Speech contest winner invites us to join the feast

United States — Oct 2022

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Danika Warkentin, a junior at Canadian Mennonite University, is the grand prize winner of the 2022 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest.
Danika Warkentin, a junior at Canadian Mennonite University, is the grand prize winner of the 2022 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest. Photo by Darryl Neustaedter Barg.

Food can be a tool for peacebuilding if we accept Jesus’ invitation to join the feast. This is the theme of Danika Warkentin’s grand prize-winning speech in the 2022 C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest.

The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest, a binational and intercollegiate contest for students at Anabaptist colleges and universities, is administered by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. Started in 1974, the contest commemorates the late C. Henry Smith, a Mennonite historian and professor who worked at Goshen College and Bluffton University in Ohio and his deep interest in the Mennonite commitment to peace.

Warkentin, from Pincher Creek, Alta., is in her third year at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg, Man., where she is majoring in peace and conflict transformation studies. Warkentin won the CMU speech contest earlier this year, which moved her into the binational competition with winners from other participating Anabaptist colleges and universities.

Her speech, “Join the feast,” draws inspiration from an experience she had while living in Burkina Faso. A stranger on the street generously offered her and her family a portion of his simple meal. Warkentin says, “He had faith that tomorrow, if he was hungry and had no food, someone might share with him. That’s feasting.”

Warkentin talks about the centrality of food to Jesus’ ministry—from banquets with tax collectors to parables about fruit trees and wineskins to the feeding of 5,000 hungry people. Jesus modeled abundance and inclusion. Food used in this way is a tool for peacebuilding, Warkentin states.

At the same time, food can be used to exclude and oppress. Warkentin gives the example of Indigenous peoples being denied the right to shape their own community’s food systems as oil and gas pipelines run through their land. She says, “I just cannot reconcile the example of Jesus, the hospitable Jesus, the Jesus that fed the five thousand, with the violence that is being committed in our very nation. People are being excluded from the feast.”

Warkentin implores listeners to follow Jesus’ ministry of sharing food and feasting together, asking, “Are you willing to join the feast?”

Six institutions participated in this year’s contest: Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas; Bluffton (Ohio) University; Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario; Goshen (Indiana) College; and Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas.

Greta Lapp Klassen, a senior at Goshen College, won second prize for her speech, “Humanizing our world, one walkway at a time.” Third place went to Elienei Mejia, a junior at Tabor College, for her speech “America’s problem with immigration.”

The judges for this year’s contest were Anna Vogt, co-director of the Peace & Justice Office of MCC Canada; Xavier Pina, board executive of Fresno Pacific University and superintendent of Armona Union Elementary School District; and Rod Friesen, Restorative Justice Program coordinator for MCC Ontario.

The intention of the contest is to create a platform for deepening student thinking and discussion on peace-related issues. Top winners receive cash prizes and scholarships towards peace conferences or trainings.