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Bruderhof youth festival readied

Friday, July 21, 2000

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- The children were preparing for a crusade yesterday at the New Meadow Run Bruderhof community, a crusade that included thatching a Native American longhouse, building a Tibetan yurt, rehearsing music and painting signs.

Known as Children's Crusade 2000, it's planned as a festival for 500 children of various races and religions from around the world Aug. 11-13 at the community's Fayette County location. The goal is for kids to build new friendships and facilitate world peace by starting a culture of nonviolence.

"The way things will change will be on a kid-to-kid basis, not through a Camp David accord," said Danny Meier, a teacher at the Bruderhof school, where a press conference yesterday officially announced the crusade. "It's humanity. You've got to start somewhere."

Bruderhof communities -- the German name translates as "place of the brothers" -- are predicated on communal life based on the New Testament, specifically Acts 4:32-35, which speak of people voluntarily pooling possessions, with each person cared and provided for.

There are two Bruderhof communities in Fayette County -- directly across U.S. 40 East from one another -- and another six around the world. Mark Clement, a spokesman at the New Run Meadow community, said there are 3,000 Bruderhof members, one-third of them children.

The group traces its roots to the Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation of the early 1500s, when people advocating religious and social reforms left institutional churches. In 1937, the remaining Bruderhof communities fled Germany, stayed briefly in England and finally immigrated to Paraguay. The first communities in the United States were established in 1954; New Meadow Run was established three years later.

The community supports itself through two businesses: Community Playthings, which manufactures wooden equipment and toys for classrooms and day care, and Rifton Equipment, which builds equipment for the physically handicapped.

Bruderhof communities have garnered attention for various protests against the death penalty, and for the prominent role their children play. In 1997 the New Meadow Run community held a much-publicized Children's Crusade to Death Row, a 30-mile walk to the State Correctional Institution Greene in Waynesburg.

Children's Crusade 2000 will take a different tack, bringing such well-known figures as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, author Jonathan Kozol, actor Ossie Davis, singer Pete Seeger, and song and dance troupes from several countries to New Meadow Run. Clement said 39 nations would be represented.

The crusade is being funded partly by money raised by Bruderhof children; a bike-a-thon earlier this year raised $10,000 and a letter-writing campaign raised $4,000 more. Clement said donations are still being sought even as the kids continue work.

Louis Gattis, 13, is one of the main builders of the yurt. Three months in the planning, it now is a rounded shell of native black birch saplings bound together. Gattis said it will be enclosed with thick felt, and then waterproofed with wax from the 20 beehives the community has.

"We just built it because it's a dwelling from a different country, and that's what this event is about: People getting together from different countries," he said.

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