PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Worth Living For—Worth Dying For by peaceprobe
March 14, 2010, 2:26 pm
Filed under: Detainees, Iraq, Militarism, Nonviolence, Philippines, Politics of Empire

This is Gene Stoltzfus’s last essay, completed on Wednesday, March 10, 2010, just before he headed out on his beloved motor-assisted bicycle on the first spring day of the year. He picked up his U.S. mail in International Falls, MN. Then on his return journey, less than a kilometer from home in Ft. Frances, ON, his heart stopped. Please feel free to leave comments after this post on his blogsite: For more background on Gene’s life and updates on his memorial services, see:
Gene Stoltzfus, 1940-2010, Presente!
–Phil Stoltzfus, Gene’s nephew
–Dorothy Friesen, Gene’s wife

I have talked to survivors of military interrogation around the world who at some point thought they would not live for another day. I never write about it in the U.S. and Canada because it seems so unbelievable and out of place in a world of sanitized shopping malls and super highways. When I retell their stories I notice that people here fidget. But interrogation processes are one way in which martyrs are created. Martyrs in the original sense are “witnesses to the truth,” with a deep commitment of conscience that sustains them through moments of cruelty and abuse.

Some people are killed during interrogation. They never get to tell the story themselves. So I have learned to listen to those who narrowly avoid interrogation’s brush with death. This might be the time that you will prefer not to read on. But if you stop here you will skip over an important part of living and dying that stretches around the world and touches the entire human family.

I spent two hours in Iraq talking to a 22-year-old student who was arrested in a house raid along with two of his brothers. Until the time of his capture he was relatively uninvolved with anything political, not an unusual story in the Iraq of 2003. After his capture by American military personnel he was not allowed to sleep for two days. After 48 hours the American GIs told him that he would be killed unless he told them where Saddam Hussein was hiding. He was continuously blindfolded. He was told that his brother, taken into custody at the same time, was just now being shot. In the distance he could hear a gun being fired. If he didn’t want to die, he must tell all. Then nearby he heard a gun being cocked and felt a revolver touching his head. He expected to die. There was more shouting from the soldiers and then silence.

“I believed I would die,” he told me. “And then after a long wait I felt my hand to be sure I was still alive.” His blindfold was temporarily removed and then he was marched off to one of Iraq’s prison camps where he met others who experienced similar beatings and moments of terror. He was released three months later because of persistent outside intervention – an advantage that many disappeared people do not have.

My time with him left me exhausted and jolted me to wonder how I would respond to interrogation. Would I make up a story? Would I lie? Would something I say implicate others? Would I respond with anger or physical struggle? Would I go quietly to my death as some martyrs are reported to have done? Would anyone know how I died?

After my talk with the unlikely martyr, the connection of this Muslim student to my own ancestors in 16th-century Europe fluttered in my mind. Did the stories I read in my youth about the Anabaptist martyrs prepare me for this? Death by burning or drowning is now little practiced, but current authorities still believe that truth can be accessed by means of brutality. The pattern of torture used for their interrogation blended now with the people I was meeting. The Anabaptist stories recorded in the Martyrs Mirror (subtitled “The Bloody Theatre of the Anabaptists or Defenseless Christians who suffered and were slain from the time of Christ until the year AD 1660) are part of the continuous tapestry of state-sponsored cruelty reaching to our very own day.

In the late 1970s I worked in the Philippines. One day I was invited to meet a pastor and former political prisoner. The Marcos dictatorship had sent its military and paramilitary to his community and their tactics were designed to control popular discontent through cruelty, terror, domination, killing and confiscation of property. The pastor felt bound by his convictions to do what was possible to protect the people of his church. He was arrested and interrogated for weeks. His body was spent. Finally he was encased in a blindfold and told he would be killed. He felt the barrel of a revolver that touched the temple of his head and rested there for a time while his interrogator demanded that he give names of the people with whom he worked. “I was silent because I couldn’t think any more,” he told me.

“Were you afraid you would endanger others?” I asked. “Of course I was worried that what I said would implicate others but when the gun was put to my head I just expected to die. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I even thought about being a pastor but that didn’t seem very important in the moment. I was ready to die. I just told them to get it over with. During those days I thought about the martyrs. The interrogator didn’t pull the trigger. I don’t know why.”

