Students ignite passion for global peacebuilding

photo - 2023 MCC-UN seminar participants Jessica Raharjo, Larry Ruffin and Rylee Weishaupt with advisor John Murray

2023 MCC-UN seminar participants Jessica Raharjo, Larry Ruffin and Rylee Weishaupt with advisor John Murray

Hesston College students Rylee Weishaupt, Larry Ruffin and Jessica Raharjo stepped up to learn what they can do to bring peace to warring nations and the world by participating in the annual Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Student Seminar titled “Peacebuilding: Does the UN matter?”.

Held in New York City earlier this month, the seminar focused on the roles of MCC and the UN in the restoration of peace among nations and why that work is essential. Students attended presentations about the actions both organizations are taking in response to recent worldwide conflicts. Students also had the opportunity to participate in powerful devotional sessions with MCC East Coast Executive Director Hyacinth Stevens and Rev. Dionne P. Boissiere, chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations. The devotional sessions discussed the absence of peace in the world and the duty of Christians to promote peacebuilding.

John Murray, Hesston College director of international admissions, arranged this opportunity for students so they could see these issues from different perspectives.

“The recent events in Israel and Palestine, the ongoing war in Ukraine and a long list of other violent conflicts in the world make this a very important learning experience for our students,” said Murray.

Weishaupt, a freshman from Goshen, Ind., reflected on her experience, “The seminar inspired me to be more intentional about educating myself on current events, while also being aware of what people are doing to bring peace not only from a corporate level, but also from the ground where the event is taking place.”

Students were also encouraged to participate in discussion groups to evaluate the current actions taken for the sake of peace and what could be done differently. Ruffin, a sophomore from Choctaw, Okla., left the seminar with a few interesting takeaways.

“One strange takeaway that I gained from the seminar was that all of the ‘big name’ diplomats and NGO [non-governmental organization] workers that work with the United Nations were human like me,” recalls Ruffin. “The seminar inspired me to continue seeking the stories of those who usually aren’t consulted in decision-making from institutions who say they’re trying to ‘help.’ With this I found that I need to learn more about history from those who weren’t the victors or in positions of narrative-changing power.”

Raharjo, a senior engineering student from Semarang, Indonesia, had the privilege of making this same trip last year.

“After attending last year’s seminar, I made a shift in the direction of the engineering field that I was planning to go into. I made up my mind that I will do engineering work that will promote peace and justice around the globe,” remarked Raharjo.

Students were also given a tour of the UN building where they learned more about the devastation of war and violence across the globe. This left Raharjo feeling the weight of reality.

“The fact that there is more money being allocated to the production of weapons, instead of the development of peacebuilding, was just so heartbreaking,” said Raharjo. “Once again I was reminded that peacebuilding takes all of us for it to be effective. It is good to have hope in the UN because there are many people there who are also in pursuit of peace, but we also need to be the hope itself.”