Tag Archives: Eastern Mennonite University

Thankful for a colorful fall

autumn leaves, fall colors

Splotches of color.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Autumn’s extended dryness definitely took its toll in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The peak leaf coloration never arrived. With only a splattering of exceptions, the generally dull, brittle leaves just tumbled down with little assistance from the wind.

While the leaves mostly faded, my wife and I found color in a multitude of venues and activities that more than made up for the unusually muted landscape. If our calendar of events, duties, and responsibilities were displayed on a color wheel, we wore every hue, shade, and tone available.

Volleyball was the prime coat to most of our Picasso of busyness. Our daughter is the head coach of the women’s team at Eastern Mennonite University. Practices and games filled her fall time. Throw in scouting future players, meetings, and travel, and the coach had little time for family household chores. Nana took her place.

It’s a good thing Nana likes to cook. She made many, many evening meals for our grandkids and their parents. On occasion, she even cooked up specialties for the entire team. To many, that might be a bit much. But my wife is up to any challenge, especially when she can rule in the kitchen, her favorite creative place.

We served as chauffeurs in loco parentis for our three grandchildren. Sometimes both Nana and I were on the road simultaneously. She picked up Davis and Maren from school. I took Evan from baseball practice to fitness workouts. While the weather was still warm, we all attended Evan’s traveling team baseball games. Now the temperatures are much colder, and that sport is but a memory.

At her piano recital, our granddaughter Maren made her hours of practicing count. She did a marvelous job tickling the keys playing her two little ditties. So did all the other young performers. Smiles radiated all around the hall from glowing parents, grandparents, and teachers. The young students got all gussied up for the special event. Their outfits stylishly complemented the lively music that filled the hour.

Maren had violin lessons Nana shuttled her to and from as well. Once after school activities started on Tuesdays, I would gather Maren there and drive her straight to soccer practice on the other side of town.

Davis, the middle child, found his own recreation on his bicycle or just enjoyed his own private time. We also gladly cared for Millie, our granddog, when no one else was available.

Of course, Nana and I did our own things, too. I enrolled in a college history class. Nana sewed and quilted to keep from being bored as if that were even possible. We took in joyous concerts, life-long learning lectures on current events, plays, and visited museums and art and photography galleries.

red maple, fall colors

Red maple in the morning.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the many people beyond our family with whom we interacted this fall. We gathered with new and old friends alike. They warmed our souls better than autumn’s most brilliant golden sugar maple. We especially appreciated brief visits from friends and relatives passing through The Valley.

Despite the season’s leafy letdown, Nana and I have definitely had a colorful, fulfilling autumn. I don’t mean to be trite or contrived with this metaphor.

I am glad that our first fall as residents of Virginia has been an absolute joy. This Thanksgiving season, we count ourselves fortunate, grateful, and happy. I will admit one thing, however. As autumn winds down, just color me tired.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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In awe of fall’s many murmurations

meadow, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg VA

The hilltop meadow.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Have you seen them? Fall’s murmurations are everywhere, or at least they were. They can be as fickle as fall weather. In fact, it’s autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours that often spur them on.

European starlings create the defining form of murmurations that are often caught on video. Massive, migrating flocks of starlings whirl, dance, gyrate, and swirl, darting high and low, turning seemingly indiscriminately in the sky. One minute they mimic a ballet dancer, the next a fearsome Halloween monster. Sometimes they perform over land, other times they maneuver above great bodies of water. Either way, their machinations mesmerize human observers.

Common Buckeye, honeybees,

Getting buzzed.

These starling murmurations, so prevalent in the fall, appear cloud-like, pulsating as if scripted to a choreographed symphony. They change direction and tempo, moving from Beethoven’s measure to Springsteen’s beat. I once saw a murmuration where thousands of starlings turned and twisted like a tornado, so much so that other drivers also pulled over to watch the show.

As magical as they are, the starlings cannot claim a patent on this fascinating phenomenon. Though not as showy or perhaps even as noticeable, other creatures great and small participate in their own migratory matinees.

