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Peacemaking through Billboards

By Karin Fehderau

What the two men heard there lit a fire in their hearts and offered much food for thought.

Emmaus Mennonite, a small congregation in the tiny town of Wymark, Sask., has joined the movement of encouraging peace in the province with a highway sign.

Members of Emmaus say they began considering the idea of erecting a peace billboard in 2008 after Pastor Ray Friesen, together with member Marvin Wiens, attended the Mennonite Church Canada assembly in Winnipeg, Man. What the two men heard there lit a fire in their hearts and offered much food for thought.

Peace billboardIt was difficult to get things moving at first. Both were busy with work and neither had a lot of time to devote to the project, which involved a lot of red tape. But they continued to work at it. The path to making their dream a reality put them in contact with the landowners where the sign was to go, the municipality, the Hamlet of Wymark, and the provincial highways department.

Getting all the documents signed wasn't the biggest hurdle they faced, Friesen says. The problems came with government parameters about the words on the sign. Initially the government told them that highway signs are not supposed to include a social message. It was felt the peace message fell into that category. The words on the sign say, "Imagine peace. It is possible."

After their request was turned down once, Friesen noticed other highway signs with social messages, including one inviting people to join a union. When he pointed this out in a second letter sent to their provincial Member of the Legislative Assembly, the highways minister and the premier, officials reconsidered.

Municipal permission was then required to erect the sign where the church wanted. That also meant that other signs could be installed in the same area, but the landowners did not give permission for other signs to be erected on their land that borders Highway 4. "The landowners only wanted the Emmaus sign [on their land]," observes the pastor.

The sign, which measures 2.5 metres by 5 metres, cost close to $3,000 and was erected late last November.

Friesen readily admits that the decision to erect the sign holds an element of risk. "This now holds us accountable," he says.

One man in the community has apparently responded to the sign with anger, reportedly saying, "The only way to peace is to fight for it."

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by Karin Fehderau, Appeared originally in Canadian Mennonite, Feb. 21, 2011. Used by permission.


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