“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″
(April 4, 2008) — Framed by the scripture story of the good Samaritan, Church of the Brethren youth from across the nation explored the issue of genocide this week, at the Christian Citizenship Seminar. The youth were confronted with questions of a Christian and peace church response to the violent tragedies of Rwanda, the Holocaust, or the deliberate removal of indigenous people from their lands and their homes.
Seventy-four youth and advisors took part in this annual seminar sponsored by the General Board’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the Brethren Witness/Washington Office. Over three days spent in New York, followed by three days in Washington, D.C., the youth were given presentations and engaged in dialogue around the genocides that have occurred in the world’s history, and how people of faith have been involved or have responded. Terms such as “Never Again” and “Responsibility to Protect” were critiqued and examined in relation to how the United Nations or the global community has actually responded.
David Fraccarro, director of Young Adults for the World Council of Churches, USA, led the group in evaluating how their own social structures and peer group choices may implicate them in “leaving out others.” George Brent, a Holocaust survivor, recounted the formational story of his life, and that of his family, as they were put on trains and arbitrarily chosen for the death chambers of Germany. He gave the group hope in his story of survival and renewal in the midst of such tragedy. Jim Lehman drew the group in with the story of struggle and challenge between the “peace loving” Brethren in middle Pennsylvania in the 18th century, and the Native Americans of that region. Through viewing the film “Hotel Rwanda,” youth were reminded that genocide is not a historically distant event for their generation.
The focus of the seminar, however, was the ongoing genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Sharon Silber and Phil Anderson, both active with the organization Save Darfur, provided history, detail, and political understandings that surround the estimated 400,000 deaths in Darfur. More than two million people have been displaced from Darfur, as well. Native Sudanese youth Wilfred and Serena Lohitai participated in the seminar themselves, and brought a very real expression of the Sudanese suffering. Serena Lohitai shared about the importance of family and community to the people of Sudan. “All relatives are as parents, or sisters and brothers to one another,” she said. Such an understanding makes clear the absolute devastation as members of the community are murdered, raped, or displaced.
Tim McElwee, Plowshares Professor of Peace Studies at Manchester College, engaged the students in exploring the 1996 Annual Conference statement, “Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention.” He drew attention to the Peaceable Community section of the paper that reads in part, “The church is empowered to make visible the ways of Jesus…therefore the church shall…advocate for the things that make for peace…lay low the dividing walls of hostility…train and upon invitation deploy Christian conciliation and peacemaking teams and nonviolent monitors in zones of violence and physical abuse.” Youth challenged and embraced differing sections of this document. Some found their only voice to be that of nonviolence, others found hope in limited United Nations “peacekeeping forces” that may be allowed to intervene militarily as a means of last resort.
Following training for direct lobbying on pending legislation regarding Sudan, the youth visited with their senators and representatives. Points of advocacy included providing adequate funding in the 2008 Supplemental Funding Bill that would ensure funds for a UNAMID “peacekeeping mission” in Darfur, disaster and famine response, adequate diplomatic efforts, and support of a US Special Envoy. The senators and representatives also were encouraged to support HR 1011 or SR 470 that provide for a comprehensive strategy for addressing relationships between Chad, the Central African Republic, and Darfur, Sudan. Several of the groups of youth also chose to call for US pressure on China, related to the upcoming Olympics in that country.
The seminar also included times of worship and praise, small group reflection, and free-time activities in both cities. Rich Troyer, youth minister from Middlebury (Ind.) Church of the Brethren, reflected that the seminar, “teaches young people to get out of their comfort zones. It teaches them what it means to love their neighbors. It teaches them about issues they may not know anything about and helps them to see how the call of Jesus intersects the issue and encourages them to ‘not pass by on the other side.’ It is more than social action, it is faith in action.”
For more information about the Christian Citizenship Seminar contact the Youth and Young Adult Ministries or the Brethren Witness/Washington Office. Better yet, ask one of the 74 who attended.
–Phil Jones is the director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office for the Church of the Brethren General Board.
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