Columbia woman to serve as civilian diplomat in Iran

Monday, April 28, 2008 | 6:56 p.m. CDT; updated 11:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Lily Tinker Fortel is taking a 12-day trip to Iran as a civilian diplomat with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith organization, to promote peace through conversational diplomacy. She hopes to gain "a better understanding of the Iranians, their culture and beliefs."

COLUMBIA — Lily Tinker Fortel describes civilian diplomacy as involving “understanding, information and connections,” and that’s what she’ll try to create during a 12-day trip to Iran.

Tinker Fortel, 24, of Columbia leaves Tuesday to serve in Iran as a civilian diplomat with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a national interfaith organization concerned with promoting domestic and international peace.

She is one of 21 delegates in the fellowship’s seventh delegation to Iran that come from 11 different states and varying religious backgrounds. The group will visit cultural and historical centers in several cities, meeting as a group with educators at universities, artists, politicians and religious leaders. Tinker Fortel said these meetings are “the real essence of the diplomacy.”

Jeff Stack, the Fellowship of Reconciliation coordinator for mid-Missouri, said the goal of the mission is to promote constructive dialogue with the people of Iran. “They are not our enemies. War is an enemy.”

Tinker Fortel is Columbia’s first participant in the program and was chosen for her activism as the community outreach coordinator for Mid-Missouri Peaceworks. Her job involves event planning and educating high school and college students.

“Lily has a long history of being an activist,” said Leila Zand, who coordinates the fellowship’s Iran program. “She can be a very strong voice for promoting peace.”

Tinker Fortel grew up in Fayette and was raised as a Methodist. She has a bachelor’s degree in peace and global studies with a minor in religious studies from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind.

She learned of her acceptance to the program in February. “Once I was accepted, I was excited to go. For me, the idea that I am involved in such an important thing at a critical time in history is exciting.”

Although she admitted to being nervous about the trip, she said she was confident that the group will be safe because the Fellowship of Reconciliation trip is sponsored by the Iran’s Center for Interfaith Dialogue, which has set up meetings, coordinated travel and will provide guides to accompany the travelers.

To prepare for her trip, Tinker Fortel has been reading about Iran and speaking with her fellow travelers via conference calls.

After she returns, she plans to give a lecture on June 10 at the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center. She will also be available to speak with individuals and larger groups about her experience.

“My biggest hope is that once I return, I will be able to express to people what I’ve learned about Iran and Iranian people and, with that of course, help in broadening a movement here against going to war with Iran,” Tinker Fortel said.

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