Peace is found on a mountain in Haiti and under a tent in Grand Rapids
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WMC) -- The International Day of Peace is an opportunity for persons, organizations, and nations to engage in practical acts of peace on a shared date. Peace Day was established by the United Nations in 1981 and since 2001 has been observed on or near September 21 each year.
For the past five years, International Day of Peace has been celebrated in Mizak, Haiti by Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI). HAPI Director Valerie Mossman-Celestin remembers the first event in 2008 when Paul Doherty, then chair of the Michigan Area Haiti Task Force said, “It was 1,000 people coming from all over the mountain!”
Valerie recalls another special Peace Day moment in 2010. “It was after the earthquake. My favorite skit was done by a women’s group. They wrapped a woman in a Haitian flag and re-enacted the Lazarus story. She ‘rose again,’ symbolizing that Haiti will rise again after the disaster, more peaceful and prosperous than before.”
Last weekend a new Peace Day partnership took place. Hands across the City, sponsored by Grand Rapids Metro Ministry and Justice for our Neighbors (JFON), joined hands with HAPI for a Peace Day double header. Both venues are Communities of Shalom, a program administered through Drew Theological School.
A tent in Grand Rapids
The Rev. Julie Liske, Executive Director of Grand Rapids Metro Ministry, (pictured above to the right of Judi Kruse) notes that this Hands Across the City event, the fourth in two years, was unique. “It was a day of beautifying the world not in typical ‘mission’ activities like cleaning, building, and painting, but of working through art to beautify the world through deeper relationships.”
The Michigan day was a blend of peace-crafting and presentations under tents in the Conference Center parking lot. Activities were designed to provide “gateways of peacemaking” and to “raise awareness of local and global ministries of peace and justice,” according to Julie. Happy faces and busy hands were indicators that good things were happening in spite of the unseasonal cold.
Girl Scouts showed how to weave personal mats from plastic grocery sacks for use by persons living on the streets. Beading was demonstrated by a mother and daughter proud of their Seneca heritage. HAPI items featured art from found materials such as cement bags, banana leaves and coconuts. Peace cranes were folded for gifting to Art Prize as persons heard the story of Sadako Sasaki from Hiroshima. Guests, like Ben Bartelmay and Greg Lawton (left) made peace sticks and learned about how Justice for our Neighbors welcomes the immigrant. Norm Kohns, retired pastor, told the story of “Just Coffee” with cups ready to sample. Caribbean artist, Erick Picardo, spoke about his work.
Three banners hung on the fence—a Piece of Peace—crafted by participants out of handprints, words and a little bit of everyone’s love. The creation was shared with Art Prize. At noon all activity stopped as those present observed a moment of silence for world peace. Laura Rampersad, JFON Regional Coordinator in West Michigan, noted that the experiences of the day, “bring peace into our hearts” and urged everyone to continue “seeking a better future for one and all.”
A mountain in Mizak
Hundreds of miles away in Haiti, a team from West Michigan, including Valerie Mossman-Celestin (leader), Mark Doyal, Sue Keener, Nichea Ver Veer Guy, Carol Hillman, and Don Williams, took part in a sister event along with the Haitian community. Theirs was a celebration extending from Sept. 20-28 with the theme, “Economics, Equality, and Spirituality for achieving Shalom.”
The Peace Day observances in Haiti were many-faceted as reported by Mark Doyal, Director of Communication Ministry for the West Michigan Conference. Click for full details in Mark’s blog. As with the Grand Rapids event, relationship-building was at the center of all activity.
In summary, on Saturday as folks crafted in Grand Rapids, the Merlet Center was officially opened in Mizak. This 7000 square foot building has been under construction since early this year, with Volunteer in Mission Teams from Michigan assisting Haitian workers. It will house local artisans, an internet café, offices, a micro-credit center and classrooms. Mark reports, “This building was a gift from the people of The United Methodist Church. $295,000 (including a major grant from UMCOR) was used to hire local people to build a life-changing facility.” The Merlet Center houses HAPI, which Valerie sees as part of “a vision of living our Christ in community for a world of peace with justice.”
West Michigan was also present at Peace Day in Haiti through 200 self-portraits created by children in four congregations—Trinity UMC Grand Rapids, Lincoln Road UMC in Riverdale, University Church East Lansing, and Kalamazoo Milwood UMC. Another example of how something as simple as torn paper and glue can say, “We care about you and want to be in community with you.” Mark reports that the gifts “were a total hit!” with the kids in Mizak.
On Sunday, Sept. 23, “Hundreds showed up in the 90+ heat to give thanks to God for the Merlet Center,” Mark continues. “There were hours of testimonies on the need for peace … We sat and meditated ALL DAY on peace.” He then posed a challenge, “When was the last time you spent an hour focused on peace, let alone six? Maybe the world would be a better place if we all spent even half that much time meditating on this critical topic and getting to know our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.”
Ties that bind
Though worlds apart, the experiences in Grand Rapids and in Mizak intersected and intertwined in powerful witness. Sharing at Peace Day in Grand Rapids, Judi Kruse told the story of how Gratitude Journals were born out of a practical question, “What junk is available?” A peace advocate who has made many trips to Haiti over the past five years, Judi explained how women pick up scrap cement bags, clean them, cut them and assemble them.
As Judi spoke, Mark was introduced to that process up close and personal. “We followed a lovely woman named Francoise on her way to the river,” he reports. “I filmed as she gathered cement sacks then traveled to the river to wash them…Her story is a great example of how HAPI and The United Methodist Church are transforming lives here in Haiti, a country built of entrepreneurs.”
The significance of purchasing a Gratitude Journal in the Conference Center parking lot was brought home by Mark’s additional observation, “Seventy percent of the Haitian people live on less than $1 U.S. dollar a day. If you can take some free used cement sacks and create an artistic Gratitude Journal that earns you $7 or $8 for a day’s work, it goes a long way towards feeding a family.”
And the peace-keeping does not stop. More will be learned about the Micah Way experience in Haiti as the team returns home. And Grand Rapids Metro Ministry will support other congregations to create and implement future Hands events focused on the strengths and needs of their own communities and neighborhoods. “Metro's experience in planning and sponsoring four previous Hands events is to be ‘packaged’ into a written process,” Julie concludes, “that can be used and adapted by any congregation.” Metro stands ready to provide assistance and consultation to congregations in their Hands Across the City work, with an emphasis on sustaining ministries and relationships that grow from the event.
~Reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News Senior Writer. Haiti photos Mark Doyal/Grand Rapids photos Kay DeMoss