PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

April 8, 2010, 10:41 am
Filed under: Christian Peacemaker Teams, Nonviolence


Dear Peace Probe Blog Readers and Friends and Relatives of Gene Stoltzfus (February 1, 1940 – March 10, 2010)

Some of you have attended or organized a memorial or a mass or some kind of sharing for Gene over the past months in March and April, 2010. Thank you. When we act and speak from our hearts we are contributing to the larger healing of our world. Gene seemed to know that from the get-go. An example I am acutely aware of right now are the words Gene wrote 35 years ago, as part of the welcome at our marriage ceremony on April 4, 1975.

Our celebration… with one another and before God will have integrity if we acknowledge at the outset the brokenness that exists in so many places where a community of justice has not yet been achieved…. Let us remember these visible objective wounds… Let us acknowledge …. that much of this brokenness begins and is nourished in our own lives. But let us recall that God’s grace is most visible in the presence of such brokenness.

May this time together be a celebration of our faith and hope for the future because we know that the reality of new life, tenderness, truth and love is struggling at this moment to be freed and to be made real.

Gene riding by corn fields on motor-assisted bicycle.

In that spirit, I believe that one clear way to honour Gene’s life is to engage in our own lives from our core, knowing that when we touch into the deepest streams of living water within us, we are drawing from that river of life that nourishes and sustains everything and everyone. Action springing from that Source continues to flow. It could be as a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams or other collective efforts. It could the way we relate to our children or grandchildren or co-workers or careers. It could be funding a healing work of some sort. The possibilities to reduce violence and create space for people, communities and nature to blossom are as infinite as our open hearts.

I invite those who wish to participate in a Living Memorial for Gene to describe your own heart commitments in the Comments section under the Gene Stoltzfus Presente! entry on Gene’s blogsite:

Dorothy Friesen, Gene’s wife
with help from Phil Stoltzfus, Gene’s nephew
and Kryss Chupp, Gene’s long time co-worker and friend.


30 Comments so far
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Since the time Gene and I spent together with IVS in Nha Trang, South Vietnam I have tried to live by his example of addressing brokenness in our world. Most recently I have been involved in installing water wells in remote villages in Malawi, East Africa. Gene will forever remain in my heart. Rene Moquin

Comment by Rene Moquin

Thank you Rene – installing water wells — rings in resonance with one of themes of the Celebration of Gene’s Life in Goshen, IN — where his nephew sang, “Deep River” and “Wade in the Water” while those who wished dipped their hands in basins of water that had been poured from pitchers throughout the service each time there was a reading from something Gene had written about his life.
Yes , there is a deep river where sparkling life giving water springs to satisfy our thirst physical and spiritual without division.

Comment by accessphilippines

Gene gave a talk in nearby Northport, Michigan, a year or so ago (maybe in 2009)–inspiring and inspired. Afterward, he spent the night at our house near Cedar, Michigan, and we renewed and revived memories of when we knew him and Dorothy in the Philippines and Hong Kong in the 70s. The passing of a giant. We treasure his memory. Dorothy and all the family, we join you in honoring him. Mary Heffron
Mary Heffron

Comment by Mary Heffron

Good to hear from you Mary. Blessings on yur work and life.

Comment by accessphilippines

Gene inspire me when being a muslim i attend one month long training at CPT chicago.He visited pakistan and Afghanistan twice.Once when i was in the US and arranged visit for him and another last year when he came with kathy and other two friends.he visited,discussede and learn from the people of my area the ground relaities and spoke,write very highly on different places about the situation of my country.He plan again to come in May 2010 but this time it was not accepatble to GOD.He left us to complete his mission,raise the voice against the war through non-violent way.This time kathy along her team is coming again to Pakistan in May and we are planing how to fill the gap Gene left for us.

Comment by Ali Gohar(Alibaba)

Thank you Ali. All the best in 2010 visit in Pakistan.

In case you haven’t seen this 5 minute music pictorial youtube tribute to Gene, pls check out

You are in the pictures.

