In 1955, Japan's Masahisa Goi erected a peace pole at Hiroshima. Inscribed on it was a simple yet heartfelt message: May peace prevail on earth.
Now, 56 years later, his gentle call for peace has inspired people worldwide to put up their own peace poles, with Goi's words translated into nearly every language.
On Sunday, Bethany Christian Church will dedicate the world's newest peace pole. The 8-foot tall, four-sided cedar pole, placed just north of the church's front doors, joins an estimated 300,000 peace poles erected in 180 countries, as well as poles placed on the ocean floor and on the moon.
Each stands as a quiet monument to peace.
"May peace prevail on earth" is inscribed in four languages, one on each side of the Bethany peace pole: English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Arabic. The languages represent the four main cultures in Lincoln, said the Rev. Daryl Lauber, pastor at Bethany Christian.
After Sunday's 10:30 a.m. service, the congregation will gather around the pole for a brief dedication. Plans are to have a member from Lincoln's Latino, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern communities recite "may peace prevail on earth" in their native language.
The ceremony coincides with Pentecost Sunday, "a time to celebrate the oneness of the world and the diversity of cultures coming together," Lauber said. People are asked to wear red, the liturgical color of Pentecost.
The dedication ceremony also marks the start of the church's commitment to its A Building of Peace project, a two-year congregationwide effort to foster and promote peace at home, in the community and in the world. The effort will raise funds to "preserve our sacred space" (the church building), as well as embark on a "journey of peace" by supporting four ministries of peace: Big Brothers/Big Sisters, TeamMates Mentoring, Voices of Hope and Heifer Project International, Lauber said. Recent efforts by the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade Sunday school classes raised $620 for the Heifer Project, enough to buy a llama, chicks, geese, sheep, rabbits, ducks and more for needy families in developing nations.
The quest for peace has long been an integral part of the Bethany congregation, said Sharon Shields, a longtime member.
In the early 1970s, she was among several church members who formed the Nebraskans For Peace Lincoln Chapter. Later Bethany Christian Church was the only Nebraska congregation to accept the challenge from the Disciples of Christ Church general church to become a Shalom Congregation, a congregation devoted to peace and bringing peace and justice to the world wherever possible.
In 1985-86, when church member Lori Shields walked across the country with the Great Peace March, calling for the end of nuclear weapons, the church and its members financially supported her. Even more joined in support when Shields was arrested and jailed for 11 days for civil disobedience for her part in the march.
And for 20 years, Bethany Christian has participated and financially supported the annual ecumenical Peacemakers event in Lincoln. It has helped several immigrant/refugee families resettle in Lincoln, and it is involved in the Clowns for Peace ministry program.
Bethany Christian was one of the first Lincoln churches to open a food pantry in 1971. Today it operates as an emergency food pantry for the people of northeast Lincoln.
Earlier this year, Lauber began leading "Living the Question" DVD classes in which some of the world's top scholars in religion talk about beliefs and practices, particularly in peace and justice. During one of the first sessions, participants learned about the Peace Pole Project.
Ed Childress, a member of Bethany Christian Church for 71 years, was so intrigued that he researched the history of peace poles online. He learned the peace pole is an internationally recognized symbol of the hopes and dreams of humans all over the world and offers a chance to stand in vigil in silent prayer for peace on earth.
He learned about the peace pole placed on the Allenby Bridge, which links the countries of Israel and Jordan. He discovered peace poles in China, Russia, Mexico, Canada and in every state in the union. They stand in gardens, parks and public plazas; beside churches; in fields, forest clearings and in and outside of homes. Peace poles are found at the tomb of Confucius in China, at the pyramids of Giza and the magnetic North Pole in Canada.
While the Peace Pole Project began with Masahisa Goi in 1955, the practice of piling stones upon one another and erecting poles as a testament, memorial or statement dates back to prehistoric times, Childress said.
The more Childress learned, the more certain he became that Bethany Christian Church needed to buy a peace pole with some of its memorial funds, and that the peace pole would stand as a tribute to those who dedicated their lives to peace, as well as the future generations who will continue the quest for peace.
"The presence of a peace pole announces that this is a special place, dedicated to peace on earth," Lauber said. "When we plant our peace pole we are linking with people all over the world who have planted their peace poles in the same spirit of peace."