Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Meaning of Life, Part 23

I am devoting this meaning of life to one of our new church members, Becca Knight. Becca works for the Appalachia Service Project. She will be speaking on Colombia at our Adult Forum this Sunday.

I believe in peace and I believe in creating communities where peace can prevail. In September 2007, I participated in an emergency peace delegation to Colombia, South America. I witnessed the civil war between the paramilitaries, guerillas and Colombian military – and stood in solidarity with some of the innocent civilian victims.

The pastors, peace workers and indigenous leaders who I met put their lives in danger every day by speaking the truth about the violence. Colombia just surpassed Sudan as the country with the most internally displaced people; 4.3 million Colombians have been forced off their land and another 1,500 are forcibly removed from their homes every day. You rarely hear about Colombia in the news, but she is our neighbor – in my same time zone. We receive cut flowers and coffee from her, yet are barely aware that she is home to the western hemisphere’s greatest humanitarian crisis.

This week, churches all across the US and Canada are participating in Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia. We are learning about the history of the conflict, sharing powerful stories of suffering and hope in Colombia, and advocating for our President and Congress to enact a more peaceful US policy on Colombia. While increased dollars have been spent on fumigating fields of coca, the flow of cocaine from Colombia into the US has only increased. It is time for us to promote sustainable alternative development instead.

I believe in domestic peace work as well. Last year I lived in the Trinidad neighborhood in Washington, DC - a mile and a half from the Capitol. In two months, we had 7 homicides, 16 robberies and 20 assaults with dangerous weapons – many of which occurred within 3 blocks of Mennonite Central Committee’s house where I lived. Police checkpoints closed off our neighborhood and we became known as “Little Baghdad.” Yet, we didn’t fight this violence by arming ourselves. Instead of securing guns to protect us, we built peace by creating community. We got to know everyone who lived on our block. We shared birthdays and ladders and planted trees together. I believe that strong communities create peace.

I also believe that the home repair work that Appalachia Service Project does is peace work. I have seen how poverty breeds violence and violence breeds poverty. By giving families dry roofs over their heads, safe floors to walk on and running water to drink, we are helping to create lives that are peace-filled instead of worry-filled. By providing opportunities for affluent youth and adults from suburban and urban America to form relationships with poor rural people, we are building bridges that create understanding and peace. I believe that this world needs more peace and that each of us can live in ways that bring peace to our lives and others’ lives.

Note: This was written for a staff meeting at ASP and was modeled after NPR's "This I Believe" essay series. If you are interested in writing your own essay, you can find the guidelines here: I'd love to read about your beliefs!

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