Calling for a passionate pursuit of nonviolent peacemaking

June 28 will mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Serbian nationalist. World War I exploded just a month after the assassination – a war of untold death and destruction.


National War Memorial, Ottawa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An estimated 17 million people were killed in the “Great War,” including soldiers and civilians, and some 21 million were wounded. One in 10 Canadians who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force died – over 60,000 in total. Approximately three million women became widows and 6 million children became orphans in Europe alone. The use of deadly new weapons such as machine guns, tanks and airplanes, as well as chemical weapons such as mustard gas, added to the carnage.

Today, many analysts agree that World War I planted the seeds for World War II which occurred twenty years later. By imposing draconian penalties on the “losers” (Germany and its allies), the “winners” (Britain, France and their allies) helped to foster the resentment that led Germany to invade Poland in 1939 and to start an even more deadly global conflagration. One historian has called World War I, “nothing less than the greatest error of modern history.”[1]

Over the next months, Canada and other nations will be focusing much attention on the centenary of World War I. Despite what is now known about the terrible cost – and the folly – of World War I, Canadians will no doubt once again hear the oft-repeated refrain that World War I “made Canada a nation” or, as a Veterans Affairs publication puts it,

Nationhood was purchased for Canada by the gallant men who stood fast at Ypres, stormed Regina Trench, climbed the heights of Vimy Ridge, captured Passchendaele, and entered Mons on November 11, 1918.[2]

ON -- peace signAt Mennonite Central Committee we believe that war is wrong. Period. War is not something to be celebrated – it is something to be mourned. Our convictions are rooted in our peace church tradition and our commitment to Jesus, who calls us to love our enemies and to live peaceably with all.

This conviction is strengthened by MCC’s work among people suffering from war and violence around the world. A partner in Lebanon says it well: “Any war, anytime, anywhere [ends with] mutual defeat.”

To be sure, we in MCC mourn with Canadian families who lost loved ones in World War I (and in succeeding wars), just as we mourn for all victims of war. However, like the people at Peace Quest, we believe that the centenary of World War I should be an occasion for reflection, dialogue and debate about what is truly gained through war.

We believe all Canadians – not only those who share MCC’s religious convictions – should be asking questions like these:

  • What are the root causes of war?
  • What does war look like from the “other side”?
  • Does war build peace? Or does it perpetuate violence?
  • Who benefits when wars are fought? Who suffers?
  • How can we know truth in wartime?
  • What builds a nation? Its military might? Or the way it welcomes refugees, provides education and healthcare for its citizens, honours its treaty obligations, and nurtures values of caring and compassion for others?

The anniversary of World War I should, above all, be an occasion when Canadians commit themselves to learning about, investing in, and practicing non-violent alternatives to war. Those alternatives do exist – that much we have learned! Surely, one of the most important legacies Canadians can offer the global community during this anniversary year is a  passionate pursuit of nonviolent peacemaking.

Look for the following resources to help you, your church, your school or your group mark the anniversary of World War I.

  • MCC’s annual Peace Sunday Packet for churches. The theme this year is “God’s Vision: a World Without War.” Available on in late August 2014.
  • A Remembrance Day peace resource for teachers. The theme for this new resource is: “Is Another Way Possible?” Available on in September 2014.
  • Project Ploughshares is an agency of The Canadian Council of Churches which contributes to peace and disarmament through research, policy analysis and action.
  • Peace Quest is an organization “stimulating a nation-wide conversation about peace and our country’s role in peacemaking, reconciliation and social justice” in the context of the 100th anniversary of World War I and Canada’s 150th year as a nation.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Ottawa Office Public Engagement Coordinator

[1] Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War (Basic Books, Perseus, 1999), p. 462.

[2] Government of Canada Veterans Affairs, Valour Remembered: Canada and the First World War, 1914-1918 (Government of Canada, 2000), p. 27.



National Aboriginal Day: A watershed moment for Canada

By Sara Stratton, Member Relations and Campaigns Coordinator, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives

We’re at a watershed moment for Canada, one where we have the opportunity to carry on as we always have in our relationship with Indigenous peoples or one where we can move forward in new, more respectful ways.

Which path will we choose?

Gitxaala territory near Kitkatla BC

Photo courtesy of Katie Quinn (KAIROS)

National Aboriginal Day, June 21, is described on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website as “a special day to celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.” Proclaimed a mere 5 months before the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, it is also a time, as former Governor General Roméo Leblanc noted in his proclamation, to acknowledge the unquestioned place of Aboriginal rights in Canada, including inherent rights to lands and resources.

KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives—a coalition of which MCC is a member—is making the connections between Indigenous rights and ecological justice in a program called Watershed Discipleship. Bringing together biblical and theological reflection with hands-on environmental experience and social analysis, KAIROS is exploring how the environmental and Indigenous rights issues in our own backyards—our own watersheds—are part of larger Canadian and global justice struggles. And, we’re committing to take action.