A recent Sunday afternoon sabbatical on a hilltop brought me to that conclusion. October’s bright afternoon sun bathed the land in warmth and beauty. I couldn’t have been happier.

West Virginia, Virginia, Appalachian Mountains

The blue mountains.

To my west, the Allegheny Mountains stood eternal, the hazy blue boundary line between Virginia and West Virginia. To the east, the Massanutten Mountain held watch over the city of Harrisonburg, which hummed with its usual busyness.

As pleasant as that was, the setting became secondary to the murmuration activity in the lovely hillside meadow before me. In its last days of seasonal, colorful productivity, hundreds of butterflies flitted everywhere. Multiple species competed for the blooms they far outnumbered. Thousands of honeybees, bumble bees, and beetles also joined in the frenzy for the limited floral offerings.

Monarch butterflies, meadow, wildflowers

Blooms and butterflies.

Though they weren’t captivating clouds of whirling birds, each insect species had its own style. Butterflies chased butterflies. Bees buzzed butterflies, usually unsuccessfully. It wasn’t uncommon for a ladybug, honeybee, a Monarch, and a Painted Lady butterfly to all inhabit the same blooming wildflower plant, appropriating whatever they could for their journey or hibernation ahead.

Overhead, turkey vultures sailed on rising convection thermals, additional byproducts of the generous sunshine heating the cooler landscape. Beyond the urban trees and down the hill, a red-shouldered hawk shrieked its call in an attempt to flush songbirds from their protective cover.

American robins appeared with only abbreviated chirpings. Silent and absent since their last summer nestings, robin congregations bobbed on yards and scavenged crabapple trees for any morsel of energy to wing their way to milder winter climes.

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An eastern phoebe launched from a solitary dogwood tree loaded with bright red berries. The bird had no interest in them, however. Instead, it captured an unsuspecting damselfly, and returned to the same perch in the same tree, wagged its tail one more time and disappeared.

On the way home, a rather lopsided V winged across the last of the sunset’s orangey glow. Even with car windows closed, I could distinctly hear the geese honking as the darkening sky absorbed them. At day’s end, I was elated to have observed a few of the other forms of nature’s murmurations, each with their own flair, their own personal signature.

What murmurations of fall have you seen? Look sharp. They’ll soon be gone, replaced by the coming season’s institution of slumbering stillness.

sunset, Shenandoah Valley

Waning sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Similarities abound

Shenandoah Valley, fog, farm scene

Fog in The Valley.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s been a little more than a month since we moved from our beloved home in beautiful Holmes County, Ohio to our new place of residence in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. We knew there would be similarities. We just didn’t know they would abound.

We learned to know the area long before we moved. Our daughter attended college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. She met her husband there. Now the school employs both of them, Carrie as a coach and Daryl as part of the administrative team.

In the few weeks that we’ve lived here, we have learned first-hand just how similar Holmes County is to Rockingham County. Those likenesses transcend the beauty of each locale.

former home, Holmes Co. OH

The old place.

Both have wooded rolling hills. Numerous creeks snake through luscious, productive farmland. Not surprisingly, the same staple crops are grown here, which makes sense since we are in the same growing zone. Field corn, alfalfa, wheat, oats, and soybeans create a patchwork of verdant colors. Produce stands dot the countryside here, too.

Livestock includes dairy cows and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Long, silver poultry houses can be found high and low across the rural areas of Rockingham County. In Holmes County, they’re mostly white. My guess is that turkeys far outnumber humans in The Valley given the number of those barns I’ve seen. Agriculture is a major economic force for both locations.

Consequently, every now and then when the wind is right we get an acrid whiff that reminds us of home. However, we don’t need a breeze to inform us when the barns have been cleaned.

Just like in Ohio, our house is built on what was once farmland. Only instead of a few neighbors, we have many. We are one of nearly 500 households in our development. Mature trees and manicured lawns predominate around well-maintained homes. People take pride in their property here with equal zest.

retirement home, Rockingham Co. VA

Our new place.

