Written by Pastor Ed
Women as Peacebuilders
Nov. 6, 2016 – Peace Sunday
Luke 8:1–3; 23:49; 23:55–56; 24:1–10
When we think of Jesus’ disciples, we generally think of the twelve men who are named and talked about repeatedly in the Gospels. But it is also clear from the gospels that there were other people who traveled together with Jesus, and amazingly, some of them are also named. I say amazingly because in reality, there are very few people who are actually named in the gospel accounts, and even more because these are women. And they are named not once, but as we heard, multiple times in Luke’s account, which tells us that they were a significant part of the ministry.
In a society where women were not highly valued, Luke more than any of the other writers includes numerous women in his writing. And the ones we heard about don’t include the two women that are prominent at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, namely Elizabeth and Mary. Luke notes at the beginning of the gospel that he wants to write an “orderly account” of the happenings so that his readers would know the truth. Some have suggested that these women, including Mary, were among his sources.
They were there at the beginning, traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry, and were among the first witnesses to the resurrection. According to Luke, it is the women who first encounter the empty tomb and rush off to tell the other disciples. Of course, as is so often the case, the women were regarded with some skepticism and dismissed as bringing an “idle tale” until it was confirmed by others, but indeed the women were the first bearers of the good news.
Yet for the most part the women are not mentioned when the story of history is told. While that has changed some in more recent history, and may change even more come Tuesday, history has generally been written by men and mostly told from their perspective. Since much of history is often told in terms of war, perhaps it is no wonder that women are left out, since war has generally been carried out by men.
Yet as Sherri Guenter Trautwein writes in her reflections for today:
“Throughout history, and still today, it is women who often stand vigil
as the brutalities of violence, war and injustice swirl around them. It
is women, who are often silenced, often forgotten, who stand strong
in the face of great loss and devastation, paying tribute to life in the
darkest of circumstances. It is women who carry the stories of those
who have lived and those who have died in their hearts. It is women
who courageously preserve and remember echoes of truth from days
gone by in service of what must be known and done in the present.
This persistent witness has allowed women to stand in the gap,
weaving threads of God’s mercy into the fabric of everyday life, and
in their unwavering commitment, emerge as peacebuilders for their
That is not to say that men have not been or are working as peacebuilders as well. Everyone needs to be involved in the process of making peace. What it is meant to point out is that women are often deeply involved in building peace, yet are often left out of the final report. It is also clearly true that women often bear the brunt of violence in our world, whether domestic violence in the home, or in the violence of war. When you read or hear the reports of fighting in Aleppo or currently in Mosul, remember that there are many women and children who are being displaced and even killed because of the actions there. We tend to not hear about them, or they are simply considered “collateral damage.”
This week there will be many ceremonies honouring and remembering those who fought in wars. There will be many who speak of those who “gave their lives” for their country. Just the other day I saw a church sign that read: “Who died for you? Soldiers and Jesus.” Which I think is rather bad theology to begin with, but what any of that language forgets are all the other people who were killed as the results of war and who continue to be the victims of war.
And yes, women continue to work for peace in the world. Just to mention a few that were noted in our material for today.
Doreen Ruto was a secondary school teacher on August 7, 1998 when
her husband was killed in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi,
Kenya. Over 200 people were killed in the Nairobi bombing and in a
simultaneous one in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Doreen’s journey to find healing led her to become involved in trauma
healing and peacebuilding. She first attended Eastern Mennonite
University’s training program on trauma healing (STAR) in 2001. She
eventually graduated from the program and went on to become one of
its trainers, (along with a friend of mine, Donna Minter, from Minneapolis.)
Back in Kenya, Ruto gave leadership to a whole variety of trauma
healing and peacebuilding initiatives. She worked with youth, women,
teachers, social workers, police and others. After the Westgate Mall bombing in 2013, Ruto offered trauma healing training to victims, caregivers and first responders, with support from MCC.
Doreen Ruto died on January 21, 2016. She is remembered for her personal strength, her laughter, her love of life and her passionate commitment to trauma healing and peacebuilding.
Hala Al Hamida is 26 years old. She lives in Damascus, Syria where
she works for the national relief and development committee of the
Syrian Orthodox Church, which MCC partners with to provide
assistance to people in serious need. Al Hamidia’s job is to write
funding proposals to organizations like MCC and to distribute cash
vouchers to people who need help paying rent or buying medicine. She
also organizes programs for children and youth.
Syria has experienced war for five years. Over 270,000 people have
been killed, 6.8 million have been internally displaced, and 4.2 million
have fled the country. Some 13.5 million are in need of ongoing
Al Hamidia used to enjoying walking in the neighbourhood of the
Syrian Orthodox Church; now she phones ahead each morning to make sure that there have been no bombings or signs of unrest along the way. One day, while she was at work, 27 mortars exploded very near the church. Several times she has been nearly hit by a mortar herself. The threat of rocket attack is always present.
