Gene Stoltzfus 1 February 1940 - 10 March 2010

IssueMay 2010
Comment by Tim Nafziger

On 10 March, Gene Stoltzfus died in Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada when his heart stopped while he was bicycling near his home on the first spring-like day of the year. He is survived by his wife Dorothy Friesen and many peacemakers who stand on the broad shoulders of his 70 years of creative action.

Gene was the founding director of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an international faith-based organisation that sends teams of four to eight peacemakers to partner with local communities threatened by violence from legal and illegal armed groups. CPT uses creative public witness, nonviolent direct action and human rights to support the work of its partners.

Gene’s commitment to peacemaking was rooted in his Christian faith and his experience in Vietnam as a conscientious objector with International Voluntary Services during the US military escalation (1963-68).

He recalled watching the helicopters’ personnel unload their cargo of bloodied bodies. This experience set him “on the search to make sense of life and death where the terms of survival, meaning and culture approve and even train for killing.”

Gene later said: “I had to ask myself, was I willing to die for my conviction of enemy loving just as Vietnamese and American soldiers all around me were being asked to give their lives in order to achieve peace and security?”

Gene was at the heart of those who planted and nurtured the vision for teams of peacemakers partnering with local communities in conflict zones to build justice and lasting peace, which has grown into CPT.

Gene played a key role in CPT’s founding gathering of Christian activists, theologians and other church leaders at Techny Towers outside Chicago, IL in the United States in 1986. Two years later, Gene became the first staff person of the newly-formed organisation and continued as CPT’s director for the next 16 years.

In the early years, Gene and CPT’s steering committee experimented with various approaches to activate faith-grounded peacemaking.

Through the early ’90s, Gene gave leadership to solidifying the vision and practice of sustained teamwork in situations of lethal conflict. During the late ’90s and early 2000s, he guided CPT through its growth and maturation as an organisation supporting nonviolent action around the world.

After Gene retired from CPT in 2004, he continued his Christian peacemaking through nonviolent action, speaking and organising in the USA, Canada and around the world. He also spent considerable time in Fort Frances with Dorothy, where he wrote regular blog entries, worked for right relations with First Nations communities, and took up creative artisan endeavours making furniture and jewellery with wood, twigs and other objects from the woods near his home.

In January of 2009, Gene spent two weeks touring the UK speaking about the work of peacemaking with churches, university classes and peace groups. He also helped recruit trainees for the first CPT training in Europe.

Nine months later, in October 2009, seven Europeans (including three from the UK) graduated from a month-long CPT training in London to join the CPT corps.

These new CPTers have served around the world in Iraq, Colombia, Israel/Palestine and Canada. The impact of Gene’s vision for peacemaking continues to ripple out across the world.

Topics: Radical lives
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