Blessings and Light

Comment by accessphilippines


This is too long to read, but here are some of my reflections of this wonderful brother.

Earl Martin

Memories of Gene Stoltzfus
– By Earl Martin 540-908-1480
Our friend Gene has died. How hard to believe. How hard to accept. Just three weeks ago we sat for repeated evenings here in our living room in Virginia as he had come to commemorate the life and and passing of his sister in law, Millie Stoltzfus.
We talked those evenings, those mornings over breakfast about his new life in Ontario. New, I say, because though he’s been there five years already, I still picture him moving over the face of this beloved globe, meeting with people in some of the most dire and conflicted situations, seeking to understand, seeking to bring a word of solidarity and support.

But of life in Ontario, Gene spoke of how proud he was of Dorothy, his life mate, for finishing the novel she’s been writing. For her struggle to come up with the “right” ending, and of her actually achieving that. He spoke of his woodworking, of his bicycling. Of his participating with First Nations neighbors in seeking avenues of healing in a sometimes hostile environment.
And we checked in with each other about our health. He spoke of getting exercise, but did allow as to how sometimes he had experienced angina, heart pains.
But always the conversation would turn outward … to the great issues and conflicts of our times. We spoke much about Afghanistan. We shared the mistrust of the motives of our nation in its military exploits around the world. We had seen too much.

We both had cut our global teeth in Vietnam. Gene went there in 1964 (?) with the International Voluntary Services as a conscientious objector. He had seen the bloodied bodies. He had witnessed the daily bombings, the shellings, the forcing of a whole people into the vise of warfare that had its roots in far distant capitals. I went several years later with the Mennonite Central Committee, just as Gene and many other IVSers planned a group resignation from their Vietnam assignments as a protest to the American war-making there.
Though Gene then returned to the US, his passion for ending the bloodshed in Vietnam continued strongly. For years he traveled across the country and in Washington DC telling the stories of the war and calling for a cessation of the war-making.

By early 1975, the US had withdrawn its combat troops from Vietnam, but thousands of American advisors and other officials remained in country. The US was funding 85% of war which had now been “Vietnamized” with troops of the Saigon government. It appeared that the war could continue indefinitely, with unending American funding.

In January of 1975, our family was living in Quang Ngai, 500 miles north of Saigon, with the assignment of researching the problem of unexploded munitions left in the countryside after years of fighting. One day we received a telegram from the US saying, “Meet me in Saigon at the Continental Hotel on January 15 at 3 pm.” It was signed, “Proudfoot.”
Neither Pat nor I could figure out who was sending this message. Yet there seemed to be an authenticity about it, and after discussing it, we decided that I should go to Saigon to check it out. When I arrived in Saigon, there was Gene! Had I known German, I might have been able to figure out the meaning of “Stoltzfus.”
Gene explained that a delegation of the U.S. Congress was coming to country that night to review U.S. military spending in Vietnam. They, of course, would be hosted by the American Embassy, but Gene had contacted them in Washington before the trip to tell them that if they wanted to see more than what the Embassy would show them, he would try to arrange that for them.
That night, in the Embassy Guest House, we were sitting down with Bella Abzug (yes, with her big hats in Saigon!), Millicent Fenwick (yes, smoking her cigars!), Pete McCloskey and other congresspersons to plan encounters for them not only with the top government officials, but also with the victims of the war: the displaced refugee farms, the Buddhist peace activists, the political prisoners who gone through torture and grim years in prison. As a result of those encounters, that delegation became instrumental in helping the U.S. Congress declare to the limitless funding of the war.
Gene Stoltzfus understood power like few others. He had seen the nature of empire, from a biblical perspective, as well as empire in it more current manifestations. He was relaxed in meeting with top government officials and was totally at home drinking tea with farmers in their local village. Over the years, Gene had myriad contacts with high-level bureaucrats, but in the end he instinctively trusted the grassroots more than the powerful at the top. He saw power emanating most effectively from the bottom up.

