Jodi H. Beyeler
With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing.
Catherine de Hueck
It began with an impassioned letter to the editor by a soldier’s mother who was fed up with the "local pacifist rhetoric" in Goshen, Indiana which she perceived as a lack of support for her son, a member of the U. S. military.
“I would ask all of you to stop and consider what your harsh words in the paper mean to a soldier in a remote location reading his hometown newspaper and seeing such a painful lack of support for our troops. While you enjoy your holiday season, please have some compassion for those of us who won’t be together for the holidays. We would prefer your prayers rather than your criticism.” (Dana Schmucker, Nov. 7, 2002 “Goshen News”)
A day later, letter writer Dana Schmucker received a phone call from Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, an organizer of local war protests and associate professor at Goshen College, inviting her to meet over coffee so she could understand more fully why the pacifist letters were so painful to read and to hear more about Nick, Dana’s son serving in Afghanistan. Carolyn told Dana she committed herself to not trying to convince her of her point of view and she wouldn’t even tell her point of view on a war with Iraq if she weren’t asked. Dana agreed to meet.
Nearly half of the two-hour meeting was spent getting to know each other and connecting personally. Then Carolyn asked Dana how she experienced the letters and the anti-war movement as a military mom. Carolyn very quickly realized that the peace protests need to make the link stronger that opposition to war is actually a support of American troops abroad, not just a support of Iraqi civilians.
After sharing with each other and recognizing that they are both mothers of sons, share religious connections and want world peace; the women decided to write a joint letter to the editor. The two wrote about their different views on this war, their commonalities and how talking with each other has “stripped away layers of assumptions and stereotypes.”
We knew that we were on opposite sides when we
agreed to meet for coffee, but talking felt like the right thing to both
of us. What we both know, at a very deep level, is that we want Nick, and
the others like him, to come home safely. We believe that our God of love
is present with each one, all the time, no matter where we are or which
side of a war we are on.
We will continue to respond to the current situation in ways that we feel called to respond, but we will do so with some differences since our meetings. It is our hope that by writing this letter, we can encourage others to see that it is possible to “agree to disagree” without disrespect or malice.
I (Dana) will respect and understand in a new way, those who want to prevent this war. I would ask them to remember our sons and daughters who are trying to do the right thing and who are risking their lives to do so. I believe our troops need to know that we love them and support them, whether or not we support the war in which they are fighting.
I (Carolyn) will continue to oppose this impending war with a new awareness of how much pain and fear and love military members and their families experience. Nick and his family, and others like them, will be part of my awareness in a new way as I respond to my personal call to peacemaking. I understand more deeply that, at bottom, we want so many of the same things: peace, security, a world of promise for our children. It is these concerns that lead me to oppose this and other wars.” (Nov. 24, 2002 “Goshen News’)
The response both women received from the community was “only positive.” One community member, Diane Hertzler, followed up their letter with one of her own and referred to their joint work as the “most important letter of the year.”
Soon after, Carolyn planned another local peace protest, and she wrote Dana to ask what she would think about the wording on a sign she wanted to hold: “Support our troops, oppose this war”. Dana wrote back to say it wouldn’t offend her, or Nick, at all.
Jodi H. Beyeler is the news bureau director/writer in the public relations office at Goshen College, a liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition.
Post script: On March 27, 2003 the story of these two mothers appeared on NBC-TV Evening News.