Gene Stoltzfus, the founding director of Christian Peacemaker Teams (www.cpt.org), which aims to "get in the way" of war and violence, has died at the age of 69, following a heart attack.
He is credited with inspiring thousands of people to put their lives on the line in resisting violence and injustice and building peaceful alternatives.
Stoltzfus served as CPT director from its inception in 1988 until 2004, when he retired and moved to Fort Frances, Ontario. He died on 10 March 2010.
A Mennonite Christian committed to nonviolence as a way of life, not just an 'ethical option', Stoltzfus travelled to Iraq immediately before the first Gulf War in 1991.
He spent time with the Iraq CPT Team in 2003 to facilitate consultation with Muslim and Christian clerics, Iraqi human rights leaders, families of Iraqi detainees and talks with American administrators and soldiers.
From mid-December 2001 to mid-January 2002, Gene Stoltzfus and the current Christian Peacemaker Teams co-director, Doug Pritchard, were in Pakistan and Afghanistan listening to the victims of bombing and observing the effects of 23 years of violence.
Stoltzfus's commitment to peacemaking was rooted in his Christian faith and experience in Vietnam as a conscientious objector with International Voluntary Services during the US military escalation there from 1963 - 1968.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which works in partnership with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the UK and internationally, said today that "the vision Gene Stoltzfus embodied was one of genuine hope for peace, justice and reconciliation in the world."
"A deeply committed Christian, Gene Stoltzfus devoted his whole life to following Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, and to challenging the princes of war - whatever ideological or religious garb they chose to wear," said Barrow.
He added: "In a world where religious faith is often seen and spoken of as a source of conflict, Gene showed another way - a way of deep faith in the possibilities of humanity when eternal love, not temporal rivalry and hate, is our source and inspiration. It was this brand of dissenting, thoughtful and forgiving Christianity which enabled him to welcome, rather than repel, allies from many different places: secular as well as religious, humanist as well as faith-driven."
Gene Stoltzfus made a significant impact last year when he toured Britain and Ireland for three weeks from 16 January 2009, speaking about nonviolent intervention in situations of conflict and injustice, supported by Christian Peacemaker Teams UK, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, Ekklesia and many others.
He died of a heart attack in Fort Frances while bicycling near his home on the first warm day of the year.
"Gene was at the heart of those who planted and nurtured the vision for teams of peacemakers partnering with local communities in conflict zones to build justice and lasting peace," said Tim Nafziger of CPT in the USA, paying tribute.
Stoltzfus' final words on his regular blog ((http://peaceprobe.wordpress.com/) were, "Little by little there will be change.” He was published regularly from the UK by Ekklesia, and his final columns will appear this month.
The death of Gene Stoltzfus came on the day that marks the fourth anniversary of the murder of CPT worker Tom Fox in Baghdad. He was one of four Christian peacemakers taken hostage in Iraq in 2005-6. The others, Norman Kember, Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, were eventually freed.
"Every one of us is impacted by a dominant culture which insists that military or police force will make things right. Every day, that culture tells us that dirty tricks, usually done in secret, are required for our survival. After all, it’s argued, someone has to do this dirty work. It’s called a noble work and the Blackwater mercenaries are required for the work. It will take an expanding world-wide but grassroots culture reaching beyond national borders to fashion a body of Christian peacemakers to be an effective power to block the guns and be part of transforming each impending tragedy of war. Little by little there will be change." - Gene Stoltzfus, peacemaker, 1940-2010.
CPT website: www.cpt.org
More about Christian Peacemaker Teams from Ekklesia books: http://books.ekklesia.co.uk/search/node/Christian%20peacemaker%20teams