Tag Archives: peace


As representatives of the ELCA journey to South Sudan to break ground for a Lutheran Center in Juba, they join representatives who are already witnessing to hope of peace and reconciliation in a war-torn area. Of those working in South Sudan is Bishop Samuel Peni, bishop of the Nzara Diocese in the Episcopalian Church of South Sudan (ECS). As a part of his travel to the U.S, Bishop Peni joined Wartburg students and faculty on Nov. 2 during a luncheon sponsored by the Center for Global Theologies to share his perspective on the intersection of the ECS and the current situation of South Sudan. A 2009 graduate of Wartburg Theological Seminary, he noted that his study here helped enhance his ability to live out his call in the ECS. While at Wartburg, he knew full well that he would be returning to a country ravaged by violence. But what he did not know, however, is that the level and character of the violence in South Sudan would change in the time that he was studying in the U.S.

As Bishop Peni spoke of continued dissension and conflict in his home country, he continually returned to themes of power, religion and tribal differences. Though Sudan has a long history of violence resulting from various power struggles, the region has most recently been negatively affected by two civil wars. Following a brief period of peace after the first civil war, the second civil war began after President of the Republic of Sudan, Gaafar Nimeiry, declared Sudan an Islamic state in 1983. The civil war continued until 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi. Though this document was signed, Bishop Peni attested to the continued violence even after 2005. By July 2011, South Sudan declared its independence from the Republic of Sudan.

However, since South Sudan gained its independence, conflict surrounding the availability of oil resources and tribal differences has continued. During the civil war, the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army/Movement committed violence against many villages in an attempt to disarm rebellions. As a result, inter-ethnic fighting has intensified. Bishop Peni spoke to this reality, noting that people often look at each other first in light of their tribal association.

In an attempt to help foster an environment of peace and reconciliation among tribes, Bishop Peni helped organize leaders of different church bodies to work together against the effects of continued violence and discrimination in their country. He took this group of leaders to Rwanda where they learned about the effects of the Rwandan genocide and how Rwanda has healed from its past and embraced new beginnings. From there, these leaders engaged in conversation and training, helping them embrace a future of peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.

Now, Bishop Peni notes that he, along with other church leaders, are integral in the effort to unite tribes and influence government on the county and state levels. Bishop Peni explained that while the church’s connection with legislative bodies has changed over time, that he and other church leaders have been invited to offer prayer at government meetings. In doing this, Peni stated that this gives him – and other church leaders – an opportunity to state their voice in the midst of discussion.

As the church continues its work in South Sudan, Bishop Peni stressed the need for theological education of church leaders, asking numerous times for students, pastors and professors to come to South Sudan to teach. He spoke very highly of his education at both Wartburg Theological Seminary and of his short time at the University of Dubuque Theology Seminary and stated that the future of the ECS is intrinsically related to its continued education. Additionally, he stressed the ECS’s continued role in systems of government to advocate for peace and reconciliation. Finally, Peni noted that the ECS has a good working relationship with the Catholic Church, helping to foster more relationships in pursuit of peace. With a connection of both education and work for justice, Peni witnessed to a hope for a new day in South Sudan.

As Bishop Peni continues his work, he noted that he must often consider his and his family’s safety. He noted that often needs to sleep in different homes throughout the journey of a trip in South Sudan to protect himself. He spoke of how his bodyguards protect him so that he can continue to do his work, and he shared that his family is temporarily living in Uganda based on the volatile situation in South Sudan. But even in light of this, Peni spoke with hope concerning his work and the work of the ECS. He openly asked for prayer and for people to learn the story of the Sudanese, imploring us to embrace a vision of peace and reconciliation for all peoples as a part of God’s good creation. As people united in Christ, we join Bishop Peni’s quest for peace and give voice to the continued story of struggle in South Sudan.

FROM FERGUSON: TWO INTERVIEWS WITH REV. RICK BRENTON, WTS GRADUATE, by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

December, 2014:

Rev. Richard Brenton, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson, Mo, (WTS 2010) in a telephone interview, said, “People are in need of ministry and are asking difficult questions. My calling is to walk with them.” He reported then that he was just beginning to feel how tired he was. “It’s been like living in a fish bowl” since August 15, 2014 when Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

After the shooting, Pastor Brenton along with other clergy marched with the protestors. Thousands of people marched. The clergy took toiletries and food with them for the protestors who came not only from the area but from across the country. In late November, after the release of the Grand Jury decision, Zion provided safe Sanctuary. Rick said he stayed at the church and kept the doors open. This sanctuary also provided legal observers and medical help. Many people came through, engaging also in important conversation.

Zion Lutheran, is “quite conservative,” with many white members now over 65 or 75, said Pastor Brenton. “Most of them think all of this will ‘go away’ when ‘things quiet down.’ The congregation is 25% African American, most in their middle adult years. Their children and grandchildren make up the youth in the congregation. They see things differently.” Rick tries to help the people see that “change is among us.” He knows his calling is to minister to the entire congregation and that this is a challenge. “It creates a delicate tension, a fine line.” The people within the congregation love one another. Rick said, “Loving care is central.”

