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A Message from the president:
A contagion of hope

By President Shirley H. Showalter 

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Where were you the morning of Sept. 11, 2001?
This question is one every American age five and older will be able to answer forever. I was waking up in my temporary home in Santa Barbara, Calif., about to begin my study leave of six weeks. I was full of hope.

Three months later, the hopes all of us had for peace and prosperity seem far from assured. Threats to American security abound: anthrax, the Taliban, “the evil one.” Every American citizen has heard these words, and they have produced fear in this country and around the world. They challenge us at Goshen College to examine who we are, what we believe, why we exist and what our calling might be in a time of war.

My first response to the tragedies in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Somerset County, Pa., was to think of Goshen College students and faculty. Wherever I went on the West Coast, people asked me, “What are your students doing and saying?” Some responses and a summary of events can be found at www.goshen.edu.

My own response from a distance took the form of an essay, one of several, for the student newspaper The Goshen College Record (www.goshen.edu/record). I challenged our students to learn from and listen to the leaders of the Mennonite Church who were their ages when World War II broke out. The church throughout the late ’40s and ’50s was being led by a band of youth who had been in Civilian Public Service or who had flown relief supplies into China, worked to rebuild Europe, helped refugees escape from Russia, advocated for reform of the American mental health system, etc.

These young people found hope in the form of active service during and after wartime. They then brought that hope, as well as a host of new questions, back home to their church and professional roles. They are a “great generation.” Today most of them are in their 70s to early 90s; some of them have died. Their wisdom has the power to guide, inspire and challenge young people today who want to give their lives for peace in a time of war.

I cannot shake some words of Osama bin Laden’s as quoted on a news broadcast, which I paraphrase here from memory: “I have many young men all over the world as eager to die as American young men are eager to live.”

I hope that the Mennonite Church answer to that question will once again be that we are ready to die, if need be, for our faith, as our ancestors did. But we are not ready to kill. True martyrdom has no place for murder. True martyrdom stands defenseless against the powerful. That’s why Gandhi was a martyr and bin Laden, no matter when or how he dies, will only be a terrorist.

As for Goshen College – a college of the Mennonite Church but made up of students from many traditions, many of whom are not pacifist – the way we respond to war must be through searching for truth. We do this in our classes and in our conversations across campus and with others from around the world. Never has work in peace, justice and conflict studies been more important.

On the edge of tragedy and terror lies a profound truth: We are not alone. Our hope is built on faith in Jesus Christ, his life and teachings and in his death and resurrection. And beyond our faith in a loving and ultimately triumphant God, we have faith in the power of communities working together to make peace. As Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel has said, “Alone I am on the edge of despair. But God alone is alone. We are not and must not be alone.”

Such a hope, Wiesel said, is profound and “irresistibly contagious.” I see the mission of Goshen College in wartime to be a place where we do not run or hide from the terrors around us but that we actually spread our “germs,” creating a new contagion: a contagion of hope.

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Return to December Bulletin contents
About this issue – Stretching our hands toward hope - Editor Rachel Lapp
The end is the beginning – “A contagion of hope”
- President Shirley H. Showalter
Finding hope in the cemetery
- Don Blosser, professor of Bible
'Last hope' brings new life (times three)
- Ryan Miller interviews Jenny Jenkins, assistant professor of Biology
Hope in the final act: It's our scene
- Alan '62 and Eleanor '57 Kreider
'God is still right beside me': A faith walk with MS
- Ryan Miller interviews Kim Kulp Birk '98

In search of hope
- Brian R. Hook '93
Alumni in New York City reflect on 9-11
- Mervin Horst '84, Malinda E. Berry '96

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