In Ohio, airliners sailed regularly over our home on final approach to Akron-Canton Regional Airport. In Harrisonburg, we have the same effect only more frequently. Jets fly overhead, only higher, on approach to Dulles International Airport.

Unlike our old home, all of the utilities in our housing development are buried underground. There are no streetlights, though. On a clear night, we can actually see the stars better here than we could at our former home.

There are other obvious differences of course. Rockingham County is twice the size of Holmes County in both square miles and population. The boundaries of Rockingham County boast the Allegheny Mountains on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

Massanutten range, Rockingham Co. VA

Massanutten Mountain.

The Massanutten range runs north to south through the center of the county, stopping east of Harrisonburg. It should be noted that the hills of Holmes County are actually the western foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. So we are literally geologically connected.

Once outside the city, the roads of Rockingham County are as narrow, windy, and hilly as those of Holmes County. With Old Order Mennonites thriving in the fertile valley, horse and buggies are nearly as common as in Holmes County.

The culture, local mores, and values are similar as well. Our neighbors exemplify that daily with their friendliness.

Purchasing our home here foretold the familiarity. At the bank, we got our house loan from Julie Yoder. Emily Miller led the house closing. Jayne Schlabach was our realtor. There’s even a Joe Bowman car dealership. In Holmes County, he’d likely be selling buggies.

Just like home, we have the same cell phone carrier with the same quality reception. I have to go to the front porch so you can “hear me now.”

No need to feel sorry for us. We feel right at home in Virginia.

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co. VA

Allegheny sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Can you accidentally buy a house?

Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg VA

Morning in the valley.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Is it possible to accidentally buy a house? I suppose so since we did.

I’ve attended auctions where someone has scratched their head or waved to a friend, only to hear the astute auctioneer bellow out, “SOLD!” Once the dust settled, the person embarrassingly explained his way out of the unintentional purchase.

Buying this house didn’t work that way for my lovely wife and I. Nor did we even try to back out. Once the hammer dropped, we enthusiastically signed on the dotted line. And we signed and signed and signed.

It didn’t take long to appreciate the consequences of our unintentional intentional purchase. We were in it for the long haul. “It” is moving to the Commonwealth of Virginia. We had our very personal reasons.

To uncomplicate this complicated story of our apparently surprise transaction, let me begin at the beginning. It might even help me to grasp what has truly transpired.

Our daughter and her family, which includes our only grandchildren, live in Harrisonburg, Virginia. They love it there. They work there. They play there. They even went to school there, Eastern Mennonite University to be exact. Their alma mater employs both our daughter and her husband.

In fact, our daughter is the head coach for the women’s volleyball team. She’s very busy August into November preparing for and playing the season. Of course, we want to watch her team in action. So over the mountains and through the woods we go from our home in Holmes County, Ohio to the magnificent in any season Shenandoah Valley, home to Harrisonburg.

women's volleyball, Eastern Mennonite University

Where we hang out.

In these hectic times, Carrie needs our help, well, at least my wife’s. Neva is the engine that keeps the household humming. With three busy youngsters, someone needs to see they are fed, watered, and clothed. Add in going to doctor appointments, baseball, choir, and soccer practices, and their schedules resemble those of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Consequently, we spend much of the fall helping in Harrisonburg. We also make several six-hour trips from Ohio to Virginia to attend the grandchildren’s events throughout each year.

We’re not spring chickens anymore. So we began to consider moving to the valley. To see what our money could potentially buy, our realtor friend scheduled some house tours for us.

The last place got our attention. We wanted a turnkey home, one floor, no basement, smaller lot, a two-car garage, and municipal sewer and water. This little ranch had it all. The owners had also remodeled it just the way we would have done it ourselves. We immediately felt at home.

There were issues, however. We weren’t exactly ready to buy a home, according to our established moving timeline. At first, that was no problem because another couple had already put in a bid on this house.