Rick added, “There is not division or conflict within the congregation. We have strong relationships. Everyone knows everyone in the congregation.” It’s the people that the white folks don’t know that causes generalizations from the old white guard. We hear words such as “those people” and “those protestors.” And “those blacks.”

Rick has completed four years as pastor at Zion and trust has grown over those years. He has long been part of the Ferguson Ministerial Alliance.

March, 2015:

With the release of the U.S. Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, there is “renewed angst and denial,” said Pastor Brenton, in another phone call interview. “People don’t want to face the truth. Over the years they have allowed this to happen, have become used to it, and don’t want to admit that it’s real.” The evening of the interview Rick was going to ask the Church Council to provide some open forums for the congregation. “We need an atmosphere of trust,” said Rick, “because the issues are very polarizing. It’s like going through stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, blaming and depression.” They say, “We’ve read all about it and we don’t want to talk about it anymore.” They are shutting down. It has been overwhelming all these months. Overload. With the spotlight of the nation on them again, Rick said, “We have to interpret the events in the light of the Gospel.”

They need to know that systemic racism is everywhere, not just in Ferguson, so that they can feel not just shame, but Christ’s suffering for all on the cross. This has been especially important when headlines lately have compared the shooting of an unarmed young black man in Wisconsin to them, saying, “Madison handled it better than Ferguson.” Comparisons are not the point. There is justice work to do in every community. Religious leadership is important wherever one receives a call.

When asked how he was doing personally, Rick said, “Some days are fine; others are a real struggle. It’s a challenge to say the least.” He added, “It is important to stay close to Christ and to Christ’s journey.”

Now well into his 5th year he knows the congregation and the community and understands that people hold on to their old ways of adapting to injustices around them. Now feeling judged by the Justice Department Report and the nation, the issues are not being dispelled, but amplified. There is both shame and sentiments of, “You are running down our town.” Pastor Brenton said, “The African Americans at Zion are much in tune with the Gospel, very understanding and forgiving. But how much longer are they going to feel comfortable attending Zion?”

Rick is trying to minister to the white members of the congregation and to support the African American members (He also feels support from them.) We referenced the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which thousands walked over recently marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. In some ways, Rick is also a bridge himself. He added, “And I feel the footprints on my back.” He gave thanks for the support of his bishop and for many friends through Facebook. He added that his education at Wartburg had been one of God’s deepest blessings to him.

ADVENT POEM By Will Layton, 2nd Year M.Div. Student

Prepare the way, O Zion! Ye awful deeps, rise high;
Sink low, ye lofty mountains, The Lord is drawing nigh.

The wise man in the pulpit says,
“This isn’t going to be easy.”
His white hair and his reputation for truth-telling
(A prophet, maybe?)
Make us all suspect he’s right.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

That night, in a bar downtown, a woman sings:
“A change is gonna come.”
She sings as if she knows
The change will be right,
But we suspect it won’t be easy.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

A young woman, expecting
Watches out the window,
As the streets of Detroit boil
Rebellion, riot, protest,
Change. Suspicion.
A people divided,
Uniformed bodies
And uninformed arms.
Her little boy—will be a month late–
Not easy, coming into a world like this.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

On the too-familiar bench outside the courtroom,
Already suspect, easy to condemn,
Another one waits for judgment.
Something needs to change.
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

Beneath the throne, the saints cry out,
“How long, O Lord, how long?”
Do they think this will be easy?
Wars and rumors of wars,
Wars and rumors of wars.

These things must come to pass.

On the morning the stars fell,
It caught us off-guard.
We were all afraid,
So we all went outside together.
And as Jesus Christ passed by on the street,
We suspected things wouldn’t be easy,
But there was a rumor of peace.

VIGIL FOR A HOMICIDE VICTIM poem by Carina Schiltz, Intern, Milwaukee, WI

Just up the street from the old
stone Norwegian Lutheran church
sits a dozen candles set in a cross

a few beer cans and tomatoes at the
makeshift altar where a small group huddles
in the cold, the wind whipping the ladies’ skirts,
words coating the watchers and wonderers:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ “

Blood and ugliness has been erased,
washed from the street,
but the pavement will never be fully cleansed
or innocent again.

Perhaps the group is standing on the very place that he died.

His body on the pavement, unable to sustain the beating.

And somewhere in this city a wife
and two children sift through grief.

The produce company where he worked
has a newly sharp vacancy.

The unassuming neighborhood,
houses with sagging porches,
windows covered in shades and shutters
looks on.

A few curious cars creep by,
wondering at the group of church-goers
who look at the ground,
anywhere but each other,
because death is just too close right now.

