Last night I went to the Mennonite Church that is only 4 blocks from my house to hear a speaker, Kathleen Kern, from Christian Peacemaking Teams. This is an organization that has volunteers/employees that go to places where there is armed conflict and stand or walk with people to try to stop the violence and keep innocent groups safe. They currently are at work in Colombia, northern Iraq, and the West Bank. In the past they have been in the Congo, Puerto Rico, South Africa, and Haiti.
Kathleen has worked with this group since 1993. She is a Mennonite woman in her 40's who, I'm sorry to say, is a very disorganized speaker. BUT her enthusiasm and sincerity for her work more than made up for her lack of polish, her love for the run-on sentence, or her inability to answer a simple question in less than 5 minutes. I left with a great deal of information and respect for both the work that CPTs do, and respect for the difficulty of doing it well.
The obvious challenge, for me, would be the bravery necessary to do the work. They use the bravery of people in the military as inspiration, thinking of all the soldiers who have put themselves in harms way and sacrificed their lives for what they believed in, while advocating non-violence themselves. One member of a team in Iraq was kidnapped and killed while working there. Faith in God is a big part of what sustains their teams, according to Kathleen. She mentioned that sometimes even when the teams don't know what they are doing, they succeed. She said that, for her, this is a sign that God can work through people who are clueless just as well as those who seem to know what they are doing. And that now when she reads the New Testament about the early movement of the church, she sees that same thing in the work of the apostles. That made me smile.
After more than 20 years of work this group is far from clueless. They have worked through a lot of organizational struggles including how to promote their work without a great deal of self-aggrandizement, latent racism in teams working in other cultures, and how to promote peacemaking among people in other religions while maintaining a Christian identity which, according to Kathleen, is critical to their work. They do it all with a level of self-reflection I found inspiring.