Training peacebuilding leaders: challenges faced and lessons learned

Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.

As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.

School of Peace

Interfaith participants at the three-month School of Peace for young adults from across Asia typically hold a debate as an exercise in fostering critical thinking. Each year the debate resolution is different. One year the resolution was: “It is not necessary to do peacemaking.” Divided into two groups, the fifteen young participants were given a day to prepare to defend or oppose the statement.

Let’s not do peacemaking. Let’s transform the injustices that block peace from flowing.

As the debate began, those defending the resolution (that is arguing against the necessity of doing peacemaking) were having a difficult time finding good arguments that could hold up against the opposition. They were losing badly. Then one young woman stood up to make her argument in support of the resolution, offering this argument:

I live next to a small stream. When I was a child, we used to play in its crystal-clear water. We could even drink it. Later, the stream became polluted with plastic and other garbage. Our parents no longer let us play in it. We thought about finding some way to filter the water to make it clean, but we realized that the water originally was very clean. If we wanted to enjoy the stream again, we would have to investigate where the pollution came from and find a way to solve that.

As a Christian I believe that peace is a gift from God. It is here all around us. But so many people can’t experience it because injustices pollute it. We don’t need to do peacemaking.  Rather we need to find out the source of injustice and transform that. Then beautiful peace, like a clear, sparkling stream, can flow to everyone. Let’s not do peacemaking. Let’s transform the injustices that block peace from flowing.

Her argument reflected one of the principal tenets of the School of Peace. During our intense three months together, we urge participants to seek the root causes of conflict and non-peace and be willing to work for structural change at the local and national levels. Only when our systems and structures emphasize justice and righteousness for all can God’s peace flow freely to all.

In the opening ceremony of the School of Peace in Vishtar, Indiai, Poli Drong of Bangladesh lights a candle from the center flame to place in the open spiral of flowers, symbolizing how the world expands as people learn to be open to those who are different from themselves. (MCC photo/Max Ediger)

Working for structural transformation is very difficult and requires much analysis and planning. While it may often be easy to respond to conflicts with simple models and projects, the result may not be long-lasting. Our goal must be to be effective rather than busy—and being effective requires creative strategies to address the roots of injustice.

As we explore more deeply the roots of conflict, we find that we must first look at the issue of identity. All of us have multiple identities and no two of us have the exact same identity. This diversity is beautiful and is generally celebrated. However, when any one of us begins to feel that one of our identities, such as a religious, ethnic, gender or ideological identity, is superior to others, the roots of conflict have been laid. Conflicts at the local, national or even global level can grow out of this sense of superiority because it gives us the supposed “right” to exploit or oppress the “other.”

If we recognize that identity can be the cause of serious conflicts, we also begin to realize that violence against others will not bring any lasting solution to conflicts. Identity is a social construct and thus can be changed through creative dialogue. It is of course not easy to transform social constructs, but if we wish to allow peace to flow freely to all, we must start here. This is one way to stop being busy and begin being effective.

Max Ediger directs the School of Peace. He worked with MCC in southeast Asia for about 40 years and now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University.

Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.

Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University.

Great Lakes Initiative.

Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute.

Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute.

Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College.

Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s