Gene Stoltzfus, founding director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, surely would have been excited about the overwhelmingly nonviolent people power movements spreading throughout the Middle East today. “Good nonviolence awakens energy,” he liked to say, and the massive demonstrations calling for freedom, justice and economic reform have indeed energized people around the world—many of whom likewise have been involved in longtime nonviolent campaigns that have inspired each other.
Some Waging Nonviolence readers are lucky enough to have met Gene, as he spoke and traveled widely during and after his 1988 – 2004 tenure with CPT. Since his death last March, his spouse, Dorothy Friesen, has been collaborating with friends and family to compile many of Gene’s writings and experiences into a book called, “Create Space for Peace: 40 Years of Peacemaking.” The book is due out next month, and can be ordered through the website Create Space for Peace, which was just recently launched to describe the book and Gene’s significant contribution to nonviolence theory and practice.
The book is aptly named. I first met Gene when he traveled through Texas on a speaking tour in 2005, and he talked about nonviolence as a sacred space that is opened when violence is pushed back, a space where something new can happen. Peacemaking involves engagement with all sides in a conflict, he said. “When you talk with your adversary, you are establishing the possibility for change.”
Those who knew Gene may be familiar with his Mennonite background, his five years of alternative service as a civilian in Vietnam in the 1960s and his commitment to the peace team approach. In recent years, he had woven together reflections and ideas that emerged from his peacebuilding experiences by writing a regular blog called Peace Probe. Gene’s warmth, sincerity and good nature came through as abundantly in his writing as it did in person, and he expressed thoughtfully both the profound joys and human pain he witnessed and felt during the course of his life work.
Gene was a vibrant man who was deeply optimistic about the future of nonviolence. He knew how it could grow because he had seen it planted. I’m looking forward to reading the book that his loved ones have created, and I like imagining what he might have been writing now about the renewable energy that bubbled up in Egypt, enlivening the world.