JMU, EMU welcome Tutu to Valley

Story by Jim Bishop

Visiting Harrisonburg on Friday, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu received a quilt made by two Mennonite sisters, literature on peace and justice by Eastern Mennonite University faculty and news about the role of EMU students and alumni in promoting peace and reconciliation around the world.
At a mid-morning tree-planting ceremony at James Madison University, EMU president Loren Swartzendruber thanked JMU’s Mahatma Gandhi Center for Global Nonviolence for including EMU in welcoming Tutu, who is renowned for championing human rights and global peacemaking.

In brief remarks to Tutu and some 75 others present for the ceremony, Dr. Swartzendruber praised Tutu’s commitment to the cause of peace and reconciliation.

“EMU, in the Christian peace church tradition, is also committed to this cause, believing that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to find peaceful solutions to conflict,” said Swartzendruber.

The Gandhi Center was established in 2005 under JMU professor Sushil Mittal “to promote a culture of nonviolence and peace worldwide based on universal values of justice, equality, freedom,” according to the center’s web site (

The Gandhi Center selected Tutu to be the first recipient of its annual Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award and chose to present the award on the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21.

“We are proud to join with the Gandhi Center in promoting a message of peace and non-violence,” said Swartzendruber. “Thirteen years ago, EMU established what is now known as the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding with an annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute. From three students in two countries – the U.S. and Burma in 1994-95 – our center has grown to have more than 3,000 alumni living and working for peace in more than 103 countries, including 10 peacebuilder graduates in South Africa.”

Swartzendruber presented Archbishop Tutu with a CD of recorded greetings from 24 EMU students and two faculty members who are spending the fall semester in a cross-cultural seminar in South Africa. He also gave the archbishop copies of “Peacebuilder,” the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s semi-annual magazine, and books from the “Little Books on Justice and Peacebuilding” series.

“As a symbol of Mennonite’s strong belief in community,” Swartzendruber presented Tutu with a quilted wall hanging made by sisters Brownie and Gladys Driver, residents of the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community and members of Weavers Mennonite Church.

The archbishop told sisters Brownie and Gladys Driver, “I’ll hang [the piece] in my office so I can look at it and think of you when I am working.”

The tree planting celebrated the establishment of the Gandhi Center. The Anglican archbishop congratulated JMU on “establishing a center that seems a vibrant, lively institution” dedicated to the promotion of peacemaking and nonviolence.

The evening of Sept. 21, Rev. Tutu spoke on “The Power of Goodness” at JMU’s Convocation Center with thousands of people attending, including many students, faculty and staff from EMU. Tutu’s remarks displayed his warmth, humility and disarming sense of humor, as this anecdote shows. While attending a ceremony for a 400-year-old school that was named in his honor in England, “a student came up afterwards and asked me if I was there when the school began.” Tutu chuckled at the recollection, then added this punchline: “A few years later, they changed the name.”

“I hold young people in the highest regard,” Tutu declared. “Many of them have an incredible passion for making this a more caring and sharing world through a most wonderful collaboration with God.”

Swartzendruber, with his wife, Pat, sat at Tutu’s table at the banquet that preceded the convocation program. Present at other tables were executive director Lynn Roth and professor Lisa Schirch of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, among other EMU officials.

The Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir, associated with EMU’s music department, treated the thousands in the crowd to a South African medley, “Freedom is Coming/Siyahamba” and “Abide With Me,” arranged by Celah Pence, an EMU alumna.

Dr. Myron S. Augsburger, EMU president emeritus and member of the board of trustees of the Gandhi Center, and alumnus Ron Yoder offered a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing on Archbishop Tutu at the close of the award ceremony.

Yoder, the chief executive officer of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, is also a member of the Gandhi board of trustees.


Jim Bishop is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press.

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