The Violence Must Stop

Dear Tanenbaum Community,

In light of the ongoing violence in Jerusalem and Gaza, we join the chorus of communities calling for an immediate ceasefire on all sides and an end to violence against all civilians.

We know that violence only fuels more violence, and hate only begets more hate. Regardless of goals, the loss of life is a tragedy for all of us. Grief knows no borders, no nationality, no faith; it is all-consuming. And yet in the face of so much loss, an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who’ve both lost children to this same violence work daily to ensure that the children of Israel and Palestine have a different future.

The grim escalation of the past week serves as a stark reminder that peace is not linear. Today, we have the mandate to look back on the decades of peacebuilding work carried out by our Peacemakers in Action, among countless others, and identify a persistent vision for peace that preceded and will survive these cycles of violence.

That vision lives in Israel, where Dr. Yehezkel Landau has approached the issue through interfaith dialogues, reflections and responses, and the amplification of allied voices clamoring for reconciliation.

In Ibilin, in the Galilee where Archbishop Elias Chacour has worked tirelessly for nearly 40 years, the vision is present in a town that has rejected violence and hateful speech. Archbishop Chacour himself states that they “..still believe in the necessity of and the possibility of living together with mutual respect and hope for a very much needed reconciliation…That it is extremely important to continue teaching our kids that their dignity can be respected only when they can respect the dignity of every other person on Earth, Jews included, Palestinians also.

Finally, we see that vision in the unlikely alliance of Osnat Aram-Daphna & Najeeba Sirhan, founded at the height of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in October 2000 amidst heightened mistrust and devastating violence. Although Osnat passed away in 2008, their story still demonstrates the complexity of modern Israel: they came from one land, yet two worlds. Twenty-one years later, we see that their differences did not prevent them from becoming spiritual sisters, and they are proof that the seeds of peace can take root in such soil.

Even when it seems there is no hope, that vision for peace continues to inspire us to build the world we need, the world we deserve, the world we can imagine. As long as this violence continues, we will continue to see a rise in global Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, especially on social media. Tanenbaum would like to offer some resources to help navigate these heavy conversations and emotions.

In lieu of my own words, I leave you with the words of Bassam Aramin, who has experienced unfathomable loss to this conflict and has used his grief to build a bridge across the divide: “We are not going to give up. We will continue to work to spread our message as long as we survive, as long as we [are] alive because this is the only way, the only tool for us to try to be safe for our kids and our families and our people.”

In solidarity,

Rev. Mark Fowler
CEO, Tanenbaum

 


 

Peacemaker in Action Award Top Nominees: Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus

Hesston College student Brayan Martinez from El Salvador gives SEMILLA Director Willi Hugo Pérez a campus tour during his April visit to Kansas Mennonite colleges and churches. Photo from MennoniteMission.net

Last month, you helped us welcome the two newest Peacemaker in Action award recipients: Yeny Nolasco Quijada and Fatima al-Bahadly.

Yeny Nolasco Quijada and Fatima al-Bahadly, from El Salvador and Iraq, respectively, were selected from a group of highly qualified nominees for the Peacemaker in Action award.

Tanenbaum’s Peacebuilding program uplifts the voices of religiously-motivated peace actors, not just those within the Peacemakers in Action Network, but the many unsung heroes at the grassroots level, so that NGOs, academics, organizations, and governments consult their unparalleled wisdom and expertise.

Yeny and Fatima’s fellow nominees come from around the globe. They are motivated by their religious or spiritual beliefs to work peace, unrecognized outside of their local contexts, and put their life and/or liberty at risk.

Each month, we will profile some of the top Peacemaker in Action nominees.

May you know these brave peace actors, seek to work with them, and be inspired by them.

In April, we highlight Guatemalan peace actor Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus. Struck with loss early in his life, Lemus, propelled by his faith, created a Mennonite-organized peace initiative (MENOPAZ). Pérez provides an example of how trauma and indignation might be recast as a productive force.

Peacemaker in Action Nominee Profile: Top 20
Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus
Guatemala

Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus is no stranger to the fallout of protracted conflict. Growing up in Guatemala during the 1960s, violence was an everyday intimacy, a constant threat of social unravelling, of political alienation, and death. In 1960, an armed conflict broke out between leftist guerilla groups and the military-led, autocratic government. For 36 years, the civil war persisted in waves of horror and human rights violations, ending the lives of around 200,000 Guatemalans, many of them Mayan. Disappearances, mutilations, and the public dumping of bodies were commonplace. It should be noted that a U.N. truth commission found that the state and military groups perpetrated 93 percent of human rights violations. This was accomplished more effectively with the aid of U.S. funding and training.

In 1975, Willi Pérez came face to face with the government’s campaign of extra-judicial killings. A staunch proponent of peasants’ rights and living conditions, his father was disappeared and murdered by members of the Guatemalan army. The years that followed weighed heavily on Pérez and his family. Risk, insecurity, poverty, and grief enveloped them, and Pérez sunk into what those who know him describe as a “pit of pain and bitterness,” of “hate.”

