Address to Mennonite World Conference, Paraguay, July 2009
by Sandra Milena Rincón (translated by Carol Rose)
Twenty-five years ago at the Mennonite World Conference in France, the Anabaptist churches of the north were challenged by a call that history was issuing to the pacifist church, a call to intervene actively as a nonviolent Christian army in support of communities affected by violence and armed conflict around the world.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) grew from this call. The formation process took several years of defining the most appropriate mission, vision, objectives, and methodologies of the work these Christian volunteers would undertake. From these beginnings, CPT began an ongoing program of spiritual and political accompaniment of communities affected by violence and armed conflict in different parts of the world. CPT also initiated its work of prophetic proclamation within and outside of the churches. During these years, CPT has profoundly transformed and grown in ways no one could have predicted, and the loving hands of the Creator have constantly molded the organization using the communities with which it has worked closely.
Truly, we would not be were we are now if it were not for the local communities who have given us the opportunity to be present in their struggle and to support their nonviolent resistance to powers that will not allow them to live in their land with dignity. The families of shepherds and farmers and students in Palestine, the indigenous communities of the United States, Canada and Colombia, the displaced communities of Kurdistan and the families of detainees in Baghdad’s prison, the communities of miners, farmers and social organizations in Colombia, the women of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Mayan indigenous communities in Mexico, the community of Jeremie in Haiti, and many other communities and organizations, have opened their doors to us during these twenty-five years—sometimes with doubts or uneasiness about what we would do or what we wanted—but they opened the door to us so that we could actively participate in their projects for justice and peace, in their hopes and in the challenges they faced. They have offered us hospitality, warmth and the blessing of considering us their brothers and sisters in the midst of their struggles, companions on the road.
CPT has been a Christian organization that has traveled many paths, has made errors in judgment, has honored moments of grief, has worked through difficult situations, and has celebrated with joy events that arise from a deep commitment to Life. We have shared with visionary men and women whose accumulated life experiences challenge daily our faith and commitment to justice. Yes, we approached them believing that as Christians we would be the ones to help them, but that was not the case. The communities continually remind us that the commitment to justice and peace cannot be carried out by a small group of people with good intentions; rather it must happen in conjunction with the communities, the grassroots organizations and individuals who are convinced that nonviolence is a viable route to peace.
For CPT, this commitment involves a serious analysis of how structural expressions of violence like racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc. perpetuate capitalism, neoliberalism, and imperialism. These forms of domination and control in turn perpetuate violence that takes the forms of hunger, poverty, discrimination, insecurity, displacement, and war. CPT cannot carry out this analysis alone; the process involves other organizations, communities, and churches going through similar processes. More than anything, the analysis and the work require that CPT become vulnerable and humble so that it can transform itself. Through this analysis, CPT has understood that we must start with a critique of ourselves, discerning the role that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, have in a changing and complex world.
The original vision has grown, deepened, and become more challenging. While by accompanying these communities, CPT honors its call as a progressive organization, in doing so it is also fulfilling its commitment to become a more inclusive, ecumenical, and diverse community of love, a place where God’s grace and wisdom keep flowing. CPT maintains its vision of educating and raising awareness within the church to encourage its active participation in the transformation of systems and structures that perpetuate the forms of violence that afflict these communities.
In the seven years, I have been in CPT, I have seen this organization become both more human and more humble. Yes, we are a group of activists, passionate pacifists, followers of Christ, a bit stubborn and very committed. We have been profoundly transformed by the communities we accompany, and they have given us a new vision of life, resistance, justice, peace, and the Reign of God. Yes, we receive training and we each come into the work with our own experiences and history, but it is the interaction with diverse communities in each region and with their history that has given us a deep understanding of our work and of the call to continue accompanying them. Yes, we have our origins in the Church and we depend on the Church and your support, but first, we depend on God.
Even so, CPT is far from being the organization that we hope and long for, far from the organization that I desire; but I feel hope because CPT understands that to collaborate in peacebuilding is a long-haul journey in which we need to recognize and join together with the strength and the voices of those who have taken on the challenge long before we did, to join them in solidarity and with respect. Many communities continue to believe that we have a role to play in their efforts for justice and life, the role of accompanier, and we would like to honor their trust, recognizing our own responsibility for their situation and the opportunity they give us to join with them in the change to come.
After twenty-five years, CPT must face an even larger challenge, one that is no less rich. It calls us to work in a global context where the struggle to keep hope alive continues to be at the root of bringing the Reign of God to life. Being present in the way has not been, is not, and will not be easy; there is much work to do and our strength easily falters. Nevertheless, as CPT, we continue to answer the call of God that we hear in the voices of the communities we accompany and that we feel through the support of our own faith communities.
To continue in this Way, we need many men and women, communities, organizations and churches ready to commit themselves deeply to the pacifist, anti-oppressive, loving, nonviolent message of Jesus —men and women working to transform or to break the chains of oppression that bind humanity, that bind our brothers and sisters; men and women who understand that the work of building the Reign of God starts with sincere transforming reflections from our own hearts, guided by the Spirit of God, which then become an ethical commitment to the communities with whom we work. These are the words that, in the name of CPT, I wish to bring to you today. Thank you for all of the support that we have received and continue to receive from you the global Anabaptist community.