Max Erdinger, a farmer’s son from the countryside in the USA. He is a Mennonite, and therefore no soldier. When the Vietnam war started, he went to Africa to do alternative service, and he spent a few years in Congo in humanitarian service. From there he went to Vietnam and stayed there during the war, from 1971-76, still not a soldier. During all the years after the war in Vietnam was over, Max continued to travel all over Asia, spending years in different countries, working for peace and reconciliation. I met him in Penang and he gave a very impressive key note speech to the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCA’s General Assembly on Interfaith Dialogue and School of Peace. His speech was accompanied by a multitude of images and photos, altogether telling a fascinating story that peace is possible, that people of different faiths and backgrounds can learn to understand and live to love one another. Max is my new friend, and he gave a brilliant message of hope. When I met him first time, I felt he would blend perfectly in at a country festival in Idaho.
Max works on a project together with Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY) and he told stories about people getting their lives changed through the Interfaith Dialogue and School of Peace.
A School of Peace lasts for 3 months and it is a small group of young people from different religious and cultural backgrounds living together in a centre somewhere in Bangalore, India.
Halima Abdullah is a young Muslim woman from the Philippines and she had been to a School of Peace with Max and his colleagues. She told me how annoyed she was during the first week. She was absolutely tired of the Buddhist boys and the Hindu girls and all these Christian youth, even tribal youth representing an indigenous minority in her own country. She was not the only one to be disturbed by all this diversity, and several of the young people advised Max to shorten the stay, so that they could conclude the course after three weeks. Max was firm with them and said that the School of peace lasted for three months, not a day less.
-After three months, said Halima, we had all become human beings and we urged Max to give us six months, not only three. Before I had been settled in my Muslim perspectives and paid no interest to anybody else, not the least to the indigenous, marginalized people of my country. During the School of Peace we stayed for two weeks with the poor, tribal people and learnt a lot from them. Before I was just convinced that my faith is the only right faith. Now we work together with people of different faiths and backgrounds and slowly we learn that our conflicts are not religious conflicts, they are unjust conflicts where religions are abused! We want to become one community where we can live in peace with one another.
Max told me another story of a changed life. A young refugee in a huge refugee camp in one Asian country came as a participant in the School of Peace. He gave an immature impression, constantly played on his guitar and wanted to go to the USA and become a rock star. He was not good at writing essays and reports, and the 19 year old somehow stumbled away during the course. At the end of the course all participants had to make a report on their experiences and learning. The young rock star came with his guitar and played “Pray for the peace of humanity.” He played it 4 times. The first time it was simple music, stumbling, insecure. The second time with more confidence. The last time he played classical guitar so virtuously that the rest of the group was just staring at him. He said a few words. He wanted to tell them through his music what had happened with him during the three months of the School of Peace. He returned to the refugee camp. He gave up the dream of going to the USA and becoming a rock star. In stead he started to organise the other young people in the camp, organizing them out of their hopelessness. Now he is running a youth radio station in the refugee camp.