Despite the trauma and disaffectedness, Pérez resurfaced in part thanks to the visceral faith of his mother. Eventually, he would join the Guatemalan Anabaptist-Mennonite community and commit himself to the Mennonite values which espouse justice, reconciliation, and the good of others. Pérez traced a path to emotional and spiritual recovery along the tenets of peacebuilding, non-violence, and restorative justice. He found a new solidarity walking and learning among Mennonite compatriots who shared similar visions of peace and misgivings toward civil war.

Pérez’s spiritual advances did not remain solely internal, nor were they restricted to his congregation. With an ambition to shore up the influence and legacy of the non-violent movement in Guatemala, he dedicated himself to the education of others. In the 1990s, Pérez played an instrumental role in the creation of MENOPAZ, a Mennonite-organized peace initiative. The association would go on to provide training in peacebuilding and conflict transformation in churches, schools, and community centers. MENOPAZ did not exclude itself from direct social activism.

Over the same years, Pérez worked to found and serve as the first coordinator of the Regional Network of Justice and Peace (REDPAZ). Through his tenure at REDPAZ, Pérez united churches and NGOs across Guatemala to provide local training in pastoral work with a focus on peace and reconciliation. Much of this work was mirrored in Latin American Anabaptist Seminary (SEMILLA), where he serves as rector. Collaborating with the 12 Central American Anabaptist conferences which comprise SEMILLA, Pérez founded the School of Peace. The School has since provided opportunities to the marginalized populations for study at Bible institutes, admitting around 800 pupils per year. The ecclesiastical formations rest, of course, on the principles of peace ministry.

Pérez provides another example—see Pastor James and Imam Ashafa—of how trauma and indignation which have seeped down to one’s bones might be recast as a productive force. Through his metamorphosis, deeply inflected with faith and the Mennonite community, Pérez has built an activist community of lasting effect. In the way of Jesus, he has found education to be an invaluable tool in the amelioration of the social, political, and spiritual circumstances of his brothers and sisters—those who have suffered and who yearn for peace.


Tanenbaum thanks Elaine Zook Barge, Retired Asst. Professor of the Practice of Trauma Awareness and Resilience at Eastern Mennonite University for nominating Willi Hugo Pérez Lemus.

Rising to the Occasion

Tanenbaum 2021 Peacemakers in Action Yeny Nolasco (El Salvador) and Fatima al-Bahadly (Iraq)

Dear Friends,

Tanenbaum is proud to announce the recipients of the 2021 Peacemakers in Action Award – Yeny Nolasco Quijada and Fatima al-Bahadly. These courageous individuals exemplify fortitude by risking their lives to build peace in tenuous parts of the world where many are too scared to take action.

Yeny spends her days providing alternative activities to youth and at-risk adults in El Salvador, while Fatima advocates for increased civil rights for women and against the radicalization of young men into organizations like ISIL in Iraq. People like Fatima and Yeny are the cornerstone to creating a better world and they need to be supported!

Join us in welcoming and supporting Fatima and Yeny into the Tanenbaum community on Thursday, June 3 at our 2021 Peace Made Possible Gala. Click here for our Gala webpage with ticket and sponsorship info. I look forward to seeing you there!

With my warmest regards,

Rev. Mark Fowler
CEO, Tanenbaum


 

Meet our Newest Peacemakers in Action

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Yeny Nolasco Quijada (El Salvador) and Fatima al-Bahadly (Iraq)

Dear Friends,

Amid the darkness that overtakes our newsfeeds, we’re here to celebrate two bright lights who work tirelessly for peace and embody what it means to be a Peacemaker in Action.

This International Women’s Day, meet our 2020 Peacemakers in Action awardees. They are two religiously-motivated peace actors in two conflict zones: El Salvador’s Yeny Nolasco Quijada, a Catholic woman with deep connections to the Mayan Cosmovision and Iraq’s Fatima al-Bahadly, a Muslim woman deeply embedded within her community.

Both exemplify peace. Both are driven by their faith. Both risk their lives for the chance of peace in the world’s worst conflicts. They join a Network of 30 equally motivated Peacemakers in Action.

Yeny, a Catholic woman with deep connections to the Mayan Cosmovision, works to reduce the influence of criminal organizations in her home country of El Salvador, adopting preventative measures aimed at providing alternatives to gang recruitment. Additionally, she forges partnerships within her community to address issues such as police violence. Fatima, a Muslim woman from Iraq, defies extremists by working with families displaced due to ISIS, educating marginalized women and girls, building community cohesion between Iraq’s minority groups, and de-radicalizing young men by visiting communities and providing basic needs and alternatives to joining groups like ISIS.

Both face threats, yet they persist, improving the lives of those with whom they work. We look forward to the future Peacemaker in Action Interventions they will create with lasting impact.

Join me in welcoming Yeny and Fatima to the Peacemakers in Action Network!

Rev. Mark Fowler
CEO, Tanenbaum

P.S. Celebrate Women’s History Month today by honoring Yeny and Fatima. Click here to join us at our 2021 Gala.