the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

Photo of Ragina Shand StoltzfusCombating 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 sin."

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.