Remembrance Day by Arlene Reesor
I always feel anxious around November 11. Images of dignified elderly men in uniform selling poppies, solemn Remembrance Day services and the two minutes of silence make me uncomfortable. What will I say if someone asks me why I don’t wear a poppy, or how my father or grandfathers served in the world wars? I know what my faith teaches about peace and justice, and what Mennonites’ response to war has historically been, but it can be difficult for others to appreciate.
As Mennonite Christians, we believe that peace is the will of God. We participate in Jesus’ ministry of peace and justice, and as his followers, we do not take part in war. This involves conscientious objection to military service and a nonresistant response to violence. Throughout the centuries, Mennonites have experienced much persecution and hardship as a result of their refusal to serve in the armies of the countries in which they were living.
In Canada, we are fortunate that following WWI our government granted Mennonites conscientious objector status. Consequently, we were not forced to participate in military service during WWII. Instead, Mennonite men served as medics and worked in mental hospitals, logging camps, building roads and on farms. Just after WWII, my father and uncle and many other young Mennonite men worked on ships carrying livestock to war-torn Europe.
As followers of Jesus, we believe we have a responsibility to work for justice and for the end of all forms of violence, including war, racism, capital punishment, abuse of power and disregard of human rights. Here are some examples of how Mennonites today are involved in working for peace and justice:
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Overseas, this relief, service and development organization is involved in education, health and agricultural work, peace and justice issues and job creation, and other projects. In North America, MCC is involved in immigration and refugee assistance, job creation, and work with Native people, people with disabilities, offenders and victims of crime.
Locally, our church has been involved in a project growing soybeans for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. We worked with staff at Stouffville District Secondary School on Bridgebuilders, a conflict mediation program for students. Members of our church work with an agency that provides aid to countries in the world who have suffered disasters. Several of us volunteer in various capacities at the Care and Share Shop, proceeds from which go to Mennonite Central Committee to support the work described above.
In conclusion, Remembrance Day, for many people, is a day to honour the soldiers who fought in wars. As a Mennonite Christian, this day reminds me of the crucial need to work for peace within our world.
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