I felt my gut twitch after the pastor described the near-death moment. Was there anything I could say or do? Anything healing? Anything personal? The pastor, like the Iraqi student 25 years later, only requested that I tell the world what happened to him. That was enough.

Accounts like these stories of people living on borrowed time reach back centuries to pre-Roman times and show me that the impulse to domination is still alive in our as-yet-uncivilized reptilian brain stem. In our time the word “martyr” has morphed from its root meaning of “witness to the truth” to a description of someone who dies for his or her beliefs. The Greeks and early Christians who used the term understood death to be a possible outcome of the path towards truth and light. Eventually “martyr” referred exclusively to those who died for their belief. Those who began as witnesses to truth became martyrs at the time of death. For the Muslim, shahada (martyrdom) also springs from the internal struggle that results in the witness to truth. Both religious traditions have departed from the core understanding of martyrdom in times of political conflict and triumphalism.

From where did my childhood curiosity arise to steal into my father’s study to read about the martyrs? Those drawings of torture and burning bodies awakened wonder within me. In one of my early return journeys to North America from the lands of torture – before I understood that torture techniques had their home here – I was introduced to a new psychological disease called the martyr complex – seeking persecution to fulfill an inward need. Had I been the unwitting recipient of this disease? Or was the use of the term “martyr complex” the work of a psychologist who had never met a torture victim or known the honored path to witness practiced by martyrs?

Church buildings pay tribute to martyrs, including long-forgotten soldiers who died in distant lands to protect the nation or empire. Their deeds are celebrated and interwoven with patriotism. I have visited churches in the Netherlands, the birthplace of Anabaptist martyrs, where they place the Martyrs Mirror on their altars before the service of worship and return it to a locked closet after the service. I once inquired about the influence of the book of martyrs in the life of worshipers and was told that, “Most of us have no idea about the stories in that book. It’s from another time.”

Why are soldiers and interrogators still trained in the craft of torture? Can moral outrage and attempts to protect the prisoner change things? Why do Christian crusaders or Muslim suicide bombers slip into patterns of domination that kill and destroy in a manner that cannot possibly reveal truth? Can respect for and veneration of martyrs draw us closer to the truth when the patterns of our lives are so remote from the authentic truth-seeking represented in martyrs?

Genuine martyrs appear when people believe that their witness on earth is connected to the whole of the universe. Martyrs are not inclined to draw attention to themselves, but their path can draw people to the glory and faith of a vision. Martyrs have all the foibles of the rest of us. Some may not deserve the label. In our human family great movements that push us to transcend boundaries with visions of hope produce martyrs. But organizations and movements become emasculated and ineffectual when they protect themselves too much from the risk of bold witness. On the other hand, they also undercut themselves when they slide into violence against others in order to try to control the outcome of their vision. We have the challenge of incarnating a blend of vulnerability and boldness.

The test of martyrdom is whether that particular witness to the truth helps to support and sustain the community’s commitment to a full-bodied vision of peace and justice. The martyrs are present with us and may be more powerful for their witness in death than they ever could have been in life.


31 Comments so far
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I am confident that when Gene approached the Pearly Gates, The Master of The Universe said to him ” Welcome thou beloved, good and faithful servant, enter into your well-desearved rest ! “.

Comment by Jacob B. Shenk

Gene died last week. I will miss him as a friend, yet his inspiration will carry on.

The last paragraph of the last piece he wrote, just hours before he died, is in some ways fitting, for although Gene may not have suffered the torture he speaks about, he did give his 70 years of life for truth. A life well lived. A life whose influence will carry on. May he now live joyously in the eternal love of God.
–Allen Johnson

Comment by Allen Johnson

Gene’s essays written in retirement, on whatever topic he chose, were the best treatment of that topic I read anywhere. I will not forget his blog about running to tell his father the news that World War II was over. He was 5 years old. He called it his first peace message.
At the time of my brother Pete Hunting’s death in Vietnam, Gene was his closest friend. They had bought motorcycles together and planned adventures they would have after completing their IVS service. Years later, Gene and I met and he played a part in the healing journey that became my memoir “Finding Pete.” Gene figures prominently in the story, which includes what he told me about resigning his position with IVS, facing the U.S. press corps in Saigon, and leaving Vietnam to work for peace.
It was a privilege to have known such a man.