And in all this, Gene was deeply Christian, or shall I say, deeply a follower of Jesus. As one who worked intimately with Buddhist and Muslim partners over the years, it was always clear that Gene’s own journey emanated from his radical commitment to Jesus way of loving enemies and suffering love.
As director of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, Gene was always analyzing situations of conflict to discern where peacemakers might intervene in ways that would make the reality of conflict stunningly clear. Hence during the Iraq War, Gene visited Baghdad, consulted widely and then decided that they would help families find and contact their loved ones who were being held anonymously in prisons, such as the infamous Abu Ghraib. Indeed, CPT helped create the conditions that finally allowed the press to report on the horrendous abuses being carried out in Abu Ghraib and other prisons.

In recent years Gene spent much time writing blogs about issues of social justice and world peace. Many times after reading his blog, my feeling would be: let officials in Washington read and internalize these learnings. I kept being amazed at the fairness of his writing. Given all he had witnessed, he might have been forgiven some fiery rhetoric, if not a few cheap shots. But no, his writing was piercing in its anti-militaristic analysis and compassionate in his vision for healthier ways for our nation and our world to live.
And for all Gene had witnessed of war and conflict around the world, he somehow avoided cynicism. Deep down, Gene was a believer. He believed that, however slowly, however much in fits and starts, the arc of history bent toward justice, as Martin Luther King averred.
Indeed, Gene brimmed with warmth and laughter. He would make “schputt” of himself and would warmly tease his friends. His large girth encompassed his body and his spirit. Gene loved people.

Comment by Earl Martin

Thanks Earl for this piece and also for your presence at the Celebration in Goshen IN.

Gene’s nephwe Phil Stoltzfus and I are talking about a book based on Gene’s blogs and other writings. And we thought it would be good to include other people’s reflections aS well. I feel your piece captures much of who Gene is — I particularly liked your take on the “power” question.

Comment by accessphilippines

Thanks for the chance to be a part of his wave!

Comment by Jerry Park

Indeey – it’s all about waves and ripples. Continue the flow.

Comment by accessphilippines

Thanks, Dorothy, for the invite. I last saw Gene at Joyfield Farm, CPT Congress 1999, when he and Art Gish and I drove to a vigil. Here’s my comment regarding my own heart commitment: “Peacemaking is never all that it can be if there is no element of good overcoming evil.” Ted Lewis, Rice Lake, WI

Comment by Ted Lewis

I met Gene and Dorothy in the late 1970s when they were kind enough to drop by Sojourners office when they were in Washington, DC. I, and all of us at Sojourners, immediately connected with both Gene and Dorothy on a deep level. I can still picture both of you in my mind, long before the white hair began to flow.

My connection with Gene was intermitent over the years, keeping up with him from afar, but I was delighted to spend time with him again more recently. We stood outside the White House on a very cold January morning a few years ago, protesting the Iraq war. And then last June we spent time together at the Mennonite Church USA’s conference in Columbus, OH. He enlightened me about robotic warfare and I’ve since then become deeply part of raising that issue among church people. Reading his blog had also become a regular preoccupation of mine.

Gene’s light will continue to shine in my heart and those of countless numbers around the globe. He will be deeply missed, but nonetheless Presente!

Comment by Joe Roos

Thank you Joe. I do remember our time in DC so long ago, reacquainting ourselves with USA after three years in Southeast Asia.

I am so glad to hear you are raising the robotic warfare issue among church people. That was weighing on Gene’s heart in the last year.

At the Celebration of Life service in Goshen a few weeks ago, a portion of Gene’s farewell letter to CT when he retired in 2004 was read. Somehow your words remind me of it. Here is a short excerpt.

“My work here is finished…. With you I have lived out my deepest convictions in the great experiment of love-making on the planet. As I go I will hold you in prayer, in that spot where the mystery of the universe holds us all together in a unity of purpose and imagination. And thank you for letting me participate for a brief moment, in the work of transformation.”