However, those potential buyers and the sellers couldn’t agree on a price. Excuse the pun, but that opened the door for us. So we made an offer. In a matter of head-spinning hours, we had a deal. The house was ours. I signed the sales agreement electronically online. Neva signed on the hood of a car in a parking lot at 10:30 at night.

Apparently, we indeed wanted this house. We had better. We now owned it. Intent on keeping to our timeframe, excellent renters were quickly found for our new home.

If everything goes as planned, which it has so far, we will become Virginians by next summer. So there you have it.

Can you accidentally buy a house? Yes. You. Can.

Shenandoah Valley

Looking towards our Ohio home.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Communication and relationships create vignettes of thankfulness

farm lane, farm field

Long lane.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I learned long ago if you want to celebrate you have to relate and communicate.

The designated time to do all three in the Unites States is upon us. Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect on moments and people for which you are thankful, and to affectionately share that gratitude.

When a situation goes awry, or a snafu in a bond develops, it’s important that we communicate our feelings to maintain positive relationships. It just might help untangle the problem and any hurt feelings.

This Thanksgiving season I thought it appropriate to share some personal experiences I had this year that required communication to keep relationships strong. I call them vignettes of thankfulness.

“I’ll see you in six months,” the doctor told my friend Leroy. A few months earlier, Leroy had been diagnosed with a type of incurable cancer.

Amish farmstead

Amish homestead.

Leroy had decided to accept his fate, and forgo any treatments, which would only extend his life a couple of months. Instead, he relied on doctor approved vitamin supplements and his faith to carry him forward.

I could hear Leroy’s voice quiver when he called me with a medical update. He was ever so grateful for this good news of extended life. I teared up too. I was honored to have received Leroy’s good news call.

The call about a cement wall of all things had a similar ending. While I was away, a township resident had had a concrete wall poured for his new house. The problem was it was on the township right of way. As a township trustee, I was charged with getting the problem corrected.

I hated to tell Bert, a man I knew well, to move the wall. But move it he did, both efficiently and creatively.

crane, moving a cement wall

Relocating the wall.

My friend Bert used his foresight and imagination to recycle the wall. A craftsman sawed it into two pieces. A giant crane hoisted them into a new location, where they became a retaining wall. Bert seemed even more pleased than me.

“We don’t often get second chances in life,” he said. I heartily agreed. I expressed my thankfulness for Bert’s willingness to correct the mistake and giving the wall a new life. The error did not become a wall that would interfere with our good relationship.

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our extended time in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley helping out our daughter as she coached her university’s women’s volleyball team. To those who know my wife, it was no surprise Neva worked night and day completing every day, necessary chores in our daughter’s household.

granddaughter, homework

Homework help.

While I was available, I helped our kindergartener granddaughter with her homework by listening to her pronounce letters and count numbers in both English and Spanish. For me, those were precious moments.

With our travels, Neva and I made a hard decision. We needed to sell the cute cottage my folks had built 40 years ago on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio. We asked around, but no one in the family indicated an interest in taking over the cottage.

After showing the property to some prospective buyers, our son called to say he had changed his mind. He wanted to purchase the cabin.

Neva and I were thrilled. It was the first item on our downsizing list, and our son would be the new owner. I’m pretty certain I saw my folks smiling down from heaven the day the property transferred.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, communicate and relate the moments and emotions for which we are grateful. These are a few of mine. What are yours?

cottage, family cottage

Our cottage.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Plumbago

ground cover by Bruce Stambaugh

Plumbago. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

In the fall, we are often mesmerised by the colorful leaves of the changing deciduous trees all around us. In our observations, we sometimes forget to look down. I recently spied this lovely groundcover, Plumbago, on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA. In the spring and summer, the dainty emerald leaves highlight the petite indigo flowers.

As you can see, as I did, the leaves have turned russet, red and burgundy, while the little flowers continue to bloom. Wouldn’t this make a great jigsaw puzzle?