Comment by Jill Hunting

Thank you Jill

Dorothy Friesen

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

I first met Gene 20 years ago in February 1990 in Ottawa at the Congress on NATO low level flying over Innu hunting territory in Nitassinan (Labrador) Canada. Gene chaired most of the sessions and led worship and singing and I was struck then by the charisma and genuine caring of this ‘big man’ – big in every way.

I later met Gene at the CPT training in Kitchener, Ontario in the summer of 2000 (I recall speaking to him on the phone prior to the training – some of which had to do with myself and 4 friends being arrested for trespassing at the Hamilton, Ontario air show (war show) when we refused to move from in front of an A10 Warthog that had been recently used in the NATO war in Yugoslavia). He was there for only two days I think but again as I watched and listened to him I was struck again by his power. I remember particularly his leading of the hymn, ‘Wade In the Water’, (I think it was). Never have I seen and heard such energy and emotion put into the singing of a hymn.

I spoke with Gene again, or rather he spoke to me at the CPT Congress held at Joyfield Farm at the Kindy’s in September 2001 about a problem I had that he was aware of. His words filled me with confidence.

The next time Gene spoke to me was in a phone call after I returned home from Colombia in March 2002, right after I had been deported from Colombia without ever leaving the airport in Bogota. I was supposed to join the team in Barrancabermeja after doing some Spanish study in Bogota. (I believe I was deported because I had been part of a Canadian group that visited Colombia in August 2001 to be in solidarity with unions, farmers groups, and indigenous and ethnic groups. All of us were put on a blacklist to not be permitted to re-enter Colombia. Several of the group entered successfully later)
Gene’s words on the phone were, ‘You are now part of a select group of CPTers – those who have been deported from the country in which they were meant to work’.

In November, 2002 I went for two weeks, one week as a sole CPTer to the 33 acre Oneida Territory, an unceded parcel of land outside of Oneida, New York where there was a complicated dispute between Oneida family members that I am convinced was caused by white government interference. Gene was my support contact while I was there and he called regularly to see how I was doing.

Gene called again in February 2003 and asked if I was ready to go to Iraq, which I had expressed an interest in doing. For family reasons at the time I said no but later in the year I received a call, not from Gene but I feel like he knew – to go to be with the team that was working with a project to protect migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, which I did. Gene retired from CPT at the end of August while I was still on that team.

In the years since, I have appreciated very much hearing of Gene’s travels to learn about oppression of ordinary people from Imperial armies, to stand with these people and to speak and write about them to us in North America and beyond. I have very much appreciated Gene’s blogs with their insightfulness and particularly his identification with the people who were suffering the losses of their homes and family members because they happened to be in the way of imperial war – particularly the cowardly use of the Predator Drone that kills mostly civilians and that Gene had witnessed in his trip to Pakistan last year and that he planned to protest again this Lent at the base in Nevada from where the drones are controlled.

I miss him very much, knowing that all of us are diminished by not having him present with us – but he is ‘Presente’ – as we used to shout for migrants who died in the Arizona desert. But I feel like Kathleen Kern when she spoke about catching up with Gene’s doings in heaven one day. I hope this doesn’t sound maudlin but maybe our wonderful Creator had a job for Gene that could not wait. I also feel that there is something significant about the fact that Gene died of heart failure. I don’t think his true heart could ever fail, but it might have been broken by what he has seen.
Goodnight Gene, I miss you but hope to see you again one day.

Comment by Murray Lumley

Murray – very insightful about his wounded heart from all he has seen. Dorothy Friesen

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

It was such a privilege to meet and talk with Gene and listen to his presentations when he visited Austin over the past several years. His blog posts helped me understand his life experiences even more, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness he always put into his writings. I’m very grateful for his life work, commitment to nonviolence and willingness to go right into the center of conflict with his characteristic goodwill. It’s hard to think of him in the past tense because he was so vibrant. Thank you for posting his final essay. His warm spirit lives on.
— Susan Van Haitsma
Austin, TX

Comment by Susan

Yes Susan – he’s not really in the past tense his energy had just changed form

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

I knew Gene in the early 1990s in Chicago and admired his full out commitment to peace making, locally and globally. When he came to speak in Austin a few years ago, he was no longer the CPT director, but was still living to foster peace and healing for others. His heart may have been wounded from all that he had seen, yet his eyes reflected a heart also full of compassion. His presence blessed many and his inspiration will continue to bless many more.

