Beyond the Geese: Six Peacemaker Portraits for the days of Christmas

Crossposted for As of Yet Untitled

For each of the 12 days of Christmas, Christian Peacemaker Teams is honoring a specific CPTer for their peacemaking work. Here are the first six honorees. I wrote the first three and the last three were written by Sarah Thompson, CPT’s outreach coordinator:

Pierre Shantz

Pierre

For the first day of Christmas we’re thanking Pierre Shantz for his 15 years of full-time service with CPT, working for peace and justice first with the team in Hebron, then in Chiapas and, since 2001, in Colombia. Pierre is the longest serving field-based peacemaker, and also the silliest CPTer. Here’s a portrait I took of him while I was visiting the Colombia team this summer.

Sandra Milena Rincon

Milena

For the second day of Christmas, the feast of St. Stephen, we’re honoring Sandra Milena Rincon, project support coordinator for the Colombia and Iraq teams. Sandra Milena has been a full-time CPTer since 2003, serving on the Colombia team before she moved to her current role as project support coordinator.

Through her work and life, Milena has both embodied and articulated the importance of CPT’s relationship with our partner communities. Here’s how she put it in a 2009 address to the Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay:

Truly, [CPT] would not be where we are now if it were not for the local communities who have given us the opportunity to be present in their struggle and to support their nonviolent resistance to powers that will not allow them to live in their land with dignity.

Milena gave this presentaion on the 25th anniversary of the speech by Ron Sider that catalyzed the formation of CPT. Milena’s speech exemplified the vulnerability and honesty that we are called to as peacemakers. She names both the way CPT has fallen short, but also the way we have pushed ourselves in new directions:

“After twenty-five years, CPT must face an even larger challenge, one that is no less rich. It calls us to work in a global context where the struggle to keep hope alive continues to be at the root of bringing the Reign of God to life. Being present in the way has not been, is not, and will not be easy; there is much work to do and our strength easily falters. Nevertheless, as CPT, we continue to answer the call of God that we hear in the voices of the communities we accompany and that we feel through the support of our own faith communities.”

It’s appropriate that we honor Sandra Milena on the feast of St. Stephen, who served the alien, the orphan and the widow, and at the very end of his life, on the brink of martyrdom, had the courage to call them out for their killing of the prophets and stiff-necked clinging to power.

You can read Sandra Milena’s entire presentation: “The Challenge Continues.”

Chris Sabas

Chris

For the third day of Christmas, we’re honoring the work of Chris Sabas. Chris graduated from CPT training in August 2011. She joined the Aboriginal Justice team in Toronto on Jan. 3, so make sure to wish her a happy anniversary on the 10th day of Christmas.

In the last four days, Chris has launched one of the most effective CPT Facebook campaigns ever. In support of Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike (more background here: http://www.cpt.org/cptnet/2012/12/21/aboriginal-justice-cpt-stands-chief-theresa-spence-hunger-strike), Chris has solicited nearly 50 photos showing CPTers (and others) holding signs supporting Chief Spence. One of the signs, showing CPTer Laurens van Esch and his wife, Janelle, in the Netherlands, has gone viral with over 940 shares in the last 24 hours and counting (see here). As of this writing, that’s going up by about 7 shares a minute. You can see all the photos from the Christmas blitz here.

Chris didn’t expect her week to go this way. Here’s how she tells it:

“The idea came to me as I was walking back to the CPT house after church, on Sunday. I actually was to leave that day for a week long modified silent retreat. I went to bed Saturday night quite conflicted about that. had I gone, AJT basically would have been ‘shut down’ since the rest of the team is on holiday … not the ideal time for that with this historic moment.

And that’s what this is: historic. I’ve said many times that this just ‘feels’ different. Prior to the national day of protests, I’ve have turned my nose at flash mobs. I thought what’s the point, they don’t work and are a waste of time …

But then the images started coming in via social media. One-thousand people reportedly turned out in downtown Toronto, shutting down an area called Dundas square for at least 15 minutes. Incredible. That’s when I knew that this was different. And that’s when my angst began, as I was to leave Sunday.

