The Early Years
The journey to founding CJP began in the 1980s, when two men from staunch Mennonite families, John Paul Lederach and Ron Kraybill, became successively the first two leaders of Mennonite Conciliation Service. In 1985, Kraybill organized the service’s first summer training institute for 20 Mennonite attendees. Kraybill’s first hand-outs on how to mediate were printed on cheap blue paper and distributed in a manila folder.
By 1988, his handouts had gradually been enlarged into a spiral-bound manual, with additions from Lederach, David Brubaker (now a CJP faculty member), Jim Stutzman, Carolyn Schrock-Shenk and others. (Brubaker gets the credit for deciding that 40 pages of handouts would work better in a loose-leaf binder.) Contributors to the manuals were all leading trainings on their own, sometimes in conjunction with the Lombard Peace Mennonite Center near Chicago, which had been established by Richard Blackburn in 1984 to address congregational conflict.
In 1989, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) published the first edition of what is now in its 5th edition, updated in 2008 under the title Conflict Transformation and Restorative Justice Manual: Foundations and Skills for Mediation and Facilitation. (The 2000 edition was titled Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual: Foundations and Skills for Constructive Conflict Transformation.)
Equipping Others to Work
In the early 1990s, Kraybill and Lederach began talking about the need to systematically address conflict – particularly the need to prepare others for working in the field – rather than continue the Lone Ranger approach.
Meanwhile at EMU, other field-experienced academics were having similar thoughts. Early in 1990, Joseph Lapp, then president of EMU, received a letter from Richard (“Rick”) Yoder, professor of business and economics. Yoder was on leave from EMU at the time and working in Kenya with the Kenya Rural Enterprise Program.
His letter started by citing the need for Eastern Mennonite College (the “university” title did not come into use until 1994) to have a unique identity, one that would fill a serious gap in the world. “I think that EMC ought to be known as that peace college in Virginia,” wrote Yoder. He told this story to illustrate the need for Mennonite colleges to think seriously about offering peace studies:
I spent a couple days in rural Kenya with a U.S. congressional staffer from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and asked her questions as to how the U.S. is responding to all these, largely non-violent, political and economic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Her response was, ‘We really don’t know what to do; we don’t have the people or the tools to help us think in different paradigms!’ How sad, I thought; what do the Mennonites have to offer?
In mid-1994, Kraybill and Lederach joined Hizkias Assefa, an Ethiopian scholar-peace practitioner based in Kenya, and Vernon Jantzi to teach conflict transformation skills to 40 participants at EMU’s “Frontiers of International Peacebuilding” workshop. The event was successful enough to be repeated in 1995, the same year that EMU admitted its first full class of master’s degree students in conflict transformation within a program directed by Lederach.
Soon after, in 1996, CJP deepened its justice focus by recruiting to its faculty Howard Zehr, an expert in restorative justice.
By 1996, the Frontiers workshop had evolved into a series of intensive classes under a name that has endured to this day – the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, or simply SPI.
In those early years, the Frontiers in International Peacebuilding conferences and SPI were simply opportunities for professional development and learning. But participants and graduate students in CJP began lobbying for SPI to offer the option of taking a course for academic credit. Today, not-for-credit trainees and graduate students share classes at SPI, though the latter must do more out-of-classroom coursework to earn their credits.
In 2014, SPI enrolled a total of 184 people from 36 countries. Over the years, SPI has attracted 2,800 people from 121 countries to EMU’s campus.
Upon his departure to the University of Notre Dame in 1999, Lederach was followed as director by Jantzi, then jointly Howard Zehr and Ruth Zimmerman, then Lynn Roth, and now J. Daryl Byler – all of whom came with extensive international experience in conflict zones.