Comment by Helen Hopson

Yes Helen his eyes also had a twinkle ready to break through

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

i had the opportunity to meet Gene once. he spoke in a local church basement one evening 2 or 3 years ago. i felt a deeper knowledge and understanding that night. it was, of course, a very deep honor to meet him. three words come to mind as i think of that Blessed experience.

Truth. Humility. and Joy.

as difficult as his life must have been, and as harsh as many of his heart-rending stories were, i cannot think of a brighter, more joyous sparkle in in any other person’s eyes…before or since. he carried with him a very bright Light. and it is certainly still with us as we continue this struggle for Peace and Justice. a light i can only describe as miraculous…

he seemed to me to have a grace and dignity that somehow did not come so much from him as much as from the grace and dignity he recognized in the “least among us.” his focus was so Clear that instead of seeing him, Gene, i looked upon the Beauty and wonder, tragedy and injustice that he saw. and could describe so well. and could feel his need to, as the late Johnny Cash once said, “make the world right.”

Deepest Thanks Gene, and thanks to your family and many friends who helped keep you strong and true. Peace

dave in harrisburg. pa

Comment by dave johnston

Yes Dave those are the words I would use too. He was the same at home as he was in the larger world

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

A witness for truth– that he was, and in the changed lives he’s left in his wake the witness will continue. Thanks to my friend for reaching into my life with the Peace of Christ.
International Falls

Comment by Anonymous

Yes Marty — it was the peace of Christ through him. He was one of the few people I know who could so deeply draw from his Christian and Anabaptist roots without needing a lot of words about it, and at the same time he had such a deep respect and appreciation for the people and traditions he met. I think it may be because he understood the Source of Life and Light as Mystery, undefinable by our frail and limited human words, so whoever or whatever tradition he met was one piece of that Great Mystery. At the same time he had no interest in watering down his tradition by lumping it with all others in a kind of surface unity in the name of ecumenism or inter-faith. Unity for him was in hearts beating together in public witness to the deeper possibility of a different way of living together among humans and with nature.

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

CPT is what lead me to start questioning the “Christianity” I grew up knowing. Only last year did was I introduced to Gene’s essays from a close friend in the Mennonite community that I have now come to know and love. From what I have read, Gene was great man with a deep respect and understanding for all of this creation. He will be missed but his legacy will live on through our willingness to act.

Comment by Craig Bumbalough

Exactly Craig!! The legacy will be — as people in whatever circumstance in life engage in full measure wihtin themselves and with the epople and situation around them.

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

I served in Mennonite Voluntary Service in Fort Wayne, Ind., in the 1970s when Gene was executive director of the national program. He taught me that speaking out against injustice was Christian, a concept I never grasped from my evangelical childhood. He was the most important mentor in my life. I don’t believe that mentoring has ended. I intend to create a Sunday school series at our church based on his blog postings. The truth never dies.

Comment by Allan Classen

Allan – what a great idea a Sunday school series based on Gene’s blog. I hope you will share that more widely when you have done it. Blessings

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

As I said on his previous post — goodbye Gene; I’ll try to do my bit to keep the lights on.

Eric Timar

Comment by Eric Timar

Oh beautiful Eric. That’s all any of us can do – our bit to keep the lights on

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

Dear Friends,
What sad and tragic news! What an amazing, beautiful and powerful life! Blessed are the Peacemakers! And what a peacemaker Gene has been for close to 70 years! I first met Gene in the late 1960’s when he left Vietnam and together we visited many key members of Congress to tell the Truth about the war in Vietnam. Then in early 90’s we both had a leading to help develop Nonviolent Peaceteams and Genestarted CPT and I co-founded the Nonviolent Peaceforce. Gene and I last talked one week ago when I was trying to decide whether to go to trial for my arrest in protesting the Drones at the Creech air force base near Las Vegas where we were both arrested last September. Gene’s advice then as always was VERY HELPFUL! Gene encouraged me to call him anytime when discerning big questions like this. Unfortunately, it will be harder to get Gene’s advice on future projects unless I tune in very well. Gene was planning to go back to Creech AFB in Nevada for a couple weeks the end of this month to explore a more sustained nonviolent campaign there and he encouraged me to come along. Gene had also hoped to go back to Pakistan to explore further what role the peace movement could do to help prevent further escalation of the Afghanistan war into Pakistan. . I trust that many of us will continue the good and hard work where Gene left off.