Al Hamidia has had the opportunity to attend the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University and gain training in restorative justice, trauma healing and peacebuilding. Subsequently, she has helped to organize dialogue groups for people from different denominations, has worked with youth to prevent them from being drawn into armed militias, and has planned activities that include Christian and Muslim children. She says, “Being a peacebuilder in Syria for me means helping other people regardless of their beliefs or their background.”
Many of Al Hamidia’s friends have left Syria, but she and her family choose to stay, despite the dangers and incredible difficulties. She says, “Being a peacemaker in a war area is very challenging as many of my generation think that the voices of weapons are louder than other voices, but I believe that this is not true and that the world can live in peace.”
Colombia’s armed conflict has been going on for more than 60 years.
Generations living in Colombia have not known what peace means,
because they have not experienced it. And yet, in June of this year, a
ceasefire was signed between government forces and the armed guerrillas
of the FARC (the largest and oldest of Colombia’s rebel groups).
At a young age, Jenny Neme was urged to join the ranks of an illegal
armed group. She did not respond to the call. Instead, she adopted a
commitment to peace and non-violence, even though at the time she
had no language for this commitment. Involved in the Colombian
Mennonite Church, she gradually came to understand the centrality of
peace to a life of faith in Christ.
As a social worker, Neme quickly put her faith into practice, becoming
involved in community development, human rights and peacebuilding
– in the church and in secular contexts. For the past eight years she
has served as Director of Justapaz, an organization of the Mennonite
Church that accompanies human rights and peacebuilding processes. That is where I met Jenny, first in my previous position on a trip to Ecuador and Colombia, and then again in 2012 on the MCC Alberta Learning tour to Colombia.
Neme has supported conscientious objectors, individuals experiencing human rights violations, and communities threatened with violence and displacement. She has participated with ecumenical groups to
support a ceasefie, to accompany victims and to organize religious ceremonies of healing and reconciliation. Many people in Colombia oppose these peacebuilding efforts, and so her work requires great courage and fortitude.
At a Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival in Waterloo in June 2016, Neme said, “I have learned about the effects of advocacy, which are real. I have learned about the power of collective
prayer, which generates hope and I have learned that it is necessary to continue walking hand in hand with the One in whom we have believed. I have learned that being salt and light is something real and
possible in our contexts, guided by the hand of God.”
Mavis Étienne is a Kanesatake Mohawk and an evangelical Christian. She is a counsellor, a broadcaster and a Bible translator. She is also a peacebuilder.
In the early 1990s Étienne’s Mohawk community near Oka, Quebec found itself in a major confrontation with Quebec police when the mayor of Oka announced plans for the expansion of a golf course
and the building of condominiums on the site of a sacred Aboriginal burial ground. The Mohawk people had been trying to negotiate a comprehensive claim on the land for decades. When negotiations with the municipality to stop construction on the golf course broke down, the Mohawk put up barricades on a road, thereby preventing any work on the golf course. The Quebec police were sent in to dismantle the barricades by force; in a botched raid, one police officer, Marcel Lemay was shot and killed.
The situation escalated quickly, with the Mohawk community setting up more barricades, with increasing resentment on the part of the Quebecois population, and with the police and also the Canadian military moving in to surround the Mohawk. Étienne acted as a mediator in that context, helping to de-escalate a very tense situation and prevent further violence. The land issue was not quickly resolved, but no more lives were lost. Many Indigenous groups across the country drew strength from the Mohawk defense of their traditional land. In subsequent years, Étienne led healing ceremonies and continued her translation work. In 2004 she and her team spoke at a church on West Montreal Island. At the service a woman from the congregation got up and apologized to Étienne and her companions about the racist behavior that they had so often experienced from Francophone Quebecois. She also identified herself as Francine Lemay, sister to Marcel Lemay. Ever since her brother’s death, Lemay had been seeking to understand the Mohawk people and their story.
Mavis and Francine became good friends and partners in helping the Francophone community better understand the original inhabitants of the land. Lemay in fact translated an English anthology compiled
by the Mohawk about their history into French. She said, “This is like my contribution for the pain the Mohawks endured throughout the centuries, my way to make amends.”
Étienne believes that God had a purpose in bringing her and Lemay together. She believes love has empowered them to forgive and to reach people with a message of reconciliation.
These are only a few examples, and there are many more, some of which are simply the everyday tasks that women are involved with. As Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General said, “For generations, women have served as peace educators, both in their families and in their societies. They have proved instrumental in building bridges rather than walls.”
And so today, and this week, let us remember the women who work at building peace, and strive to follow their example as we live our lives, dedicated to peace.