Mid-Missouri group celebrates 50 years of promoting peace

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 | 11:45 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — To celebrate 50 years of spreading peace, national representatives of the Fellowship of Reconciliation visited the mid-Missouri chapter of the group in Columbia to speak about national peace efforts and learn about what the city is doing locally to promote peace.

Mark Johnson, the Fellowship of Reconciliation's national executive director, gave a speech to a group of about 25 people Wednesday night at the Missouri United Methodist Church titled, "Creating a Culture of Peace: Responding to Militarism, Materialism and Racism."

Johnson said the group launched a series of projects and campaigns to demilitarize life and land in the Americas and the Middle East this year. 

"In the U.S., many people are mesmerized by a military culture with a corporate struggle that profits through arms production and sustenance of armed forces," Johnson said. 

He said most wars are fought because of land and resources, but the desired land and resources are ruined by the process of war. 

The organization's work in Colombia is essential to the process of demilitarizing society, Johnson said. The Fellowship of Reconciliation has been in Latin America and the Caribbean for the past 20 years to help folks fight against military violence, he said. 

Johnson told a story of 10 Colombian villages that joined together to support nonviolence in their area and asked the military to leave them alone. Despite their effort, the military often takes community members to serve in the army but eventually kills them instead, Johnson said.

These peace communities asked the Fellowship of Reconciliation to be present, Johnson said, and serve as witnesses to the violence occurring in the areas. 

"(The Fellowship of Reconciliation) tries to be present to forestall the process of violence," Johnson said. 

He said through incidents such as that, militarism, materialism and racism are evident in the relationship between the U.S. and Colombia.

Peace groups in other countries at war also are calling for an end to violence and for militaries to leave, Johnson said, and the organization is working with them to provide support. Johnson said these groups are all focused on a common question.

"The one message we're getting across to all the indigenous Afghan communities — women's organizations, health organizations, children's organizations — is uniformly the same," Johnson said. "Why not love?"

Johnson spoke about the Fellowship of Reconciliation's work to prevent the spread of gun and drug violence within the U.S. He said a group in southwest Chicago recently called the organization asking for help because they are losing hundreds of kids a year in violent drug incidents.

"We're going to involve them in conversation on how you address children and young people about the temptations of violence and escalation of violence," he

Attendees asked questions and offered their own suggestions on how to spread peace and the message of nonviolence during the presentation. 

Columbia resident and lawyer Ruth O'Neill was interested in the presentation because she frequently works with the nonviolence effort and wanted to hear ideas from others on how to prevent violence.

"Because a lot of work I do is in the criminal justice system, I'm interested in alternatives on how to stop these problems," she said.

Johnson ended by saying that sometimes the efforts seem hopeless but posed a final question to the audience: "What do we do in the face of hopelessness?"

His answer: "We hope."

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