The world is truly blessed by Gene’s life and powerful nonviolent witness. He truly followed the Light or God’s leading every step of the way. We will miss you Gene. Thank you for your beautiful life.
In Peace,

Comment by David Hartsough

Thank you David – yes you two were really as they say “fellow travellers”.

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

I have been reflecting this Lenten season about the terrible death of Jesus. Sometimes it is forgotten especially by us Evangelicals who glibly say ‘he died for my sins’. Gene, thank you for your last meditation, “Worth Living for, worth dying for”. You exemplified your teachings with your life. Well done my friend, our brother.

Comment by Jacob Froese

Gene stayed with us in Belfast while doing some work here last year–it was a gift to renew his acquaintance, and many people here benefit from his difficult insights shared with such a gentleness of spirit. I had first met him when we were both more than two decades younger, in Chicago’s Pilson neighbourhood, where I believe the CPT started out. A great man, a mighty heart; I am very thankful for his life.

Comment by Rebecca Dudley

I feel so fortunate to have met Gene. I remember the first time he came to join The Emo Centennial Choir. His presence was both so strong and gentle at the same time. I was always in wonder of Gene, and all the places he had travelled, and messages he shared with all who would listen. I’m so grateful that he took the time to share his beautiful voice with us each week for a few years. We really missed him when he wasn’t able to return. I feel truly blessed that our paths crossed, and I will miss him.

Comment by Renée Martin-Brown

Thank you Renee. Gene comes from a musical family and often talked about how the soothing vibrations of a choir singing between warring factions could be so powerful. There have been some attmempts at that, but that idea awaits full fruition.

I know Gene enjoyed singing in The Emo Choir and he appreciated your skilfull and precise directing.

