The International Peacemakers are coming … online!

Peacemaking Program’s annual International Peacemakers visits will be virtual reunions held this fall

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Lydia Neshangwe of Zimbabwe, shown at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville during the 2019 International Peacemakers gathering, will participate in the International Peacemakers Virtual Symposium. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — At this time of the year, the staff of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program would traditionally be making final arrangements for the arrival of a dozen-or-so Peacemakers from around the world to fan out across the United States to tell their stories.

Sharp observers will note a lot of elements in that first paragraph are not options this year, as much of the nation and the world continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the Peacemaking staff are still busy making this year’s International Peacemakers gathering a virtual event.

“We’re pre-recording these interviews, panel discussions, and they’re really fun,” Peacemaking Program coordinator the Rev. Carl Horton said. “It really is like a reunion with friends.”

That’s because In lieu of being able to welcome a new group of Peacemakers to the Presbyterian Center in Louisville and Presbyterian churches across the country, the Peacemaking Program is going to present a two-week International Peacemakers Virtual Symposium featuring Peacemakers who have come to the United States in the last decade of the program. The videos, which are being assembled now, will be interviews, panel discussions, and a few presentations premiering Sept. 27 to Oct. 10.

Presbyterian Peacemaking Program Coordinator the Rev. Carl Horton with 2016 International Peacemaker Veronica Muchiri of Kenya. (Photo by Presbyterian News Service)

“I hope when they air, they will be a reunion among friends for the people who have hosted the Peacemakers, and an introduction, because when a presbytery invites a peacemaker, that’s just one of the Peacemakers we would have had on any given year,” Horton said. “If you wanted to tune into all of them, you might hear from 12-to-15 different people and 12-to-15 places around the world, and what people working on peace and justice are doing there.”

The current lineup of 12 participants includes three Peacemakers from Palestine as well as representatives from Hungary, Greece, the Philippines, South Africa and the Caribbean. More may be added to the lineup. In addition to the Peacemakers and Horton, some discussions will include mission co-workers and other staff from Presbyterian World Mission and other ministries.

“Because these are chances to catch up with someone who was here maybe two years ago or five years ago, we’re asking them to catch us up on their lives and their work,” Horton says. “Then we’re asking them for memories … what impact being a Peacemaker had on them, their stories and memories that they still carry with them today, how did it shape their ministry?”

One participant, Jerome Bizimana Nkumbuyinka of Rwanda, recalled spending a day at a high school speaking to students about the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Many students were hearing about the tragedy for the first time. The online format also gives the Peacemaking Program the opportunity to focus on certain issues, such as gathering the three Palestinian participants for a discussion.

RELUFA’s coordinator, Jaff Bamenjo, helps to distribute food and supplies from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to people displaced by the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. He will be part of the International Peacemaker Virtual Symposium, Sept. 27-Oct. 10. (Photo by Valéry Nodem)

Horton says they are also asking participants about the impact of COVID-19 in their countries, and they are hearing fairly consistent stories about the hardships of shutdowns, the economic impact on their country and the impact on the church, particularly financially.

“We’re hearing about house churches, innovative ways to connect, simulcasting, a lot of the same things we’re hearing in the U.S.,” Horton says.

He also said they are asking for their perspectives on the recent uprising for racial justice in the United States, following several killings of Black individuals in police or police-related incidents.

“It’s very interesting, very interesting to hear perspectives from people on the African continent about the struggles for racial justice in the U.S.,” Horton said.

While the Peacemaking Program certainly hopes to return to in-person Peacemaker visits in 2021, Horton says the pandemic has prompted the program to think about reconnecting with past Peacemakers in a way it hadn’t considered before.

“COVID-19 is teaching us we can use technology to connect,” Horton said. “It does not replace in-person visits, and I don’t want it to, and I don’t think it ever could. But this symposium has been a chance to try something new and think, how can we still bring the Peacemaking Program to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) when we can’t bring Peacemakers?”

So while we can certainly expect more gatherings and visits from International Peacemakers during the Season of Peace around World Communion Sunday in years to come, this probably won’t be the only time we also see virtual reunions with Peacemakers past.

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Give to the Peace & Global Witness Offering to continue the valuable ministry of these International Peacemakers visits and the Peacemaking Program.

Read more

‘A virtual choir of International Peacemakers’


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