The Bible-reader feels like giving up,
but something bubbles up in her voice,
pushing back despair and helplessness
so that the words continue to drift over the

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The pastor prays for God
to embrace the victim, the human, with mercy and peace.
“I’ve been waiting for him to come home,” the victim’s neighbor stutters
as the pastor pulls her into an embrace.

A breath, a pause, and the people
walk back down the
cracked sidewalks that have seen more violence
than they ever should.


PATIENCE By Nat Bothwell, 2nd Year MDiv

Patience lives in the unsettled places.
In our in between-ness,
patience waits.
With a word of promise
patience speaks,
and for a moment,
the hunger for something not yet
is tempered
in a savored “now.”
Patience retrieves our forward thrown hearts –
wrestling them away
from the shores of memories
yet unmade.
Until there is surrender
in the unsettledness of “now” –
Until there is acceptance
in the between-ness of “here,”
patience holds… and hopes, and helps.
Patience endures,
through the churning shadows of our anxiousness,
to the warmth of a whispered truth.
Patience enfolds us – always,
in the embrace of loving stillness;
and with a nod,
says “soon enough.”

WORDS FROM GUATEMALA AT WTS SOUP SUPPER by Prof. Norma Cook Everist & Carina Schiltz, 3rd Year MDiv

Diaconal Minister Dr. Rebecca Wiese (WTS 2002) and guest speaker, Pastor Jose Pilar Alvarez Cabrera, who is the Senior Pastor of ILUGUA (Iglesia Luterana Guatemaltecca in Zacapa, Guatemala) recently spoke at Wartburg Seminary at a soup supper sponsored by the Seminary’s Center for Global Theologies.

Dr. Wiese who is called as an ELCA diaconal minister at Grace Lutheran Church in Davenport, IA, is a physician at Genesis Medical Center in the Quad Cities.  She has traveled to Zacapa, Guataemala eight times as part of the accompaniment ministry of Presbyterians and Lutherans in Davenport with Lutherans in Guatemala.

Pastor Cabrera’s voice was clear and persistent. His commitment was translated by the persistent voice of second year M.Div student Carina Schiltz, assisted by second year M.Div student Mytch Dorvilier.

“We want peace and justice, but there is conflict in our country,” said Pr. Cabrera. He has worked for years with farmers who live in peaceful resistance to the multinational corporations who suppress local interests. The local people who lack the power of voice or money are defending their land and the mountain that is the source of water, which is life for this and future generations.  He said, “Water doesn’t come from a faucet; it comes from the mountain. It comes from the rivers.” And they are being polluted. The mountain is the only source of water for 300,000 people.

The Lutheran Church in Guatemala, together with many other religious leaders have organized and taken their message to such global places such as the Organization of American States, The European Union Parliament, and Amnesty International to seek justice and protection. The powerful multinational corporations have money to pay off judges and others which in turn endangers local leaders, some of whom have been jailed.  Their lives are under constant threat. A priest was offered money to have Pr. Cabrera killed. The priest replied, “I do not want the money; I want you to leave.”

The solidarity movement has become the mission of the church in the midst of conflict. The people simply want healthy, safe water for everyone. Many of the corporate projects are dangerous to the water and the land. A hydroelectric plant would benefit companies between Panama and the United States, not the people who live in the area.

The offers of money, the government (five ruling families) support of the companies, the use of the military to keep the people quiet, all take away the voices of the community. Pr. Cabrera described how the churches have united in this fight for life and thereby have gained credibility and moral authority among the people. They talk to the military, trying to tell them to support the people, not just the huge corporations. The role of the churches is very important.  Pr. Cabrera, whose life has been in danger many times now has body guards. Being with him for five years, the body guards now have become part of the community and even the church.

Ninety-five percent of the people are poor. The multi-national corporations actually increase local poverty while benefitting only the five powerful top Guatemalan families. The Mayan spiritual leaders of the indigenous peoples say, “Don’t be scared pastor. The Spirit of the Mountains will protect you.”


by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

The Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for attending classes, July 12 addressed hundreds of young people at the United Nations, urging them and world leaders to work towards free education for all girls and boys in every nation in the world.  She spoke in the name of the world’s religions calling for peace, education, and equality.

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world,” Ms. Yousafzai said, in an impassioned address.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had named July 12 – Ms. Yousafzai’s 16th birthday – ‘Malala Day’ in honor of her heroic stand to ensure education for all. The meeting, which featured nearly 1,000 youth leaders, was addressed by former United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in his capacity as UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

 One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.

Malala, who was shot in the forehead and face, told the gathering that the Taliban’s attack on her nine months ago changed nothing in her life, except that “weakness, fear and hopelessness died.”

“The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens,” she said. “The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women.” She urged worldwide action against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism.

This call to action was delivered just as the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO) Education for All Global Monitoring Report, launched a new policy paper spotlighting that globally, the number of children not allowed or able to attend school has fallen from 60 million in 2008 to 57 million in 2011. However, 28 million children out of school live in the world’s conflict zones, and more than half of those are women and girls.