Category Archives: Iran

Time to rebuild good relations with Iran

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980, after Iranian students took 52 hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held them for 444 days.  But there is a back story that many Americans do not know. Today in Vienna, envoys from Iran and the world’s six major powers are gathering for a third round of talks about Iran’s nuclear program, which began with support from the United States.

On April 7, the Richmond Times Dispatch published my opinion piece offering the perspective that, while significant differences remain between the two countries, it is time to rebuild mutually respectful relationships with Iran, a former U.S. ally.

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, MCC Washington Office director, visits in Qom, Iran with Zahra, one of the Iranian women who plans to attend EMU's Summer Peacebuilding Institute in May

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, MCC Washington Office director, visits in Qom, Iran with Zahra, one of the Iranian women who plans to attend EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute in May

 

 

 

Images from Iran

I traveled to Iran, February 19-25, 2014, along with a professor from Canadian Mennonite University and the board chair and senior staff of Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

This was my 11th trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran in the past 20 years. Our host was Dr. Mohammad Shomali, director of the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Qom.

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Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has had program connections in Iran since 1990. During the past 15 years, Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) has developed a growing network of connections as well. Ten Iranians have attended EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI). Two have gone on to receive an M.A. in Conflict Transformation from EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, where I now serve as executive director.

While in Iran, we were able to meet with three SPI alumni and with several Iranian women scholars who plan to attend SPI in May 2014.

For further details of the trip, see articles posted by MCC and EMU.

From all nations

Second Sunday after Pentecost (June 2, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
I Kings 8:22-23, 41-43; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

This week we traveled to northern Iraq to introduce Carolyne and Gordon to MCC Iraq partners; then on to Istanbul to meet with Iran partners and Amela Puljek-Shank, MCC’s area director for Europe and the Middle East.

Cindy with Hero Brzw, who graduated from Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice  Peacebuilding and now works in northern Iraq

Cindy with Hero Brzw, who graduated from Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice Peacebuilding and now works in northern Iraq

Jim and Deb Fine, MCC Iraq program coordinator and English teacher, respectively, did a wonderful job of hosting us in Iraq. We traveled to all corners of the Kurdish region of Iraq, meeting with partners who have become close friends across the years. It was a great opportunity to reminisce about changes during the six years we have lived in the region.

Jim Fine, with sisters from the Daughters of Mary in al Qosh

Jim Fine, with sisters from the Daughters of Mary in al Qosh

Cindy fulfilled a long-term wish by attending the kindergarten graduation at Kids House in Ankawa, May 29. In previous years we have always been speaking in Canada or the U.S. during the first-rate kindergarten performance. Kids House – a MCC Global Family partner – is operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Kids House dancers at graduation program, May 29 (photo by Jim Fine)

Kids House dancers at graduation program, May 29 (photo by Jim Fine)

The Common Lectionary readings remind us the God cannot be contained, constrained or controlled by one people group. Rather, all nations are to worship God and examples of active faith are found in every community.

Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen buying a carpet in Erbil

Deb Fine (left) helps Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen buy a carpet at the bazaar in Erbil

At the dedication of his magnificent temple, Solomon offered an insightful and inclusive prayer: “When a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you. . .” (I Kings 8:42-43).

With Dana Hassan, former director of MCC partner REACH, in Suliemaniyah

With Dana Hassan, former director of MCC partner REACH, in Suliemaniyah

Similarly, the psalmist has a broad understanding of the reach of God’s glory and grace. “Declare (God’s) glory among the nations,” the psalmist urges, “his marvelous works among all the peoples.” (Ps. 96:3)

Jesus heals a Roman centurion’s slave after the centurion says that he trusts Jesus to perform this miracle without even coming to his home. “I tell you,” Jesus marvels, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9).

Carolyne looks at a photo with one of the children at St. Anne's Orphanage in al Qosh

Carolyne looks at a photo with one of the youth at St. Anne’s Orphanage in al Qosh

During our six years in the Middle East we have experienced God’s goodness and blessing in the relationships with people from many nations and faith traditions. Thanks be to God!

