September 27, 2010
LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. – Laughter, art and music set the tone for the 2010 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference as approximately 200 youth, children and adults came together September 18-21 to explore “Peace for the World’s Children.”
During Saturday’s session, almost 50 youth and children gathered to learn from Dr. Jeni Stepanek that each one of them can contribute to peace. Jeni Stepanek, who provided main leadership for youth and children, is a noted advocate for children’s and families’ needs in health and education, and a well-respected motivational speaker. Jeni is the parent of four children who have died to a rare neuromuscular disease. Her youngest child, Mattie, was a well-known international peace activist and three-term National Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“Mattie said that a heartsong is a person’s unique gift – it is our unique reason for being,” said Stepanek. “Whatever it is that you need - you want most in life, you understand why that matters –that’s what you’re called to offer to other people and in giving, you shall receive. He suggested we share our heartsongs- what we want and need, through hobbies, talents, passions…Heartsongs are realized as they are shared. Heartsongs are meant to be united – not forced, not in competition, not in comparison, simply offered to others and equally as important, accepted from others.”
Participants were encouraged to express their heartsongs through art and word, designing signs for the first Lake Junaluska Peace Walk, creating friendship bracelets to exchange with others, expressing their feelings through pantoum poetry, and sharing pledges for peace.
Sunday afternoon, all participants in the Peace Conference were invited to join in the Peace Walk around Lake Junaluska, symbolizing efforts to work towards peace. This session bridged the youth and children portion with the adult session of the Peace Conference that continued that evening.
Bishop Ken Carder continued to emphasize the notion that our gifts, choices, and actions can make a difference for our children. Focusing more on global and national issues facing children, Carder challenged participants to be examples for peace, not only through their words and faith, but more importantly, through actions. As demonstrated through the messages of the Peace Conference leaders, the responsibility for the world’s children is central to the mission of all persons of faith.
“We need to educate our communities, our religious communities, to the plight of children as a theological crisis as well as a humanitarian crisis,” commented Bishop Ken Carder. “…We need to be the voice of the voiceless in places of power, especially governments and corporations and those places of economic and political power. Remind our political leaders that justice begins with the least and most vulnerable… For God’s sake – yes, for God’s sake – and the children’s sake, and the sake of the world, listen – listen to the pleas of the children.”
On Monday afternoon, Dr. Marian Wright Edelman echoed Carder’s sentiments, lifting up America’s poverty-stricken children as just one example of why we must not just take interest in our children’s future, but we should take action to ensure that no child is neglected.
“Where is our voice? Why are we so silent?” asked Dr. Marian Wright Edelman. “What is it going to take for us as people of God to stand up and to say ‘Our children are going to have to come first.’ Children have only one childhood, and it is right now. Millions of children in our nation require emergency attention in our recession ravaged economy as poverty, extreme child poverty, hunger and hopelessness have increased.”
Carder, Edelman, and Smith agreed that it is persons of faith who will be instrumental in bringing about change, and that the perils facing children must be overcome through tangible acts such as the creation and implementation of programs to support and empower children and youth instead of fleeting sentimentalities about the idealistic pursuit of an idea. With over 2.2 billion children in the world, and 1 billion of those living in poverty, it is clear that peaceful sentiments are not enough to bring about the change necessary to make a difference.
War, lack of education and health care, and the in-action of persons of faith were hot topics, and the conference drew the conclusion that all persons of faith must work together toward the future they envision instead of simply hoping things get better.
On the final morning of the conference, over 50 persons gathered at the Lake Junaluska Peace Pole to celebrate the United Nations International Day of Peace. Those in attendance reflected on the recent headlines full of despair and violence, then prayed for and discussed the avenues they could participate in to foster peace and reconciliation. This sentiment toward action was reflected in Dr. Smith’s closing message.
“If we are captive to being the recipients of the full vision of our children, we will never be engaged,” said Dr. Smith. “All that we’ve been seeing and hearing about is not going to change just because we decided ‘I think I’ll do something tomorrow.’ But it changes for each of us when we decide to be involved for the children day by day, moment by moment with our joys coming day by day, moment by moment, policy by policy, relationship by relationship. There is something in us that begins to change immediately. Something is in us that drives the despair away. Something in us that becomes empowered. And as we’re wanting children to be more alive, we become more alive.”
With the success of the 2010 Peace Conference, the 2011 Peace Conference: Peace and World Economics, has been scheduled for November 17-19. Leaders and speakers will be announced soon at www.lakejunaluska.com/peace. To view images from the 2010 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference, visit www.facebook.com/lakejunaluska.