“Plumbago” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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Never stop running

inthedugoutbybrucestambaugh

Erik Kratz, right, when he played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Erik Kratz is a catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. My wife and I like to watch him play whenever we can.

We cheer for the Cleveland Indians of course. We follow Erik for a selfish reason. He and his family are friends with our daughter and her family. Our grandson and Erik’s son were in preschool together, and they played on the same baseball team.

We have spoken with Erik a few times while visiting our grandkids in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where both families live. Like our daughter and son-in-law, Erik is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University.

warmingupbybrucestambaugh

The only time we got to see Erik in action was when he came out to warm up the pitcher between innings.

It would be a stretch for me to say that I know Erik. We know who he is, and watched his son and our grandson play. But because of the close connection to our daughter and her family, we like to watch when the Blue Jays are on television and Erik is playing, which isn’t all that often. It’s the price of being a backup player.

Recently, a game between the Blue Jays and the Twins was broadcast nationally. Erik got to start the game. On his first at bat, he popped the ball high in the air behind second base.

Both the shortstop and second baseman sprinted to catch the ball while the centerfielder, who was playing deep, ran in, too. The infielders arrived at the ball at the same time, and collided. The ball dropped, and Erik was safe at second, credited with a double.

Before the game with the Indians, Erik spoke with a friend of mine who just happened to go to high school with Erik's father.

Before the game with the Indians, Erik spoke with a friend of mine who just happened to go to high school with Erik’s father.

My wife, who really knows the game of baseball, said enthusiastically, “That just goes to show that you never give up running.” Neva was right on.

Too many times I’ve seen Major League players hit a sure double-play grounder, or a pop-up like Erik’s, and the batter assumes the fielder will cleanly make the play. He gives up running hard, only to discover that the ball was bobbled or thrown away or, like in Erik’s case, dropped.

But because the runner assumed the ball would be caught, the fielders had a second chance. Many times the batter was thrown out despite the miscue because he had quit running.

I thought a lot about what Neva said. Never quit running, not in baseball, not in any sport, not in a business, not in relationships, not in life. Regardless of the odds, keep on running.

My brother-in-law, who is my age, has gone through some traumatic physical issues in his lifetime, some even life threatening. But Bob has never given up. He always, always has kept a positive attitude no matter how serious the situation.

His determination, along with excellent medical care and a strong support group of wife, family and friends, have kept him running, metaphorically speaking. If he had given up, he likely wouldn’t still be with us. But he is.

erikkratzbybrucestambaugh

Erik Kratz.

I admire that in people. No matter the odds, they keep plugging on. Determination, goals, grit, desire, love, moxie, patience, encouragement all are ingredients in living a fulfilling, meaningful, useful life.

I’m glad my brother-in-law has survived another medical episode. His faith and determination surely helped him through, and will continue to do so during his rehab sessions.

I’m glad Erik kept running, too. As it turned out, he didn’t score a run. But that really wasn’t the point. He put himself in position to score. It was up to his teammates to bring him home.

So keep on running, just like Bob and Erik. Isn’t that what life is really all about anyhow?

A game-winning hit by Erik Kratz

(June 23, 2014 update: The Blue Jays sent Erik Kratz to their AAA-minor league team, Buffalo, today.)

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

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A detour of no inconvenience

snowonthemountainsbybrucestambaugh

Snow on the Appalachian Mountains.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This winter’s wicked weather altered many well-laid plans, especially for travelers. My wife and I were no exception.

We delayed our trip south by a day due to a winter storm in the Appalachian Mountains. The extreme cold air followed us all the way to northern Florida.

As we readied to return home at vacation’s end, yet another major winter storm was chugging up the Ohio Valley. We weighed our options about our return trip. It would have been delightful to remain in place. But we needed to return home. It was time.

gamenightbybrucestambaugh

Game night.

South Carolina and North Carolina were still recovering from one-two punches of unusually extreme wintry weather that downed thousands of trees and caused massive power outages. We didn’t want to risk being stranded there either.

