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PeaceTimes Edition 85. I’ve Been to the Mountain─and Back

15 September 2008 No Comment

- by Molly Mayfield Barbee

Molly Mayfield Barbee

Molly Mayfield Barbee

The first time I arrived in Caux, Switzerland, I stepped off the train and asked a kindly-looking older gentleman on the platform if he could point me to the Initiatives of Change conference center. He insisted on taking my massive rolling duffle bag, then walked with me toward the grand front entrance of Mountain House (pictured above). As we walked, we talked about where we had come from to be at Caux. When I mentioned I had flown in from Khartoum, where I am currently based with my husband, the man turned to me with a knowing look and a wide smile. He had lived and worked in Sudan as a schoolteacher for many years before the country had descended into its decades of war. He had, in fact, taught many of those now leading the government administration and the development organizations. That first meeting with a stranger who quickly became my friend has come to represent my experiences at Mountain House and with Initiatives of Change.

That was last summer. I was travelling to the Tools for Change conference in Caux as a representative of Peace X Peace, looking for organizational affiliations, professional development, and networking contacts. I came away with that and much more.

This year I was returning to Caux with my British colleague Tony Bradley as members of the faculty, to co-facilitate a course at the 2008 conference. Working with Peace X Peace since 2005, I’ve learned how empowering it is to participate in un-mediated, online Global Network connections and share actions that build peace in our lives and communities. At Caux, I experienced what it means to gather in person at the same location around an agenda for peace.

Mountain House, Caux, is perched high on a ridge overlooking Montreux and breathtaking Lake Geneva. One of the most resplendent yet perfectly tranquil conference settings in the world, Mountain House is a haven where survivors of war, “terrorists,” and perpetrators of crimes against humanity, discover a common human bond in the search for peace. It is another expression of what we stand for at Peace X Peace: building peace by bridging the world’s divides.

Agenda for Reconciliation

Mountain House is the premier international conference center for the Initiatives of Change organization. Earlier generations knew Initiatives of Change (IofC), as Moral Rearmament or MRA. Founded in 1937 by American campaigner for peaceful social change Frank Buchman, MRA has seen a rapid resurgence in recent years. New generations of those who’ve experienced conflict in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East gather (often through the financial support of others with resources to share) to find routes towards reconciliation in the Swiss mountain air.

The origins of this historic movement lie in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when French and German politicians, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens came together, at Buchman’s instigation, to recover hope and exchange forgiveness. Many historians look back to those post-War conferences at Caux as contributing significantly to the peaceful reconstruction of Europe.

But this is no Shangri La in the mountain mists of the past. There is vibrancy, immediacy, and contemporary relevance in the conferences that take place at Mountain House. At the 2008 “Tools for Change” conference, where I had the privilege of speaking and representing Peace X Peace, more than 50% of the participants were under age 35.

The Global Indigenous Dialogue Ceremony

The Global Indigenous Dialogue Ceremony

Skills for Changemakers

Diversity is the key to the Caux conferences. This third annual “Tools for Change” was one of several conferences IofC hosted this summer: sandwiched between meetings on “The Roots of Human Insecurity,” which drew world-famous politicians and diplomats, and “Renewal Arts,” a fun gathering for those exploring peace through creativity. It included more than 440 delegates from 59 nations, all pre-equipped with peacebuilding skills and eager to gain more. The biggest challenge for me was that as a faculty member, I was unable to take advantage of the many other important courses my colleagues presented.

The week-long program that I ran with Tony (an Anglican priest, educator, and TV producer from England) offered “Tools for Changing Me, Us and Our Organizations.”

Course Description

Real change happens in each of us as we take to heart the values of a self-reflective life. The tools considered and developed in this workshop exemplify these values: an honest approach to connections between content, methods, and leading design and the creation of a climate in which teamwork can blossom. Use of these tools will help participants (including faculty facilitators) reflect on their own experiences of personal, group, and organizational change.
At the end of the workshop, participants will be able to:
 

  • Identify connections between the content, methods, and learning design of a variety of tools for facilitating change
  • Practice making these connections, using pre-defined tools
  • Apply their learning to the formulation of new tools for facilitating personal, group, and organizational change
  • Demonstrate teamwork in the creation of new tools for facilitating change in local circumstances

 

With the 24 participants from16 nations (including 5 French speakers, one a member of the Sierra Leonean government) we explored ways of understanding our own personalities, the groups we belong to, and the organizations we support. The course was intense because it called for active contributions from all participants, but as we moved through the week, we found a strong bond linking us together and a joyful spirit filled the classroom each day. Word started to spread. Conference participants outside the course started asking for our materials. And soon we had observers coming to see what the buzz was about. As in any Circle, the participants were what made this course special. They worked hard, put their whole selves in, and generated real, practical tools for making change in their lives.