What would the world look like through a watersheds lens?

If you looked at a political map of continental North America, you would see a brightly coloured array of 62 assorted shapes—the political divisions among 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 49 states.

If you looked a watershed map of continental North America, you would see 5 enormous, variegated shapes which follow the contours of the landscape—coasts, mountain ranges, tundra, arctic, prairie, and desert. And through these shapes flow rivers and streams, pausing in small ponds and huge lakes before pouring into the oceans that surround this continent.


Photo courtesy of

The Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, Hudson Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean: these are North America’s watersheds, the lands and the waters that feed and sustain us all. Through the oceans they are connected to watersheds around the world, and through these waters, we are connected to brothers and sisters across the planet. They are connected to each other; they connect us.

When you look at the world through the political lens, all you see is division. When you look through the watersheds lens, all you see are connections—and the mutual responsibility we have to each other and the earth.

For KAIROS, National Aboriginal Day is very much about how we might live into that acknowledgement of Indigenous Rights, how we live into right relationship. It has a particular resonance this year, as we look towards another set of recommendations—those of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will be released a year from now. In 1996, the final report of the Royal Commission was placed on a shelf and never fully enacted. What will become of the TRC report?

So here we sit, at a watershed moment. What will we do, as Canadians, as Christians, as watershed disciples?

We are all in this watershed together; what will we do to help it see justice?

For more information and to become involved, please visit


In mid-May, Canadian Parliamentarians participated in the 3rd annual Iran Accountability Week. Members of the Conservative, NDP, and Liberal caucuses joined together to “sound the alarm on Iranian domestic repression” through a press conference, statements in the House of Commons and Senate, and a special meeting of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

In addition, Ambassador of Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett issued a statement urging Iranian authorities “to release all those who have been imprisoned in Iran for merely practicing their faith,” including Bahá’ís, Christians, Dervishes, and Sunni Muslims.

Finally, in an address to the American Jewish Committee in Washington, DC, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird continued to express his distrust of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s nuclear ambitions: “Kind words, a smile and a charm offensive are not a substitute for real action, nor are they an effective mask to disguise the old hatred. That’s why I’m deeply skeptical about Iran’s intentions.”

IMG_2477This rhetoric was ringing in my ears as I accompanied a delegation of academics, students, and MCC colleagues to Iran to participate in, among other learning opportunities, the sixth round of dialogue between Shia Muslim and Mennonite Christian scholars.

To be sure, there is also no shortage of distrust toward Western political leaders to be found in Iran. The last two days I spent in Iran were national holidays marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-supported monarch known as the Shah of Iran. Although the streets of Tehran were empty and the shops of the famous Grand Bazaar were shuttered, I did catch excerpts of some of the speeches by Iranian leaders on local TV.

And in conversations with Iranians it became clear that skepticism toward the West—if not disappointment, frustration, and concern—is based on more than speculation about intentions. The people of Iran have borne the cost not only of foreign meddling in their internal political affairs, but of foreign support for Iraq during a long and devastating war in the 1980s, and now widespread economic and political sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Beyond political hostilities, however, I think the lack of trust between Iran and countries like Canada is also rooted in ignorance and misunderstanding.

For example, I expect that many Canadians have little awareness of Iranian culture and history—a lack of awareness that can easily lead to a lack of appreciation or respect, and undermine the dignity of Iranians.

IMG_2510During a trip to Hamedan, one of the oldest cities in the world, I saw inscriptions that date back to the height of the Persian Empire 2,500 years ago. I visited the tomb of Esther and Mordechai, an important pilgrimage site for Jews in Iran. And I toured the mausoleum of Avicenna, one of the greatest and most influential Islamic scholars at the turn of the first millennium.

Attending a conference in the city of Qom on a twentieth century Iranian philosopher, Murtada Mutahhari, and meeting with university professors in Tehran, it was clear that the legacy of Avicenna lives on. Iranians not only have a passion for philosophical and theological debates, but an impressive education system to nurture the curiosity and skills needed for these debates.

Beyond displaying the influence of a rich intellectual tradition, the dialogue between Shia and Mennonite scholars highlighted a broader interest in engagement in at least some segments of Iranian society. Instead of isolation and hostility, I observed a spirit of openness and hospitality.

In reflecting on my trip, it seems to me that building trust between Iranians and Canadians is a necessary first step to overcoming fear and conflict. And it seems to me that dialogue is one modest but important way to begin to establish trust.

As anyone who observed the exchange of thoughts between Shia and Mennonite scholars will attest, dialogue does not mean we leave our principles at the door before we sit down at the table together. Indeed, instead of watering down our convictions, dialogue demands that we foreground the things that are most important to us.

IMG_2376Dialogue forces us to explain what it is we believe, why we believe it, and to respond to questions about those beliefs.

Dialogue, like advocacy, is a form of witness. It can make us uncomfortable. It can make us vulnerable. Perhaps this is why it can also make us more confident and assured in our relationships.

