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Students compete in annual Bethel peace speech contest

June 3rd, 2022

Josue Coy Dick

Three Bethel students, covering a variety of topics, presented their speeches in the C. Henry Smith Peace Oration contest April 18, with Josué Coy Dick finishing first.

Coy Dick, first-year student from North Newton, presented “Moses the Two-World Peacebuilder.”

Coy Dick’s speech will now be entered along with the first-place speeches from other Anabaptist-affiliated colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, with an overall winner chosen later this summer.

Coy Dick used the biblical character of Moses, “an Israelite who grew up in Pharaoh’s palace,” to “[offer] us a vision for how we can be peacebuilders, not through our own will or testimony, but by being a bridge between opposing worlds through our understanding of each.”

Coy Dick, who describes himself as “the son of a Q’eqchi Guatemalan father and a Mennonite American mother,” identifies with “being of two worlds.”

It can be intimidating, he said, to try to communicate with and engage a community (either one) he feels he should belong to but doesn’t quite fit. The “side with the power” tends not to take him seriously, while the “side without power” doesn’t quite trust him – and that was Moses’ experience, as well.

Moses’ story – how the Israelites broke free of Egyptian slavery – is a lesson in learning to work and speak with marginalized people, not for them, Coy Dick said, in order to accomplish real change.

“Moses’ story speaks to my role within Mennonite institutions,” Coy Dick said, “as they struggle to transform their very imperfect relationships with Black, Indigenous and other communities of color in the U.S. and around the world who today constitute the majority of their members.

“Moses inspires me, as a person of two worlds, to find meaningful ways in which I can stand with those marginalized by the church and also challenge those same Mennonite institutions that may embrace me but often fail to see all of who I am and refuse the people I would bring with me.”

Natalie Graber, graduating senior from Divide, Colo., was second “Peace Begins in our Hearts: The Ripple Effects of Small-Scale Peacemaking Habits.”

Graber considered some different ways of making or building peace, starting with making peace in and with oneself, and moving out to peace within families or among neighbors; peace “in the city,” i.e., one’s community; and global peace.

The small efforts build into larger ones, Graber said.

“We need to relearn how to create peace at all levels in order to have a more peaceful world,” Graber said. “The peace that we seek to have in the world is possible and it is not far removed from us. In fact, it is very near.”

Finally, John Mark Koontz, first-year student from North Newton, gave the third-place speech, “Music and Peacebuilding: Bridging the Divide Between Different Communities.”

“Our role as Christian peacemakers should be to foster environments where we can value and perform the music of other cultures in a way that empowers those cultures,” Koontz said.

Koontz looked briefly at choral, orchestral and jazz music and how all have been white-dominated in terms of composers, and who and what gets studied and valued in academics, for example.

Koontz also offered suggestions for ways to be more open and inclusive in the performance and study of music.

“There are ways for us to be more inclusive in music environments,” Koontz said. “It just takes intentional conversations and people willing to make changes. Christians like me who claim to value peace and justice should begin to make our music and music institutions more equitable and just for everyone.”

The Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) organizes the oration contest at Bethel each year, which is sponsored in the United States and Canada by Mennonite Central Committee.

The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest is open to all students at Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges in Canada and the United States. To be considered for the contest, speeches must apply a peace theme to a contemporary concern.

Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen (Indiana) College and Bluffton (Ohio) College, now Bluffton University.

Participating colleges host individual campus contests, usually during the spring semester of the academic year, and judges selected by MCC choose the top three speeches from the winners of each campus contest.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #15 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #31 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest, both for 2021-22. Bethel was the only Kansas college or university selected for the American Association of College & Universities’ 2021 Institute on Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation, and has been named a TRHT Campus Center. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

 

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.