SYDNEY (Mennonite Mission Network) – Marcelline Tunim lived through much violence during the decade-long conflict between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. She watched loved ones die.
As Tunim told her story in a Pacific Peacebuilding Initiatives class, taught by Mark and Mary Hurst, she said, “The Bible tells us to fight back when we are attacked.”
Mark Hurst replied, “Where does the Bible say that?”
Mark and Mary Hurst have been working to bring peace seminars and conferences to areas in Australia and Asia since 1990. Pacific Peacebuilding Initiatives, one of the places where the Hursts currently teach, is a nonprofit organization that offers courses in peace-building and conflict resolution.
During a recent PPI class graduation ceremony, Tunim told a story of her experiences in the conflicts that began in 1989.
Racial tension and ethnic differences were a part of conflicts throughout the Pacific Islands. She said people in Bougainville, one of the islands, are much darker than those in Papua New Guinea and have different languages and dialects as well. Believing they were a distinct cultural group, the people of Bougainville wanted to control their land by becoming indepent.
Riots broke out in violence against the Papua New Guinea police and close fighting took place. Many people were killed before a peace accord was signed in 2001, but tensions in the now-autonomous region remain.
Tunim was nervous about taking a class with others from Papua New Guinea. Once she arrived, she experienced something new: Walls came down.
Focusing on Ephesians 2, class members talked about how through Jesus they should be build bridges, not walls. Which brought her to Mark Hurst's initial question.
When she struggled to answer where the Bible says to fight back she thought, “What a stupid white man! It’s common sense to fight back.” She became angry and thought of other white men who shot at her and her family from helicopters overhead.
Hurst went on to talk about Jesus’ call to love and forgiveness as a response to enemies. This interpretation rocked her, but she stuck with it over the next weeks. Now during the graduation, she stood in the front of the auditorium and told everyone she is committed to forgiveness.
Tunim said that if they hear about a new reconciliation between Bougainville and the rest of Papua New Guinea, “Know that it started here with forgiveness.’’ She is excited with what she has learned and is looking forward to heading home and sharing it with others.
The Hursts believe one element of peace-building involves gathering with others to share stories about forgiveness. Classes also teach skills that allow people to address conflicts and teach that conflicts are separate from the individuals. The students include people of different races, languages and religions as they struggle to understand what it means to be peace builders.
While most of the students are Christians, they have not been exposed to teaching from an Anabaptist perspective. Peace theology is new to them, Mark Hurst said. Once in awhile there is some resistance to what they teach, but for the most part it is eagerly received. The more they show them that it is biblical and that it holds together well, the more students accept peace as something practical they can use in their home areas.
Through Pacific Peace Building Initiatives classes the Hursts have witnessed people crossing cultural boundaries and working together for the first time.
“Jesus called his followers to be peacemakers – not just peace-lovers,” said Mary Hurst.
Mark and Mary Hurst are currently pastoral workers with the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand in Sydney. They are supported by Eastern Mennonite Missions and Mennonite Mission Network.
Mark Hurst graduated from Eastern Mennonite University and AMBS. Mary Hurst graduated from Millersville University and plans to complete her master's degree from AMBS in 2007. Both are trained and experienced mediators, workshop leaders, ordained Mennonite pastors, and trainers with the "Alternatives to Violence" and "Help Increase the Peace" projects.