That’s when my Christmas morning blitz came to me. I knew there had to be a way to make a point and be noticed … and what better way to do that than Twitter. I knew Chief Spence had a twitter account as well as Harper and a member of Parliament had followed us, prior to #idlenomore, who is quite supportive with indigenous issues. And I knew I could reach out to media.”

But I stayed and don’t regret staying … not at all. Far from it. Many were concerned that with Christmas, the momentum may lose steam. I thought … what an opportunity for CPT. We can maintain the perimeter sort of thing, being the voice on behalf of our partners … just in a ‘different’ way.

This is more than Bill C45 and Chief Spence; that blew the powder keg off. I read a report from the Toronto protest that an elder said that he was waiting for this moment “all his life.” Social media is playing its part again today: round dance/ flash mobs, from all over Canada.”

Chris’ creativity and commitment in standing with our partners exemplifies CPT’s work for to transform violence and oppression.

As you can tell from Chris’ account, her social media work is not taking place in isolation. Rather, it’s happening in concert with thousands of people across Canada who are participating in events on the street from flash mobs, to the blockade of the railroad near Sarnia. You can read CPTer Alan Slater’s report on his visit here: http://www.cpt.org/cptnet/2012/12/27/aboriginal-justice-reflection-visit-aamjiwnaang

Appropriately enough, this third day of Christmas is the feast day of St. John the evangelist. Like the other disciples, John was part of the incredible growth of the early church as the way of Jesus spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire. Though the means are quite different today, we hope that the message of justice and peace for First Nations communities across Canada can spread with the same fervor today.

Kathy Thiessen

Kathy in Germany

For the fourth day of Christmas, we’re honoring the work of Kathy Moorhead-Thiessen. She has been working with CPT for two and a half years all in Iraqi Kurdistan. She trained in summer 2010 and says “I have a wonderful husband who supports me in the unusual lifestyle of going to IK for five months/year.” Chris Sabas, Aboriginal Justice Team member nominated Kathy, saying, “What I have noticed about Kathy is her willingness to learn, be vulnerable, and try.”

The feast day of the fourth day of Christmas is the “Feast of the Holy Innocents.” It is timely to honor Kathy today as she has reported extensively on the impact of the cross-border bombings on the children of Iraqi Kurdistan.

In her nomination, Chris continued, “Kathy was to have a co-leader on their last delegation and he was denied entry. While she did have another teammate with her, it was a formative experience for her–from logistical headaches, to having important conversations with delegates. She is brutally honest and intuitive, and willing to have the hard discussions. She’s cognizant of the many privileges she has, whether she’s in Iraqi-Kurdistan or in her very home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba. She and her husband lent their support to AJT’s Christmas morning blitz call for assistance, and took the time to stand in solidarity with Chief Theresa Spence, from Attawapiskat, who began a hunger strike December. No matter where she is, she’ll take the handle of justice.”

In this picture Kathy examines the work created by Kurdish school children, “the holy innocents” of Sunneh village … Their school was bombed three times nearly annually. The teachers taught class in the IDP camp one semester. Uncertainty aside, the school was re-built as a labor of love by the teachers and community.

For all the innocents who die or suffer or languish by our violence, indifference or greed, Lord, have mercy. Thank you Kathy Moorhead-Thiessen for helping the world get a step closer to a place of sharing, safety and love.

- Sarah Thompson

Tarek Abuata

Tarek

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … 5 GOLDEN RINGS, but better yet, Tarek Abuata!

Tarek is one of CPT’s Project Support Coordinators He’s a Palestinian-American who knows something about true love. Upon his return from Palestine recently, he gave a speech to the D.C. Metro Friends of Sabeel gathering, saying:

“Jesus’s message is to love your neighbor and love your enemy, but what if your neighbor is your enemy? Love doesn’t cancel love; we have to love our neighbors twice as much in this case!”

