Making a Difference

In October 1983, two dozen peace activists gathered in Philadelphia as war raged in Nicaragua. U.S.-backed forces known as contras were carrying out a campaign of terror and mayhem against the civilian population. A woman from North Carolina, who had led a church delegation to the embattled country three months before, reported that while she and her colleagues were there the mortar attacks, kidnappings, and massacres had temporarily ceased. What to do?

The answer was obvious. If the presence of U.S. citizens was enough to offer protection to Nicaraguans, we needed to figure out how to make that presence permanent. Someone voiced what I assumed all of us in the room were thinking: “You mean we’re going to ask people to risk their lives in a war zone for strangers—and make them pay to do it?” Exactly.21357192889_c0cd8fc081_n

Thus was born Witness for Peace. It seemed clear to some of us that if we were going to issue such an invitation, we needed to be the first to go. Two months later, I headed to Nicaragua with the first team. In the meantime, U.S. military forces had invaded Grenada, and fear was running high among Nicaraguans that they would be next. Hearing their endless stories of anguish and loss, documenting contra atrocities, and standing in prayer with Nicaraguans at sites of attacks and massacres was life-changing for me. Continue reading


The mother, with tears streaming down her cheeks, thrust her baby toward us. “Take him,” she cried in Spanish. “Take him to a place where there is no war.”


The year was 1983, and a U.S.-sponsored conflict was tearing Nicaragua apart. I was there as part of the first Witness for Peace team to set up a prayerful, protective, and nonviolent presence in that country’s war zones. We were on a bus from the tiny town of Jalapa, bumping over a rutted, isolated road back toward Managua, with bursts of mortar fire echoing around us.

When July 19 comes around each year, I think of Nicaragua. Two weeks after fireworks explode here from coast to coast to celebrate the success of the American Revolution, Nicaraguans mark the triumph of theirs. Thirty-seven years ago today, they overthrew the Somoza dynasty that had brought repression and ruination to their country for more than four decades.

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