Struggling Tenderly With Her Fears

"I'm not choosing death; I'm choosing life, the call to be free," says Peggy Gish.

BY: Deborah Caldwell

 
In her room at the Al-Daar Hotel, Peggy Gish had watched the sun set. It was 7:30 p.m. Monday evening in Baghdad (11:30 a.m. EST), and the Christian Peacemaker Team awaited the night's bombing.

"I have to admit it's been up and down as far as my emotions go," said Gish, 60, a farmer and conflict management consultant from Athens, Ohio. "We've all been shaken, and when the air raid siren goes off it stirs fear. But most of the fear I've felt, honestly, is for the Iraqi people more than myself. I can visualize families of people whose homes are being destroyed."

Gish, who spoke in a quiet-almost serene-voice, said her most difficult struggle has been missing her family, and accepting the idea that she may not see them again. She is married and has three grown sons and three granddaughters. "I love them very dearly," she said.

"I've had to tenderly struggle with those feelings, accept them and put them before God, in God's hands," Gish said. "Not to focus on my risking death, or focus on my taking a chance dying, but focus in the sense that I want to follow the lead I'm given by God. I'm not choosing death; I'm choosing life, the call to be free."

Gish has been in Baghdad since last October, working as a peace activist and helping out in hospitals and orphanages. She is a member of the Church of the Brethren, one of the historic "peace churches" in America. Her reason for remaining revolves around her Christian faith, particularly Jesus' exhortation to "love your enemies," Gish said. She is also influenced by Jesus' death on the cross. "He allowed himself to be killed and did not run away," she said. "I want to follow Jesus as much as possible."

But why the need to follow Jesus in such a life-threatening way?

"I came over here feeling that this is a place, a time right now, a critical time to try to demonstrate what Jesus was all about and that these people are really our friends, not our enemies," Gish said. "It's a very important witness for Christians right now. The revenge and propaganda of hate going on in our country, is the wrong way of relating to people."

Gish said she's been surprised by her overriding feeling since the war started. Instead of feeling fear, she feels grief. "We've worked so hard, and I've been here since the end of October and have felt the love of so many people here. It's so hard to see the war come."

Meanwhile, the team has been "overwhelmed by the graciousness, the love we've been shown by the Iraqi people. I have experienced more love and forgiveness from Muslim Iraqis than from many of the churches in the United States."

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