Inseparably intertwined

Trinity Sunday (May 26, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

On Tuesday this week Cindy taught her last English class with Iraqi students here in Amman. Her students threw a party in her honor. For nearly a year now Cindy has been teaching ESL classes for children and adults at the Chaldean Catholic church near the MCC offices in Jabal Webdah.

Cindy with some of her students at the Chaldean Catholic church in Amman

Cindy with some of her students at the Chaldean Catholic church in Amman (photo by Fr. Raymond)

On Wednesday we hosted a lunch for young adult staff from several MCC partners here in Amman. Daryl made West African Groundnut Stew (More-with-Less Cookbook, page 172) for the occasion. We have been inspired by the vision and commitment of many young adults who work with NGOs in Jordan.

On Thursday Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen finished their four-month formal Arabic language training. We now begin a three-week orientation period as they assume the MCC Rep role here in Jordan in mid-June.

Carolyne and Gordon with Mark LaChonce, the director of their Arabic language school

Carolyne and Gordon with Mark LaChonce, the director of their Arabic language school

Saturday morning we fly to northern Iraq to introduce the Epp-Fransen’s to MCC Iraq partners; then on to Istanbul where we will meet with one of MCC’s key Iran partners. Getting visas to Iran is not possible due to the upcoming presidential elections.

In the region this week:

  • UNHCR announced a temporary lull in the arrival of Syrian refugees to Jordan due to intensified fighting on the Syrian-Jordanian border, making it difficult for refugees to cross. On Thursday the World Bank announced that it will provide $150 million of economic support to Jordan to assist with the cost of hosting the refugees. Jordan is currently hosting 540,000 Syrians.
Syrian children haul mattresses into one-room caravan homes at Za'atari Camp (photo by Muath Freij for the Jordan Times)

Syrian children haul mattresses into a one-room caravan home at Za’atari Camp (photo by Muath Freij for the Jordan Times)

  • Syrian opposition leaders began three days of talks in Istanbul, seeking a political solution to the conflict which has taken the lives of some 80,000 Syrians and uprooted an additional 5 million.
Jordanian demonstrators outside the Iraqi embassy in Amman (AP photo in Jordan Times)

Anti-riot police outside the Iraqi embassy in Amman (AP photo in Jordan Times)

The Common Lectionary readings for this Trinity Sunday highlight the interwoven relationships between members of the Trinity.

God, who is Creator and Sovereign, gives humans dominion over creation (Ps. 8) and shares everything with Jesus Christ, God’s son (John 16:15).

Jesus Christ is co-creator with God (Prov. 8:22-31) and mediator between God and humanity. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul declares (Rom. 5:1).

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” Paul continues (Rom. 5:5). In addition to being the channel of God’s love, the Spirit guides humanity into all the truth, glorifying and bearing witness to Jesus (John 16:13-15).

Such collaboration and unselfish interaction are rare. Indeed, the relationship between the members of the Trinity is a powerful example of the kind of unity that God desires for the human community as well. In a world torn by divisions and fighting, may such unity be so!

Granddaughter Sydney tests the waters and decides it's too cold to climb in (photo by Holden Byler)

Granddaughter Sydney tests the waters and decides it’s too cold to climb in (photo by Holden Byler)

Coming with power

Pentecost Sunday (May 19, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-35; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27

As our time draws to a close in Jordan, we are receiving a number of farewell dinner invitations. Wednesday we spent a lovely evening with Wafa Goussous, who has worked with the Middle East Council of Churches and the Orthodox Initiative during the past 10 years. On Friday, our MCC Jordan colleague Nada Zabaneh hosted us for a delightful lunch in her home. On Saturday evening, Barbara Jones – with whom we served on the council at the International Anglican Church of Amman – hosted a beautiful farewell dinner for us and the Fabrycky family who is also leaving this summer.

