Emil Jonathan “Jon” Soriano is a member of the Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation Commission (JPARCom) of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC). JPARCom, along with PeaceBuilders Community, have been laboring to promote peace and reconciliation between armed-conflicting parties in the Philippines. Jon attended the 2nd Global Mennonite Peacebuilding (2GMP) Conference and Festival held last 26-30 June 2019 in The Netherlands. He shared his reflection with us.
The recently concluded 2nd Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival last June 26-30, 2019 was indeed a big success. Held in one of the historic sites of a Dutch Anabaptist Community in the Netherlands, the Hotel & Congresscentre Mennorode in Elspeet gave participants a taste of Mennonite hospitality and appreciation of its history. The Hotel was named in honor of one of the Anabaptist leaders during the Radical Reformation, Menno Simons.
The travel ride to Mennorode from Amsterdam was about an hour and a half. Travelling by train was a great way to see suburban communities, vast farmlands and beautiful landscapes of the countryside. You also get to see some old windmills Holland is famous for.
Attending this conference was truly an enriching experience. Although I am not necessarily a Mennonite, I am a self-proclaimed Anabaptist. Way back in my seminary days in the mid-90’s, learning about the Anabaptist movement and the radical reformation started my fascination with this Christian tradition and way of life. I have since embraced much of Anabaptist perspectives, its Theology of Peace and Non-violence as a way of life. The conference has enriched me in so many ways by learning much from the very diverse communities of Mennonites around the world.
The theme for this conference was A Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. This theme has been inspired by the World Council of Churches, in which many Mennonite Communities are actively a part of. This 2nd Peacebuilding Conference was truly a pilgrimage of sorts. We all affirm that we are on a common journey seeking to be faithful witnesses of the Kingdom of God and embodying Jesus’ way of Peace as we engage many challenges in bringing about Just-Peace in our different contexts. Being pilgrims on this journey, sojourning together, companions to each other gives us fresh energies, fueling our hope towards building a more Just and Peaceful world.
The event provided a space for sharing stories, experiences, struggles, successes, failures and practical wisdom gained from the ground. The various breakout sessions tackled pressing issues the world is facing. From economic violence to ecological justice, geopolitics and power plays, wars and violent conflicts, humanitrian aid and inclusive development, racism and gender justice, migration and indigenous peoples, post-colonial reflections and decolonization, sexual violence and trauma, spiritual formation and restorative justice, are just among the many topics of in-depth conversations.
The conference also provided not just academic discourse and sharing of praxis, but also incorporated much of spiritual disciplines that nurture spirituality. There were contemplative prayers and creative liturgies both in the morning and evening. One unique feature of the conference is the space given to the work of artists. We were all delighted and affirmed the critical and equally important role of Artists. Their presence not only provided an environment of creativity and aesthetics, but also wisdom and new ways of being and seeing things. Art helps us to see the world in fresh perspectives.
The interactive exhibits of art installations, poetry reading, music, performance art, theatre play, paintings, sculptures and even boardgames, were all excellent examples of showcasing the many fold wisdom of God that speaks deep into our souls. The Arts can be as prophetic as preaching. Music and games can bring deep healing as trauma counselling. Truly wonderful just to see diverse people from the scholars of the academe, practitioners and activists on the field, and a wide range of artists all in one venue interacting and shaping collective wisdom.
It was also a great opportunity to network and build new relationships with fellow Anabaptists around the world, and explore potential collaboration and sharing of resources and services. I had the opportunity to talk with professors from Educational Institutions in Europe and elsewhere that gave me newfound interest in pursuing studies on Religion, Justice, Peace and Conflict Transformation.
One of my highlights in the Conference is the launching of the Global Anabaptist Peace Network (GAPN). This is an emerging network coming from different parts of the world of peacebuilding advocates from the diverse Mennonite Communities to Traditional Peace churches like the Quakers and Brethren, and other Christian denominations and traditions that resonates much with Anabaptist theology. I had the privilege of sharing the Philippine scenario and what the GAPN can contribute in helping to address the unique challenges our country is facing at the moment.
I am truly grateful for this opportunity to participate in this event. I thank God for the friends and ministry partners in the Philippines who helped making this trip possible. I am grateful to PeaceBuilders Community, to Kuya Dann Pantoja (aka Lakan Sumulong) and Ate Joji Pantoja, to Bishop Noel Pantoja and Dr. Aldrin Penamora for the endorsements, and to all my friends and family who contributed for this trip. Last but not least to the organizers of the event, the Global Mennonite Peacebuilding leadership for the sponsorship.