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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Elkhart native Thompson, director of CPT

Elkhart native Sarah Thompson is the new executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Posted on Jan. 18, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

Sarah Thompson currently lives in Chicago and has traveled to 44 countries. In 2005, she was named one of Glamour Magazine’s “Top 10 College Women” and was a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina. She was inducted to the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and graduated from Bethany Christian High School.

Now, she is the executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international nonprofit peacemaking organization, as of Jan. 1. Still, she calls Elkhart home.

“Elkhart plays a big part in making me who I am today,” she said. “I believe Elkhart is a place where each individual’s effort can make a difference. And I’m appreciative that I’ve had a chance to try out leadership in Elkhart and Goshen. I really value that.”

Having grown up in the Roosevelt/Hawthorne district, Thompson remembers that her parents were involved in city activities and kept her and her brother busy, too.

“We did every parks department activity ever,” she said.

Thompson remembers playing sports at the former YMCA, taking art classes at the Midwest Museum of American Art and going to Bible school at numerous local churches. Her parents, George and Karen Thompson, were in a bowling league at Astrobowl.

“Dairy Queen was the spot to celebrate the end of the school year,” she said, listing more of her favorite local memories. (She also said that she has plans to go to Dairy Queen to celebrate her new job the next time she is in Elkhart.)

After high school, Thompson attended Spelman College in Atlanta, but came home during the summer of 2004 to serve as a community organizer for the Campaign to Save the Historic Roosevelt Building at the request of two of her local mentors, Andrew Kreider and Art Stoltzfus.

Thompson knocked on the doors of 400 homes in the surrounding neighborhood of what is now the Roosevelt Center to survey residents about their ideas for the building, the former Roosevelt Elementary School, which was planned to be demolished by the city administration and Elkhart Community Schools.

Eventually, she returned to Elkhart again to study at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, where she earned her Masters of Divinity degree.

“Many of my mentors have come from Elkhart and passed through the seminary,” she said. “During my time at AMBS, the whole city was my campus.”

There, she learned to remember that “administration is a ministry” and developed her spiritual practice of “challenging injustice,” she said.

Thompson sees similarities in the work and learning she did locally in Elkhart and what she now does internationally at CPT. Now, she said, “I work at community organizing on a different scale.”

“There’s a lot of room for creativity (in Elkhart), and the same thing is true for CPT,” she said. “We’re small enough to be flexible and we can be quick and responsive to conflict around the world.”

Her grandmother, Carrie Diener, a longtime member of Prairie Street Mennonite Church, lives in Goshen, although her parents relocated to Detroit after the economic recession. Thompson, though, still feels connected to Elkhart.

“Elkhart always has my heart,” she said. “I will always return.”

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