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

Gene Stoltzfus: The Exceptional American
by Marilen Abesamis
It was 1976, the peak of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law, a time of social turmoil and deep political uncertainties in the Philippines. Not too many Americans dared to risk their lives with us, in the name of faith. But there was Gene Stoltzfus, smooth-shaven and cool in his batik cotton shirt, and sandals that could be dusted off quickly at the doorsteps. He had plunged into work in Davao City in the southern island of Mindanao with his young wife Dorothy Friesen, and both took on tasks as modern day missionaries of the Mennonite Central Committee, an entity we never heard of until then.
“We” were the young professionals who had left the comforts of Manila to be with the poor in Mindanao, and Gene understandably dogged us with the question, “What drives you? What keeps you going?!” It was as if he wanted to distill what was at the core of our mission, to hear the inner voice that animated us and made us see beyond the menacing faces of soldiers, grenades dangling at the waist, and the barbed checkpoints on every road.
Gene was an unobtrusive but comforting presence. He chuckled a lot at things that were new to him, but he never lectured nor admonished, never imposed. His gladsome presence was that of an enabler who read one’s thoughts, and reflected them back in a clearer, more nuanced way. He had the gift of empowering people and seemed to accept women and men as they were, as jewels perfect in themselves, with no need for alteration. In his travels and research work, he met people of different social classes – Muslim and Christian, refugee and migrant, Senator and ordinary citizen – and always came out saying they had something good to give and something to teach him. He respected everyone.
Yet, as an American he must have felt so vulnerable, as vulnerable perhaps as we “imports” from Manila did. For what was he doing in a poverty-stricken, conflict-ridden area? He was suspect in the eyes of the Marcos regime’s military men, who saw Davao as Big Trouble, and strangers as possibly aiding the dissidents. Here, they were not entirely wrong. But the centers of mass media were so distant military men in Mindanao could assault anybody without family or friend knowing about it for sometime, and the soldiers knew it, and took confidence from it.
But in the eyes of the underground resistance, Gene was not to be readily trusted either, because it was HIS government that backed the dictator. Everyone believed that without massive US military aid, the regime would have fallen pitilessly, a long time ago. Gene must have simply laughed off the tensions and hung out with us, staff of the Mindanao Sulu Pastoral Conference Secretariat (MSCPS), then led by a charismatic lay person, Karl Gaspar. We worked extremely hard to promote justice and peace in the region and foster understanding between Christians and Muslims —- communities sharply divided not by issues of faith as much as persistent issues of land and governance. There were so many challenges, and so little short-term rewards.
We used to sing and joke around, to pray and perform liturgical rites — mainly to drown our uncertainties and gnawing fears. Here we discovered that Gene loved to sing from the depths of his belly, which showed he was calling to God as much as we were — to come and preserve us from the imagined terrors and demons beating in our hearts.
To gain stability, Gene and Dorothy immersed themselves in a nearby community, and rented a one-bedroom shack in the district of Agdao, a dwelling now impossible to locate. The area has been overturned by commerce and urban high rises, and the only sign that the place ever existed is perhaps the remains of an old church, which was a hundred meters from where they dwelt. But back in 1976, it was a precious couple’s home. Gene learned to squat on the wooden floor, watching the sun filter through the slats of the palo-china walls, as well as the sound of children playing in the mound under the solo mango tree. At night, he and Dorothy put their plates and utensils in a basin, and covered everything with a plastic tent to ward off the insects that invariably descended on the abodes of the poor.
“Simple living” was the mantra among church activists then, and the popular diet consisted of slivers of fish, root crops and vegetables cropped from the backyard. They lived by that measure, and claimed they loved the plentiful veggies, and sometimes checked on our budget to see whether their figures were still slim and closely approximated ours. (In truth, it is we who cheated, for we had relatives who took pains to subsidize us.)
But living among the urban poor, it was easy to be strict and simple. Families were truly extended, and no boundaries existed between what is public and private, open and intimate. Neighbors religiously inquired into their lives, peering through their doorway in the morning to ask why, por dios por santo, they still didn’t have a baby. It never seemed to faze Gene, who never did anything about it till the end.
Instead, he read a lot of local literature and wrote, went on foot and recorded the many stories of people who flocked to their side and unburdened their sorrows. He immersed himself in the culture, and seemed to have fun doing as the locals did — eating on fronds and banana leaves, squeezing into jeepneys and low-ceilinged tricycles, and on All Saints Day, even going to the cemetery to celebrate the spirits of the beloved dead.
He also breezed through police checkpoints, observed how fines can disappear if police officers are handled well, and recorded these observations by practicing photography with Vir Montecastro, an accidental guru living with family in a secluded farm.

