Three Bethel students, covering a variety of topics, presented their talks in the C. Henry Smith Peace Oration competition on April 18, with Joshua Coy Dick finishing first.
Freshman Coy Dick from North Newton presented “Moses the Two-World Peacebuilder.”
Coy Dick’s speech will now be listed with first-place speeches from other Anabaptist-affiliated colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, with an overall winner chosen later this summer.
Coy Dick used the biblical character of Moses, “an Israelite who grew up in Pharaoh’s palace”, to “[offer] us a vision of how we can be builders of peace, not by our own will or testimony, but by being a bridge between opposing worlds through our understanding of each other.
Coy Dick, who describes himself as “the son of a Guatemalan Q’eqchi father and an American Mennonite mother”, identifies as “being from two worlds”.
It can be daunting, he said, trying to connect with a community (either one) that he thinks he should belong to but doesn’t quite fit. The “power side” tends not to take him seriously, while the “powerless side” doesn’t quite trust him – and that was Moses’ experience too.
The story of Moses – how the Israelites freed themselves from Egyptian slavery – is a lesson in learning to work and speak with marginalized people, no for them, said Coy Dick, in order to effect real change.
“Moses’ story speaks to my role within Mennonite institutions,” Coy Dick said, “as they struggle to transform their very flawed relationships with Black, Indigenous and other communities of color in the United States. United and in the world which today constitute the majority of their members.
“Moses inspires me, as a person of two worlds, to find meaningful ways in which I can stand with those who are marginalized by the church and also challenge those same Mennonite institutions who may embrace me but who often do not see all that I am and refuse the people I would take with me.
Natalie Graber, a senior graduate from Divide, Colorado, was second in “Peace Begins in Our Hearts: The Ripple Effects of Small-Scale Peace Habits.”
Graber considered different ways to make or build peace, starting with making peace in oneself and with oneself, and moving towards peace within families or between neighbors; peace “in the city”, that is to say its community; and world peace.
Small efforts turn into bigger ones, Graber said.
“We have to relearn how to create peace at all levels in order to have a more peaceful world,” Graber said. “The peace that we seek to have in the world is possible and it is not far from us. In fact, it’s very close.
Finally, John Mark Koontz, a freshman from North Newton, gave the third place talk, “Music and Peacebuilding: Bridging the Gap Between Different Communities.”
“Our role as Christian peacemakers should be to foster environments where we can value and perform the music of other cultures in a way that strengthens those cultures,” Koontz said.
Koontz briefly looked at choral, orchestral and jazz music and how all have been dominated by whites in terms of composers, and who and what are studied and valued in academics, for example.
Koontz also offered ways to be more open and inclusive in the interpretation and study of music.
“There are ways for us to be more inclusive in musical environments,” Koontz said. “All it takes is intentional conversations and people willing to make changes. Christians like me who claim to value peace and justice should start making our music and musical institutions more equitable and just for all.
The Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) holds the annual Bethel Prayer Competition, which is sponsored in the United States and Canada by the Mennonite Central Committee.
The C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Competition is open to all students of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ colleges in Canada and the United States. To be considered for the competition, speeches must apply a theme of peace to a contemporary concern.
Trustees 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 hold individual campus competitions, usually during the spring semester of the academic year, and MCC-selected judges choose the top three speeches from the winners of each campus competition.
Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for its academic excellence, Bethel ranks 15th in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges” and #31 in US News and World Report, Best Regional Colleges in the Midwest, both for 2021-22. Bethel was the only college or university in Kansas selected for the 2021 American Association of Colleges & Universities Institute on Truthfulness, Racial Healing and Transformation, and was named the TRHT Campus Center. For more information see www.bethelks.edu