Local Peacemaker concerned for friend
WORTHINGTON -- Paul Neufeld Weaver's thoughts are with his friend, Jim Loney, a fellow member of Christian Peacemaker Teams being held hostage in Iraq.
"He's a very quiet, gentle person, but very determined, also," Neufeld Weaver said on Monday. "He's not what you'd think of as a rabble-rouser, but if he sees injustice, he'll respond to it. He has a very calm and reassuring way."
Four members of CPT, an organization committed to peaceful and direct non-violent action, were taken captive last year by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. One of the hostages, Tom Fox, was found dead on Thursday, three days after he didn't appear on a video along with the other three -- Loney, 44, Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both of Canada, and Norman Kember, 74, of England. The four traveled to Iraq to serve as witnesses to the brutality being perpetrated there, ready to risk injury and death as examples of non-violent alternatives to war.
Critics of Christian Peacemaker Teams -- many of them Christians themselves -- consider the peace activists' mission as foolish and hopeless as it is dangerous. But Worthington resident Neufeld Weaver, a reservist in the organization for five years, doesn't agree.
"We're a Christian group guided by Jesus," Neufeld Weaver said. "And many of us are also inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. ... Non-violence for us does not mean passiveness. It means active engagement to try and reduce violence, even if it might mean taking a calculated risk."
Neufeld Weaver was with Loney for one month while training with CPT in Ontario, Canada. He participated in a prayer vigil Sunday in Mountain Lake and continues to pray for Loney, his fellow captives and many other people he doesn't know who are victims of violence.
"We're in deep mourning over Tom's death. At the same time, we know there are a tremendous amount of people all over the world dying of violence," Neufeld Weaver said.
"Tom lost his life, but it may be that other people gain their lives because of the work Tom did in his life. Tom had no desire to be a martyr, but he was willing to take a risk if that meant he might be able to save someone else's life."
Neufeld Weaver's own commitment with Christian Peacemaker Teams began in 1986, when the group was founded in Chicago. An early advocate of forming an active Christian peace group such as CPT, he was present at the initial organizational meeting.
As a reservist, he is committed to two to eight weeks per year to CPT causes. Neufeld Weaver was in Haiti in 1992 when the first-ever elected democratic government there was overthrown by the military, and was in Columbia where villagers were being abused by right-wing military groups and left-wing guerillas. He also served in Ontario and Chiapas, Mexico.
Neufeld Weaver likens CPT to a military organization, so to speak, but one that commits itself to peace at all costs.
"We believe this is our Christian duty," Neufeld Weaver said. "Many people in the military do it because they want to make the world a better place. But we're not willing to carry a weapon to do it."
Christian Peacemaker Teams naysayers say the organization really isn't helping in Iraq; indeed, some argue that CPT members only aid terrorists by offering themselves up as victims. But Neufeld Weaver says the organization has already had victories around the world, including the Mideast.
CPT's presence in Iraq has already impressed at least one group of Muslims, who asked to join. Since they couldn't join CPT without committing to Christianity, they formed their own Islamic group. Neufeld Weaver testified of other cases where CPT's witness led to the release of captives or the beginning of discussions between rivals.
"Generally, people who do nasty stuff don't want to see people watching them do it," he described as one of the core principles behind the Christian group.
Even if Christian Peacemaker Teams could boast no victories, Neufeld Weaver believes it must continue simply to follow what he sees as Christ's example.
"What we feel is that the Crucifixion was an example of Jesus refusing to use violence when violence was used against him," he said. "The Resurrection was a triumph of non-violence. And Jesus calls us to follow him."