By Tim Saari

The third Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival (GMP) took place on June 15-18, at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, VA. A diverse range of scholars, Mennonite practitioners, artists, and theologians from around the world were invited to share about their work for peace and listen to each other’s stories.

“It was wonderful to hear from different people, both in sessions and sitting for a meal together. I found it very inspiring and came away with some great connections I didn’t have before,” said Derek Suderman, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Theological Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. “I presented a paper on how the book of Nahum, a short three-chapter prophetic book that most people have never heard of, was read by early Mennonites. Using a Swiss concordance from the 1500s was eye-opening—I found that the themes of God’s vengeance and divine judgment were repeatedly cited positively, and at times directly alongside references to the Sermon on the Mount.” Derek added, “Afterwards, a church leader from South Africa responded positively to my paper, commenting that it resonated strongly with a perspective that had been very important for them in the struggle against Apartheid.”

Reina Neufeldt, Chair and Associate Professor of Grebel’s Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) program, also attended the conference. Reina co-facilitated a workshop with two MPACS alumni, Ndagire Brendah and Issa Ebombolo, titled ‘Awkward Conversations in Mennonite Peacebuilding.’ Ndagire works at Grebel in the PACS program, and Issa works with Mennonite Central Committee in Zambia. Issa was able to travel from Zambia to co-facilitate in-person, while Ndagire co-facilitated virtually from Waterloo. “In our workshop, we focused on creating space for deep conversation around addressing significant challenges with respect to power and privilege, particularly centering issues related to racism, as well as colonial and imperial legacies in peacebuilding and sustainable development today,” shared Reina. The workshop was intended to help participants improve their capacity to have tough conversations as part of transformative, just peacebuilding, and development work.

The first GMP conference was envisioned and hosted at Grebel in 2016 and involved approximately 130 people from more than 18 countries. Held every three years (plus a one-year pandemic delay), GMP has become further established in its purpose. “The success of the third conference reinforced to me that GMP is really of value to a broad set of people working on peace in the Anabaptist/Mennonite community,” reflected Reina, co-chair of the first GMP. Founded with the intent to encourage, challenge, and bring together peacebuilders from around the world, the GMP conference continues to fulfill its purpose today.