A modest proposal for world peace at TEDx in Switzerland

Deborah Froese
April 5, 2017
Mennonite Church Canada
Karl (left) and Marla Langelotz on stage for TEDx in Switzerland.
Marla (right) and Karl Langelotz
Winnipeg, Manitoba

On March 18, Karl and Marla Langelotz addressed an audience at Zurich International School in Switzerland for a TEDx talk. Their presentation was entitled “A Modest Proposal for World Peace.”

Peace is rooted in building relationships – and that means creating space to get to know one another.

“Once we have known, and are truly known by someone,” Karl pointed out, “it is impossible to create an ‘other.’ There is only ‘we.’ I know it sounds cliché, but this is actually pretty deep. Only by creating an ‘other’ are we able to hurt, kill and exclude. How can we hurt ‘we’ without hurting ‘me’?”

The Langelotzes drew from their experience as Mennonite Church Canada short term workers connecting with refugees at Friedenshaus (Peace House) in Ludwigshafen, Germany. While Canada welcomed 40,000 refugees between Nov., 2015 and Jan., 2017, Germany welcomed about 32 times that many in a similar time period. Peace House helps refugees learn the German language, adjust to life in a new country and form relationships with the local community. Those efforts promote understanding, tolerance and acceptance – all vital to peace, say Gregory Rabus and Jennifer Otto, the long term workers who established the ministry.

Taking chances and making time for others, listening deeply, expressing curiosity, and braving vulnerability are key, the Langelotzes said, to helping newcomers settle in. As they connect with refugees, the couple is learning about politics beyond the West, and the resiliency, faith and courage it takes to leave one’s life-long home and start anew.

Karl and Marla personally took chances too – although they are quick to point out that those chances were far less risky than the chances refugees take. They stepped forward in faith by foregoing Karl’s salary as a teacher and Marla’s as a pastor in order to serve at Friedenshaus, leaving family and friends behind for nine months. Venturing into an unfamiliar setting allowed them to encounter some of the newness and ensuing vulnerability that refugees experience.

For Marla, this was particularly evident in language. Although she could understand some German, she could not speak it and had to take lessons as well. “I had to embrace that vulnerability of giving up control, of not being able to communicate well,” she said in a Skype interview – quite the challenge for the pastor at Sargent Ave. Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Man.

“The other students seemed to notice and appreciate that,” said Karl, who teaches several classes at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate in Winnipeg, including German.

Karl pointed out that vulnerability was an important part of Jesus’ ministry. “I understand his life to be one focused on relationships – with and for those on the fringes; the powerless; the hungry; the homeless. But the key to these relationships is this aspect of vulnerability.”

During classroom visits the day prior to TEDx and between TEDx sessions with other speakers, Karl and Marla had plenty of time to connect with students. Marla recalled a particular conversation with two Grade 11 students who approached them shyly. One said, “I really like what you said about Jesus. My family no longer goes to church but when I was young we went, and I just remember church being about rules. I've been thinking that maybe I should go back.”

The invitation to speak at TEDx came from Zurich International School students, initiated through a long-time relationship with Rob Friesen, one of the school’s teachers. Friesen was inspired by a visit to Friedenshaus in October 2016.

TEDx is a localized version of the popular TED Talk conferences whose mission is sharing “ideas worth spreading.”

The Langelotzes complete their short term ministry assignment in June, 2017.  The link to their TEDx presentation is not yet available.