The week after Thanksgiving, a few of us gathered in the library on our campus with seven students from our MDiv and Counseling degree programs who had just returned from a trip to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The trip had been organized in response to a call from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for the U.S.-based Episcopal Church to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in effort to protect the tribe’s land and water supply. The team’s objective in going had been to deliver supplies, observe, learn, and pray.
The night they arrived was a life-changing experience. Nonviolent protesters were shot with rubber bullets, tear and CS gas, concussion grenades, fire hoses, and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. There were persons in need of medical attention, and roadblocks prevented emergency responders from transporting the injured to hospitals. To help us understand what they’d witnessed, Christine Brunson, a Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling student, created an image from photographs they took that night. Behind the razor wire in the photo are lines of militarized police.
Inspired and Enlightened
Christine explaining the caption “Mní Wicóni,” saying, “An elder from the tribe translated it for me as ‘Water is sacred.’” These seminary students returned to Austin changed. The week after returning home, they sat in a circle, sharing what they’d seen and experienced in North Dakota and processing the impact it had on them. Beyond the typical stress reactions expected, they were clearly deeply moved.
Master of Divinity student Lauren Kay remarked on “the incredible atmosphere of the camps, the beautiful determination and resolve of the water protectors, the constant sound of prayer as the backdrop to a volunteer-run camp based on values of caring for one another. … The first day we spent at Standing Rock was marked with so much beauty.” The students felt inspired by the faith and prayers of those they’d met at the Standing Rock camp. And they were stirred by the long narrative of minority oppression and suffering in which our nation’s history is rooted.
Lessons in Peacemaking
Since returning to campus, these students have been teaching us. They are bravely processing and translating their learning into actionable lessons. They are learning the importance of debriefing and practicing care for our bodies, minds, and spirits between crisis situations. At Southwest, we hope to equip our students who are called to front-line peacemaking with lifelong practices capable of supporting and sustaining this important work.
A Joyful Outcome
This month, we observe the season of Advent, preparing ourselves in anticipation of the coming of the child we call the Prince of Peace. And this week, we received news that the water protectors at Standing Rock are celebrating a small victory of the peaceful protest. However, the final outcome is not yet certain. Not every peacemaking effort ends with joy. And this past year we’ve survived many dark times, as a nation and as a learning community. As we look back on this year, may we recognize moments where we came together and extended peace to one another. And may we remember the practices that sustain our spirits so that, in whatever way we’re able, we can respond whenever peacemaking calls.
Questions for Reflection:
How does my faith guide me in responding to calls for peace and justice?
What spiritual practices sustain me as a peacemaker?
Dr. Gena Minnix is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist and has trained in systemic therapies, EMDR, play therapy, Relational Cultural Theory, the Enneagram, and spirituality. After interning at the VA, Gena completed her licenses and then served as clinical director for community mental health agencies before receiving her PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. Gena has published and presented at national and international conferences on topics such as the reconciliation of LGBT affirmation with Christian beliefs, family therapy, attachment and trauma. In 2013, Gena helped co-found The Human Empathy Project, a nonprofit in Austin that exists to foster empathic connection with members of faith and LGBT communities.