Mary E. Klassen
A break from seminary study doesn’t take Sandra Stevens to her former home in Iowa, but instead to Iraq where she serves a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) delegation.
This summer, during Stevens’ third visit to Iraq, she became immersed in developments as ISIS, an extreme group calling itself the Islamic State, took control of areas in northern Iraq, displacing an estimated one million people.
On Sept. 4 at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, the Master of Arts: Peace Studies student outlined events in Iraqi Kurdistan during June through August. Because the CPT delegation visited checkpoints and refugee camps, Stevens could share first-hand images and impressions.
She explained, “Our goal is getting the stories, going out to the places where the events were occurring.” Their responsibility then is to share the stories to prompt others to act. Their hope, Stevens noted, is motivating people to provide relief supplies, write to people with power to help, do actions that call attention to needs, and keep the refugees in the forefront for our government.
It is important to “strengthen the positive force, which is a counter to ISIS,” Stevens believes. “We need to be a presence in that conflict zone as Christians, demonstrating unconditional love and support for the people. That’s the action that I have been taking as a CPTer, to go out and work for people and show them that there is an alternative to this violence.”
Because of the tremendous flow of people out of the area where ISIS was taking control, relief agencies were overwhelmed. In the midst of the needs, Stevens was moved by the caring responses she saw. Food, water, mattresses, blankets and even a residence were shared by Muslims to the Christian and Yazidi refugees.
When asked how to pray for the situation in Iraq, Stevens responded, “The direction of our prayers should be that God will soften the hearts of ISIS, that they will turn from the path of violence and destruction and that peace can be found throughout the Middle East. That’s a big request of God but it’s something that he can handle.”
To describe her CPT ministry, Stevens drew from experiences during 25 years as a paramedic. “Oftentimes we would get into scenes where basically there is pandemonium with people screaming and nothing is getting done,” she said about her earlier work.
“If you have the presence of mind and clarity and calm demeanor when you go into the scene, all these people who are in this panic frame of mind will focus on you. All of a sudden everybody calms down, everything starts to work together. All it takes is one person with a calm presence of mind to be able to change an entire scene.
“I think that with the Christian presence, if it is done with honest, open, accepting love and forgiveness, it can make a change. Jesus didn’t try to change everything all at once; he just tried to change his own circle and then send them out. That’s what we need to do, and the more we can do this, the more we can overwhelm people like ISIS. People start seeing this calm presence and will follow it.”