CPT Marks 25 Years: Peacemaker Congress

by Susan Miller

CPT’s 25th anniversary Peacemaker Congress launched us into the next quarter century with renewed vision for the challenges ahead.  Video recordings of fiery Bible studies and reflections by Shanta Premawardhana, Sylvia Morrison, Ched Myers and Elaine Enns along with riveting keynote  addresses by Elce Redmond, Angélica Castellanos, and Mohamed Salah are posted (or will be in the coming weeks) at www.cpt.org/2011videos.  The following article by CPT supporter Susan Miller is edited and used with the author’s permission.

About 160 people gathered 13-16 October at Reba Place Church to celebrate Christian Peacemaker Teams’ 25 years of nonviolent peacemaking and to focus on “Re-imagining Partnerships for Peacemaking.”

The 11th Peacemaker Congress brought together participants from across North America, as well as Iraq, Colombia,  Palestine, the Philippines and the Netherlands.

For plenary speaker Mohamed Salah, a Kurdish Muslim who has served as a driver, translator, teacher, cook, adviser and partner of the CPT Iraq team, the event marked a number of “firsts:” first time outside his country, first airplane ride and first time to speak in front of a large group.  He opened his address by greeting his family in Kurdish via the video streaming technology that expanded the number of participants in the Congress to include anyone listening online.

In areas where Islam is the predominant faith, CPTers and Muslim partners  have developed ever-deepening working relationships.  Salah and Fathiyeh Gainey, a Palestinian who is the first Muslim to serve long term on the CPT Palestine team, urged CPT to advance beyond token inclusion and to increase team members’ understanding of the religions, cultures and languages of the people with whom they will serve.

“I really appreciate the young people I see here,” Salah said. “They will be the leaders in the next 25 years. I hope to bring an airplane full of people here for the next 25-year anniversary!”

Sylvia Morrison, CPT’s Undoing Racism coordinator, gave the opening reflection on “Honoring Story.”  She said, “It makes a difference how you tell the story” [of nonviolent peacemaking] and encouraged listeners to “include yourself in the story.”

Congress participants listened to and told their stories in plenary sessions, workshops, and while walking together in pairs through the neighborhood in a candlelight peace vigil.   Plenary speaker Elce Redmond told how he drew on his CPT delegation experience –   accompanying school children in Palestine to protect them from Israeli    settler violence – to create the Austin Peaceforce in a Chicago neighborhood where armed police sometimes fear getting out of their cars to intervene in fighting.

The youth and adults in the Peaceforce are trained to de-escalate and prevent violence among their peers.  Redmond has also organized to help families facing severe financial hardships — an underlying reason children and adults lash out in verbal and physical abuse.

Angélica Castellanos spoke about the invasion of multinational corporations in her native Colombia, which has led to the internal displacement of millions, and of how she has organized to help peasants remain on their own land.  She said without the international accompaniment of CPT and similar organizations, social organizers could not do their work.  “Without [them] we would get killed.”

Ched Myers and Elaine Enns facilitated three workshops in which long-term CPT members told stories of CPT’s beginnings, work with Indigenous Justice in the Americas, the Iraq Hostage Crisis and “how CPT has changed me.”

Cliff Kindy served in Gaza, Iraq and Congo.  He told how he miraculously escaped death when he stepped between the guns of Israeli soldiers and their intended victims in Gaza.  “God doesn’t need us to be perfect,” he said, “just available.”

Enns and Myers also preached at the joint worship service Sunday morning with the Reba Place congregation.  They told the story of Moses’ demand to see God’s face and God’s provision for him to stand in the cleft of the rock, giving Moses a glimpse of God’s glory [Exodus 33:12-23].

“Moses it seems was not your  typical activist,” they said.  “It was not enough to have the right cause, or the right tactics or even the right theology…  In order to go into the heart of darkness, Moses knew he had to immerse himself in the Light.”

“Empire dims our senses, dulls our imaginations, socializes us to accept the way things are,” they continued.  “Only a vision of possibility can animate risk [so] don’t even think about going into those war zones without a profound and palpable sense of the presence of the God of peace.”