Nada Zabaneh serves Arabic coffee after dinner

Nada Zabaneh serves Arabic coffee after dinner

Cindy conducted interviews for short-term Intensive English teachers in Iraq. This is the fourth year that MCC plans to provide ESL teachers for a program initiated by the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Our friend Wafa took this picture in her home in Jabal Amman, Wednesday. We're coming home with a few more gray hairs than when we arrived in Amman six years ago!

Our friend Wafa took this picture in her home in Jabal Amman, Wednesday. We’re coming home with a few more gray hairs than when we arrived in Amman six years ago!

In the region this week:

"I received a package of milk and diapers . . . they were my hope since I desperately needed them for my newborn twins," said Azad Al Bardan, a Syrian refugee who received assistance through MCC partner Caritas Jordan (photo by Dana Shahin)

“I received a package of milk and diapers . . . they were my hope since I desperately needed them for my newborn twins,” said Azad Al Bardan, a Syrian refugee who received assistance through MCC partner Caritas Jordan (photo by Dana Shahin)

  • Turkey alleged it has evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the fighting in Syria.
  • Iran’s Guardian Council will announce on Tuesday the list of candidates for the June 14 elections. While 30 women have registered, one member of the Guardian Council said this week that Iran’s constitution rules out women presidential candidates. Women are allowed to run for parliamentary seats.

The Common Lectionary readings for this Pentecost Sunday highlight the impact of God’s Holy Spirit.

The story in Acts is the most familiar. God’s Spirit comes from heaven with the sound of a rushing wind and tongues of fire rest on the disciples of Jesus, giving them the ability to speak in diverse languages so that everyone in the crowd is able to hear in his or her own language about God’s deeds of power (Acts 2:1-13). Some allege that the disciples are drunk, but Peter reminds the crowd that the prophets of foretold the coming of the Spirit with power, helping some to see visions and others to dream dreams (vv.17-21).

Our friend Agnes Chen, who served as a HNGR intern with Caritas Jordan, graduated from Wheaton College this week.

Our friend Agnes Chen, who served as a HNGR intern with Caritas Jordan, graduated from Wheaton College this week.

The psalmist associates the coming of God’s Spirit with creation and renewal of the earth (Ps. 104:30).

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that God’s Spirit connects with our human spirit, reminding us that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says that God’s Spirit of truth will serve as our Advocate (John 14:16, 26), abiding with us to teach us everything and to remind us of the words of Jesus (vv. 17, 26).

Our prayer for Pentecost is that God’s Spirit will come with power, bringing new understanding between warring nations, helping leaders to see visions of justice and peace, renewing the earth, teaching humanity how to follow the way of Jesus, and reminding all that we are God’s children.

Lunch feast at Nada's house (left to right): Cindy, Carolyne & Gordon, Nada and Luna

Lunch feast at Nada’s house (left to right): Cindy, Carolyne & Gordon, Nada and Luna

Cindy’s memory box

We attended the MCC Europe-Middle East retreat in Barcelona, April 27-May 1.  Cindy shared the following farewell reflection with the group on April 28.

I’m taking a special box home with me – an imaginary box filled with memories. After six years, the box has gotten pretty big!

As part of this reflection I would like to pull several memories out to share with you. I call them “a sample of Cindy’s memorable moments”:

  • Lunches at the Jordan office with colleagues Nada and Suzi.
St. Peters Seminary student Hans Shamoaay reads a bible passage in English during a morning church service at the seminary. The young seminarians are eager to learn the English language so that they can read and study a wider selection of books, establish relationships with people from other countries and share the history and experiences of Iraqi Christians with people in other countries. (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

St. Peters Seminary student Hans Shamoaay reads a bible passage in English during a morning church service at the seminary.  (MCC photo by Silas Crews)

  • Attending early morning services at St. Peter’s Seminary in Ankawa, Iraq. The singing of the young seminarians was heavenly. Having a beautiful singing voice must be a requirement for becoming a Chaldean priest.
  • Conversations with articulate, passionate young adults in Tehran, Iran – persons like Hossein and his diverse group of friends. We enjoyed having lively discussions over tea or a meal.
Hossein with Ted Koontz, professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Hossein with Ted Koontz, professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary

