A semester spent in Georgia

I have never…been born in Bolivia. Moved to Mexico. Lived in Costa Rica. But Peder Wiegner has.

Even now, as a junior political science major at Eastern, Wiegner is adding to his repertoire of exotic residences with five months in the Republic of Georgia.

Wiegner is taking no university classes. He lives not on a campus but with the family of Merab Gaprindashvili, a pastor and the president of the Baptist Union in Georgia. He has just been invited to be a co-founder of a newly-forming press committee at the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, where he is interning.

He is also conducting two independent/directed studies for which he will receive Eastern class credit: one on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and one on a group of Georgians from the Abkhazia breakaway region who are living in a refugee camp. He will soon be taking Georgian language lessons.

Wiegner might tell you that a toast led him to Georgia, a toast given in the Georgian language that challenged him to learn the language for himself. He might tell you that, but he would be leaving out his greater reason-his passion for peace and justice.

In high school, Wiegner started noticing the damage violence was causing in war-torn areas. He also noticed how active the United States was in perpetuating a lot of that violence.

“Perhaps it is natural for a powerful country (or empire) to engage in so much violence and oppression,” he said in an email, “but that does not make it right.”

The answer, as he saw it, was for more Americans to fight war and injustice by involving themselves in peace, justice and reconciliation. He came to Eastern because of his interest in its commitment to justice, among other reasons. His choice of location for study-abroad, the Republic of Georgia, has been the site of civil disunity and regional fighting since 1988.

Wiegner’s goals for this semester are ministry-minded. He spends days at a time at the former hotel where the refugees are staying and is attempting to garner press support for their situation.

“I want to find out what their biggest needs are and how it would be best for a church to be involved in the camp,” he said.

In the near future, Wiegner will be conducting a series of interviews with important political figures in Georgia. A Baptist bishop that he knows was able to arrange the interviews for him, and he hopes to use them, not only to gather information for his study on the refugees, but also to gather support for the new press committee.

The next adventure Wiegner has planned is a summer in Amman, Jordan. YACHT leader Adam Beach and Fort Lewis College student Megan Tahquette will be joining him, and the three plan to film a documentary.

“The documentary is going to be an artistic film as well as a film that shows some hope for the area,” Wiegner said.

In his travels to the Republic of Georgia and the Middle East, Weigner hopes to be effectual in working for peace in those areas.

“I’m not saying that I can or that I’m good at it,” he said, “but I’m willing to try. I think the key is in following Jesus.”

To check out stories and pictures of Peder’s experiences in the Republic of Georgia, visit www.georgiasemester.blogspot.com.

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