I attended the OKC Peace Festival today and left in state of utter joy. Partly it was from seeing lots of dear friends (esp. Moses and Sadie from Joy Mennonite Church) but a lot of it was in seeing so many folks doing so many good things. There were lots of social justice groups there (Drug Policy Forum, OKC Spiritual Walk for Peace, NAACP, World Neighbors), political and activist groups (ACLU, Oklahoma Greens, Oklahoma Democrats, Kucinich campaign, Dean campaign) and churches there. Folks were walking around going from table to table, sharing about what their groups were doing in the cause of peace and justice. It was a good, good thing to see.
Anyway tonight I’m going through all of the literature I picked up at the event and am really inspired by the materials from World Neighors. Their history is really cool (especially given the founders’ ties to Oklahoma City University:
- World Neighbors can trace its beginnings back to a rain forest in the Philippines during World War II, where Army chaplain John L. Peters held a Tennessee soldier in his arms while he bled to death. Just days before, the soldier had showed Peters a letter from his local draft board, forwarded to him in the Philippines and telling him he was 4-F and didn’t have to enlist. The soldier’s death left Peters, an Arkansas native and a graduate of the Boston University of Theology, ”dazed [and] churning with anger and protest.” He was angry, not just about what he termed ”the madness of war,” but also the devastating effects of the constant hunger, poverty and disease he saw in Asia. That night, Peters later wrote, ”I promised God, ‘If I get out of here alive, I’m going to do something, somehow, somewhere …’.”After the war, Peters earned a doctorate at Yale University and took a job teaching religion and philosophy at Oklahoma City University. He also served as interim pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, where one Sunday morning in April 1951, he delivered an impromptu, heartfelt sermon. In it, he challenged the congregation to ”answer the needs of the disinherited, the exploited, the poverty-stricken of soul and body” around the world.
Peters suggested a program of self-help, one ”humbly administered, recognizing that what men need and want are not always what we think they need and want. This must be a cooperative enterprise – a sharing rather than a giving.” Peters’ sermon made such an impact on its listeners that many stayed after the service, offering funds to help create just such an organization. In 1952, World Neighbors was incorporated as a non-profit organization. Programs began first in India and eventually were established in more than 45 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Over the years, World Neighbors programs have served more than 25 million people and become a model for grassroots community self-help organizations worldwide.
Peters and the organization’s first board of directors voted that the organization should focus on long-term development rather than short-term relief, should remain non-sectarian and should neither solicit nor accept U.S. government funds. John Peters, who was nominated for the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize, retired as World Neighbors executive director in 1977 and died in 1992. The organization he founded continues to grow, supported by men and women who share a vision of a world where the inherent dignity of all people is affirmed and where men and women have the ability to meet their own basic needs.
” … being my brother’s brother carries some inescapable obligations. I’ve got to respect his difference, esteem his dignity and do everything I can to help him help himself.”
Dr. John L. Peters
I think what I also really dig about the group is that they are very focused on the principle of “self-help” and refuse to solicit or accept US government funding for their work. (I really dig this because I think it insures that a foreign aid group never becomes an agent of governmental foreign policy.)
I also really dig reading about their work in Honduras. I went there for a short-term mission trip in 1997 and was very moved by meeting the people there. They were so kind and warm and lived in such an authentic way. It was also such a beautiful country. It seemed like that it was a place with such potential but it had been crippled by poverty and especially the meddling of the World Bank and the US for so long (Honduras was the launching ground for American intrusions into the civil war in Nicaragua in the 80’s.) that the people had lost hope. Anyway, I’m very glad to see that World Neighbors is there. It makes me wish I could go down there someday to see what they’re doing and help out in some way, especially with their work on sustainable agriculture.