by Mimi Copp Johnson, Mennonite Central Committee East Coast
Gary Lebo was on his cell phone 117 miles away in Dillsburg, Pa. Item number 104, a cultivator mattock (hand tool used to break up the soil), was up next at the Philadelphia Festival & Auction, which benefits Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
Lebo was determined to bid on this garden tool even though he could not be there in person. On the other end of the line, was an auction volunteer standing at the back of the room at West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship ready to place bids for Lebo.
Not just any old garden tool, this cultivator was constructed, in part, from a handgun, at a Philadelphia blacksmith workshop devoted to turning “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks.” These visionary words are from the Biblical prophet, Isaiah.
Cherie Ryans, a mother whose child had been killed with a handgun in Philadelphia, helped make the tool. She forged the metal from a gun on anvils loaned by conservative Mennonite farmers. Fred Kauffman, former MCC staff person, shared with the auction audience that with each strike of the hammer on the red-hot iron, Ryans said a word, “This….is….for….my…son.”
With the tone set from this story, the bidding began at $300. It climbed to $500, $600, $700.
“I am sick and tired of hearing on the news almost every evening about someone else expressing violence by using a handgun,” said Lebo explaining why he kept bidding. “The idea of pouring energy into gardening rather than violence is exhilarating for us!”
The final bid was for $850 by Gary and Gloria Lebo of Dillsburg Brethren in Christ Church. Another person added a $150 donation to make the total $1,000.
“I thought it was all over,” Lebo recounts, until he received a call from Kimberly Tucker, a friend from Dillsburg Brethren in Christ Church, who was at the auction. “She was scolding me for buying it out from under her, and then she kindly offered to bring it home for me and charge me mileage!”
Tucker said she had her eye on the tool because she “wanted to purchase it to use throughout the year at church as a symbol of peace—turning swords into plowshares.”
The blacksmith workshop was done by RAWtools and was sponsored by Shane Claiborne, Heeding God’s Call, Kingdom Builders Network and MCC East Coast. RAWtools Inc.’s mission is to repurpose weapons into hand tools to be used in the creation of something new and to prevent the weapon’s use for violence.
A similar tool had been donated by RAWtools to the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Relief Sale the weekend before in Colorado that went for $675.
Now the tool is also a storytelling piece. The Lebos have had several opportunities to share the story and hope to have more.
“Another dream I have,” Lebo says, “is to return it to the auction next year to be sold again so someone else can enjoy the experience, share with others and raise more money for MCC.”
Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