This is the second in a series of interviews with members of the Root and Branch Network in the United Kingdom.
Today’s interview is with Mark Cuthbert, director of Christian International Peace Service (CHIPS), an organization that focus small-scale development and reconciliation projects that train teams of local people in peacemaking.
These teams, which aim to include people from both sides of the conflict, live together in an attempt to model whole relationships in the midst of high-tension areas and work with the local community to build peace.
CHIPS was founded by Roy Calvocoressi in the late 1960’s in Cyprus where, amongst other projects, they helped Turkish Cypriots return to a village they had abandoned in a predominantly Greek part of the island. Since then they have had projects in India, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, the Philipines, India and England (more on their history page). They are currently working with the Iteso and Karimojong tribes in NE Uganda where they have been since 1991. A team of 13 Ugandans from both tribes live together in the border area between Teso and Karamoja which has seen much violence over several decades. CHIPS encourages resettlement in this border area through agricultural, water, veterinary and community development projects and facilitates cross-border dialogue.
Here’s more from CHIPS director Mark Cuthbert:
Tim: How does CHIPS choose locations to work? How do you go about building relationships with people on the ground?
Mark Cuthbert: CHIPS has always taken a relational approach through various webs of relationships. These were often initially in church circles but have gradually widened to be as inclusive as possible. The Cyprus project started with Roy going out there and feeling grabbed by the place and the people he’d befriended – the birth of CHIPS came out of a desire to respond to the relationships he’d built there. The Uganda project started through links with the Bishops of Karamoja and Teso. The process is organic – It varies from place to place.
Tim: As word about CHIPS has spread, how have people in the UK responded to CHIPS? How has it affected people lives? How has it affected the way people do church? Has it become a church?
CHIPS has received very mixed reactions. Some people don’t really get it. Because we straddle the world of ‘development’ and ‘peace building’ it is quite hard for people to pigeonhole us at a first glance. Once people delve a bit deeper into what we are about they are often quite taken with it. People like the practical and grassroots approach and the value for money because many NGOs are perceived to throw money around on flash field offices and vehicles etc, something that CHIPS tries to avoid.
Through the programme of ‘training in peacemaking’ that ran for several years there are many testimonies of how the basic ideas of peacemaking can be applied to daily life. Peacemaking, in the biblical sense, is not just for specialists but also for anyone as an approach to life in general. More recently we’ve started the CHIPS fellowship (http://www.chipspeace.org/node/116, http://www.chipspeace.org/news/061120) – I would say it is certainly an expression of church to some extent—depends what you mean by church I guess!
How did CHIPS peacemaking theology form? Do Anabaptist values interact with/influence/inform CHIPS?
CHIPS is very ecumenical so people bring their own spin with them. In terms of core ideas/values these have largely been driven by CHIPS Founder Roy Calvocoressi based on years of biblical reflection and seeing how things work in practice. Yet these central tenents have never been in the form of a metanarrative but rather they have been focused on the practical outworkings of biblical principles.
Since I’ve been connected with the Anabaptist side of things it is probably becoming more influential as it is a stronger part of my outlook than it was for Roy. I feel there is tension between strongly advocating a particular theology and the task of a peacemaker which is to reconcile rather than divide – to approach relationships seeking mutual transformation seems better than holding any view dogmatically – even an absolute commitment to non-violence. So CHIPS has shied away from ‘statements of faith’ or defining ‘core values’ too closely but has a set of working principles that are evident in our work and evolve over time.
What has the Root and Branch network meant for CHIPS? How has it benefited from connections with other Root and Branch organizations?
Although I haven’t made it many meetings, R&B has produced some excellent contacts on a personal and practical level. For us these have been most fruitfully with Peacechurch, Ekklesia and the London Mennonite Centre so far but I see loads of ways of mutually beneficial inspiration and interaction.
What hopes and dreams do you have for CHIPS? For the Root and Branch network? What challenges?
I hope that we would continue to find opportunities where our passions and skills can inspire and equip others to work for peace in the contexts they find themselves in. This might mean new projects but also a more diffuse influence in advocating the importance of grassroots peace work. For R&B – I’m excited about the plans for having a shared space at the Greenbelt music festival —beyond that, that it would continue to bring productive synergies I guess. Challenges—funding and personnel as always!
For more on CHIPS, I recommend watching the 8-minute CHIPS film on their website.