MC USA and RAWtools both seek to #BringThePeace through restorative justice. The organizations are partnering through RAWtools’ guns-to-garden-tools program and MC USA’s Justice Fund.
By Jessica Griggs for MC USA
Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) has partnered with RAWtools, Inc., an organization that transforms donated guns into garden tools and art. This collaboration encourages local MC USA congregations to engage in costly peacemaking, by holding gun donation events in their local communities. In January, Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church and First Mennonite Church of Denver (Colorado) were the first two MC USA congregations to participate in the collaboration by hosting local residents at their church and helping to them disable their donated firearms.
“Even though we haven’t had an official relationship with RAWtools, we’ve always affirmed their restorative work in addressing gun violence as followers of Jesus,” said Sue Park-Hur, denominational minister for Transformative Peacemaking. “It just felt like a natural partnership that was already there that we made more official.”
RAWtools is a Passion Ministry of the Mountain States Mennonite Conference that began eight years ago in response to gun violence, with a vision born from the prophecies in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (NIV). Michael Martin, founder and executive director of RAWtools and co-author of Beating Guns: Hope for People who are Weary of Violence, is licensed for the specialized ministry of RAWtools by Mountain States Mennonite Conference.
Martin said that his Anabaptist roots and desire for “a creative and life-giving path forward that offers restoration” from gun violence led to him founding RAWtools. He said, “Publicly turning a gun into a garden tool is a great visual to invite communities to alternative tools and solutions for conflict resolution.”
Park-Hur said, “We can do more, especially as a historic peace church, to be a present and prophetic witness.” And this collaboration is one way that MC USA is striving to be that witness. “As Mennonites, we have made statements against gun violence, and yet, the culture of United States can make talking about gun violence difficult, even in our own churches,” she said. “This collaboration is an opportunity and an invitation for churches to become more bold in their peace witness to their communities.”
Over the last eight years, several MC USA congregations have participated with RAWtools through the Disarming Network, but the collaboration has strengthened the relationship between the two organizations.
When a gun is donated through an MC USA congregation, the gun is disabled onsite by trained volunteers. The barrel of the gun is sent to the RAWtools facility in Colorado to be made into a garden tool, which is then returned to the original gun owner. And the remainder of the gun is made into art, either by local artists or by RAWtools. This art is then sold at auction, with all proceeds returning to MC USA’s Justice Fund.
Both MC USA and RAWtools desire to #BringThePeace by encouraging individuals and congregations to be vocal about their desire to create tools of restoration from tools of violence, through gun donations and restorative justice practices.
There are several ways to become involved in the work of this collaboration:
- Congregations, individuals and organizations can become part of the Disarming Network as an MC USA partner and hold gun donation events or lend tools and knowledge to help others disable their guns.
- Individuals can donate their own guns.
- Artists can work with local congregations in the Disarming Network and local art collectives or makerspaces to create art out of the leftover gun parts, which will be sold at auction for the Justice Fund.
- Police departments can donate confiscated guns through the Disarming Network.
- Congregations and individuals can use restorative justice tools for conflict resolution.
Mountain States Mennonite Conference and RAWtools are scheduled to hold a Gun Violence Round Table June 25-27 in the Denver, Colorado, area. RAWtools also plans to have a booth in the exhibition hall at MennoCon21.
RAWtools has been turning guns into garden tools, training for war no more, and creating systems that cultivate life since 2013. RAWtools’ mission to “Disarm Hearts and Forge Peace” is rooted in restorative justice with a national disarming network that helps disable guns to be made into garden tools and other lovely things — all to support and move communities toward a vision of the vine and fig tree. RAWtools is a Passion Ministry of Mountain States Mennonite Conference of MC USA.
Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 530 congregations and 62,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 58 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org
Gun donations inspire change in churches, communities
By Jessica Griggs for Mennonite Church USA
The collaboration between Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) and RAWtools, Inc. has brought new life to congregations and communities, according to the pastors of two MC USA churches.
“This is more than just activism. This is discipleship,” said Joel Shenk, pastor of Toledo (Ohio) Mennonite Church, of the movement to turn guns into gardening tools.
He and his congregation have been involved with RAWtools since 2016. Shenk said the community impact is difficult to measure, but the congregation’s involvement with RAWtools has drawn attention.
For the congregation’s first gun donation event, Shenk partnered with a local blacksmith, who provided his equipment for the event. “Since that time, he and I have collaborated on four other demonstrations, and we even taught a five-session class to youth and young adults. We taught the basics of blacksmithing and integrated peacemaking concepts along the way,” he said.
The local police chief and juvenile court judge have also shown their support, with the judge even bringing some youth with gun charges to one of their events. “It opened their minds,” Shenk said.
Shenk instills the value of this work into his congregation. He said, “It has given a vision and mission to our church in a fresh way. I try to connect it explicitly to discipleship. We ourselves are tools being forged into instruments fit for the kingdom. The crucible of the forge and anvil is a metaphor for our own spiritual growth into Christlikeness.”
Claudia Aguilar Rubalcava, pastor of First Mennonite Church Denver (Colorado), and her congregation also provided their space for gun donations this January, and they plan to hold more, bigger events in the future.
Aguilar Rubalcava said, “When you are dismantling a gun in public, sparks fly — literally, and they catch people’s attention. My hope is that, once we can gather in groups, we make a big deal out of it, and we can invite people from the community to witness this powerful experience.”
She sees this work as part of the Christian’s responsibility, saying: “RAWtools shows us that peace means dismantling the tools and systems of evil in literal and figurative ways, even if that means discomfort and confrontation. That is what we have been called to do as Christians.”
She said, “This work’s impact is hard to measure. How do you measure the impact dismantling a gun has on the guy who lost a spouse to suicide? How do you measure the impact it has on the faithful gun owner that lost a friend to gun violence? Or the impact it has on the grandparents of a child who shot himself by accident and died? I think it reaches beyond our wildest dreams. Those of us who have been there as a weapon is cut in half will tell the story to many. And those many will tell it to others. That’s how change happens.”