by Lorie Lewis Ham
As we celebrate Independence Day, a day made possible through war, it seems appropriate to look at the other side of war: peace. There has always been opposition to war for various reasons, and I think most people truly wish for peace in this world. Sadly, human nature seems to prevent that from happening but, thankfully, there will always be those who keep trying and they are continually changing the world.
In October 2002, a group of those people at the First Mennonite Church decided to start putting their feelings about peace into action and formed the Reedley Peace Center. “It grew out of a Sunday morning discussion group,” said Peace Center original member and Reedley High School teacher, Don Friesen. “We came to a collective decision that we could no longer be content to just study and discuss our convictions — we needed to find ways to more actively pursue paths toward peace and justice.”
Their first action came prior to the invasion of Iraq when they began organizing candlelight walks down the main street in Reedley in opposition of the war. Altogether, there were five of these walks with the largest group reaching 60 walkers. The walks would always end in sharing and meditation at the park across from the City offices. Don stated they faced much objection to their protests and antipathy to their group.
They ceased the walks when the war began but continued praying and sharing then, in 2003, began holding meetings at the First Mennonite Church where they presented programs featuring peace-related videos and guest speakers. Meetings are still held there every Friday night. Through the years, speakers have included peace activists; Christian Peacemaker Team members; workers from Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Vietnam, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Latin America and several African nations; along with many others bringing compelling messages about world peace and justice.
“We have also had speakers from local bands of the Choinumne Yokut Indians and from people working with immigrant farm workers, as well as farm workers themselves,” said Don. “Recent themes include the role of globalization in justice issues, environmental issues, racism, homosexuality, abortion, military recruiting, war tax resistance, the evolution/intelligent design debate, the economics of peace and justice, hunger and poverty issues, sustainable food and consumption practices, fair trade, health care reform, the economy, and immigration issues. We have also listened to speakers from several religious faiths.”
Aware that pursuing peace involves more than just staying informed, the Peace Center has also attempted to find ways to help bring peace and justice to their community. One way has been to sponsor a Students for Peace Club at Reedley High School. Peace Center members work with students to plan and implement counter-recruiting campaigns on the high school campus. One of the shared activities in preparation for each counter military recruitment week is a workshop on nonviolent action. Several college students and members of the Students for Peace Club have presented programs at the Center about their campus-related peace activities.
The Peace Center has also been involved in outreach activities such as political letter-writing, co-sponsoring the Celebration of the Small Farm, co-sponsoring and participating in other meetings and actions with Valley peace groups, sending individuals to peace conferences, offering training in conflict resolution through VORP (Victim/Offender Reconciliation Program) — several members are VORP mediators — and hosting an annual retreat. “We are (also) beginning work with, and support of, the new Chief of Police in Reedley (Steven H. Wright) as he begins an innovative, restorative justice program in our town,” stated Don.
“Many in our group have also served terms in other countries with the Mennonite Central Committee and many volunteer large amounts of time in local MCC programs such as the local World Handcrafts store and the Nearly New shop. Several have volunteered with Christian Peacemaker Teams and worked with the Mennonite Disaster Service, rebuilding homes and restoring damaged property.”
Through the years, Center events have related to what was going on in the world at the time. In the spring of 2007, they again held a series of monthly public protests. These took place at the busy corner of Manning and Reed, under the Reedley College marquee. They focused on the escalation of the Iraq War and the growing threat of a military strike on Iran. In the fall of 2008, in downtown Reedley, they set up a week-long Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibit from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and have since presented this exhibit at several local schools.
Even though the group got its start at the First Mennonite Church, membership has expanded far beyond that. Meeting attendance generally runs from 30 to 45 but can be as high as 90, with a mailing list of nearly 300 people in the area. Members are not only from Reedley, but also Kingsburg, Sanger, Dinuba, Fresno and Visalia.
Reedley resident Joe Halpen is an ad designer/graphic artist for the Visalia Times Delta and has been a member since 2003. He actually credits former President George W. Bush as being indirectly responsible for him learning about the Peace Center. Joe discovered them when he learned they were playing a video by MoveOn.org about the lead-up to the U.S. attack on Iraq. “In the Reedley Peace Center, I discovered a group of like-minded, compassionate, joyful and caring folks. They not only talk the talk, they walk the walk. We’re people of action, not just words.”
“We think that the ideas of such persons as Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. are the correct way to think and that we should try to act in our lives as they did,” said Carol Krehbiel, another original member.
Members Karen and Dick Peterson are organic peach growers who live between Reedley and Kingsburg and have also been involved since the beginning. “We have had some great speakers over the years,” said Karen. “Plus we have a great potluck every Friday night.”
Victoria Smith is a retired teacher who lives near Sanger and joined the Peace Center in 2004 but has been a pacifist since the Vietnam years. “It’s a real gift to have such a group as the Peace Center in Reedley.”
