Lutheran Peace Fellowship

Global Peace Services: Models that Work
by John Eriksson

Amid the rubble of two world wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation sprouted an obstinate vision of a world at peace --- with peace forces equipped to make it happen. As early as 1922 Mahatma Gandhi founded Chanti Sena, the Peace Army in India. A few decades later, Martin Luther King, Jr. drew up plans for a "ten thousand person nonviolent army for service in the struggle for civil rights." The models are as persuasive as the impulses to end the suffering:

As Richard Reid of UNICEF asserts, "Any one of us who has ever put a dead child into the ground in a wooden box, or in a wrapping of rags, or a banana leaf has had to stifle a cry of rage. These children die because we let them die."

The origins of current efforts for a Global Peace Service go back to early 90’s gatherings in Europe of people of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. What united them was a commitment to peace through service to others.

Margareta Ingelstam, a mother of five and a pioneer in Global Peace Service work in Sweden describes their efforts at the Peace Center in Osijjek, Croatia "to help Croatian, Serb, and other refugees live peacefully together." Others are training peace monitors in South Africa. "The media focus is on the acts of war, but there are historic peacemaking processes going on behind and below the media scene."

A "Global Peace Service Consultation" in late 1993 at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York further shaped the vision. Thanks to the ELCA Peace Education Office, working with World Peacemakers and Sr. Mary Evelyn Jergen as well as international friends, over 200 people from the U.S. and other countries agreed that Global Peace Services was an idea whose time had come. A small, multifaith group continued to meet in Washington, D.C., to develop a GPS approach for the United States, incorporating as GPS-USA in 1997.

GPS-USA is a movement to create a professional peace service by promoting education and skills-training for men and women based on a philosophy of active nonviolence. Together with others in a growing national and international network we want to hasten the day when many men and women will earn their living in peace services. Some may serve for several years; others, a full career of professional service. Our vision is of a world where conflict is transcended through creativity, service, and faith.

We believe that the present age contains the seeds of a worldwide appreciation of the truths understood and practiced by Gandhi, King, and other heroes from the past. We see GPS-USA as a way of linking with kindred individuals and groups in the U.S. and internationally.

Lasting transformation requires working with a much broader range of institutions. Therefore, GPS-USA has established five Working Groups to work with institutions that we think are critical. These include:

  • developing peace service curricula and service and placement opportunities at all academic levels;
  • establishing links among local peace service initiatives in the U.S. and internationally;
  • fostering an understanding of GPS with religious bodies of Christians, Jews, Muslims and other faiths;
  • exploring the transforming power of nonviolence with the U.S. military; and
  • promoting a consultation about global peace services in Africa.

For more information: GPS-USA, P.O. Box 27922, Wash., D.C. 20038-7922.

John Eriksson is President of the five-member, interfaith Board of GPS-USA. He is also an active member and Council Vice-President of St. Stephen Lutheran Church (ELCA), Silver Spring, MD.

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