On 3 October 2020, the Creators of Peace network in Auburn, NSW, invited Jean Brown to reflect on her life with Initiatives of Change. Joyce Fraser provided this account of the Q&A via Zoom, with participants from Australia and beyond.
Q: Before you began the Creators of Peace Circles, you had worked for more than 25 years as full-time volunteer with IofC, living a somewhat nomadic life travelling across the globe advocating the IofC principals of ‘building trust across the world’s divides.’ Was there anything in your childhood that had prepared you for such an altruistic life?
Jean: My wider family were all people with an expansive world view and a live social conscience. My parents were doctor missionaries and became prisoners of war in China during the second world war. They had my elder sister, a toddler, with them. While in prison they had the conviction that they should start another child, even in those terrible circumstances with no news of the outside world. My mother described this like getting a ‘telegram from Heaven’, that there would be peace and a future. She was three months pregnant with me when they were liberated. I was born on their return home in Scotland. I recall my mother often talking about the evils of colonialism, and watched as my parents embraced the ideas of the Oxford Group—the forerunner of Initiatives of Change—and their practice of ‘inner listening’ and ‘quiet time.’
Q: Had you studied, or planned a career?
Jean: I wanted to be a doctor but didn’t score well so I had a hard time getting into medical school. In desperation one day I cried out to God, ‘What shall I do?’ I had the clear response from the inner voice, ‘I want you to be a different sort of doctor—a doctor of the human heart.’ On that same day, the only offer of a place to study medicine reached me. I turned it down and at the age of 21 became an IofC volunteer and was invited to go to India.
Q: I understand you’re married to Mike Brown, who is also an IofC full-time worker. How did you meet, and can you tell us a little about your involvement with IofC and Creators of Peace?
Jean: We met in India briefly and then worked together in the UK and married in 1975. For the past 50-plus years we’ve both been full-time volunteer workers for IofC, spending time in India, USA, Australia, and South Sudan. We currently live in South Australia, and for 23 years we’ve been involved in a local Aboriginal reconciliation group. We’ve marched and demonstrated and were part of a team that erected a memorial to the Stolen Generations on the site of the Colebrook Homes in Eden Hills, SA, where 350 Aboriginal children were taken to live.
Q: Being the designer of the Creators of Peace Circle, would you say that your work with IofC had prepared you for this? How did the concept of Creators of Peace Circles evolve?
Jean: Yes, it did. Through my IofC work, I recognised that women’s voices needed to be heard—that the more feminine relational, intuitive, subjective values are needed to bring balance when it comes to peace. More women are needed at the table when it comes to peace talks. Creators of Peace Circles evolved in order to bring women together to explore the nature of peace and discover their part in creating it. This was in 2003 when I was more mindful of the changing nature of communities, and how to prepare women to open their hearts to create an inclusive, hospitable space for newcomers of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.
Q: Growing up, did you have a role model? Who would you say influenced your values?
Jean: My mother was a significant role model. I believe in the importance of the spiritual. I am a follower of Jesus, but without a conversion agenda. I greatly appreciate and have gained from other religious traditions and insights. I read widely and take interest in other faith experiences and expressions.
Q: What would you say sustains you in your work with IofC and CoP?
Jean: Certainly, the spiritual experience and practice is important to me. I’m also sustained by friendships, the whole community of IofC and Creators of Peace women, our shared passion and commitment.
Q: You’ve been a woman on a mission, travelling across the world facilitating and advocating to women to ‘create peace’ and ‘be the peace we want to see.’ Has your mission become more difficult or easier over the years? Has there been anything in particular that has encouraged you or surprised you, any magical moments you can share with us?
Jean: There have been so many magical moments, I don’t know where to start. Always seeing women finding freedom from whatever it may be that blocks them, be it bitterness or fear; or finding meaning and value in their lives…These are always magical moments.
I recall a Creators of Peace circle in South Australia where an Aboriginal woman registered, and I had invited a non-Aboriginal woman who had a great fear of Aboriginal people. During the Circle, they had been paired up to do an activity together. To my delight, after a while there was lots of laughter coming from their corner, and the non-indigenous woman shared that for her it was the first time she had been so close to an Aboriginal woman and her fear had been dispelled.
Another time in the lead-up to a conference in India, I had asked a young woman I was meeting with regularly in Calcutta to come to the conference, and she said it wouldn’t be possible due to her studies. During a quiet time, something told me that it was important she attend, so I kept asking her every day for six days and on the seventh day she said that she had asked her principal and tutors if they thought it a good idea. To her surprise they all did. We got the last two seats on the train!
During the conference she shared about her fear of her father and wept. Hearing her, a politician present, well-known for believing that only violence would solve their political deadlock in the north-east of India and organising the training of young men to use firearms, got up and said amidst tears that her words meant so much to him. This led him to his reconciling with another politician present and together they worked for a political solution without violence. This experience affirmed for me the significance of listening to and being led by the inner voice.
Q: And finally, what are the foundations or the essence of what it means to be a ‘creator of peace’?
Jean: I feel ‘creating peace’ is like a jigsaw with many small parts joining together as one. Each one of us responsible for our piece of the peace. It’s a process of waking up and living consciously; putting peace into practice in my daily life; intentionally developing qualities that I’m aware of that can still be developed; listening intently and deeply; and surrendering to the inner voice. Letting go of the less important things we are disturbed by, so that we can be disturbed by what we need to be disturbed by! Living in a stream of forgiveness, and naming our concerns, acting on them.
It’s a journey. As Gandhi said, ‘There is no way to peace: peace is the way.’