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Intercollegiate peace conference to be held at Bethel College

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Bridging the "domestic divide" is this year’s theme

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- Once a year, students and faculty from Anabaptist colleges and universities gather to discuss current peace and social justice issues. This year is Bethel College’s turn to play host. The Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship (ICPF) is a rotating gathering that draws participants from undergraduate and graduate institutions in the United States and Canada--including Bethel, Hesston and Tabor Colleges in Kansas, Goshen College and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Indiana, Bluffton University in Ohio, Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, Conrad Grebel University College in Ontario, Canadian Mennonite University in Manitoba, and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary and Fresno Pacific University in California.

Students and faculty from Quaker institutions such as Earlham College in Indiana also take part in ICPF. Representatives Hesston and Tabor, as well as McPherson College helped with planning this year’s gathering.

"One thing we hope can come out of this," said Gary Flory, a member of the planning committee and director of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR), a conference sponsor along with Mennonite Central Committee, "is to see some of the colleges in central Kansas start holding more joint peace-related activities."

The theme for this year’s ICPF gathering, which takes place on the Bethel College campus Feb. 18-19, is "Reaching Across Boundaries Through Dialogue."

In choosing a topic, "we wanted something fairly broad, so the speakers wouldn’t be too limited in what they could say," said senior Kelley O’Reilly, one of the Bethel student planners. Added Flory, "We were clear that we wanted to look at more than international peace issues. We are very aware of the deep divisions within this country. It needed to be not just things happening 10,000 miles away, but a focus on issues right here at home."

The keynote speaker for the 2005 ICPF is nationally known evangelical peace activist Jim Wallis of Washington, D.C., the editor of "Sojourners" magazine. By coincidence, Wallis’ latest book, which came out this January, is "God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It," looking specifically at domestic issues of peace and justice.

Wallis will open the conference on Friday, Feb. 18, with a time of centering. He will speak at 11 that morning in Memorial Hall at an event that is open to the public, free of charge, and lead a workshop for ICPF registrants on "Nuts and Bolts of Peacemaking" in the early afternoon. (Wallis will also be signing "God’s Politics" at a public event at Watermark Books in Wichita on Thursday evening, Feb. 17.)

The rest of Friday’s schedule includes a session for faculty on teaching peace, led by Bethel professor emeritus of history Jim Juhnke, the author of "The Missing Peace: The Search for Nonviolent Alternatives in United States History."

On Friday evening, there will be a showing of the documentary "Death of a Shaman," which deals with the cultural and spiritual pain and struggles of one Mien (a Lao-Thai people group) family that was forced out of their home in Thailand during the Vietnam War, ending up as refugees in south central Kansas. Michelle Armster of Akron, Pa., director of Mennonite Conciliation Services, will facilitate the film discussion, which will be followed by a coffeehouse.

Highlights of Saturday’s schedule include image theater--participatory drama led by Bethel assistant professor of theater Brent Noel--and Armster’s plenary session on "The Art of Creating Safe Space," both in the morning, concurrent dialogue sessions (with other Christians; with people from other faiths; with people from other cultures; with people in the military) in the afternoon, and the traditional open-mic talent show in the evening.

"This is a great opportunity to meet with people from other colleges," said O’Reilly. "I’m looking forward to having students from other Mennonite and peace-oriented colleges here. It’s an important connection."

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