By Jessica Griggs, originally published by Mennonite Church USA and available here
ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA) — Mennonite Church USA Executive Board has named two peacemakers, Jonathan Kuttab and Sydney Leah Bontrager, as the 2023 Bring The Peace award winners. The denomination gives the award to a Legacy Peacemaker and a Young Peacemaker each year. A Legacy Peacemaker is someone who has devoted their life to peace and justice work, whereas a Young Peacemaker is a young adult or teenager who has just begun their peacemaking journey, but who has already made a large impact. The award is sponsored by MC USA’s Church Peace Tax Fund.
Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, MC USA’s denominational minister for peace and justice, said, “The Bring The Peace award is a tangible way to support the church’s peace mission and recognize the work of denominational peacemakers who are actively engaged in promoting peace in their congregations and communities.”
The MC USA Peace and Justice department receives Bring The Peace award nominations from across the denomination. MC USA staff and conference ministers — or someone they designate — then choose the winner by popular vote.
Legacy Peacemaker: Jonathan Kuttab
Jonathan Kuttab was raised in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Kuttab is an international human rights attorney and is a member of the Bar Association in Palestine, Israel and New York. He has represented Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams (now Community Peacemaker Teams) in Palestine and was the head of the Legal Committee that negotiated the Cairo Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1994.
Kuttab has also been involved in the leadership of several Palestine-Israeli human rights groups, such as Al-Haq, Nonviolence International, MennoPIN, Friends of Sabeel North American, Holy Land Trust and Bethlehem Bible College. He worships at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster (Pennsylvania).
He represents people and groups from various religious and secular backgrounds, and emphasizes universal principles that offer alternatives to violence across political, social and religious divides.
“Working for peace and justice allows me to combine my faith commitment with my burning desire to do something about the oppression and struggle of my people in Palestine,” said Kuttab. “It allows me to care not only for my ‘tribe’ but also its enemies.”
Young Peacemaker: Sydney Leah Bontrager
Sydney Leah Bontrager, a 2023 Hesston College graduate, began her peace and justice work earlier this year, when she learned about the plight of the people of Myanmar, a country she said she didn’t even know existed before she went to college. Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has been under military rule for most of the past six decades, with the most recent takeover beginning in 2021. This regime has led to severe government-sanctioned violence — including burning people alive and razing entire villages — widespread poverty, an absence of basic resources and a lack of overall safety.
With the help of one of her professors, Michele Hershberger, Bontrager set out to raise money to help provide necessary resources for villages and an orphanage in Myanmar. Bontrager said the difficulty in raising money for Myanmar is that there are no organizations to send the money to, because it is too dangerous for anyone to enter the country with humanitarian aid. Hershberger has a contact who is already in Myanmar, though, so Bontrager just needed to raise money, and Hershberger could send it. In January, Bontrager took this need to her congregation, Bellwood Mennonite Church in Milford, Nebraska, and the church raised over $14,000 in the first two weeks. To date, Bellwood Mennonite has raised over $16,000 to help feed the Burmese people and support the orphanage.
The orphanage Bontrager raises funds for, which serves children who live in the local trash dump, is planning to buy their own land to build a more suitable building in which the children can receive care and education.
“It is a great opportunity to win this award! I hope it will bring more attention to what is happening in Myanmar and possibly generate more donations,” Bontrager said, upon receiving the award. “I’m very grateful for my church and their willingness to help out! I know Jesus helped people whenever he could, and I believe we should help others, like Jesus did.”
Donating to the MC USA’s Church Peace Tax Fund is one way for constituents to join with MC USA in peacebuilding. The Church Peace Tax Fund:
- Provides funding for educational programs that address militarism and promote living out ways of peace.
- Allocates a $300 annual grant to a Mennonite youth (16-25 years old) who is actively engaged in resisting war and promoting peace in their congregation and community.
- Annually recognizes a faith leader in MC USA who has committed to resisting war and promoting peace.
- Provides grant opportunities to support war tax resisters, through already established alternative funds.
To donate to the Church Peace Tax Fund, visit the MC USA Bring The Peace giving page and write “Church Peace Tax Fund” in the Note field. Alternatively, donors may write a check, payable to Mennonite Church USA and send it to 718 N. Main St., Newton, KS 67114. Please designate “Church Peace Tax Fund” in the memo line.
MC USA’s Bring The Peace initiative calls individuals and congregations to extend peace in their communities. It is also a prayer, inviting God to bring the peace that expands our capacity for empathy, compassion and love and that actively seeks to dismantle oppression and violence.
For more information on MC USA’s peacebuilding efforts, click here.
Mennonite Church USA is an Anabaptist Christian denomination, founded in 2002, and a recognized peace church. Members seek to follow Jesus by rejecting violence and resisting injustice. MC USA’s Renewed Commitments state the following shared commitments among its diverse body of believers: to follow Jesus, witness to God’s peace and experience the transformation of the Holy Spirit. MC USA is comprised of 15 area conferences and more than 470 congregations across the United States. MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 60 countries. Mennoniteusa.org