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July 6, 2015
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
What do Ferguson, Belfast, Sarajevo, and Abuja have in common? As we studied the roots of conflict around the world, we began to see the role played by a complex interaction of many factors: history, both mythic and real; the illusion of single identity; governments, NGO’s, community groups, and individuals, functioning as either inciters or peacemakers. We were students in a year-long online Conflict Transformation program through St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas which concluded with two weeks at the Corrymeela Center in Northern Ireland. This Certificate program is the inspiration of Dr. Aaron Tyler, professor and Baptist pastor, and Dr. Larry Hufford, professor and long-time peace activist.
As students, we shared from our own experiences in Kenya, Turkey, Alaska, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso, the United States, and Zimbabwe. We were never far from the news: our fellow student from Burkina Faso experienced a coup in his country during the course, and often those from Kenya and Zimbabwe were far from the Internet, mediating in cattle raids and land conflicts. I was cut off from the course for 3 weeks as I taught and shared with Baptists in Cuba. One purpose of the program is to build a global network of peacemakers.
In the first course we captured the big picture, looking at the origins of peacemaking after World War I and going behind the scenes of major world conflicts like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the invasion of Iraq. We analyzed the elements that provoked wise or mistaken decisions. We learned from practitioners both the science and the art of peacemaking.
The second course explored the role of religion and identity in conflict situations. How is racial, tribal, national, religious or regional identity exploited to unite or to divide people? We organized a hypothetical peace council in Iraq that would include all the players. We learned to develop strategies to move toward peace.
From the beginning the course had emphasized that the end of violence does not bring peace, but rather it is the beginning of a long process of rebuilding relationships and communities. The third class, taught by the Director of Corrymeela, focused on group building to bring together divided peoples after a conflict. We looked at powerful examples of programs bringing together Israeli and Palestinian youth, Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, rival gangs in the US, divided communities in Sri Lanka. We studied the transforming role of storytelling in reconciliation. We explored the use of art, drama, circus, sports, and adventure to break through barriers and draw people together.
Finally, at Corrymeela, we were able to meet the fellow students we had known only online. At this idyllic place overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, with Scotland in the distance, volunteers gather from every continent of the world to learn how to be peacemakers. We shared table (and washed dishes) with people from Switzerland, El Salvador, Colombia, Nigeria, England, the Republic of Ireland, Germany, South Africa, and the United States.
A common theme was the effects of colonialism: in Ireland, Africa, Alaska, Hawaii, and Latin America. Our class studied the painful story of British colonization of Ireland and the systematic oppression of Irish Catholics by English Protestants over centuries, ending in independence for the Irish Republic in 1923, but leaving the fourth province, Ulster, as a part of the United Kingdom. Inspired by the US civil rights movement in the 1960’s, Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland organized and asked for equal rights, but the effort broke out into full-scale violence for 30 years (“The Troubles”) until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. We explored how language is used, how history is interpreted, how physical, emotional, political, and social barriers are set up to divide people. We compared this conflict to those in our own countries and sought for ways to move toward peace.
Today, Corrymeela seeks to be a safe space for Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Loyalists to gather to hear one another’s stories, find common ground, accept responsibility for their part in the conflict, forgive and work together for peace. Founded by Christians and grounded in a liberating understanding of the Gospel, Corrymeela is nevertheless open to all faiths and actively seeks to build bridges among all divided groups.
If you would like to deepen your understanding and skills in the area of Conflict Transformation and meet inspiring peacemakers, I recommend this program to you. Click here for more information.
The author, Rev. Ruth Mooney, is a mission worker with International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, USA and serves as a professor at the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana in San José, Costa Rica. She has been interested in peacemaking since working in El Salvador during the civil war in the 1980s and is a long-time member of Baptist Peace Fellowship. You can find out more about her ministry and the University at: