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Participants in front of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.

Participants in front of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.

Ottawa seminar links faith and advocacy

March 13, 2009

OTTAWA, Ont. -- God's call to turn swords into plowshares means more than talking--it also means taking action, a group of young adults heard during MCC Canada's bi-annual Ottawa seminar for students.

The 30 participants gathered in late February to explore faith and public advocacy on the theme of "Pursuing Security in an Insecure World."

"We often hear that global security comes through military might and that community security comes through getting tough on crime. We wanted seminar participants to understand that God calls us to a security that results when we pursue justice, peace and the well-being of our neighbours", said Esther Epp-Tiessen, the coordinates MCC Canada's peace and justice program. "And we wanted them to become advocates for this kind of security."

The group consisted of 27 students from colleges and universities in B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, as well as three participants from MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP).

The two and a half day seminar explored the concept of global and local community conflict and oppression from an Anabaptist faith perspective. Speakers included a member of Parliament, civil servants, and representatives of a variety of advocacy groups. A special guest was Motsoea Senyane, High Commissioner to Canada from the Kingdom of Lesotho, who was an MCC IVEPer back in 1989-90.

One afternoon of the seminar was devoted to a tour of Canada’s War Museum, which depicts more than four centuries of Canadian involvement in warfare. A 90-minute session offered some basic training on nonviolence as an alternative to military approaches to insecurity.

As part of the nonviolence training, Matthew Bailey-Dick, MCC Ontario peace animator, led the group in an exercise which challenged them to consider what power is and who holds it. Does power come from the barrel of a gun? Or does it come from people who will nonviolently resist oppression?

Many students expressed appreciation for the nonviolence training. David Barker, a student of peace and conflict studies at Canadian Mennonite University, expressed concern that the seminar did not acknowledge that sometimes force is required to prevent greater violence.

At the conclusion of the seminar, participants had a variety of comments.

“I want to make a difference in the world,” said Muneer Ul-Huda, a Muslim student from the University of Guelph, at the conclusion of MCC Canada’s bi-annual Ottawa Student Seminar. “As people of faith, we have the power and strength to act.”

Seulmi Ahn, a student at Carleton University, with a longtime involvement with Amnesty International, said, “I had expected this seminar to be informative and to encourage the activist in me. It certainly did that, and more. What I hadn't expected was for it to help with my faith. Thanks to this seminar I now have a better understanding of my faith and can now integrate my faith with my daily life.”

Another student, Marlon March, who is from Jamaica but who attends Columbia Bible College, said his eyes had been opened to issues that he’d never encountered before. But he insisted that it is not enough simply to attend seminars and discuss. “God wants us to act.”

Sara Brubacher, attending Conrad Grebel University College, stressed the importance of holding onto God’s vision of swords being turned into ploughshares and lions lying down with lambs; then moving toward that vision. “Each step is so important.”