My dad is a humble man, so he won’t tell you everything I am about to tell you. While he doesn’t mind sharing his stories, he doesn’t often talk about himself.
He grew up on a farm in Virginia. Quite uneventfully, as far as I can tell.
When he was in college he was drafted for the Vietnam war. However, he followed a God of peace, and believed it was wrong to kill another human being. He refused to go to war. He did not dodge the draft, he did not run away to Canada, he did not do some token National Guard duty. He declared himself a conscientious objector, and presented his position to the military draft board.
It is easy to forget that at the time this was a popular war, and that those who refused to enlist were treated as unpatriotic cowards. He lost many childhood friends.
He instead did 30 months of civilian service. (longer than military service.) He drove a truck, worked in agriculture and construction for non-profit organizations. (He also drove a Bultaco motorcycle and met my mom, but that is another story)
Throughout his life, he has worked quietly for peace. In Argentina, Colombia, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia.
In Colombia he was part of a coalition that successfully organized for the right to conscientious objection. For the first time in their history this right became recognized in the constitutional reform of 1991. This was no small feat for a country immersed in decades of civil war, were young men were often taken by force into military service, and only the sons of the rich were able to avoid the draft.
In Kenya, specifically in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi, also called “Little Mogadishu”, I remember accompanying him (and my mom, who is also part of this) to a peace ceremony between two warring Somali sub-clans. They had been fighting over access to a water well (huge, when you live in the desert) and now they were coming together to make peace.
I didn’t understand anything because it was all in Somali, but it seemed very solemn and ended with lots of food and joking. Obviously I believe a meal is the perfect way to celebrate peace, and had there been Facebook at the time, you would all have seen a picture of it.
At home he taught us to ask for forgiveness and to forgive. Though he was brought up in an environment where men are tough, authoritarian and never cry, he would ask his children for forgiveness when he was wrong.
He taught us that war was never just, never the only option and always devastating. He taught us to follow our conscience above all, and to do what is just, no matter how unpopular or risky.
Now he is 70 years old, and has decided to climb Africa’s tallest mountain to pray for peace. He has been training for weeks and hopes his steps will lead others to seek the path of non-violence.
Please join him by leaving a message on this blog and by supporting peace efforts around the world.