In response to the common question, “where are you from?” Naomi jokes saying that she considers herself to be a world citizen because she was born in California, the USA, but married a Canadian. She has Canadian immigrant status, and their grown children live in Canada. Naomi and Douglas lived in Canada until 2009, before moving abroad.
Naomi started her career as a community nurse. She worked in-home healthcare on Vancouver Island in Canada. But then she shifted to teaching nursing for 11 years. That was the point when her path in teaching began.
Back in Canada, as a pastor’s wife, she was involved not only in the local community but was also engaged in the outreach work of her church denomination. She was particularly interested in the humanitarian organization, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a North American-based organization that serves approximately 50 countries and has large groups of volunteers. As a Mennonite pastoral couple in Canada, they supported MCC’s work refugee resettlement, justice issues, and advocacy from a church perspective.
After some time of supporting the work of the Mennonite Central Committee, Naomi and her husband decided to become full-time MCC international service workers. With their youngest daughter, they moved to Chad where they lived and served for 3 years. In Chad, Naomi worked at an HIV clinic. Her work focused on education for families and children, behavior change, and community capacity, and managed country programs. At the same time, Naomi was getting her master’s degree in Pedagogy of Teaching and Adult Education. She even finished her degree without any electricity at their house. At the moment, Chad was one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world, which made their stay there even more difficult.
Naomi reflects on the loss of many friends there. “While we were in Chad, about 50 percent of the people we knew and learned to love, Chadians, had died by the time we left in the 3 years. It was due to accidents or medical illnesses that are readily treated in North American countries.”
After the 3 years in Chad, Naomi and Doug headed back to Canada. Their stay didn’t last long, though. After 10 months, they left for Lebanon to again work internationally. Naomi took up a position as Representative of the Mennonite Central Committee for programs of the countries of Lebanon and Syria. They arrived there just when the tensions in the Middle East increased – when people were fleeing over the mountains into Lebanon because of the Syrian Crisis. Naomi continued working with facilitating workshops on trauma resiliency and peacebuilding.
At the end of their stay in Lebanon, the Representative position for MCC opened in West Europe. She made a difficult decision to leave the work that she loved in order to fill the need and assist the MCC programs for West Europe based in Strasbourg, France. At the same time, Naomi applied for the master’s-level certificate and received additional teachings in Humanitarian Action Leadership with a focus on trauma from Eastern Mennonite University.
Shortly after the pandemic started, Mennonite Central Committee made a decision to close down the office in Western Europe, which meant that they no longer had jobs. Naomi shared that it was a sad and rather traumatic experience because the decision was made fast and without much consultation. The same year, Naomi noticed a job opportunity at LCC. Naomi was accepted for the position in the International Relations and Development department.
Naomi was hired to help develop, form and strengthen a new Peace Center at LCC, which is officially named The Center for Dialogue and Conflict Transformation. This Center had been in the minds of the staff and faculty at LCC, but it had not had the right person, timing, or funds to become a physical space. Naomi has worked as a catalyst in founding and shaping the Center. The idea behind the Center is to have it serve all faculty, students, and the greater public beyondLCC’s International Relations department.
Naomi is working on building a network of peace-building connections across Europe and internationally. One of the Center’s goals is to take theory and apply it in practical life. They wish to connect students and professors to the places where conflict transformation theory works. Building up a base of NGOs around the world that LCC can send their students to, to have a relationship with, and to create practicum opportunities. “For instance, this summer we sent one of our students, Emma McDonald, to Corrymeela Reconciliation Center in Northern Ireland.”
Another way to pursue peacebuilding is through holding conferences here that invite researchers, academics, practitioners, and even local people. In these conferences, attendees would hear a reflection on what it means to be a peacebuilder in the world, how to work at good conflict transformation, reconciliation, and mediation.
One of the hopes at the Center is to one day hold a summer seminar where people can come and learn these same skills and get a certificate. In March 2022 the Center is hosting its opening event, in which the conference will be divided into three strands. In the first, invitations are being made to academics and researchers to deliver papers. There will be discussion and conversation around those. Students and others from the community will be able to come to gain an understanding of the reflective work available. The second strand is the participatory and round table workshops on peacebuilding or other similar skills. Some other workshops will be about using the expressive arts to tell your story, learning how to facilitate circle dialogue preparing a safe space for storytelling, bridging the differences, and coming to understand the commonalities with ‘others’ through our narratives. With such skills, the individuals will be providing methods of peacebuilding, non-violent communication, working the peace story inter-religiously, and having conversations around that. Additionally, each evening of the conference for the final strand the Center will look at how to project peacebuilding through the arts. They have invited several different authors and artists to explore how narratives are used in peacebuilding through their works and the theatre of the oppressed. Though the Center for Dialogue and Conflict Transformation at LCC is rather new, Naomi surely has great plans for it to flourish.
Some practical activities that the Center is doing right now are listening circles and public theology forums. Offering space for students to discuss and explore together their collective experiences of pain, to discuss what is worrying or hurting them. Similarly, if a student sees an issue in their community or culture, they are invited to share this at the Center but also students are encouraged to get involved in initiatives of raising awareness in the larger LCC community.
Naomi completes the interview by describing why she loves LCC. “What I love about LCC is it is uniting many nations. While there sometimes is a lot of pain and frustration among the students, there is also a deep desire to understand and learn how to live with one another. I find that beautiful. Crossing boundaries and borders. I see it as a picture of the Kingdom of God, uniting all of us.”
Photo credit: Sean Fast, Gallery of Stories closing event. Naomi Enns is on the left. Next to her is Moe Callahan, Katherine Handal, Dariya Ismailova