Getting in the Way: Stories
from Christian Peacemaker Teams
(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2005, 160pp.)
There are a number of interpretations possible for the motto
of the Christian Peacemaker Teams "Getting in the Way".
A Taoist would recall the words of Lao Tzu "Let the Tao
(Way) be present in your life, and you will be genuine. Whoever
is planted in the Tao will not be uprooted." A Christian
might recall the way as a pilgrimage on which the Pilgrim must
have an awakened eye, an open ear, a giving hand, and a steady
foot. Others, looking at the work of the Christian Peacemaker
Teams (CPT) will see "getting in the way" as people
who put their bodies in the way of others who are trying to get
things done, often violently.
The CPT was created in 1988 by three 'historic' Christian peace
churches: the Mennonite of the USA and Canada, the Church of
the Brethren, and the Friends United Meeting (Quakers, largely
in the US Middle West who are more organized into 'churches'
in contrast to the 'silent meetings' of Quakers strong on the
East Coast). These three church groups already had an international
peace outreach doing both development work and peace activities
in areas of tension.
Peace Brigades International (PBI) had been formed in 1982 (see
the review listed as 'Peace Brigades' in this same section of
reviews). Although PBI had no official religious link, much of
the early staff were Quakers, and at one point the PBI staff
worked out of a Quaker study center in Massachusetts.
Thus, the need for a trained, full-time corps of peacemakers
to carry out work in conflict zones in cooperation with local
peace groups or groups working on behalf of endangered people
was already felt. Some experiences were underway, and two structures
being put into place by PBI would prove helpful to CPT as well.
The first was that teams on the ground would need reserve members
who could not devote one or two years of their time, but who
could be present for a few weeks or a month when events were
moving fast or new opportunities opened. This was particularly
true for PBI work in Central America where the political situation
at times changed quickly.
The second structure which proved crucial is an alert network
which can alert media, political leaders, the diplomatic community,
and some people whose names or positions would be recognized
in the countries where the peace teams were working. Such an
alert network proved useful when team members were arrested or
expelled and when the leaders of peace groups with whom PBI was
working were under threat and sometimes killed.
As Tricia Brown notes in her introduction, "The stated goal
of Christian Peacemaker Teams is 'violence reduction'. CPTers
stand in the way of violence by such acts as accompanying civilians
threatened with violence. Teams also use conversation, video,
photography, and journalism to discourage individuals in tense
settings from acting violently. In addition, CPTers provide
a 'ministry of presence' by living in the thick of the conflict,
choosing to reside in places of wearying tension. Sometimes
this presence alone lessens the turbulence. It also allows CPT
to respond more immediately and spontaneously as events unfold
around them. At times, they literally 'get in the way' and stand
between aggressors and unarmed individuals." However, as
with the regular military, there is also a lot of 'hurry up and
wait'. As Tricia Brown writes, CPTers "are people who choose
to live in conflict zones to create space for local efforts of
non-violent resistance. They talk to soldiers, guerrillas, and
paramilitaries; they accompany school children and farms; they
advocate for human rights, support local initiatives in non-violence,
and disseminate reports of what they witness. But that is only
part of the story - the glorious part. The majority of their
time is taken up with the daily grind of living in sometimes
Spartan conditions: negotiating car repairs, figuring out who
will do the dishes, holding lengthy team meetings based on consensus
decision making, and spending countless hours visiting with local
Currently, there are 45 full-time CPTers and 135 reserve corps
members. Long term efforts are in the West Bank of Israel-Palestine
and in Iraq since the 2002 war. The other area of acute violence
with CPTers is Colombia. There is also work with several indigenous
communities in Canada concerning tensions with the government
concerning land and fishing rights.
In addition to full-time and reserve CPTers, CPT organizes delegations
to sites of conflict to offer encouragement to communities facing
violence, to meet with religious leaders and to advocate for
more just government policies when they return home.
The accounts of the CPTers offer a good cross section of the
types of work undertaken and the impact that the experiences
have on the lives and thoughts of the writers. Some have written
a daily account of their activities, other a telling moment,
and others a reflection upon the sum of the experiences at a
later date, dealing with depression and fear.
These are realistic accounts indicating the compromises which
one needs to make, the need to live with ambiguities, the difficulties
of having one's work and motivation understood. There is an
emphasis on the role of prayer, of fasting, of the use of liturgy,
especially in a moving chapter by Bob Holmes, a Roman Catholic
priest active in the Catholic Worker movement who reflects upon
CPT's work in Colombia. CPT is open to those who identify themselves
as Christian and is not limited to Mennonite, Brethren and Quakers.
There are some photos which put a human face on both the CPTers
and those with whom they work.