Comment by Anonymous

I met Gene last year when he spoke in Belfast, N. Ireland about CPT and his work in Iraq. Although I had only a brief conversation with him I got a sense of his understanding and compassion for those who found themselves powerless in the face of our governments’ actions abroad. The world needs reservoirs of his empathy.

Comment by Mark Chapman

Yes Mark, we are who are whether poeple know us for a life time or for only a brief conversatio. Thank you for taking the time to share your comment.

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

Gene will travel with Josh Brollier and me as we head over to Pakistan. Accompanying us will be Rev. Simon Harak, SJ, a Jesuit priest. Gene’s thoughts about the necessity to take risks on behalf of deepened understanding guided a trip to Pakistan, one year ago, during which I watched Gene embrace “the further invention of nonviolence.” Courage, wisdom and love…he blended all three, just as Ammon Hennacy recommended. We are very fortunate to feel, in the deep heart’s core, that we are all part of one another. Sincerely, Kathy

Comment by Kathy Kelly

I have always been so thankful Kathy for your ongoing work of peacemaking over so many years and so many parts of the globe and your knitting it together with the tremendous need for Right Relations within the USA and every place in the world where its tentacles reach.

Prayers and blessings accompany you, Josh Brollier and Rev Simon Harak on your mission to Pakistan. I know Gene felt we had so much to learn from the perspective and the long historical threads of peacemaking in that region, and how important it is to truly listen to the way in which people there frame their concerns. Entering into their reality wiht open hearts and minds is such a marked contrast to imposing our own agenda, our ideaology, our way of life on others.

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

Farewell Gene, You have left us and we all will miss you. I speak as your niece. We said good by to you at many locations on the globe. It is with awe that I see you have left your footprint throughout the world. You have left a legacy to us your biological family but also to your family that you have claimed in so many parts of the world. you work for peace was on going whereever you were. Dorothy has asked us to carry on your work-to move to the core of ourselves. Her message came on a day when I was praying for guidance about taking a job with Mennonite Disaster Service in Louisiana. I have been asked to be the cook for a team of 20 for a month while homes are being built by other workers. The call given by Dorothy was an answer for me to a prayer as to whether I should go and do this. I will leave next Sunday May 9 for a month doing a job that I was called to do Thank you Dorothy! Thank you Gene. You live on in in our hearts. With love and peace, Gerry

Comment by Gerry Schrock

Thanks Gerry. Those around you in Lousiana will be well nourished to do their work. Louisiana is in all our hearts right now.
Blessings on your work.

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

A memory I cherish of Gene and you Dorothy was the afternoon we shared in your Chicago apartment. You invited us to hear the reflections of Gene regarding his recent time in Iraq. He had just returned from there. I was deeply touched by his concern for each person and his nonviolent efforts to make a difference.

I hope that my current efforts regarding systems change in Illionois for women and children are as compassionate and caring as his concerns for the people who lived in Iraq in the midst of the war.

Gene lives on in my memory of that afternoon. Thank you,Dorothy, for inviting me.

Comment by Rose Mary Meyer

Thank you RoseMary for your ongoing efforts at the Illinois state level on behalf of women and children. And knowing you, I do know without a doubt that your work is fed by deep streams oif compassion

Comment by Dorothy Friesen

Dorothy, Just reading through one of my email files of this last year. Gene’s comments are liberally scattered in two folders, “theology” and “socio-political”. Your sentimental wedding already indicates that that would be the theme of your life together. My prayer is that the memories of your years together may also sustain in these later days of grief and possible loneliness.

Comment by Jake Froese

I met Gene when I studied at the Urban Life Center in Chicago three decades ago. I met him again on a few trips to that city and once again in Nicaragua in 1983 as the idea for WITNESS FOR PEACE was first spawned.

I am sorry that he has passed away but he lived a full life, educated many, and influenced the lives of many more through his work and efforts.

KEVIN STODA, currently in Philippines

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