Head and heart, body and soul: the Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders institute

This week’s guest writer is Stephen Siemens, coordinator of the Restorative Justice program of MCC Canada.  Stephen lives in Hepburn, Saskatchewan.

This past June I was privileged to take part in the fifth annual Global Anabaptist Peacemakers (or GAP) Institute at Fresno Pacific University (FPU), Fresno, CA. GAP is dynamic partnership between MCC West Coast and FPU offering students cutting-edge immersion into many of the key areas in which MCC is working (locally and globally) through six classes: Care for Creation, Migration and Resettlement, Food Security, Restorative Justice, Advocacy, and Peacebulding on the (Arizona/ Mexico) Border.

As MCC West Cost explains: Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders are young leaders from across the country [the U.S.] who gather for a week to learn together what it means, as an Anabaptist, to respond with the love of Christ in an increasingly interconnected world.

I was invited to GAP to co-teach the Restorative Justice course and helped to lead the GAP “House of Prayer” — more on both of those, shortly.

All the GAP participants

The GAP institute has an excellent format that challenges heart and mind, left and right brain. Our days would began with worship and devotions, and, using the book of Acts as the template, we reflected on what truly is the Gospel, and how we are seeing it unfold in and through us, and in the world around us. Many of us participating in GAP, both students and faculty, marveled at how precious and refreshing good Bible teaching is!

Then all students broke out into the six classes listed above for a good balance of classroom learning (PowerPoints, group discussion, role plays) and “outside” experiential learning (field trips, interviews, mini-learning tours, etc).

The Restorative Justice course, for example, tackled the following subjects in the classroom: the contours of Biblical Justice juxtaposed to secular western understandings of justice (state law); the needs of victims and offenders; learned peacemaking strategies to capture the opportunity for reconciliation; and developing skills in conflict management and mediation through role playing.

Stephen Siemens (back row, left) and participants in the Conflict Resolution and Peacemaking module.

Our field trips consisted of listening to those who began the Reedley Victims Initiative, touring the local juvenile detention center, touring FPU’s Victim Offender Reconciliation Program or VORP, and a tour of Fresno Superior Court.

But the day was not over when the “bell rang.” Courses would wrap up for the day just before supper, but the community of the faithful would continue to gather, learn, and encounter Christ.

Most of the evenings also included worship, or as we called it, the GAP “House of Prayer.” This was a rich time indeed, as students reflected on both the many injustices to which the church is called to respond —but also as we gathered in the presence of Christ, and through song, Scripture, and prayer, encountered the One who provides hope, power, wisdom and compassion to transform individuals, families, structures and whole societies.

It was wonderful. It was needed, personally and corporately. We experienced the Gospel confirmed in us. Head and heart, body and soul, fully interconnected. No conflict of interest between academic explorations and simply worshiping Jesus. What an incredible way for many students to be introduced to the multifaceted nature of God’s kingdom and God’s personality!

Though I am obviously biased, I was humbled by the quality of students at this event, and I marveled at how they see opportunity and hope, not obstacles and despair. I saw God doing a mighty work in confirming the passion in many students to participate with Christ in reconciling people to people and people to God. I was also thankful for how God uses MCC to introduce many to God’s holistic body and soul outreach, in which all of us can participate.

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