In any case, if trust is the product of dialogue rather than a prerequisite for it, then I think we have reason to be concerned about the current posture of the Canadian government toward Iran. As MCC has noted in the past, cutting off diplomatic ties, issuing strongly worded statements, and seeking to impose accountability from a distance appears to be undermining the prospects for justice and peace.

Beyond supporting rare opportunities for formal dialogue, the challenge that remains for us all is to find creative ways of establishing trust between peoples divided by culture, religion, and politics.

By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director

The “American dream” lives on

This guest blog is written by Megan Enns, peace and youth program coordinator for MCC Alberta. She recently led a young adult tour to the northern and southern borders of Mexico for the purpose of exploring themes of migration and peacebuilding.

I grew up thinking the “American dream” was something of the past. It was an ideal from that age of “Leave it to Beaver” that, to most people now, seems unrealistic and even unappealing. While traveling with MCC on “Uprooted,” a migration themed young adult learning tour to Mexico, I was shocked to hear how very real that American dream is.

Miguel and his son Jerry are in search of the American dream. Our group met them in Mexico City at a shelter where they are staying, waiting, and planning to move north and to cross into America where they will hopefully attain that dream.

The entire Uprooted tour group, along with Jerry (back row, middle, with sling)

The entire Uprooted tour group, along with Jerry (back row, middle, with sling)

Already Miguel and Jerry are scared. They were traveling from their home in Honduras for four months with their son and brother, but he chose to stop and stay back after they witnessed a woman and her young daughter raped and killed on the train. They left him behind with a family in one town they passed through.

A quick explanation is needed about the train. In Mexico and Central America they call it “the beast.” People die every day on the train, or they fall or are pulled under, often losing limbs. The drug cartels and gangs, in some places with the support of la migra, the local police, run the train tops. Miguel and Jerry were charged $300 three times by a gang — standard practice “fare” to pass through their territory — and threatened at gunpoint, with a gun handed over by a migra agent.

These are the lengths people are going to for the American dream, the hope of a better life, and a belief that they are worth it. They are met by harsh realities: the Mexican police, exploitation, border patrol, the desert, detention, deportation, and the realization that immigration systems don’t share that belief in their worth.

MCC has recently outlined our need to support “people on the move” and we see this as a growing theme. People are on the move everywhere, fleeing violence and poverty in Syria, Sudan, Nepal, traveling to Canada as temporary foreign workers from Central America, the Philippines and elsewhere. And people are on the move in Mexico.

Mexico is the world’s migration capital — crossroads for some moving north from Central America or poorer areas in Mexico, a destination for many from around the world seeking opportunity, and a place of return for those deported from the U.S. or Canada when their American Dream is broken.

Members of the group hear stories at a shelter for migrants in Mexico City.

Members of the group hear stories at a shelter for migrants in Mexico City.

Our Uprooted tour group had the chance to meet many agencies and centers working with migrants and to talk with many migrants themselves. We also met lawyers and public defenders, visited a detention center, and received a fairly well rounded exposure to the issues on the border, and what people were fleeing south of it.

One message we heard that sticks with me is that it’s easy to blame a person, a “side,” a group: the drug cartels, the migrants, the border patrol, the coyotes, Mexican communities along the train line who threaten migrants, the American legal system and “operation streamline,” the private companies that are making a profit off detention and prison centers where migrants are held — even ourselves for not caring, or knowing, or saying something about this. However, it’s a system that is completely broken. People are playing their small part, with what they know.

What would happen if more people knew the story of Miguel and Jerry and played their part from that perspective?

A friend who recently returned from a learning tour to Israel/Palestine, described herself as broken. I felt a bit of that, though her empathy is much more admirable than mine. I come home wanting to remember the hope — because there are glimmers of it — amidst so many stories of brokenness. The problems we see and hear are so far away. The reality I am learning from this tour, though, is they’re not that far away.

Our country’s laws around immigration are moving in a bad direction too. We are bystanders in this equation, one which allows a system in which Miguel and Jerry aren’t worth enough to have their simple dream of safety and security. So what can we do? This is a question our group keeps asking each other. A simple start of course is to share the stories of these people on the move and share our own struggles with this brokenness.

My own struggle — much as I hate it — is that I have bought into the story that I am worth the dream and “they” are not. I sat there, over lunch with Miguel and others from our group and the refugee shelter, talking about the American dream being outdated or unrealistic. What a warped world it is when I can buy into thinking the American dream is unrealistic for people like Miguel and Jerry, while I live it. I want to convince them not to leave home in search of an elusive dream, where they will undoubtedly face unknown dangers in their journey. But life at home, for many migrants, has just as much violent threat and unknown danger.

I think of the American dream as outdated, because I have the privilege to do so. So I will struggle, with my fellow travelers, to understand and learn from Miguel and Jerry and the many other migrants we met, and question the stories I buy into.

For more stories and resources about the Uprooted tour on migration and peacebuilding, visit