by Samantha Lioi, Minister of Peace & Justice
Just as Salford Peace Camp planners work from their awareness of local needs, newer, urban Anabaptists continue to nurture and shape their children’s imaginations toward creative peacemaking.
Philadelphia Praise Center planned a two-week Peace Camp which stretched into three this summer by popular (eager parental) demand. They met from noon to 4pm, providing a nutritious lunch for the children, all of whom live within ten blocks of the church building in South Philly. Ardi Hermawan of PPC, a senior nursing student at EMU hired by his home congregation for the summer and summer Ministry Inquiry Program intern Erika Bollman worked together to develop the program.
This fall Erika enters her second year of Eastern Mennonite University’s Conflict Transformation masters program—but she is studying peace at the policy level and came into the summer with no experience working with kids, so there was much to learn. She had spent a year in Indonesia, however, with SALT (Serving And Learning Together) between college and grad school, so she brought some cultural understanding and was able to speak with parents in Indonesian. This was particularly helpful since she and Ardi went house to house picking up and dropping off all the children at the beginning and end of each day.
Ardi was inspired by his experience in the Bronx over Spring Break with nine other EMU students through the college’s YPCA (Young People’s Christian Association). Visiting, singing, and sharing stories with patients who are HIV-positive at a clinic and spending time with a woman at a “day care” for elderly folk whose families could or would not care for them, Ardi was amazed by the compassion and connection that can form quickly between two strangers.
In response, Ardi added the theme “faith, hope, and love” to PPC’s Peace Camp during the final week to help the children learn how to do something for the neighborhood. “South Philly [looks] very fragile and broken from the outside,” Ardi reflected. “From the inside, I think there’s something God really wants to do [that has been left] unexplored.”
In its third year, PPC’s Peace Camp introduced the children to a different hero of peace each day, beginning with Anabaptist reformer Menno Simons and including Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Mother Teresa, and the local founder of what he hoped would be “a peaceful woods,” William Penn. Pastor Aldo Siahaan chose stories from Scripture according to the theme of the day, teaching about God peacefully splitting land between Abraham and Lot, the just resistance of the Egyptian midwives in refusing to kill Hebrew babies, and the four friends who cared for another enough to carry him to Jesus to be healed. (Gen 13, Exod 1:15-22, and Luke 5:17-26)
They worked on a tight budget, but they still managed to offer several field trips to broaden the experiences of the children who tend to live very locally, grounded in the richness of their Indonesian, Latino, and Vietnamese cultural contexts. They visited the justice and peace-themed exhibits of the Liberty Museum, toured the aquarium in Camden, NJ, created a scavenger hunt throughout South Philly, and one day even handed out cupcakes in local businesses and to passersby on the streets. “The kids were so excited to give away those cupcakes,” Erika recalled, as they were able to connect with people in their neighborhood through simple, joyful generosity.
PPC’s content included appreciating diversity and difference, caring for each other and the earth, and learning to resolve conflict peacefully. “Three weeks is not enough to transform them,” Erika said, “but I hope they get the concepts early on, so as it comes up again and again, they start to think it’s really possible [to choose peaceful ways to engage conflict].”
Indeed, Ardi saw God at work in the minds and hearts of the children they worked with. “These kids… if you listen to them, you’d be amazed. When they open up and are very vulnerable to you… when I listen to them I think, Wow, God has something to do with these kids, and it’s part of my job to give guidance.”
Philly Praise clearly reached beyond themselves this summer, drawing ten kids from a local daycare and thirty from the neighborhood who are not regular participants in the congregation. These children—from many cultural experiences and some of different faiths—became so attached to one another during Peace Camp that PPC chose to welcome them back for a “reunion” every Friday until August.
And it wasn’t only the children’s faith and imaginations that were being formed. “I think a lot about the purpose of my life,” says Ardi. “What do I really want to do with my life? I had the chance to serve at PPC and got to apply some of what I learned in the Bronx. [During that trip] we realized this life is not about ourselves, but it’s about God and how you build some connection with other people.”