First Mennonite Church, Iowa City, Iowa
Who is your hero? I thought about it as the sharing made its way around the circle of Mennonite youth. Maybe my great grandparents who made their way to the midwest and started a new life, or Marie Curie, because she is a pioneer in science. My peers answered with George Washington, Menno Simons, Sojourner Truth, teachers, coaches, parents, and grandparents. Society often glorifies veterans, but why didn't anyone name one as their hero? As the discussion grew, more questions followed. What does it mean to be a peacemaker or a peace church? What does scripture say about being a peacemaker? And finally, what is a conscientious objector?
Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler, Pastor of Christian Formation at First Mennonite Church (FMC), led our gathering with these questions. Our high school youth group in Iowa City, which included youth from FMC and Torre Fuerte Iglesia Menonita, joined the youth group from West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa, to focus on our answers to these challenging questions in a three-part discussion.
During our first session, Karla focused on living a peace-oriented life and the function of a peace church. We looked at familiar Bible passages that focused on peace and were encouraged to see them with new eyes by diving into the context more deeply. Next we discussed how those passages apply to our lives. Finally, we brainstormed ways that we can promote peace in the earth/world, in our community, church, school and family, and also inner peace. it was impressive to see the many ways that even our small group can and does promote peace. Imagine what a difference we can all make when we work together. Karla summed up the message of the evening with "Jesus is the center of our faith, community is the center of our lives, reconciliation is the center of our work."
This idea of peace threading through our whole life carried through into the second session, where we began talking more specifically about what it means to be a conscientious objector (CO). Both of our churches invited men to share their personal experiences of being a CO during World War 2 and the Vietnam War. Our guests were Wilbur Litwiller, Darvin Yoder, Galen Yoder, and Wilbur Yoder from West Union and Joe Krabill and Wilford Yoder from FMC. Several shared influential stories from their youth that sparked a peace mindset beyond what they learned while attending a Mennonite church or school, leading them to claiming CO status. As the sharing continued, another component that many panelists touched on was how they pursued service as a result of being a CO. Many of the men continued to serve after fulfilling their required alternative service term and still live a life of intentional peacebuilding and servanthood.
Our final session focused on building our own CO file. How will we show that we are peacemakers if there would be a draft and we would be faced with the possibility of serving in the military? The Central Plains Mennonite Conference website includes resources for youth leaders that our sponsors consulted. Our sponsors encouraged us to think about papers we've written, bulletins from our peace churches, letters from mentors or teachers, even letters that we've written and sent to ourselves that would outline our character and views on peace. All of these are ways we can show that we are conscientious objectors because of our faith.
Having this three-part MYF discussion about being a CO helped me understand what I believe. Hearing stories of those who experienced a draft themselves and explanations of why claiming the status of CO made a difference in their lives solidified in me my nonviolence and peace mindset. I am grateful to be part of a Peace Church and loving community that encourages me to have heroes like Marie Curie and my grandparents who spent most of their lives volunteering for MCC.