Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

We’re in Good Hands: Young Leaders of BPFNA

Some peace and justice organizations are greying and recruitment of younger members is a real issue. This is also true for many progressive congregations. I am very pleased that this is NOT the case with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (http://www.bpfna.org/ ). I have told many, many people that my highlight from last year’s peace camp (McMinnville, OR, first week of August 2005) was the night that many youth and young adults signed personal testimonies of conscientious objection, saying that they would not join the military and, if a draft comes, would register as conscientious objectors. They invited us older COs to stand with them and sign their individual cards as witnesses. It was wonderful.

That spirit pervaded this conference. So many “Next Generation” folk are already leaders in peace and justice work and others are learning. There’s Frances Kelly, who has literally been coming to peace camp since she was a baby and is now an undergraduate at Yale (hard for me to believe since she still looks like a skinny 14 year old to me!). Frances has been leading peace camp worship with liturgical dance since I can remember. 2 years ago, at Townsend, MD peace camp, she fell down one of the ultra-steep hills on that campus and broke her leg–but she still went, crutches and all, to the peace protest in front of Congress, calling for an end to the Iraq War and confronting members of Congress passing by!

Rachel (Rae) and Daniel Hunter, siblings, have also been coming since childhood and are now early 20-somethings. They come from a mixed marriage (Carol Hunter, their mom, is a Euro-American who teaches history at Earlham College and Bob Hunter, father, an African-American who works for InterVarsity, teaches courses in the religion dept. on race at Earlham and is a Diversity and Justice Specialist) and a rich history of involvement in both church life and movement work. Rae has taught high school theatre and middle school science, is an author and poet and currently serves on the BPFNA board as its pastor. Daniel has written a book on nonviolence training and community organizing and leads training in nonviolence around the world–working on hard on experiential learning as a key to empowering marginalized groups.

Then there’s Daniel Collins, a member of the youth at Glendale Baptist Church, Nashville, NC who read Scripture at one of our services. He has already been involved in many justice actions domestically and globally and later this year (14-19 September) will travel with other Glendale youth to the University of Denver for Peacejam 2006: http://www.peacejam.org/ At this event, which will gather more living Nobel Peace Prize winners than ever before in U.S. history, Daniel and other youth will get to learn and be challenged from the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Oscar Arias Sanchez (recently elected again as president of Costa Rica), Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor and his co-winner Jose Ramos-Hortos (just elected president of East Timor) and many others. What a treat for Daniel and his friends to be mentored by such peacemakers!

Then there’s Lucas Johnson, a young African American who joined BPFNA last year and whom I met at last year’s peace camp. He is currently serving as an Americorps VISTA volunteer in Macon, GA working with Habitat for Humanity. Macon, GA has the highest concentration of churches of any geographic area in the Southeast (over 300 for a medium size town), but only 30 are partners with Habitat or seem concerned about homelessness or substandard housing. Lucas is working to change that. He is a member of BPFNA partner congregation Oakhurst BC in Atlanta and has just been elected to the BPFNA board.

Another young person, slightly older, working on homelessness is Rev. Laura Ayala, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Caguas (FBC Caguas), Puerto Rico. One of the few women pastors in Puerto Rico, she is also the Exec. Dir. of Coalicion Criolla de Ciudado Continuo a Personas sin Hogar (Caguas Coalition for the Homeless).

Other young people at peace camp impressed me, including Jessica Wilbanks, who simply cannot be more than 21 at the oldest. She’s not a BPFNA member (I think she’s Presbyterian), but came as a representative of Faithful Security: The National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Danger. This organization was formed by the late William Sloan Coffin in 2005 as an interfaith organization working to harness the moral power of faith communities against the resurgent danger of nuclear weapons, which most people had assumed had retreated after the Cold War. Jessica is the coordinator for Faithful Security. She comes from an evangelical background, but is eager to work with as many different faith communities as possible, knowing that the nuclear danger cannot be addressed with strictly legal and treaty language, but must have the spiritual and moral resources of the faith communities in order to defeat this threat.

The list of impressive young Baptist peacemakers goes on: Johnny Almond, Minister of Music @ FBC Mt. Gilead, NC and Communications Director @ BPFNA; Lydia, Jerene, and Naomi Broadway of Durham, NC; Dee Dee Dikitanan of Oakland, CA; Justin Gall of Oberlin, OH; Trey Lincoln of Mount Gilead, NC and so many others– far too many to mention, let this middle aged activist-theologian know that faith-based peace and justice activism, and the BPFNA in particular, is in good hands. Considering the news this week, that’s very good to know!

July 15, 2006 - Posted by | Baptists, peacemaking, young people

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