PPF is honored to announce that the 2020 Peaceseeker is Michelle Muñiz Vega. The Peaceseeker Award has given annually by PPF since the 1960’s to call attention to and celebrate Presbyterians who are making a significant contribution to peace, and Michelle is certainly a significant contribution to peace in Puerto Rico and in the PCUSA.
Michelle is the Disaster Recovery Coordinator in the Presbytery of San Juan, leading delegations of Presbyterians who travel to Puerto Rico for recovery efforts and learning after Hurricane Maria. Michelle serves as an integral part of a network of people and groups in Puerto Rico working to recover and rebuild in Puerto Rico in ways that are sustainable and just.
“Maria is a spotlight, but a lot was happening to and in Puerto Rico before Maria,” says Michelle. “The delegations that come to do recovery work have an opportunity to learn about the history and political dynamics here, but that’s just the beginning of the work. My hope is that people will go home and keep doing the work to learn about the history of Puerto Rico and how we can work together for a more just relationship between the US and Puerto Rico.”
Michelle is from San Juan, but had been living in Miami, FL for several years prior to Hurricane Maria and working as the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) site coordinator there. She was planning to move back to Puerto Rico when the hurricane devastated the small island in September 2017. Michelle still moved back to Puerto Rico two months later, and her mother’s home still did not have power. She began working with the Presbytery of San Juan to organize support from the US and work with local communities in their recovery efforts. Pretty soon, Michelle began working full time for the Presbytery of San Juan as the Disaster Recovery Coordinator, a position funded and supported by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
“Folks who effectively pursue and encourage peace are those who are committed to the wellbeing of the community they are called into,” says Rev. Amaury Tanñon-Santos is the Synod Networker for the Synod of the Northeast and has known Michelle for many years. “Pursuers of peace also allow that community to challenge and often shift their worldview. Michelle’s commitment to recovery work in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is not simply an expression of her skillset. Michelle’s ministry is not only in Monteflores. Michelle witnesses with and alongside this community. Her pursuit of peace is not only based on her rearing as a Reformed Christian. Michelle’s pursuit of peace is a commitment that has found fertile ground in her opening herself to a community that has opened itself to her, and welcomed her as one of their own.”
Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, also says of Michelle and her work with delegations: “Her passion for justice is contagious, and through her leadership, volunteers and U.S. congregations have been awakened to the systemic injustices that keep Puerto Ricans from achieving equity alongside their U.S. neighbors and have had the opportunity to develop transforming relationships across boundaries that have impeded full and just relationships between ourselves and our neighbors on the Island.”
In July of 2019, Michelle led a delegation with Fossil Free PCUSA and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship to learn about efforts for climate justice in Puerto Rico and to hear about why the three presbyteries of Puerto Rico all supported the overture to divest from fossil fuels in 2018. “Climate Justice is ministry; it’s peace work; it’s not a committee or a sub-group, it is our work as the Church,” said Michelle as she reflected on the delegation and her work more broadly in Puerto Rico.
Rev. abby mohaupt, moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA and a participant in the July 2019 climate justice delegation says this of Michelle’s leadership: “Michelle welcomed the FFPCUSA delegation to Puerto Rico in July 2019. She hosted and guided us through 10 days on the island, combining hard facts and deep relationships in order to help us understand the effects of climate change. She pushed us to think about colonization and race, all the while translating, navigating, troubleshooting so that our trip was a success. Meanwhile, she was in the streets of San Juan calling for Governor Ricky to resign, a protest movement she welcomed us to as well. Michelle encompasses passionate and faithful commitment to peace through justice, earth care, and connection.”
The purpose of the PPF Peaceseeker Award is to give well-deserved recognition to those who have made a serious commitment to working for justice and peace, particularly work that has influenced Presbyterians and the PC(USA). It is also intended to inspire others to get engaged in this work that is central to our calling. In recent years we have also included our non-Presbyterian partners working with us for a more just and peaceful world.
The 2019 and 2020 Peaceseeker awards will be presented at the PPF Peace Breakfast at the gathering of the 224th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Baltimore, MD.
Please join us to celebrate Michelle and the 2019 Peaceseekers–Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church and First United Church of Oak Park for their leading ministries to prevent gun violence–at the Peace Breakfast on June 24, 2020 in Baltimore, MD.