If there were physical hardships to be borne, the greater worry of course belonged to those he sought in his writing and research work: ethnic minorities in their harsh mountain dwellings, stevedores hungry at the wharf, farmers conned into corporate farming, banana plantation workers blistered by sun and chemical solutions, or radical pastors under interrogation and torture. He recorded them all.
Out of this effort came monographs and articles for American and Philippine magazines and journals, as well as Dorothy’s first book “Critical Choices: a Journey with the Filipino People,” a moving memoir of martial law in Davao.
A solidarity group in Chicago also came out of this experience, which linked American friends to littleknown stories of the anti-martial law movement in the Philippines. “Synapses,” formed after their return to the US, became a medium and symbol of hope for those battling injustice, and one of the many organizations that helped end US military aid to the Marcos dictatorship.
Of course, the post-Marcos era did not translate into the Paradise we thought would come to light after the “February Revolution” and People Power of 1986. Far from it. But the 14-year experience of martial law forged deep friendships and increased the resolve to better our ways as advocates of genuine peace. Despite the terrible sacrifices exacted by the martial law era and the bleakness of its aftermath, Gene was never grim about our future. In desperate situations, he would simply say, “Well, a miracle can happen.” I like to think that though we have not completely vanquished poverty, corruption and injustice in the Philippines, Gene’s journey with us during those trying moments helped us immensely but also helped him in transforming his part of the world, and in his creative witnessing for global peace – doing as does the flutter of the wings of a butterfly, across the globe.
Whenever I met him in the US, he made it a point to remember only what was good in us. He said he had no fear about getting sick in Chicago. He had no health insurance there but he knew what to do if it came to an emergency: rush to the city’s Cook County Hospital, where the teeming Filipina nurses are, and leave the rest in their caring hands.
When General Antonio Taguba made a scathing report of the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib in 2004 and accused the Bush Administration of torture and war crimes, Gene was so proud of this courageous act and sent his Filipino friends the articles detailing Taguba’s ancestry, which was Filipino.
When, jetlagged and wrestling with family problems, I gave a very confused talk to a group he had gathered together in Chicago, I felt so downhearted at my failure to communicate, but he still managed to exude light. He placed a warm hand on my shoulder and said, “It was very helpful!”
Somehow, he made people feel they had wisdom, and needed to be listened to, whatever their backgrounds and concerns. He never felt he was exceptional, even if other Americans did. He honored diversity, and saw a myriad possibilities within complex things, the many languages in which peace can be spoken.
It is not surprising therefore that his hopes were genuine and his sense of humor irrepressible. Because his view of the future was undimmed, he embraced the latest information technology as unhesitatingly as he recruited young people who likewise had the conviction that everyone had a part in securing peace.
Over the 34 years since he first came to the Philippines, he kept in touch with his many friends and maintained relationships that were neither simply functional nor utilitarian. He visited time and time again, and in 2007 brought a CPT team for projects of peace and reconciliation. “A small one,” he said, “to keep goals realistic.” Always, during these peace missions, he reconnected and spent time for nurturing intimate, personal ties.
These were friends he eagerly mobilized last year to “write a poem, a paragraph, a blessing,” so they could join in sprit in the biggest celebration he had planned, for Dorothy’s 60th birthday. These were friends to whom he gave the delicate earrings he crafted out of twigs in their home in Ontario, and friends he thanked in Dorothy’s name following her trip to the Philippines to share Body Talk System therapy sessions.
In our last long-distance phone conversation, Gene said he was open to the idea of his blogged articles coming out in an anthology. But I think his best book is already out there — in the hearts of Filipinos like me who will remember him as one who journeyed with us for peace at a most difficult time, eyes filled with mirth and wonder. And always, with hope. It is a book whose thread is one of risk and romance, of faith and struggle, and of the perfect balancing of the yin and yang. For truly, Gene is our Exceptional American.

Comment by marilen abesamis

It is now months with which to come to peace with Gene’s passing and it is still hard. Our friendship began with International Voluntary Service and the efforts he inspired and orchestrated to end the American war in Southeast Asia. It was freshened by his keen insights, story-telling and great sense of fun. As I have written, I was very touched by and will always treasure his deep empathy and loving response to a personal situation I related during our last visit. It was then that I fully experienced, as others have, his gift as a pastor. Steve Nichols and I join the many who now carry him in our hearts and will always.

Comment by Sally Benson

I miss Gene so much. He was a dear, dear, dear friend.

One day in San Jose Gene and Deborah and I talked about PCPJ while Nathan and Kharese played. He was encouraging Deborah and me, and I shared with him that I really have trouble asking for, or accepting, money for PCPJ.

Gene looked at me with his smiling eyes and said, “Maybe it’s because you’re too proud, you have to be humble to accept other people’s money.”

I grinned at him and said, “And all this time I thought I couldn’t accept money because I was so humble.”

He smiled back, “Nope. It’s ’cause you’re proud. Let’s go get some ice cream.”

We then walked down the street and ate ice cream together because Gene believed in eating ice cream, in telling the truth, and in loving fully and deeply. He was a great peacemaker and justice seeker and I will be forever blessed to have been his friend.

Thank you, Gene. I love you, and I miss you.

Comment by Paul Alexander

Although I did not know Gene personally, I was very impressed by his presence during the times he came to our United Church in Emo. He was very true to his calling and my wife and I were sad to hear of his too early passing. As I reach an advanced age I would only hope that my passing could be one where I was doing something as attuned to nature and the world around us as he was. The world is poorer for his passing. Gord Woollard

Comment by Gord Woollard

[…] WORTH LIVING FOR—WORTH DYING FOR Posted on August 17, 2012 by eslkevin WORTH LIVING FOR—WORTH DYING FOR  […]

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