Fortunately, we had an attractive option that would take us well out of the way home. We decided to visit our grandchildren in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a year-round scenic place. It was a big sacrifice, I know.

We hadn’t seen our grandkids since Christmas. It was only logical that we should avoid the storm by detouring to Harrisonburg. It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Oh, we had a lovely two-day drive to their hillside home near the university where their daddy, our son-in-law, works. But the storm detoured, too. The morning after we arrived we awakened to three inches of snow overtop a quarter inch of ice.

closedbybrucestambaugh

The heavy snow even cancelled class at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA.

It snowed all day, doubling the snowy accumulation. Of course, schools were closed, giving us bonus time with our three grandchildren, Evan, Davis and Maren. It was a vacation within a vacation, like finding a diamond ring in a box of Cracker Jacks.

The backyard where our daughter and her family live is perfect for sled riding. The day we left Ohio a month earlier, it was 15 degrees below zero. So I had plenty of warm clothes to wear, including the pair of waterproof shoes I wore while walking on the beach.

We bundled up, grabbed the day glow orange toboggans, and went out into it. We had a riot. Little Maren, the daring four year-old, really isn’t so little anymore. She laid supine in one of the sleds and zipped down the gentle slope and slid right into the neighbor’s backyard.

The boys whooped, and Maren immediately recognized her amazing accomplishment. She jumped up and screeched with glee, “That was just like a rocket booster.”

That’s pretty much how our two and a half days with them went. We would play outside until the cold drove us inside. As soon as his jacket was off, Evan was setting up the game boards, or dealing the playing cards. He loves table games, not only because he is competitive, but mostly because he usually wins.

Davis was content to unwind and warm up on his own, playing his creative, imaginary games with his Lego people and assembled utilitarian pieces. I hope I’m alive when he is awarded the Noble prize in the sciences.

If she’s not playing with Davis, Maren knows all the buttons to touch on the screens of the iPad or laptop whichever is available to her. When I get over my pride, I’ll have to have her show me how to operate them.

My wife and I may have arrived home a week later than we expected. But in this case, the delay was no inconvenience at all.

deeratsunsetbybrucestambaugh

Deer at sunset.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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It’s a small world after all

conflictanalysisclassbybrucestambaugh

The SPI Conflict Analysis Class of last May at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Imagine the odds.

Last May I took a graduate school course on conflict analysis in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) held at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

The 16 students in the class represented several countries, ethnic backgrounds and religions from around the world. Each day we sat at tables in groups of four or five with a different mix of students. We collaborated on dissecting some aspect of human discord, usually in preparation for a class presentation.

We were all in the class for the same reason. We had a strong interest in understanding and resolving conflict by peaceful means.

ranaandmebybrucestambaugh

Rana and me in the SPI classroom at Eastern Mennonite University.

I couldn’t have imagined how meaningful the class would be. Nor could I have anticipated the events that would unfold long after the course work was finished.

Keep in mind that most of the students were intensely involved in some aspect of peace building in their respective countries. Dangerous conflict was a daily occurrence for many of them. Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kurdistan, Somalia, Syria, Miramar, and Haiti were a few of those places.

Back home the official duties of class participants varied as much as their backgrounds. Some engaged in peace building through non-governmental agencies. Others were pastors, teachers and even politicians.

The goal was to learn how to analyze conflict, and apply appropriate peace building skills constructively. Upon returning to their home country, they would instruct others in what they had learned or directly apply peace aspects in their vocations.

Meeting with new classmates each day provided a global perspective on the too many conflicts around the world. My problems paled when compared to some of the survival stories told to me privately. Their personal, troublesome stories humbled me.

I was especially impressed with Rana, an energetic young woman from Syria. The news out of that country was not good. Aggressive conflict was wreaking havoc on her homeland. Yet she remained upbeat and actively engaged in class projects.

When the course was completed, I tried to gather any contact information that I could. I wanted to stay connected to my new friends. I knew that I would be unable to communicate with some of them simply for security reasons. I certainly didn’t want to compound the risks they already faced.

