Many of the world’s most influential peacemakers will never be celebrated in a book or special online profile—so we all need to raise our awareness of these important men and women who are shaping individual lives and entire communities every day. Recently, I profiled my friend Father Bob Braconnier, who has taught me—and many others—a great deal about peacemaking yet is relatively unknown nationwide. Today, I am pleased to share a profile written by my friend Tarris “Terry” Rosell—about his son Nehemiah. Terry is a peacemaker himself and also a highly regarded expert on biomedical ethics at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
As a child, he looked to his father for instruction. In young adulthood, my son is teaching me. This is not exactly what the prophet Isaiah had in mind when describing his vision for a peaceful future and a child’s leading role in it (Isaiah 11:6); yet I find a corollary in my own experience of learning peace from an adult child.
Nehemiah was aptly named 27 years ago. Indeed, like the Jewish leader in the Hebrew Bible, he too is a builder, even while still relatively young. Partly, he leads by building community, living for the past several years in establishments of the Catholic Worker Movement. What Nehemiah aims to build also is peace–within himself, in families, neighborhoods, nations, world. Already, he is a role model for others, including me.
Nehemiah’s passionate commitment to learn and do peace-building blossomed while co-creating an intentional community with peers at Truman State University in northeast Missouri. Subsequent studies and service took him from the Mennonite-related Reba Place Fellowship in north Chicago to Catholic Worker Su Casa in south Chicago. He learned peaceful ways of farming in community with rural Mennonites of Plow Creek Farm in central Illinois.
Nehemiah spent a short time in Detroit learning nonviolent biblical strategies for conflict transformation. He studied there with American Baptist missionary activists and trainers Dan and Sharon Buttry. He later served alongside them as a trainer for the Kenya Peace Initiative, a project carried out in collaboration with indigenous peace workers trying to prevent post-election violence in the Rift Valley.
While backpacking alone through Europe afterward, Nehemiah had opportunity for several weeks to learn from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist guru and author of Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. At Plum Village, in central France, peace is a way of life. Mindfulness is taught and practiced. Nehemiah obviously was paying attention.
Before returning home, he visited the monks of a Benedictine abbey in the forests of Hungary. Those who follow the Rule of St. Benedict teach mendicants that discipline and work, interspersed with psalms and singing, are ways of living together in peace.
For the past two years, Nehemiah has been applying lessons learned by living and working at Holy Family House, a Catholic Worker community located in a low income, high crime area of Kansas City. Meals are prepared daily with neighbors and guests, often seventy or more. He and housemate Mark have offered sanctuary to displaced families and vulnerable persons with mental illness. They do urban gardening and raise chickens in the city. Summer heat is endured without air conditioning, and winter months survived despite keeping the thermostat set low. Carbon fuels are used minimally for transportation, with bicycling the norm. Earth-friendly practices are seen as a means of living peace and not seeking it only.
In conjunction with a Masters of Social Work program, Nehemiah volunteers many hours each week with Jewish Vocational Services. He assists mostly Southeast Asian refugees who have escaped inter-tribal and civil wars. They have come to the United States seeking peace and security for themselves and their children. Those offered help by JVS workers might be Muslim or Christian, Buddhist or without religious faith whatsoever. The common factor is humanity and the need to live together in peace.
Nehemiah builds peace-seeking initiatives with other community activists, engaging sometimes in acts of civil disobedience, resulting once thus far in arrest. He serves as webmaster for PeaceWorks Kansas City, and drafts thoughtful essays for a newsletter read by people who dare to envision a world that lives peace.
His father, meanwhile, is respectfully, admiringly, observant—watching, listening, reading, and paying attention. The elder now takes lessons from a son. I too am learning to envision and enact better ways of living peace.
And a child shall lead.
For more peacemakers
This website is inspired by three books written by Daniel Buttry. Check out his book series on peacemakers, crossing boundaries of religion, ethnicity, and culture.