The Peace and Reconciliation Mission Group at Watts Street Baptist Church was small but influential. Its members believed that the church had an obligation to speak out against violence, work to prevent violence, and help victims and perpetrators of violence reconcile.
The “P & R group” began in the early 1980s with one middle-aged woman, Ruby Leigh Herndon. She set out to convince others in the church that the nuclear arms race had become a serious threat to God’s creation and had to be stopped. Her recruitment began with her Republican brother, Fred, and his sister, Nannie Mae. The fledgling group set a goal of reconciliation with the Russians — our “enemies.” This small group of North Carolinians reached out to individuals in Russia and the cold war ended.
Ok, perhaps these Baptists were not totally responsible for the end of the cold war, but they contributed to the many voices that brought light to the senselessness bred by propaganda and hate-mongering. They broke down the walls of fear within our church, leading to a church to church relationship in Kostroma, Russia. Internationally, people to people relationships played a significant role in tumbling the wall.
By the time I joined the P & R group in 1988, they had added the U.S. backed violence in Central America to their list of concerns. There was the Contra War in Nicaragua and the death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. The group sought to educate the congregation of the needs in those countries and sought to be reconciled with the people there.
I came to the group with a keen interest in the problems of Central America. As I wrote in an earlier blog, I was drawn to Liberation Theology and its grassroots perspective of God having a preferential option for the poor.
In 1990, the P & R group voted to send someone to Central America to learn firsthand how our church could better assist the people. I could hardly contain myself. I had wanted to go to Central America since seminary but lacked the means. “Send me,” I volunteered.
I began researching the options and landed with a group from Minnesota that ran educational trips to Central America focused on micro-enterprise projects, mostly craft co-ops. They had a trip to Honduras and Guatemala in August of 1990, just before my third year of law school would begin. The focus of the trip was a good fit, since I was committed to socially responsible purchasing whenever possible.
Needless to say, my trip to Central America was life-altering, not only because of the educational experience but because of my personal growth. I had never been to a non-English speaking country much less a third world country. I had been outside the USA only once and that was to Quebec, Canada, on a high school band trip. International travel has a way of building your problem-solving skills and your confidence.
My most significant “personal growth” experience involved my getting lost in Guatemala City. Getting separated from the group had been my biggest fear, and it happened. It was just like a movie. One minute I was with the group and the next thing I knew, I looked around and my group was gone. Don’t panic I told myself. Above all, don’t look panicked.