The Peacebuilder on a Goat Path

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January 6, 2013
Brandi Friesen Thorpe |

Meet Kathy Moorhead Thiessen, of Winnipeg, Manitoba. While she may look like your normal mother and wife, this 52 year old from Hope Mennonite Church spends half of her year in Iraq as a 1/2 time corp member with Christian Peacemaker Teams. The following is some of her story, in her words, from where she began with CPT to today.

“How It All Began” - “In 2010 when I read the history of CPT (Kathleen Kern’s “In Harm’s Way”) I realized that I had rubbed shoulders with CPT since it began in 1986. It was not until the months in 05/06 when 4 CPT men were held in captivity in Iraq that I became much more aware of the organization. I decided then that working for CPT was for brave people and not me.

However, the next day I was at an outdoor communion service remembering the end of the slave trade in the UK. We sang a song from South Africa, which translated says, “what is our sin, what have we done?” (to deserve to be oppressed so harshly). At that moment I had an epiphany. I realized that I had the extreme privilege to be born in a situation where I experienced very little oppression.I realized that with God’s help, I needed to step outside of my fear and privilege, to begin the journey of walking with people who lived with such things on a daily basis.

I began by going on a CPT delegation to the West Bank, Palestine. There I saw people who wanted to live their ordinary lives of planting and harvesting, raising their children and shepherding their livestock, all while facing stones , insults, soldiers, and having crops destroyed.

In autumn 2009 I had the privilege of supporting the first European CPT training. I got to know the men and women who had taken this step, and realized that they were wonderful people who had fears and anxieties just like I did. So I walked further on the journey to becoming a CPTer and in 2010 applied for the time of training. Afterward this training, upon discussion with my husband and CPT, I applied for the position with the Iraqi Kurdistan team and began work there in March 2011”.

A Day in the Life of a Peacebuilder: “Our day starts with a time together to be still. One of our team members leads us in a time of reflection, and then a meeting to determine the day. We hear information from one of our partners - for example, bombing and shelling has happened in one of the mountain border villages - and respond.

We will take a trip out with a translator to hear the story from the affected villagers There we drink a lot of tea, write reports and meet with government officials to inform them of the stories. Then we have vigils outside of government buildings to remind them again of what is happening to the civilians. Back at the CPT house, we write stories to send to our own constituencies.

The Impacting Moments : “I entered the Iraqi Kurdistan team during a time of the people calling for change. This lead to our team being in the main square of Sulaimani with the demonstration of thousands of people for 62 days until the security forces shut them down with live gunfire and many arrests. This was definitely the experience where I felt most unsafe.

However, the most memorable ones are much quieter and smaller. It is has been sitting with the mother of an 11 year old who was shot during the early days of the demonstrations and holding her hand as she cried. It has been eating a meal with a village family who have finally been able to spend a summer living in their home instead of the internally displaced camp. It is attending a vigil with one of our long term partners because she is afraid to go alone because she feels that she could be arrested for being an activist”.

Growing in Faith : “My faith has changed during this time with CPT. Every day I spend the worship time with other people who see God in their own unique way. I have been stretched to find ways to find God for myself in those worship times.

[In Iraq] I live across the street from a mosque. For the first time in my life I hear the call to prayer 5 times a day. I see the observance of the people going to the mosque several times a day and the community they form through this ritual. It makes me grateful for my own church community in Winnipeg, who totally welcome and support me when I return from my times in Iraqi Kurdistan”.

To Build Shalom : “I have been thinking about the concept of shalom/salaam. Often defined as peace, this word is God’s desire for the world to be in wholeness, tranquility and harmony, with no agitation or discord. As followers of Jesus we need to be working where we are to make small steps to bring shalom/salaam.

I have pictured the work that CPT does like the rocky and barren mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan. We took a day long and difficult hike up one. We travelled on a goat path, with the chance of overturning an ankle or falling from one of the larger rocks that we traverse. It was really hard work going up and even harder coming down.

I see the steps toward peacemaking as this journey. We are all struggling [towards] shalom/salaam. There are so many things to take into account in order to work against oppression and violence - in our culture , other cultures, and within ourselves. We figure out a way to go, but it is rocky. Sometimes we don’t know really how to do it. We do know that we may have to backtrack and try another path, and we keep on going.

Small steps, baby steps, big leaps, going around rocks. But we keep on going ”.

For more on Kathy’s experiences in Iraq, visit her blog: www.goinpeacenottopieces.blogspot.com

Know a peacebuilder we should profile? Tell us, by emailing brandi.j.thorpe@gmail.com

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