As a reservist for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) I often think about my sister’s commitments to the military.
In our family, I am the “peacenik” who demonstrated against the Iraq War, while my sister joined the National Guard soon after 9-11, though she was never called into active duty, and has recently finished her term. This is not a comprehensive reflection, nor is it a simple comparison and contrast, as we serve in different contexts.
Some of the parallels in contrast to my sister … She got money for college; I fundraised to serve. I’ve been a song leader at rallies; she was a cheerleader for her unit. She endured boot camp; I did a delegation and trained for a month. In training, we both crawled on our stomachs to practice escaping bullets. She suffered burns from a shell casing; I spent a night in cold jail. I mourned the loss of CPTer Tom Fox, taken hostage and killed in Iraq, but marveled at how few deaths CPT has faced in its work in conflict zones; my sister mourned lost soldiers who were dispatched while she got to finish college.
We both consciously decided to be dedicated and we have gone at it with all our energy. Both our lives could be placed in risky situations for causes we care about. It’s not that we are seeking danger and risk, but it’s the cause that brings us to potential threat.
While it’s true that we both enter risky situations, there is an ironic security in the vulnerability of unarmed accompaniment. Soldiers with guns are targets, thus their power makes them vulnerable. Teammate Erin Kindy encountered some armed soldiers in the Colombian countryside. She explained to them, “I am worried for your safety because you are in more danger of being targeted by other armed groups because you have guns.”
For nonviolent accompaniers, our sources of security come in more vulnerable forms through connection to local partners, through being known, through recognition of our work for peace, through our watching eyes and communication to international channels. We are not a threat, except perhaps to the status quo, but those who would harm us count the cost of doing so when our organization and partners would raise an international stink as we would do for Colombians. It is through connection, not power over others, that brings us security.
I reflected most on this theme through the winter ending in 2006, when our hearts went out to CPTers who were “hosted” by their kidnappers. CPT chose to frame their captivity in benevolent terms, so as not to demonize their kidnappers and to appeal to their good. On March 10, Tom Fox’s body was found in Baghdad. Thirteen days later, the three other men were released.
It was a bitter end with Tom’s death, sweet in the miraculous return of the others. I began to write a commentary reflecting on these events sandwiched between Christmas (the birth of God in form of a tiny baby arriving to an oppressive context, Israel occupied by the oppressive Romans) and Easter (the death of Jesus as subverting the status quo, and his resurrection overcoming the powers of hate with love). I wrote:
“With the bittersweet sense of resurrection mingled with death, I wrestled with this “backward” God who demonstrated in the life of Jesus that we are called to move out beyond security. These peacemakers who followed Jesus’ example inspired me, while critics called them naïve for going anywhere in a war zone without armored cars.” Incarnation and Vulnerability (Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, Dec. 2006. page 2)
In this vulnerability, we are not just doing accompaniment to achieve certain criteria to prove its effectiveness. We are following this vision of overcoming evil with good. For CPTers, it’s an attempt at faithfulness to the example of Jesus. That said, we also seek to follow that call in ways that have effect. However, the desired effect is not the origin of our service; Jesus’ vision and example of nonviolence is.
Charletta Erb wants to enable nonprofits to function sustainably to transform society through her work as a consultant with Evergreen Leaders.