With less than 36 hours to go before the start of camp, we expect that our first week campers might be busy checking their packing lists, settling jittery nerves, or enjoying a last outing with their family. Our staff, on the other hand, are already hard at work at camp, and quickly coalescing into a strong team. This year, we are fortunate to have three returning counselors, Carla and Madison from last year, and Lily from 2015. They are being joined by counselor Asa and CITs Christian and Lucas. All of them bring a wealth of talents, knowledge, and experiences to offer our campers. Christian is eager to make disk golf a Peacebuilders tradition, Carla is ready to resume morning hikes with early-risers, and Madison is anticipating more late-night talks in the dorm. But first, there have been posters to be made, groceries to be shopped for, supplies to be organized, and tasks to be divided up. Everyone has jumped right in and proved once again that many hands make light work. They have transformed Fuller House at Koinonia into a home base for camp activities, have spent time sharing philosophical musings, and have (only a little) bemoaned the lack of accessible live coverage of the World Cup.
Saturday afternoon, with most of the necessary tasks checked off Mario’s extensive lists, the team headed to Lumpkin, Georgia, 35 miles west of Koinonia, for a different kind of work. Lumpkin is home to Stewart Detention Center and El Refugio. Peacebuilders and El Refugio have a long partnership. To support El Refugio’s mission of hospitality, campers in years past prepared snacks and last year built outdoor furniture there. We’ve learned about immigration and the asylum process from El Refugio facilitators as part of our study of the right to seek asylum. Many campers have visited men incarcerated at Stewart, one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the United States. This afternoon, though, Peacebuilders’ presence was for a another purpose. We were determined, like people all over the country this day, to be ¡presente!, to be counted, to show up to do the work of democracy, solidarity, and peace. We joined about sixty other concerned peacemakers, many from Indivisible Columbus, to raise our voices in protest of the government’s Zero Tolerance policy at the border, and the inevitable separation of immigrant families when adults are sent to mandatory detention. We listened to speakers at El Refugio, and then the crowd reconvened near the gates of the detention center itself to bear witness to the pain that lengthy detention inflicts on families. Especially moving were the words of a young mother who regularly makes the five-hour trip from North Carolina to visit her child’s detained father. Through tears, she pled for his release and gave a human face to the tragedy that so many of us are seeing only in news reports. Afterward, one of our counselors exchanged phone numbers with this young woman, pledging tangible support in addition to the compassion and empathy that we all felt.
Our staff members know the importance of showing up, of being ¡presente! with people whose human rights are ignored or trampled. We are ¡presente! in a crowd with other Southwest Georgia peacemakers, and we are increasingly known and respected by them for the work we’re doing. We are ¡presente! with each other, too, in spite of heat, humidity, and gnats; we are listening and learning and inspiring and challenging one another. We know that our voices, our insight, and our energy are needed right now, in this troubling present time, when so many other voices are being shut down. But in the next three weeks, our minds will also be in the ¡futuro!, because we know that as hard as we and others are working for peace in the present, the future will demand as much passion, vigilance and wisdom. And so we commit ourselves to the business of training the next generation of peacemakers, shaping the voices and minds and hearts that will be called upon to stand and be present. Will you be ¡presente! with us in these next weeks? We covet your support!