Elsewhere at IofC

Creators of Peace (CoP), the women’s peace Circles program of IofC, offered two programs at this summer’s “Tools” conference: one for experiencing the power of being in Circle, and one for training Circle facilitators. CoP challenges women everywhere to:

  • Share responsibility for their part in the perpetration of conflict and in its resolution
  • Engage in the creation of peace at every level of society
  • Break the chains of hate and revenge
  • Build networks of forgiveness and friendship across racial, religious, and social divides.

Although I was not participating with CoP Circles every day of this year’s conference, the friendships and professional relationships that we have been forming since the 2007 “Tools” conference are bursting into bloom. In Sudan this year and last we worked together starting peace Circles and building networks, and I conducted two CoP trainings. CoP is hosting its first Circles conference in the fall of 2009 in Sydney, Australia. (You can learn more at http://www.iofc.org/en/emailcontact/?eid=1971.)

My Community Service Group

My Community Service Group

Other offerings included a course on conflict transformation, led by a leading South Asian-American scholar of religion and diplomacy who works to bring Taliban leaders into peaceful dialogue; one on honest conversations, fronted by former President Clinton’s senior race adviser; a storytelling for peace course; and leadership for young people in peacebuilding settings.

In addition to the formal educational programs, conference participants learn about and practice principles and values of IofC (many of the same we hold at Peace X Peace) through community service groups and plenary sessions.

The entire conference community prepared and served meals together (I had “vegetable duty” every other morning at 6:30 in the kitchen) and heard keynote addresses from practical peacebuilders around the world, from Cambodia to Canberra. We talked together after the evening programs into the early hours of the morning, and climbed the mountain, Rochers de Naye, that sets the backdrop for Caux. That last bit was a true challenge for me and nearly killed my British colleague! Above all we shared our experiences, stories, and lives as people with a common commitment to building peace, to ‘being the change we want to see in the world.’

Down from the Mountain

Creators of Peace

Creators of Peace

Now I’ve returned to the heat and haste of Khartoum. Yet, Mountain House, Caux doesn’t feel a million miles away. Because the causes that draw people there each summer are the same ones that unite us in Peace X Peace and a host of like-minded organizations across the world. What’s more, the community and relationships can continue through friendly technologies and following through on plans made during the conference.

For me, this is the simple beauty of Peace X Peace that I am honored to share when I travel from my home office out into the field. The time for being the change we wish to see is now, and the place for making that change is anywhere we want to be. The internet makes this possible.

Whenever I connect with another person and we share our agendas for peacebuilding, enact plans we created for making a difference, and share our accomplishments, we contribute to the social cascade that is flowing around the globe. We have already reconnected to share photos, memories, and stories from the conference, using the tools that the Peace X Peace Global Network is built on.

Taking It Higher

The Sierra Leone Delegation

The Sierra Leone Delegation

What next? It is not enough to come together every summer to experience revelations and transformations. When we come down the mountain—literally, when we board that return train from Caux, or figuratively, when any of us anywhere has that “ah-ha” moment and realizes the peacebuilding role we can play in the world—we are challenged to build the lessons we take from those mountaintop experiences into our ordinary lives.

Tony and I are continuing to explore ways to share the content of our course from “Tools for Change” with a wider community. We are developing our program materials into a package that can be used by Peace X Peace members and distributed to a host of other collegial organizations around the world. Virtual classrooms, a Global Network, and in-person gatherings that bring Circle principles to universities and other settings are on our agenda.

Each of us—in our own unique situation—is called to live out the life of a peacebuilder. Some are inspired by religious and spiritual convictions, others by the discovery of common humanity.

But whatever sets our feet on the road, it is the travelling together that sustains us. Whether online, in our local communities, or amongst the nations gathered above Lake Geneva at Mountain House, the collective connections we make and our conscious decisions to be part of a constructive movement for change make our impact substantial. One of our course participants put it this way. “When we listen well, we discover that not only can the whole world change, but we can, also, change ourselves.”

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