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Yakima church plants thoughts, prayers with peace pole

To plant thoughts of peace in Yakima, Englewood Christian Church planted a peace pole this fall beside its front entrance.

Putting up the pole was the easy part.  The challenge is for the congregation and community to start thinking about and living the message of peace, letting it impact their lives, shape their programs and ministry.

Peace pole in Yakima
Englewood Christian Church dedicates peace pole in front lawn.

Peace is the core of “who we are called to be as people of faith living in relationship with God, ourselves, our families, our communities and our world,” said the pastor, the Rev. David Helseth.  “We are all children of God, called to love each other despite different views theologically.”

“That message is counter-cultural,” he said.  “The Gospel calls us to live in the world in a different way, to live boldly and tell the community what we believe.”

He hopes it will be a reminder to pray for peace, a visible teaching tool to the community and a reminder to the congregation that they are followers of the Prince of Peace, not just at Christmas, but all year.

Six of 11 languages on a 10-foot peace pole tell people of the nationalities and cultures in the Yakima Valley that this congregation seeks to promote peace. 

Those languages are Sahaptin of the Yakama people, Japanese, Tagalog (Philippines), Korean, Spanish and English.

Three languages—Hebrew, Greek and Arabic—communicate the need for Jews, Christians, Muslims and all faiths to join them in standing for peace.  Two of the languages are those spoken in countries where missionaries from the congregation once served—Lingala, spoken in the Congo, and Thai.

The message in all the languages attached to the pole on plaques is the same:  “May peace prevail on earth.”

peace pole
Peace pole includes 11 languages.

David heard about peace poles 15 years ago while attending a doctor of ministry program at Claremont.

After Sept. 11, the Yakima Association of Churches began talking about putting a large pole downtown, but nothing was happening, he said.

Following the 2006 camp curriculum, he helped junior campers at Zephyr Camp and Conference Center prepare and plant a 10-foot peace pole near the lodge.  They used Hebrew, Greek and English, leaving space for other camps to add other languages.  The camp board approved the pole, because it would bear witness that the camp is a place to pray for peace.

Just over a year ago, an elder at Englewood Christian Church became interested.

Members Matt and Holli Christensen offered to cut a 70-year-old western red cedar tree on their property in North Idaho to make the pole. 

They cut a tree last winter and let it dry naturally outdoors.  They cut it into a 14-foot log, which they transported with a pickup truck and long trailer to Yakima, where they stripped the bark.

The church’s elders ordered plaques with the languages online from the Peace Pole Project in Michigan at peacepoles.org.  They spent $350 for the project.

On Saturday, Oct. 22, Englewood Christian members planted the pole four feet deep in the ground with 10 feet above ground.  At noon on Sunday, they and 30 members of the community dedicated it.

Community representatives from the Yakima Interfaith Coalition, Temple Shalom, the Islamic center and the Hispanic community came and shared in a litany.

Speaking on the purpose of the peace pole at the dedication, Alaya Sowder, a member, said, “Each pole is a statement to counter the terrible violence that hurts and destroys lives whether in war or within our own families. 

“This pole is a statement that we envision a world without war, ethnic cleansing and terrorism.  It is a statement that we wish to promote and pursue non-violent solutions to conflict—marital, racial or international.

“The peace pole is also a statement that as a Christian congregation, we believe that Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, and to follow Jesus’ teaching will lead us to live in peaceful relationships with all sisters and brothers,” she said, recognizing that the road to peace is difficult.  “The prayer for peace on earth transcends all nationalities, religions, faith expressions and cultures.  We are united by our being created in the image of the one God and by our living on this one planet.”

“In years to come, we hope it will spur conversation and education,” said David, who has served at Englewood for 21 years.

The Peace Pole Project was started in 1955 through the World Peace Prayer Society, a nonprofit, non-denominational organization.  The goal was to “uplift humankind toward harmony rather than conflict,” based on the belief that “war begins with thoughts of war” and “peace begins with thoughts of peace.”

Since then about 200,000 peace poles have been set up in more than 180 countries on every continent as an ongoing visual reminder for people to pray for and gather to talk about peace.

He said that people often order four-by-four-inch posts with four or eight languages on them.

Englewood also gave children two-by-two-inch, two-foot wood poles to write “may peace prevail on earth” in four languages to take home.

To educate people, David has preached about the peace pole and the call for people to live together in the diverse world in different faith traditions by listening to and understanding each other.

“Jesus as the Prince of Peace calls us to live in peace,” he said.  “That leads  us to ask about what our witness is in relationship to the war in Iraq.

“We love our country, but we are also concerned about peace for all people,” he said.

David hopes the church’s peace pole will be the first of other peace poles in Yakima.  The Yakima Association of Churches has resumed conversations.

David grew up in Clarkston and Chelan where his father served as a Christian Church pastor.  After completing studies at Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Ore., in 1970, he served as an associate minister in Idaho before going to Phillips Seminary in Oklahoma, where he graduated in 1975.  He served two churches for 12 years before moving to Yakima.

 “With all the turmoil in the world, God calls us to take a stand for peace.  It’s time for us as Christians to be visible about it,” he said.  “Peace is living in holistic relationship with God, recognizing that all human beings are children of God and that God’s desire and intent is for us to live in relationship with one another in ways that will lead to peace. 

“It’s possible only with God’s help.  To live a faithful journey is not easy,” David said. 

“We have to confront power.  It can be costly to live and think in ways that are different from our society, media and national pride,” he said.  “Our human tendency to protect and defend ourselves is counterproductive to peace.”

To have pride in country and try to do what God calls us to do “may mean we live in tension,” he continued.  “If we take Christian faith seriously, we will raise questions.”

As tangible ways to promote peace and foster understanding, David seeks to increase dialogue with the Jewish and Islamic communities in Yakima.

He believes it is important to break down enemy images that imply all Muslims are out to destroy the United States. 

David cautions that it is important to realize that media focus on the extremists rather than those who seek dialogue and communication. 

He also encourages dialogue and communication to address racism against Hispanics in the area, to dispel fears arising from partial information.

A few voices make immigration a hot-button issue rather than understanding why they come and how they add to the U.S. economy, he commented.

For David, peace is local as well as global.

For information, call 966-6550 or contact dhelseth@englegwoodchristianchurch.com