Second Annual Peacemaking Weekend at Walla Walla University

Emily Muthersbaugh, student at WWU and member of the committee that planned the peacemaking events, reports on the WWU 2012 Peacemaking Weekend.

The enthusiastic participation at Walla Walla University’s second annual Peacemaking Weekend signaled a continued interest in discussions to promote peace within the community. This last spring on May 4 and 5, WWU invited the community to attend several events promoting peace throughout the weekend. In this second initiative, the conversation centered around reconciliation in peacemaking efforts, exploring how individuals and groups have come together in the past and can come together in the future to overcome inhibitors of peace.

The weekend events began on Friday afternoon in downtown Walla Walla, WA at the Land Title Plaza with a steel drum concert featuring selected readings from Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and the Apostle Paul highlighting peace. This program was student-led with Noel Jabagat, music performance major, on the steel drum as well as Chelsea Hanson, speech communication major, and Becka Hanan, speech communication major, among those reading selections on peace. The Land Title Plaza is located in the heart of downtown, allowing the program to be heard by the many pedestrians and outside diners. While often loud voices in public places are ignored and avoided, the presence and involvement of WWU faculty, staff, and students encouraged those passing to stop and listen. Many stopped to talk with students and faculty during and after the concert to inquire about the purpose of the gathering, giving participants an opportunity to invite community members to the events that would follow over the course of the weekend. A few individuals were so compelled by the initiative to promote peace that afternoon that they stayed after to tell their own stories of peace and reconciliation.

Saturday morning, John Webster, current dean of the School of Religion at La Sierra University, presented a paper adapted for the Peacemaking Weekend entitled: “Confessing the Truth: The Root of Reconciliation.” Webster worked as pastor, teacher, and administrator in South Africa. He became involved with the work of the South African “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” while serving as the chairman of the Theology Department at Helderberg College in South Africa. According to the governing document of this commission, the TRC was established in 1995 after the abolition of the apartheid, sought to “promote national unity and reconciliation in a spirit of understanding which transcends the conflicts and divisions of the past.”[1] The TRC was trusted with identifying the causes, nature, and extent of the human right violations from 1960-1995, “facilitating the granting of amnesty,” identifying and restoring the dignity of victims, and “compiling a report” of all of this for the South African government.

The presentations by Webster centered around the role of truth, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in peacemaking efforts. Webster used his own experience with the TRC as well as a specific case-study of the relatively recent statement of confession submitted by the Seventh-day Adventist church in South African to the TRC to elucidate this complex interrelationship between truth, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in peacemaking. In this first presentation, Webster argued that “it is only by confessing the truth… that the church will be equipped to seriously engage in its divine commission–that is the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5:18-21).” A second presentation would follow that afternoon to continue the discussion.

The third and final event of the weekend was held Saturday afternoon in the Melvin K. West Fine Arts Center Auditorium where Webster and a discussion panel presented “Confessing our Sins: The Route to Reconciliation.” In his second presentation Webster built on the idea of confession of truth as a basis for reconciliation in the case of the Seventh-day Adventist church in South Africa to argue that it is confession of the sins of the church that makes this reconciliation possible.

Following this second presentation, the panel shared from their experiences in overcoming obstacles and seeking peace in their own lives before answering questions from the audience. The panel participants included Atem Malak, pre-law WWU student from South Sudan, Africa; Darold Bigger, WWU Professor of Religion; Barbara Bigger, former WWU staff member; and Pam Cress, WWU Professor and Dean of the School of Social Work and Sociology. Atem Malak spoke about the peace he has found in following God’s path for his life in leaving the South Sudan to study in America so that he can return one day to help friends and family in his own country. Darold and Barbara Bigger spoke about seeking reconciliation with the man who committed a heinous crime against their family; though contact with him is limited, they spoke of their efforts as Christians to seek peace and reconciliation.  Pam Cress shared her experience seeking reconciliation with a family member who molested her as a child and how she has learned to reconcile with a man who has never acknowledged the negative impact his choices have had on her life.

As members of the audience asked questions, many were interested in how one can achieve personal peace without the cooperation of others involved. Though it would be ideal to have a full willingness to reconcile in both perpetrators and victims, with clear steps to take to achieve this reconciliation, it is not always possible. Panelists encouraged doing all one can to acknowledge and forgive, but that ultimately, Christians must leave complete reconciliation in God’s hands.

As a member of the group involved in planning the events for this weekend, it was encouraging to see the effort supported by such a diverse collaboration of individuals invested in continuing this discussion of peace. Pedrito Maynard-Reid, WWU Professor of Biblical Studies and Missiology, Assistant to the President for Diversity, Ombudsperson, and organizer of the Peacemaking Weekend, has already begun plans for next year with others. According to Maynard-Reid, “in a world where international, national, and personal peace is fleeting, educational institutions need to be actively involved in the enterprise and process of making, and teaching how to make, peace.”

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