One day after Tarek and a friend finished an exhausting patrol of the old city of Hebron, an Israeli settler approached them and spit in their faces, calling them Nazis for helping Palestinian children. Tarek recounts his emotions, “Do you think I thought ‘It takes love to fight an Occupation?’ No, no! At that moment I said to myself I would like to slap him!”

Yet a few days later, six 5-year old Palestinian children were detained by six Israeli soldiers for playing with toy guns on Eid. Looking at the scene Tarek said his heart was softened. “I stood back wondering which kids are getting abused more, those 5 year olds with toy guns or those 18-year-olds with real guns? I could only feel compassion for all involved, including myself.”

“I learned that with love,” he concluded, “we become a mirror to someone’s actions. Jesus asked us to turn our cheek, not our eyes. I look into a soldier’s eyes directly for him to see my soul through my eyes, and in the process, he sees his own soul through that mirror, connecting us at a profound level that can’t be verbalized, and waking us both out of our societal self-inflicted nightmares.”

Thank you Tarek, for sharing your gifts and experiences with CPT and the world, showing us that love works—and for your awesome style—the aesthetic value of 5 golden rings is not lost on you! Merry fifth Day of Christmas, everyone!

- Sarah Thompson, Outreach Coordinator

Julián Gutiérrez Castaño

Julian

On the sixth Day of Christmas, the feast day of the Holy Family, CPT is honoring Julián Gutiérrez Castaño. Julián first began his peacemaking work with CPT on the Colombia team in 2005. He brought with him to the team strong skills in political analysis, which came through in his writing for the team on the relationships between multinational mining companies, the Colombian government and CPT’s partners.

Here’s a quote from a 2006 article he wrote on perspective of CPT’s partners, small-scale artisanal gold miners:

“In contrast to multinational corporations, the miners do not think in dollars; they think in families, children, future, rivers, trees, mountains,animals, earth, mining and crops. Just as Indigenous Colombians do, they fight for the right to develop their own way of life.”

After three years on the Colombia team, Julián joined the Aboriginal Justice Team (AJT), as the first person from Latin America to serve in a CPT North American project. He’s also one of the few full-time CPTers who have served extensively on more than one team, providing health cross-pollination.

AJT Teammate Chris Sabas describes Julián’s work with the team in this way:

“Innocence and fragility is what first comes to mind when I think of Julián.” That might not appear to fit with his physical image; his bulging biceps and gregarious dreadlocked hair … yet “what I’ve enjoyed most about working with him, spending time with him, is his innocent curiosity about … everything … anything. He embraces life. He enjoys it. I can hear his laugh as I type and can see the tears of joy fill in his eyes, as they often do when he tells a story,” like this one. But he is also committed: very committed to advancing the voices of the marginalized.

Julián himself is marginalized often in Canada, and residency here is challenging. As a Colombian, “when he first arrived to join team,” Chris says, “he couldn’t leave to visit his homeland because Canada would not issue him the type of visa that would permit multiple exits/entries. He had to remain in Canada for over a year until he could travel to his beloved home country. This is where the fragility comes in; that is not the only example of Julian having to bear the brunt of a racist, colonial society/ government. At times, he’s reminded that he is Colombian, and reminded in a way that is not shall we say positive or embracing.”

Chris also spoke to his ability to deal with different perspectives: “He can have a hard, challenging conversation. But another thing I admire about him is his ability to walk away from it, meaning that he doesn’t live in the past, can move on and to continue to embrace the moment.”

Julián is preparing to lead AJT’s spring 2013 delegation to Grassy. Sign up here.

Merry sixth Day of Christmas (Feast day of the Holy Family).

- Sarah Thompson and Tim Nafziger, Photo provided by Tim

If you’d like to see the rest as they come out, like the CPT page on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/cpters) or tune in next week.

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