MCC photo/ Kiana Fujoka

Dallhana Garcia, center, was part of a 2016 GAP Restorative Justice class that visited the Fresno Juvenile Court to gain a broader perspective on how restorative justice can be healing to both the victim and offender.  From left to right, are Janet Salcedo, Taylor Starks, Min Jeong Bae, Juana Moreno Martinez and Suzan Kwidja. 

What does it mean to be an Anabaptist peacebuilder in the midst of global conflicts, climate change, poverty, crime and divisions made by walls and borders?

Youth and young adults address these issues and this question every June when they attend Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders (GAP) Institute, which is sponsored by West Coast Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Held at Fresno Pacific University (FPU) in California’s Central Valley, participants chose one of four week-long classes: Advocating for Social Justice, Migration and Resettlement, Creation Care and Restorative Justice.

The aim of GAP is to help youth grapple with these issues through practical activities and encounters during the institute and to motivate them to continue in peacebuilding after they finish.

Through a seven-year partnership between MCC and FPU, nearly 300 students from across the country have taken part in the institute. In 2017, GAP Institute will be held from May 25 to June 2.

The GAP class of 2016 studied restorative justice, creation care, social justice and migration and resettlement.MCC photo/Kiana Fujoka

Dallhana Garcia, 22, took the Restorative Justice class in 2016 after getting her social work degree.

“I feel like GAP helped me get into that next stage of life after I graduated from FPU. I think it supplemented my view of community development and our role as Christians to love our neighbors,” she said.

Garcia currently lives in an intentional community ministry house in Fresno called Casa Shalom. She said GAP helps her approach everyday conflict in a better way.

“It helped open my eyes to different approaches to conflict and mediation. It’s stuff you use in everyday life, but through a Christian perspective,” she explained. “I learned if we don’t know how to handle conflict, it’s really difficult to keep right relationships with others.”

Mikhail Fernandes, 22, took the Creation Care class in 2016 after graduating with an interdisciplinary degree in music, communications and sustainability from Goshen College in Indiana.

Mikhail Fernandes, right, pauses for a photo with some 2016 GAP participants, right to left, Tanna Rodriguez, Aaron Rodriguez, Valerie Muñoz, Ana Preciado, Sandra Preciado and Thomas Lancaster.MCC photo/Kiana FujiokaFernandes said his class visited Yosemite National Park, the Fresno Food Bank, farms, mosques, churches, supermarkets and even went on a kayaking trip in Fresno’s watershed.

“GAP left me with a lot of questions, but in a good way,” Fernandes said. “It’s inspiring me to keep learning about other things. I want to know more about what systematic changes can be made and what we can do to make a more sustainable future.”

Fernandes is currently working as a communications and outreach assistant at the Madison Audubon Society in Wisconsin, an organization dedicated to protecting bird species and habitats in the state. He says GAP was one of the things that influenced his career path.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle; one of the many different programs I’ve been a part of that are shaping my life and career path,” he said.

Camille Valentine is a GAP institute faculty member. She has taught the Restorative Justice class for the past four years. Valentine is a peacemaker, educator and conflict transformation specialist from Fresno.

Camille Valentine teaches the Restorative Justice class at GAP 2016.MCC photo/Kiana Fukioka

Over the years, she has seen students glean a lot from the classes, sometimes taking different classes over multiple years.

“It’s an informative and transformative experience for students because you don’t know what you don’t know. Once they experience something like this, they come back until they get all they can get from this program,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to see people get it and feel it.”

She recognizes the importance of the partnership between MCC’s West Coast office and FPU.

“If the GAP institute is a feast, FPU brings the side dishes and MCC brings the main course,” Valentine explains. “If we only had one, but not the other there would be something missing. Together we create this beautiful feast.”

According to MCC West Coast’s executive director, Nate Yoder, the institute wouldn’t work without the university.

“FPU brings all sorts of resources that we don’t have that makes the institute doable. Would GAP exist if not for this partnership? Probably not.”

People like Garcia and Fernandes are glad it does exist. Garcia said she would recommend it to anyone interested in community building, ministry, or peacebuilding.

“I would definitely recommend GAP. I learned so much about how I can apply things in my own life. As much as it affected my view of how to do ministry, it also helped me process some things in my own faith walk,” she said.

To learn more about Global Anabaptist Peacebuilding, visit mcc.org/gap-institute