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Mission of peace

Christian Peacemaker Teams' co-director Carol Rose, seen here in Chicago last week, gives a free lecture Thursday at Whitworth on the group's efforts in Iraq and around the world. 
 (Associated Press photos / The Spokesman-Review)
Christian Peacemaker Teams' co-director Carol Rose, seen here in Chicago last week, gives a free lecture Thursday at Whitworth on the group's efforts in Iraq and around the world. (Associated Press photos / The Spokesman-Review)

Carol Rose was devastated when she heard that the body of her friend and colleague, Tom Fox, had been found on a Baghdad street, shot in the head and wrapped in a sheet.

She is the co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and Fox was a CPT volunteer. They had worked together on a project last year.

He was only supposed to be in Iraq for two weeks, and then go on to the West Bank in Israel to continue his long term volunteer effort with Palestinian families.

In her grief, Rose asked herself, who will take Tom’s place? Who will continue the work he began?

Rose, a Mennonite pastor and Whitworth College graduate, asks difficult questions, philosophical questions. And then she finds real answers. Peace for her is an action.

“If it’s a belief, you will do something. Otherwise it is fantasy,” she said.

In 1984, Rose attended a sermon that posed the question: What would happen if Christians risked for peace what soldiers risk for war? That question marked the inception of CPT, a group of Mennonites, Quakers and Brethrens who place volunteers in areas of conflict around the world, to bear witness to violence in the hope that it will cease.

Rose credits the eight-person volunteer CPT group in Iraq with helping save civilian infrastructure, such as water treatment plants, from being bombed during the early stages of the war simply by standing in front of the buildings. She says the team tries to reconnect Iraqi families with their husbands and brothers who were taken prisoner by US and British forces.

Critics often accuse CPT volunteers of being naïve and misguided. Some pundits have even suggested that the group organized a stunt to get attention, by pretending to have their members kidnapped by an unknown terrorist group.

Rose says she wishes people would be a little kinder in their complaints.

“Perhaps some people are feeling threatened by our very small organization,” she wonders, as she’s trying to explain that attitude.

When the four CPT volunteers, including Fox, were kidnapped late last November, Rose immediately went to work trying to keep the story out of the press. Prevailing wisdom, she says, dictates that kidnappers are more likely to realize they have made a mistake and release their captives early on if they are not given publicity.

“Those first days are just a blur in my mind,” she said.

She was in CPT headquarters in Chicago. She talked to the families of the victims, to the remaining four CPT members still in Iraq, to people experienced in dealing with kidnappings. She racked up thousands of dollars in phone bills. She prayed.

Soon the news got out, and then the news died down. On March 10, Fox’s body was found. On March 23, after four months of captivity, multi-national forces rescued the remaining three hostages, Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden, and James Loney.

And on April 6, Rose will visit her alma mater to give a lecture titled, “Getting in the Way: Nonviolent Action in the Face of War and Terror.”

She graduated in 1981 with degrees in Spanish and Ministry in Latin America, and took her first long term job escorting refugees across the border from war-ravaged El Salvador to Honduras.

While a pastor in Kansas, she took two months every year to work with CPT in Columbia, helping displaced rural families resist paramilitary fighters and return to their homes and their crops.

As the years go by, she sees more and more people questioning violence as a means to solve human conflict.

“It’s escalated on both ends, both the desire for peace and the capacity for war-making,” she says.

She believes her side is gaining strength.

Rather than scare Christian pacifists away from taking action, the kidnappings have made more people curious about getting involved with CPT, Rose said. That hasn’t yet translated to new recruits to take on the work of Tom Fox.

But the tragedy did make Rose reevaluate CPT’s presence in Iraq.

“Does the work we can do warrant us being there, considering the dangers?” she asked.

For her, the answer is still yes.

The organization will continue to operate as before, Rose says. After all, risking their lives just as soldiers do is part of CPT’s mission.