23 years of violence — much of it fed by forces from
outside Afghanistan. “Where have you been all these years?”
asked an Afghan leader who articulated the voices of others around
Gene’s commitment to peacemaking is rooted in his
Christian faith and experience in Vietnam as a conscientious objector
with International Voluntary Services during the US military
escalation (1963-68). He recalls watching the helicopters personnel
unload their cargo of bloodied bodies. This experience set him “on
the search to make sense of life and death where the terms of
survival, meaning and culture approve and even train for killing.”
Gene had to ask himself: Was I willing to die for my conviction of
enemy loving just as Vietnamese and American soldiers all around me
were being asked to give their lives in order to achieve peace and
In the early 1970’s Stoltzfus directed a domestic
Mennonite Voluntary Service program with a view to engaging with the
social justice and peacemaking needs of that day and recognized then
the enormous importance of local, disciplined, trained community and
congregationally based peacemaking efforts. In the late 1970’s, he
and his wife co-directed the Mennonite Central Committee program in
the Philippines during President Marcos’ martial law era focusing it
on human rights and economic justice; and then they went on to help
establish Synapses, a grassroots international peace and justice
organization in Chicago to connect the United States and people in
the developing world.
Gene Stoltzfus grew up in Aurora,
then a rural town in Northeast Ohio where his parents gave leadership
in a Mennonite Church and his father was the pastor. He graduated in
Sociology from Goshen College in Indiana and holds an M.A. in South
and Southeast Asian Studies from American University (Washington D.
C.) and a Master of Divinity from Associated Mennonite Biblical
Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana.
He was married to Dorothy Friesen of
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They lived in Chicago for the past 25
years until his retirement to Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada. After retiring from CPT, he traveled to various speaking engagements, and blogged weekly at Peace Talk
and made twig furniture as a contribution to the greening world.