Photo/Kiana Fujioka

Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders (GAP) participants let loose for a fun photo after a nine-day experience of learning about migration, restorative justice, and care for creation & food security together.  GAP provides the opportunity for young adults to venture out of the classroom and experience the world around them, giving them tools to take back to their own communities. 

FRESNO, Calif. – The power of community building took on a whole new meaning for participants at the Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders (GAP) Institute.  After attending the week-long classes offered by West Coast Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), students now feel that they belong to a greater mission together.                                            

“GAP helped me realize that instead of trying to address issues on my own it's good to work in community and be partners of God in restoring his world and rebuilding shalom,” said Christopher Deleon of Fresno, Calif. 

 This year, West Coast MCC hosted 25 young adults – 18 and older – at the GAP Institute, June 16-24, at Fresno Pacific University (FPU).  The event was sponsored by West Coast MCC and Center for Anabaptist Studies at FPU. 

Most of the participants said they were not sure what to expect in the nine-day experience learning about migration, restorative justice, and care for creation & food security.  But by the end of GAP, participants were exhilarated by the experience. One described it as ‘dynamic and a tangible learning experience.’ 

"Global issues can often seem daunting or disheartening,” explained Thomas Adlard.  “As Anabaptist Christians we have a strong sense of responsibility to care for the world but it's not always easy to know how.” Adlard, West Coast MCC Administrative Coordinator, organized this year’s GAP.

Because of this experience, Juana Moreno, a student studying at FPU, desires to put into practice the restorative justice techniques that she learned at GAP in her relationships at home, in school and church.  She is excited to share about restorative justice and hopes to bring awareness and advocate for restorative justice in her community. 

“Young people who are broken are open to hope.  They are hungry for someone to come and say ‘I care about you’”, said Moreno.  “There are a lot of opportunities in environments like the Juvenile Detention Center to share the love of Christ that transforms lives in a radical way when all else fails.”

Gap participants in the Restorative Justice class visit the Fresno Juvenile court to gain a broader perspective on how restorative justice can be healing to both the victim and offender.  Photo Courtesy of Kiana Fujioka 

The classes are a combination of classroom teaching and hands-on experience. They are led by professors and other experts in the different subjects. 

“GAP brings together passionate young adults, challenges them to make a difference, and then lays out practical ways for them to do so, and doesn't expect anyone to do it alone,” said Adlard. “Despite such challenging topics the event is always fun and inspiring for all those who attend."

At GAP, participants kayaked down San Joaquin River and creeks and visited Yosemite National Park as they learned how God calls Christians to take care of creation. Those in the food security class volunteered at the local Community Food Bank sorting food that will be used to feed the homeless and hungry in community.  The class enjoyed fresh peaches from the trees that grow on an organic farm where migrant workers are treated with dignity.

The Restorative Justice class visited the Fresno Superior Court.  The group also visited the Center for Peacemaking and Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) to learn about the practical and theological applications of advocating for restorative justice with the government. The Migration and Resettlement class visited the Cesar Chavez Center learning about advocating for justice and rights for migrant farm workers and learned what the Bible teaches about welcoming strangers.

Students in the Food Security class happily get their hands dirty to lend a helping hand at the Fresno Community Food Bank.  Photo courtesy of Estella Mata

“It is an open door for them to view their world around them,” said Silvia Rios, West Coast MCC Regional Office Coordinator.  Rios served as GAP support staff and a small group leader during GAP.  She believes GAP creates an inviting atmosphere for students to learn about themselves and how they can impact their communities.

“I witnessed what was going on in the lives of these students.  I saw the students arrive and when they left…they are not the same people as when they first arrive,” explained Rios.  “They can come to the table with any issues in their lives, feel safe asking tough questions and hear the stories of others.”  She believes the students have a greater sense of community. 

Even though GAP is finished, participants are still on a high of excitement from all they learned and experienced in community.  “GAP was amazing!,” said Mikhail Fernandes from Goshen, Ind. “It was my first time in California…I will treasure this experience.  I hope to be back!”

Many say they will be returning and hope others will join them on the journey next year at GAP.