By Tamara Razzano
For most of their lives, Cheryl and Doug Hunt have been peacemakers. From individually serving in the Peace Corps, to long involvement in the Colombia Accompaniment Program, and participating in the Preventing Gun Violence Working Group, they embody what it means to seek, and participate, in peace. They credit Presbyterian Women for introducing them to peace and justice opportunities within the PC(USA).
In 2010, having retired from long teaching careers, Doug and Cheryl signed up for the Discernment Weekend at Stony Point, learning from Linda Eastwood, Rick Ufford-Chase, Anne Barstow, Tom Driver, Alice Winters, and Germán Zárate. Since then, they have devoted themselves to gun violence prevention, climate change and Colombia. In three accompaniments in Colombia and one in Agua Prieta/Douglas, they have cemented profound friendships that continue today. Through the years, the Hunts have returned every year to continue community-building and reconciliation projects in partnership with the Presbiterio de Urabá, First Presbyterian Church of Stockton, David and Joann Gifford and other former accompaniers from across the U.S., and many more peace-making friends. These projects include three clean water systems (with Living Water World Missions and our Colombian Coordinator, Irlene Doria), bakeries and other cottage industries, youth activities, planting hundreds of trees, reconciliation events with ex-armed groups, and humanitarian aid and pastoral support during the COVID pandemic.
However, this isn’t what they want you to know. Cheryl and Doug are modest, thoughtful, introspective, and peaceful. And they are clear that the award should not be about them but rather the people who have changed their lives through these experiences. Those with whom they have journeyed have instilled the importance of reimagining a new world by responding in non- violent ways. Violence is sadly a part of life for so many people; how do we respond differently?
As we spent time in conversation, they told me story after story about pastors and people giving all they had to help one another in situations where “the people know they need each other to survive and they must rely on each other.” Multiple times during the pandemic, under severely restricted lock-downs, Reverendo Diego Higuita, a pastor in Urabá who has become a trusted friend, has sent photos of the faith leaders risking their own health and well-being to distribute food, medicines, clothing, and other necessities to families across Urabá while at the same time bringing healing words for the great grief and trauma congregations are facing. Doug and Cheryl share about the faith of their friends there, living in constant danger by standing up for human rights. This self-giving direct action is a model for the Hunts in all the issues that they work on.
When asked about gun violence prevention, Doug and Cheryl shared that they live in Stockton, California, the site of the first school mass shooting. In January 1989, a gunman with an automatic assault rifle murdered five Asian-American students and wounded 32 others, including a teacher, at Cleveland Elementary School in their neighborhood. They have been involved for years in advocating against gun violence. They supported the 20th anniversary memorial for the Cleveland School Shooting, Cleveland Remembers, in 2019. Cheryl has developed a workshop on gun violence prevention for use by local Presbyterian Women’s groups and they travelled to St. Louis in 2018 to testify about gun violence prevention at the PCUSA General Assembly. They are also members of the Peace Fellowship’s Gun Violence Prevention Working Group, inspired and challenged by Margery, Jan, Deanna, Lois, Scott, Simon and Abby others across the PCUSA.
Throughout the conversation, what is most apparent is their love of others and their commitment to generous listening, building relationships, and responding to the world around them by practicing peace; peace-filled words, actions, and policy. As Doug says, it is about relationships: “I operate on a personal basis, one on one, and it takes time to build relationships,” which is what brings joy to him. “It isn’t the feedback of a group but the life-changing individual relationships that lead us back to reimagining a new world; the one in which Jesus called us.”
What is most important to Doug and Cheryl is telling the stories of the relationships built when we walk with people as Jesus did. Those relationships change. Through their work on the difficult issues of gun violence and accompaniment, they became partners, and now they are cherished friends. As Cheryl says, “Begin with thankfulness. Isn’t that the same as saying, ‘To God be the Glory?’” A great gift for Cheryl and Doug is that their sons have committed to sustain their projects. And when asked why they are investing so much time and treasure during retirement on these challenging experiences, they reply, “We want our grandchildren and all children to thrive in a more peace-filled world.”
As people of faith who resist violence, whether from guns or from governments, Douglas and Cheryl Hunt live by the words of their friend, Reverendo Diego, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia: “We have a saying here in Urabá—our only security is in our God.”
To learn more about these organizations, which mean so much to them, click on the links above. To register for and contribute to the virtual Barstow-Driver Award event on September 1, visit this page.