Monday, January 23, 2017
Jake HershmanA few months ago, I was able to experience my first climb up the mountainside to the Initiatives of Change conference center in Caux, Switzerland, where I shared ten memorable days with extraordinary people from all over the world. The complexity of our collective backgrounds, the solidarity and deep commitment to improving our world reflected amongst my fellow attendees, the stories of tragedy, resilience and hope, the other-worldly beauty of the surrounding landscape, at times overloaded my senses and mind. I was warned ahead of time that the experience might provoke much within. In fact, my days often ended with me replaying in my mind the stories I had heard, the challenges that were raised, and the many questions that perplexed me. 
 
The one question that has most prominently stuck in my mind since descending from Switzerland's alpine air, is how does IofC USA ensure in 2017, and beyond, that its deep tradition of caring for and accompanying people through the "mountaintop" and "valley" moments of their lives continues to be impactful and sustainable? Our noble spiritual movement is rooted in inspirational standards for personal and societal integrity, which are consistently checked and reinforced within us through the discipline of quieting and listening. Is this enough to say with certitude that we are meeting people where they are? In other words, by proclaiming ourselves to be a movement centered in the "heart of community" we are committing to walk with people in a place that is often one of immense pain, brokenness and loss. Are we sufficiently equipped in skill, spirit and knowledge to help lift these burdens? Is our understanding of the individual and communal wounds, sobered and technical enough to truly grasp the depth and breadth of such need? 
 
Neither our IofC USA team, nor any one organization or ministry, has all the required capacity, perspective and skill to fully understand and respond to such need. We may not even be aware of the manner in which our efforts to facilitate nonviolent change and healing from historical traumas can manifest as secondary trauma in our own lives and organizations. As Father Henri Nouwen boiled it down: "who can take away suffering without entering into it?" 
 
These are complicated dynamics and I'll avoid pretending to have crisp answers in hand for them. What has steadied my mind since Caux has been my reflection on IoC's esteemed tradition of relationship building which has enabled it to establish an extensive and animated web of people and institutions who collectively hold the expertise, will and integrity needed to help us answer many of these questions. It is through these partnerships that we'll be able to continually offer communities something that is creative, exceptional and resilient, while also strengthening the health and sustainability of our own organization.