Each summer, on a few acres of red Georgia clay, we learn just how incarnational the act of peacemaking really can be. Our church-farm dedicates two weeks to Peace and Carrots Camp, a program focused around peacemaking, reconciliation and creation care. We don’t need to look far beyond the property lines of our urban farm, located in Atlanta’s 5th District, to find examples of peacemakers and those who have spent their lives doing the work of racial reconciliation. But what we find particularly stimulating are the opportunities to show children how to experience and enact peace through care of creation.
When we talk to them about making peace, we feature a “Peacemaker of the Day,”someone who has been a voice for peace in the past or present. The children learn about people and organizations like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, The Heifer Project, and St. Francis of Assisi.There is also a sweet joy in bringing them people who can share with them, in person, stories of ways to make peace in a world that so badly needs it. Children learn that they, too, can can be a “Peacemaker of the Day” in their own neighborhood and school, on their streets and teams.
Of course, the tricky part is that we cannot begin to discuss making peace with children ages 6 to 12 (or anyone else) until we also talk to them about conflict. The children in our small ministry are not strangers to the conflict of this world. We serve children who experience homelessness, refugees, undocumented children, and just those who are hurting like the rest of us. They understand racism and poverty, isolation and marginalization, privilege and pride. Our dialogue wraps around “What do we do when…” each of us bears witness to the ugly conflict, while striving to make peace.
Believe it or not, this is where creation care becomes our catalyst for reflection and change.
Our small farm keeps chickens, goats, sheep, and a pig. Groups of children comprise “farm families” that make rounds caring for the animals during the day. We have found the day hasn’t really begun well until the children have cared for the animals. They will tolerate opening circle and even participate joyfully in singing and games, but they really just want to care for the animals.
When we return from our Farm Rounds, we ask a simple question that speaks volumes. The answers never fail to teach everyone more about the simple intricacies of peace. We ask: Where have you seen peace on the farm today? One day, an answer forever helped me understand our role as co-creators, and caretakers of this world.
In a small voice, a girl answered, “I saw peace today when we were trying to get the chickens back in the pens. Remember when we made a big line and tried to force them back in? But then they would run? It felt like the chickens were playing a game with us. With all of us! It felt like peace to me.”
I believe the chickens helped us understand peace on that day because there was collaborative play with creation. The children recognized the skill and speed of the chickens as they, time after time, escaped their traps. And perhaps the chickens played along because they knew these same children would be back to care for them again.
The children also felt a peace among one another as they performed cooperative problem solving in a way that allowed every member to contribute in a meaningful way. Using imagination and flexibility, they became a community unified in purpose and hope – even if it was only to capture a few stray chickens.
And on the farm that day, peace was seen. There was love one for the other. And there were chickens helping us along the way.