News, Visionaries | March 12th, 2010

While driving with Thad Crouch today, he told that a man I’d met last summer at the National Assembly to Honor Freedom of Conscience had passed away two days ago. His name was Gene Stoltzfus, the Founding Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and he’s someone I aim to be like.

I had been looking forward to getting to know Gene better, because his life as a visionary peacemaker is nothing short of incredible and deeply inspiring. As I stand with Thad Crouch and the upcoming iStand for Soldiers of Conscience this June (still not publicly announced), I was hoping to learn from the rich, deep, hard experience this man has had.

Thad has known Gene about 15 years, and told me how this man had been a Conscientious Objector to the Vietnam War, and that he had chosen to perform his alternate service in a curious location: Vietnam. Even though he was a pacifist and refused to fight, he went to the war zone to do his service.

Later in his life, Gene, a Mennonite, was present in a church gathering, where another man asked this bold “What if” question: What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?

It was then that Gene took a stand and co-founded Christian Peacemaker Teams based on the visionary idea that “disciplined and trained teams of people could be put together into highly charged, critical situations and they could make a difference.” Talk about standing boldly in this world!

Since its beginnings, CPT members have been engaged in such situations in Chiapas, Mexico; Haiti; and other locations in North America and around the world. Current CPT locations include Colombia, the West Bank and Iraq.

Gene was at the heart of those who planted and nurtured the vision for teams of peacemakers partnering with local communities in conflict zones to build justice and lasting peace which has grown into CPT.

To get a sense of who Gene was, listen to this audio.

He speaks about using a “language of invitation,” verses speaking in shoulds, etc., or what I would call Visionary language vs. Positionary language.

What a beautiful man. I only wish I’d gotten to know him in person. I am coming to know by knowing those whose lives he has touched and the legacy that is Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Gene, thank you for your years of humble service on behalf of all of us, that we may one day live in a world that stands united for peace, with reverence for human live and dignity. Thank you for standing in the face of incredible fear, pressure, doubt and who knows what else as you personally headed into conflict zones, and met with real people dealing with the kinds of fears, anger and violence that many of us never really touch. Thank you for standing for the ones, who are not being heard. Thank you for being a man who leads from the front, who is willing to walk his talk, and honor his conscience. Thank you for being an example of what is possible for all of us, and standing even in the face of being supported by only a small percent of people in the world and in your own religious community.

I can barely begin to imagine the rejection you’ve faced. The fear you’ve faced. The anger of people, who aren’t really angry with you, but you’re the one standing in front of them. The frustration and disappointment you’ve faced when hope seems lost, or results or promises go unmet. I aim to stand as you stand, and I pray I may stand as courageously and with as much commitment. I promise to carry forth the torch of peace in our world, standing as you’ve stood.

Gene Stoltzfus, I honor you. May you rest in peace.

There are no comments yet, add one below.

Leave a Comment