Directors of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America voted recently to authorize funding for conflict transformation training in Sudan/South Sudan and the Philippines and to assist with creation of a Baptist Peace Fellowship of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Conflict transformation, helping parties get beyond temporary solutions to problems and confront the underlying reasons for long-term animosity, is a major part of the BPFNA’s mission, said Evelyn Hanneman, operations director of the network of about 80 churches in the United States and Canada.
“Helping people understand that conflict offers an opportunity for growth and to discover their conflict styles, and then to teach them ways to deal with conflict does more than offer a temporary solution; it gets to the root of the problem,” she said.
Following a training session in Kenya for young refugees from Sudan, for example, one participant shared that he had intended to kill someone who had dishonored his family. “Now he was going to talk with that person and find a peaceful resolution,” she added.
Hanneman said the BPFNA has a long-standing commitment to conflict transformation both in the Sudan region and in the Philippines, where the North Carolina-based group was instrumental in creating the Asia Pacific Baptist Peace Network in 1996.
Directors approved partial funding for a similar Baptist Peace Fellowship of Latin America and the Caribbean based on a proposal by former board member Edgar Palacios, a Baptist pastor and peace activist during the Salvadoran Civil War currently on staff at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
“The significance of peacemakers gathering in regional groups cannot be overemphasized,” said BPFNA Program Coordinator LeDayne McLeese Polaski. “Such meetings provide opportunities for networking, training, theological formation, resource sharing, empowerment and the all-important building of relationships.”
She described such work as “absolutely crucial in building a culture of peace.”
Money for the training comes from the Gavel Memorial World Peace Fund, earmarked for conflict transformation work across the globe. Gavel funds will also help with start-up of the Latin America group. The fellowship is looking for sponsors to put up the rest.
Hanneman said the BPFNA has been involved in conflict-transformation work since the early 1990s, beginning with Nagaland and Myanmar/Burma. A 1996 training conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, attracted more than 70 church leaders from 14 countries to workshops led by BPFNA leaders. Since then the organization has used the method successfully in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the United States.
Dan Buttry, a pioneer among Baptists in conflict transformation ministry, said he and former BPFNA executive director Ken Sehested became aware of Mennonites who were using the term in the 1990s, but their emphasis was mainly on conflict resolution. The Baptists added their heritage of non-violent struggle – such as Martin Luther King – and the Gavel Fund provided opportunities to act on those ideas, he recalled.
-- Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.