A group of almost 40 protesters, including Goshen College students and faculty, gathered in front of the Elkhart County Courthouse on Saturday to hold a vigil for peace amongst rising tensions between the governments of Iran and the U.S. 

“We wanted to do some sort of action that gave people hope that there was something they could do about the situation to increase the chances of peace between the two countries,” Said  Bruce Bishop, a local activist and Goshen College graduate of the class of 1980, who organized the vigil along with Susan Mark Landis, a former Mennonite minister.

Keith Graber Miller, professor of Bible, religion and philosophy, encouraged students to attend the vigil with an announcement in the communicator. 

“Even something as simple as a 45-minute vigil says that what’s out there matters and we care about it,” Graber Miller said. “It works on our own souls and helps us be more conscious and aware.”

The vigil had been planned for early January but was postponed due to dangerous weather. In the weeks since, political action has brought the United States and Iran back from the brink of war, but the vigil still served to remind those present to stay active in the fight for peace.

Snowflakes fell and protesters clung to cups of hot chocolate as Merle Hostetler, pastor of East Goshen Mennonite Church, opened the vigil in prayer. 

Gwen Gustafson-Zook, former campus pastor at Goshen College, spoke first about the importance of fostering cross-cultural friendships. Gustafson-Zook drew on her own experience from a relationship she built with a local Iranian woman who became her friend as they bonded over the struggles and triumphs of motherhood. 

“At one point we even discussed writing a book on parenting together,” she said. “It has often been said when discussing international conflict and war that we all want the same things for our children.” The two friends’ discussion of parenting framed that truth for Gustafson-Zook, she said. 

David Cortright, director of policy at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, spoke next about the history of Iran’s conflict with America and encouraged everyone to stay informed. Cortright reminded those present that Iran wasn’t connected to 9/11, and that although it is a repressive state, it wasn’t a threat to the U.S. 

He also mentioned the Senate war powers resolution, a measure that would require the president to seek congressional approval before taking military action against Iran. Cortright advised constituents to thank Indiana sen. Todd Young, who backed the resolution.

The vigil concluded with a display of signs with olive branches. The protesters also offered pamphlets explaining the protest to passersby.

“Peacemaking is hard work,” the pamphlets read, “but in the long run it provides stability and a better standard of living for everyone.”

The vigil was held in honor of J.R. Burkholder and his wife, Sue Burkholder, who were both advocates for peace. J.R. Burkholder was a GC professor who retired in 1985 after founding Goshen’s Peace Justice and Conflict Studies program. Professor Keith Graber Miller cites him as an important mentor who was very influential in bringing vigils into Mennonite activism.  

If you would like to get involved, weekly peace vigils are held at noon on Wednesdays in front of the Elkhart County Courthouse.