Christian Peacemaker Teams was founded in 1988 by members of the Mennonite Church. Its purpose: to offer “an organized, nonviolent alternative to war and other forms of lethal conflict.”
“You will die today,” said its owner, an Israeli soldier in Hebron on the West Bank.
“I said, ‘Ok, go ahead,'” said Gish, recalling an encounter during one of his numerous trips to Hebron with Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams. Gish, a farmer who resides in a Christian commune in Athens, Ohio, has traveled to Palestine with CPT for two months every winter since 1995 to promote peace.
Gish said he didn’t think the soldier intended to kill him as much as intimidate him. Still, Gish said he is prepared to die in the name of peace.
“Martin Luther King said, ‘If you’re not ready to die, you’re not ready to live.’ It’s liberating to say, ‘It’s ok if I die.’ There’s an incredible amount of freedom,” Gish said.
Gish left Dec. 23 for his seventh consecutive two-month stay in Hebron to lead a group of Palestinian Christians and Muslims in nonviolence and leadership training.
Christian Peacemaker Teams was founded in 1988 by members of the Mennonite Church. Its purpose: to offer “an organized, nonviolent alternative to war and other forms of lethal conflict.” CPT employs forms of “public witness,” such as public worship, singing Christmas carols for guerilla paramilitary forces in Colombia, fasting or holding demonstrations.
While members’ lives have been threatened numerous times, to date, no one has been killed due to their work with CPT, said Executive Director Gene Stoltzfus. However, CPT delegations travel to hotspots around the globe with the understanding that death is entirely possible, he said.
Laying down one’s life is “absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith,” Stoltzfus told EthicsDaily.com.
“Christians should be prepared to put themselves into situations of high risk where justice and the survival of people is at stake, where they can express their faith in a life-and-death way in the tradition of the prophets and Jesus,” he said.
However, not all members of CPT feel called or ready to give their lives, Stoltzfus said. At nearly every bi-annual training session, “someone will say it’s not the right time,” he said. Some members find it takes years to make that sort of commitment, while others find “it’s exactly what [they’re] looking for” from the start, he said.
Stoltzfus said CPT can be held liable in the event of a member’s death or imprisonment, and while the thought of being sued is frightening, it hasn’t stopped the group.
“Yes, it scares me, but it doesn’t scare me as much as the possibility of trying to play it safe and not doing what we’re supposed to do,” he said.
The organization is made up of members from a variety of denominations, from Mennonite to Presbyterian, Catholic and Baptist. CPT operates with a budget of more than $700,000, which consists of donations from nearly 1,300 individual contributors and 250 congregations.
CPT has permanent teams in Colombia, where guerilla paramilitary forces threaten the safety of people in that country, and Grassy Narrows, a native community 180 miles from the U.S.-Canada border, in order to prevent violence over the clearing of aboriginal lands.
Delegations travel to these locales and others, including Iraq, Hebron and Afghanistan, for as little as 15 days or as long as two months.
Gish’s wife, Peggy, is currently at work with a delegation in Iraq to oppose war with the United States.
The Bush administration has cast doubts on the truthfulness of accounts of weapons in Iraq, which may result in military force to disarm Saddam Hussein, according to CNN.com.
The delegation’s purpose is to “tell the Iraqi people that there are people in America that care about them,” Art Gish said. Peggy Gish and her colleagues are in Iraq to set an example of peaceful confrontation and to send a message to President George W. Bush: “‘If you want to bomb someone, bomb me,'” Art Gish said.
Peggy Gish has e-mailed her husband several times from Iraq and has plainly stated that, if bombs begin to drop, she intends to stay.
Art Gish said he doesn’t want to die, but said he is prepared if it becomes necessary. Despite feelings of fear at times in Hebron, he said he has never had second thoughts about his involvement with CPT.
“I go prepared to die …. The most dangerous thing I’ve done in my life is ride an automobile. People will ride in an automobile and risk their lives for all kinds of frivolous reasons. Why won’t we risk our lives for peace?”Jared Porter is a senior journalism student at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.