Once home I did manage to communicate with a few of the students, mostly via Facebook, a popular social media website. Even in the midst of the fighting, I was able to share periodically with Rana. But I kept the messages to mostly short well wishes.

When the fighting in Syria escalated, including the use of chemical weapons, I became rather concerned. Then the last Sunday morning of 2013, I received a message from Rana that she was fine.

I felt relieved as my wife and I headed to church. I knew we had a special speaker that morning, but I didn’t know who or from what organization.

Prior to the service, I was introduced to the guest speaker, Sarah Adams, who was the Mennonite Central Committee country representative to Lebanon and Syria. I recounted my SPI experience, and asked Sarah if she happened to know Rana.

Before I could say Rana’s last name, Sarah happily replied, “Oh, yes. I know Rana well.” She assured me that Rana was safe and still working for peace whenever and wherever she could. I was thrilled.

Imagine the odds of the three of us interconnecting via Virginia, Syria and Ohio. It really is a small world after all.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Viewing the world through different lenses

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The Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We have it pretty nice here in the Greater Holmes County, Ohio area. I have known that ever since I moved to the area just after the historic July 1969 flood.

Ask locals, and they’ll tell you that it’s the best place in the world to live. I wouldn’t begin to argue otherwise.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this is the only place to call home. Clearly, if it were, the countryside wouldn’t be the same. Pastoral settings would give way to a jagged urban scape and all the trappings that accompany it.

For those who never venture afar from our comparatively protected environs, there is a danger with our self-satisfaction. Seeing the world with only our particular glasses can give us a distorted viewpoint on other cultures, socially, politically, economically and any other way you want to look at life.

At times it can be good to change lenses. That means we sometimes have to get well out of our comfort zone to do so. We have to let go of what we know, and learn anew.

foggyviewbybrucestambaugh

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley offers incredible views, like the morning mist rising out of the valleys.

Recently I took an intensive graduate school course at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. It’s a place as pretty as home, only old age mountains backdrop rolling, fertile foothills.

Of the 16 participants in the class, I was one of only three North American students. The others came from places like Azerbaijan, Thailand, Iraq, Kurdistan, Belgium, Ghana, Nigeria, Syria and Haiti. I would have struggled to find some of these countries on a globe.

The students ranged from young adults to grandparents like me. Their given names were Amstrong, Yvon, Nurana, Carlos, Rana, Aunt, Ray, James, Oscar, Henry, Nameer, Ernest, Amina, Khant and Salar. They were pastors, government leaders, workers for non-governmental aid agencies, interpreters and teachers.

Though our cultures, races and geographic origins varied greatly, we were there to learn about the various ways to analyze and understand conflict. Given the current situations in the countries represented, much useful information was certain to be shared back home.

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Much of the class time was spent in small group discussions and activities.

In the classroom, we sat in groups of three or four, each day a different configuration, each day new and fascinating stories intertwined with the professor’s lessons. Their personal stories, shared privately, were compelling, if not fearsome.

A pastor from Haiti called his wife every night and spoke to her from midnight until nearly dawn just to ensure his family’s safety. The consequences of war had destroyed the home of a young woman from Syria. Yet reconciliation, not retribution, was the aim of these devoted, considerate, inquisitive community leaders striving to promote peace.

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The dynamic women of the Conflict Analysis class of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Instead of focusing on how bad it was in their country or blaming other governments, these men and women were glad for the opportunity to learn how to dissect and resolve conflict. They would take what they had learned and apply it as best they could. Their goal was to improve the world around them, even if it was one person at a time. Where there was despair, they saw hope.

When the Haitian pastor asked me if my home was safe, I hesitated before answering. I looked deep into his dark, wondering eyes, and simply said, “Yes, I live in a very safe place.”

“You are very fortunate,” he replied softly. I was humbled.

All of us who live in our lush, agrarian area are fortunate. Occasionally it takes looking through other life lenses to fully appreciate our own home view.

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A typical springtime view in Holmes Co., Ohio.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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