While Don’s own commitment to peace comes out of his Christian faith, he strongly believes peacemaking can be embraced by religious and non-religious alike as evidenced by some of their non-religious members. He also feels there is a great need in our world for peacemakers. “I believe that if we take an objective look at U.S. history, we must face the fact that as a nation we generally turned too quickly to violence as a means for solving both real and perceived problems. Our nation’s military expenditures nearly exceed the total military expenditures of all the other nations of the world combined. We have a military presence in nearly 130 other countries. Since World War II, we have bombed over 25 other nations, even though we have had no declared wars during that time.
“During the last century, we saw worldwide a multitude of nonviolent attempts to resolve national and international problems and many of these attempts were profoundly successful. That violence always leads to more violence is clear through both logic and through historical observation. It is only nonviolence that has the potential to bring lasting solution to violent conflict. This needs to be believed and taught, over and over again, in every generation and by large numbers of devotees. The world needs growing numbers of people who believe in nonviolence as the way to solve conflict, and who are willing to step into conflict situations and risk their own well-being, perhaps even their lives, to bring nonviolent resolution to conflict.”
To learn more about the Peace Center you can visit their website and/or attend one of their meetings, Fridays at the First Mennonite Church in Reedley on L Street between 12th and 13th Streets. There is a shared potluck meal at 6:30pm and the programs begin at 7:10. There is no charge for these events and they are wheelchair accessible. To sign up for their weekly newsletter, email Don: dfriesen0[at]gmail[dot]com.
Some of the upcoming programs are:
Friday, July 9, 6:30-8:30
Documentary: In the Light of Reverence — This film tells the stories of three communities and places they care for: the Lakota at Devils Tower in Wyoming, the Hopi in the Four Corners area of the Southwest, and the Wintu at Mt. Shasta in California. These are all places of extraordinary beauty, and impassioned controversy, as Indians and non-Indians struggle to co-exist with very different ideas about how the land should be used. For American Indians, the land is sacred and akin to the world’s greatest cathedrals. Others feel the land should be used for industry and recreation. In the Light of Reverence explores these issues from both sides of the debate by giving voice to the diverse people who utilize sacred places.
Friday, July 16, 6:30-8:30
Speakers: Joan and Leroy Willems — MCC workers in Sudan. Topic: Sudan
Friday, July 23, 6:30-8:30
Movie: The Gods Must Be Crazy — Three vignettes highlight the surreal in this 1980 classic comedy written and directed by Jamie Uys. Among the three, the one about a Coke bottle falling out of the heavens and becoming a one-of-a-kind object coveted by everyone in a small African village is a cult favorite. The bottle creates such dissension that its finder, N!xau, decides the gods must’ve been crazy to give such a gift, so he sets out to drop it off the edge of the world.
Saturday, July 31, time to be announced
Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno — Visit by Peace Center members.
Friday, August 6, 6:30-8:30
Documentary: Playing For Change: Peace Through Music — A story of hope, struggle, perseverance and joy. Directors Mark Johnson and Jonathan Walls, along with the Playing For Change team, traveled the globe with a single-minded passion to connect the world through music. They filmed and recorded more than 100 musicians. Each captured performance creates a new mix in which essentially the artists are all performing together, albeit hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Playing For Change: Peace Through Music is the story of this unparalleled international collaboration, and the remarkable power of music.
Friday, August 13, 6:30-8:30
Movie: Tuesdays with Morrie — When Mitch Albom (Hank Azaria) learns his beloved professor, Morrie Schwartz (Jack Lemmon), is dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he reconnects with his mentor and learns from him all over again but, this time, they’re studying life. Mitch might be a successful sports columnist and television host, but that doesn’t mean he’s aced his priorities. This made-for-television movie is based on the real-life Albom’s best-selling book
Friday, August 20, 6:30-8:30
Movie: Music Within — After losing his hearing as a soldier during the Vietnam War, Richard Pimentel (Ron Livingston) returns to America, where he falls in with an unlikely circle of friends and finds a new calling as a spokesman for the disabled. His activist efforts eventually lead to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This inspiring and entertaining true story won the Audience Award at the 2007 AFI Dallas International Film Festival.
Friday, August 27, 6:30-8:30
Documentary: The Cats of Mirikitani — Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf becomes an integral part of the action in this heartfelt documentary about her efforts to help aging Japanese-American artist Jimmy Mirikitani get off the streets of New York City and make peace with his complicated past. As she and Jimmy sift for long-lost relatives and even revisit the internment camp where he was forced to spend several years during World War II, Hattendorf hauls her camera along to capture every moment.
Friday evening through Saturday evening, November 5 and 6
From Violence to Wholeness Weekend Nonviolence training — A workshop in creative nonviolence rooted in the peace and justice tradition of the Christian community. This ecumenical workshop draws on the richness of the Christian tradition of Gospel Nonviolence to provide a vision and toolbox for transforming our lives and our world. Facilitators will be Peter Ediger and Vanessa Brake from Pace e Bene.
Friday, September 17, 6:30-8:30
Speaker: William C. Rempel — Investigative journalist will speak about his book. Topic: Delusions of a Dictator: The Mind of Marcos As Revealed in His Secret Diaries