fear with nonviolence
by Andrew Clouse
Regina Shands Stoltzfus '84 arrived in Goshen in the early 1980s
loaded with concern for peace and justice, but without a clear target
for her passion. Goshen College helped her focus her aim.
The founder of Mennonite Central Committee's Damascus Road anti-racism
project, she is associate pastor of Lee Heights Community Church
in Cleveland, Ohio, a congregation founded on Christ's teachings
of peace and acceptance. So when drug dealers moved into the parking
lot of this inner-city church, the congregation responded in the
only way it saw fit: nonviolently.
According to Shands Stoltzfus, the neighborhood's growing drug problem
affected not only the community's residents, who were afraid to
leave their homes, but also those involved with Lee Heights' daycare
center. The congregation decided to act.
In an effort to nonviolently confront the drug traffickers, members
of the congregation began sitting outside of the church during the
day, making their presence known to the drug dealers. "They
were seeing that we were seeing what they were doing," Shands
Stoltzfus said. A few members spoke with the dealers, inviting them
to the Narcotics Anonymous meetings held weekly at the church. Although
the dealers rejected the offer, they eventually lost their nerve
and "slunk away," she said.
Over time, the neighborhood regained its peaceful atmosphere. "Children
can go for a walk and people can come out of their houses,"
she said. "It's a really different feeling."
Shands Stoltzfus has been active in continuing related efforts.
Lee Heights Community Church recently formed a Christian Peacemaker
Team, which will respond to violence within the city. "I believe
the establishment of that team grew out of an awareness of (confronting
the drug dealers)," she said.
Shands Stoltzfus has been training for nonviolent action her entire
life. Before attending Goshen College, she spent two years in service
in Thailand. Meeting and working with people of the war-torn Far
East solidified her dream of working for the church and bringing
the world peace. That dream took her to Goshen College because of
the school's commitment to the Christian ideals of justice and pacifism.
At Goshen, former Assistant Professor of Urban and Black Ministries
Wilma Bailey's Biblical Literature class inspired Shands Stoltzfus.
"It opened me up to a fuller understanding of what the Bible
is saying," she said.
"One of, if not the strongest theme running through the Bible,
is the idea of peace and justice," Shands Stoltzfus continued.
Fighting racism is nearest to her heart. "One of the things
that's at my core understanding of the Bible is that racism is a
Her efforts with Damascus Road have caused ripples as the Mennonite
Church begins to confront its homogenous cultural background with
today's multicultural reality. A new book, Set Free: A Journey Toward
Solidarity Against Racism (Herald Press, 2001), which she co-authored
with Tobin Miller Shearer and Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, examines how
their upbringing impacts their life and their church today.