Thursday, August 19, 2021

Just Peace Outreach Group Meets near Oxford, IA; Welcome Climate Riders

 By Verna Zook and Roger Farmer; reprinted with permission; first published for JPOG email list

On Wednesday, July 7, 2021, fifteen JPOG’ers and around sixteen climate riders enjoyed watching a presentation of VANG, a drama about immigrant farmers, cosponsored by JPOG and the Land Alliance Folk School at Dave and Anna Geyer’s farm near Oxford, Iowa.

These notes and reflections were written by Verna Zook and lightly edited by Roger Farmer.

          It was a pleasant evening, weatherwise and otherwise. After not having met for well over a year – our last JPOG meeting was February 2020 - it was good for the 15 JPOGers present to meet again. The evening began with introductions and the usual light potluck evening meal. Special guests/participants were a group of bikers, mostly college students or recent graduates who are on a two-month cross country Climate Ride under the auspices of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS). The bike riders numbering 16 represented Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College, Fresno Pacific University, and Canadian Mennonite University, coming from California to North Carolina, Winnipeg, Manitoba and points in between, and were accompanied by several support persons/van drivers and instructors.

          The ride began on May 31 in Seattle, Washington and will end July 28 in Washington DC, 8 1/2 weeks of time and 3,743 miles of distance. Their days of rest at the Geyer Farm “complex” marked approximately 2,500 miles, about two-thirds of the total distance. When they reach Washington DC, the riders will arrange to meet with the congressional representatives of their various communities and have conversations from a faith perspective around the issues of climate change, environmental justice, and earth care; sharing what they have learned along the way of the ride.

          The program was a viewing of the podcast Vang, produced by Mary Swander of rural Kalona. “Vang” is the Hmong word for “farm”. This drama features the stories, told in the first person, of four Iowa immigrant farm families, coming from Laos/Thailand, Sudan/Ethiopia, Mexico, and Holland. The first three stories are at times heartbreaking as some recall fleeing the violence of war, searching for food and safety, and facing death. The stories also demonstrate resilience and hope for a better future as the immigrants settled in Iowa. In spite of the difficulties of adjusting to a new culture, learning a new language, and finding ways of fitting in and feeling secure in a strange place, all expressed gratitude for the land and the opportunity to make a new life for their families. A common theme that emerges in all of the stories is the willingness of the immigrants to work hard to achieve their dreams in spite of the challenges and adjustments, and then the desire to find community and help others. The fourth story is somewhat fascinating in that Doreen and Jan were invited to come to Iowa to do dairy farming, and accepted the invitation because they were unable to expand in Holland due to the unavailability of land. They sold their farm and emigrated in 2009, now milking 720 cows, three times a day. They have hired many immigrants over the years and were quick to applaud the strong work ethic of their immigrant employees.

          In this present climate of anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric, Vang is a must-see and, in my opinion, should be required viewing, especially for those of us who claim the Christian faith but may be misled by disinformation that is being circulated in these polarizing times. We owe it to ourselves to remain informed and seek out reliable sources in the continuing work of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.

Verna Zook is officially "retired", but keeps busy with volunteer work and church involvement.  In recent years, she’s become more interested in how current issues of peace and social justice intersect with the Biblical mandate to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God", especially as revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus.  Her congregation, East Union Mennonite, Kalona, Iowa, is one of several that support JPOG (Just Peace Outreach Group) by hosting them among other things.

Roger Farmer is a member of the Washington Mennonite Church in Washington, IA.  Roger Farmer grew up on a farm in central Illinois and was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.  He also spent two years as a math teacher in the Peace Corps in Belize, Central America.  He attended the University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois, and later Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.  He retired after almost ten years as pastor of the Sugar Creek Mennonite Church in Wayland, Iowa.  For the last several years, he has helped organize JPOG, an informal group which focuses on issues of peace and justice from a Christian point of view.  I am concerned about how to translate the words of Jesus into everyday life, particularly with immigrants and other persons in need as well as bringing a more peaceful atmosphere in personal relationships.

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