Bethel’s peace speech winner looks at how to end the ‘environmental war’

Melanie Zuercher
Special to the Kansan

Bethel College has two winners in the annual C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contes — both from Hesston. 

Sheryl Wilson, right, director of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR), presents Bethel College junior Allison Weaver, Hesston, with a cash prize for finishing first in the 2021 C. Henry Smith Peace Oration Contest. Mennonite Central Committee sponsors the annual competition, and KIPCOR coordinates it at Bethel (photo by Doug Lengel).

Allison Weaver, junior from Hesston, placed first with “Our Opponents Can’t Fight Back: Ending the Environmental War.”

Junior Linda Moyo, also from Hesston, was second with “There is Peace in the Midst of Chaos.”

There is a global war in progress, Weaver said, waged by every citizen, “from the tiniest baby to the most powerful politician, [who] are doing [their] best to kill the Earth, and … winning.”

But there is hope of making peace, she continued, if we recognize possibly the greatest environmental threat, loss of habitat, and take steps to curb it.

She suggests starting with a small step, within an individual’s own “sphere of influence.” Even a modest action, such as picking up garbage while on a walk, will overlap with others’ spheres and create bigger change.

People can also “make peace with their pocketbooks” by researching the companies they tend to buy from, looking for ones with solid environmental ethics, such as those that carry the Green Seal.

Finally, she advocates pushing environmental protection policies by making contact with lawmakers to express support for bills and legislation.

“We are not meant to duke it out in a ruthless battle to extinction,” Weaver concluded, “[but] we are called as peacemakers to extend the hand of peace to every fellow organism.”

Going from the global to the personal, Moyo looked at a fact of human life: nothing is without conflict, which can and often does produce a feeling of chaos.

Because Christians have GPS – God’s Positioning System – and because all humans have choice, she said, Christians can make peace by choosing to creatively engage with the conflict and the chaos, and thereby produce something new and positive.  

The Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) organizes the oration contest at Bethel each year, which is sponsored in the United States and Canada by Mennonite Central Committee.

Sheryl Wilson, left, director of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR), presents Bethel College junior Linda Moyo, Hesston, with a cash prize for finishing second in the 2021 C. Henry Smith Peace Oration Contest. Mennonite Central Committee sponsors the annual competition, and KIPCOR coordinates it at Bethel (photo by Doug Lengel).

The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest is open to all students at Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges in Canada and the United States. To be considered for the contest, speeches must apply a peace theme to a contemporary concern.

Directors of the C. Henry Smith Trust established the contest in 1974 in honor of the late Mennonite historian and professor at Goshen (Indiana) College and Bluffton (Ohio) College, now Bluffton University.

Participating colleges host individual campus contests, usually during the spring semester of the academic year, and judges selected by MCC choose the top three speeches from the winners of each campus contest.