Being humble in the face of adversity and joy intertwined two alumni honored for their devotion to peace and relief of suffering on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011, at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).
“From the moment I was announced as one of the core recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, every night and morning I say my prayers [and] I ask, ‘Lord, keep me humble,'” said Leymah Gbowee, a 2007 master’s degree graduate in conflict transformation. “By being humble I hope to touch more lives and can be an example for the next generation of peacebuilders.”
Describing 1991 grad Glen Lapp, a former supervisor was quoted in an EMU publication as saying, “Glen Lapp was the ideal nurse, very self contained and capable, as well as extremely compassionate—and above all, humble about it.”
Over its Homecoming and Family weekend Oct. 14-16, EMU held several events centering on its recognition of Gbowee as Alumna of the Year – she gave talks to public audiences five times over the weekend. Gbowee is the first Nobel Prize winner in the school’s 94-year history. Gbowee led a women’s movement that was instrumental in ending 14 years of civil war in Liberia in 2003. She is co-founder and executive director of Women, Peace and Security Network Africa.
Lapp, a volunteer with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), was killed on Aug. 5, 2010, with nine others on the same International Assistance Mission (IAM) team. They were returning from a difficult trip in which they provided health care in a rural mountainous region of Afghanistan. EMU awarded its annual Distinguished Service Award to Lapp, the first time the university has ever given an alumni award posthumously. Lapp’s parents, Marvin and Mary Lapp of Lancaster, Pa., and other family members accepted the award on his behalf.
A Noble Alumna – Leymah Gbowee ’07
During one of her weekend speeches, Gbowee said she will continue to pray for God’s blessing to stay humble with the continued media coverage and requests for interviews. In tongue-in-cheek fashion, EMU President Loren Swartzendruber later remarked that Gbowee was henceforth going to be in the worldwide spotlight due to receiving the Alumna of the Year award from EMU. The audience of hundreds laughed heartily at the thought that being “alumnus of the year” might overshadow her Nobel Peace Prize.
“As a peacebuilder we can never hold onto anger,” said Gbowee. “My journey has taken me many places. I have seen many things to make me angry and break my heart, but as I step from one place to another I see that if we must change our communities, change the world, [then] anger, pain and thoughts of evil cannot be a part of our mindset.”
A central figure in the peace movement that brought an end to the Liberian Civil war, Gbowee came to EMU in 2004 for three classes in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute and then returned to the Center of Justice and Peacebuilding in 2005 to participate in a round-table of Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (known as STAR). She completed her MA in conflict transformation in 2007. In a press conference at the beginning of the weekend, Gbowee credited EMU with helping her to heal from the traumas she had experienced and with developing an understanding of the roots of violent conflict from a worldwide perspective.
“Leymah Gbowee mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections,” noted the Norwegian Nobel Committee in announcing the award. “She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war.”
Gbowee co-founded Women, Peace and Security Network Africa with a fellow SPI alumna, Thelma Ekiyor of Nigeria. In her memoir, “Mighty Be Our Powers,” Gbowee discloses additional EMU connections that influenced her work, including CJP professors Hizkias Assefa, John Paul Lederach and Howard Zehr.
“In honoring Leymah, you also honor Liberia,” said William V.S. Bull, Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States, during remarks following a celebratory luncheon with award recipient family and friends. “Thank you, EMU, for fostering peace and providing training for peacebuilding among people of this world.”
More information on Gbowee and her ties to EMU can be found at emu.edu/leymah-gbowee/
A Distinguished Alumnus – Glen Lapp ’91
The words “compassionate, caring and humble” were used throughout Homecoming weekend when describing 40-year-old Glen Lapp.
The Distinguished Service award recognizes a life that “exemplified selfless service,” according to Duane Ringer, Lapp’s former colleague at Lancaster Regional Medical Center. In a prepared statement, the Lapp family said, “Glen was always looking ahead to the next thing and always felt there was something more he could be doing.”
Lapp and nine other workers from IAM were ambushed, robbed and killed when driving Land Rovers over rough mountainous terrain to return to Kabul after a relief trip in northern Afghanistan. Volunteering with MCC and assigned to IAM, Lapp was an executive assistant and the manager of its provincial ophthalmic program. Lapp’s perspective on his assignment was recorded in his last report submitted to MCC: “[T]he main thing that expats can do is to be a presence in the country, treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world.”
While at EMU, Lapp’s passion for life spilled into the gym. “Glen was probably the best setter we ever had, or close to it” said Sandy Brownscombe, assistant professor of education and former men’s volleyball coach. “Glen was the kind of person that everybody just followed because he was also very humble. I remember him being involved with people, caring about them. And I remember how focused he was. You knew that Glen would go on to do something important but you didn’t know what that would be. He had a concern for people and the world, you could see it back then.”
Lapp graduated from EMU as a math major and four years later earned a second bachelor’s degree, this time in nursing, at Johns Hopkins University. He did various types of work before volunteering in Afghanistan, including providing care to people of the Havasupai Nation in Supai, Arizona, and helping in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Trina Trotter Nussbaum ’99, who nominated Lapp for the EMU award, wrote, “What a fitting way to honor his life’s work! He offered his life up for service like Jesus did and ended up losing it, like Jesus did. Who knows how many people have been touched and inspired because of Glen’s witness and sacrifice?”
Lapp may best be summed up by EMU President Loren Swartzendruber, who stated during Saturday’s opening presentation, “the world needs more people like Glen.”
History of the Awards
The Alumnus of the Year Award, begun in 1967, recognizes an EMU graduate who has made a recent major achievement in his or her profession. The Distinguished Service Award seeks to honor an alumnus who “demonstrates in notable ways the Christian service and peacemaking emphases of the university.”
Photos, podcasts, and other information on the Homecoming and Family Weekend can be found at emu.edu/alumni/homecoming/2011/