  • Meeting with Ayatollah Mesbah in Qom, Iran. He has such a fearsome and fiery reputation in the West, but in person he is an elderly and frail man who speaks into a microphone in order to be heard – even in a small group conversation.
  • Attending Reham’s funeral in Smakiyeh, Jordan. Reham was an International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) participant who was unexpectedly diagnosed with leukemia early in her term, returned to Jordan for treatment, and died about six months later. She was buried on the day she had planned to have a party to celebrate her engagement.
Bassem and Nora on their wedding day (18 October 2008)

Bassem and Nora on their wedding day (18 October 2008)

  • Bassem’s wedding. He and Nora had a beautiful church ceremony on the Mt. of Olives, then a reception in Bethlehem. A Palestinian celebration is an amazing thing to experience.
MCC Iraq and MCC Bosnia partners at training in Sarajevo (May 2010)

MCC Iraq and MCC Bosnia partners at training in Sarajevo (May 2010)

  • Accompanying a group of 10 Iraqis to Sarajevo for a workshop led by Amela and Snezana. The Iraqis were genuinely concerned: Was it really safe enough to go to Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Water polo at Beit el Salaam

Water polo at Beit el Salaam

  • Water polo at Beit El Salaam – the former EME retreat location in Egypt. I never had enough courage to join in the fray, but it was an awesome thing to watch from a safe distance!
Cindy's 60th birthday party on the Mt. of Olives

Cindy’s 60th birthday party on the Mt. of Olives

  • A surprise party to celebrate my 60th birthday hosted by the Palestine team at Augusta Victoria on the Mt. of Olives.
  • Singing and worshiping together each EME retreat.
  • Lighting the candle at the beginning of each MCC Jordan staff meeting.

While sitting at my desk in the MCC Jordan office — working on the computer; writing and answering email; and writing and editing plans and reports – was a significant part of the MCC Rep position, you won’t find any of that in my memory box!

MCC Reps in Barcelona (April 2013)

MCC Reps in Barcelona (April 2013)

It is the memory of the people, places and relationships I will carry back with me – for this transformative opportunity I am deeply grateful to MCC. And just to be clear, you all are in my memory box. For the opportunity to know you and serve with you, I am also deeply grateful.

Witnesses

Second Sunday of Easter (April 7, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

This week we hosted two visitors from the Bruderhof — a Christian community that seeks to recapture the model of the first century church. Edith and Kim Ann are volunteers at House of Hope in Bethlehem and are taking a short break in Jordan. While here, they have been assisting Cindy in teaching ESL classes with Iraqis who are awaiting resettlement to the United States.

Kristy Guertin at start of the Dead Sea Marathon, Apr. 5

Kristy Guertin at start of the Dead Sea Marathon, Apr. 5

A prominent member of the Bruderhof community, Josef Ben-Eliezer, who during his life acted and spoke boldly for justice and peace in the Middle East, died March 23.

We also enjoyed visits this week with Michael Greer and Eric Oltman, two friends that we first learned to know during our years at Washington Community Fellowship.

The race began in the rain and fog, but the weather quickly changed as runners wound their way down the mountain and into the Jordan Valley

The race began in the rain and fog, but the weather quickly changed as runners wound their way down the mountain and into the Jordan Valley

On Friday, Kristy Guertin, SALT volunteer at MCC Global Family partner Arab Episcopal School (AES), ran the Dead Sea Marathon, along with her friend and work colleague Lena Gomer. Both completed the 42 km (26.2 mi.) course with great times, finishing in the top 20 in the women’s division. Franziska Kadur, a third volunteer at AES, led the marathon cheering squad, which included Carolyn and Gordon Epp-Fransen, along with Daryl.

Lena and Kristy on rain-soaked road just outside Amman

Lena and Kristy on rain-soaked road just outside Amman

In the region this week:

  • The U.N. announced that it is running out of funds to support Syrian refugees, who now number well over one million across the region.
  • There are now more than 470,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan and humanitarian organizations are predicting that the number in Jordan alone could swell to more than 1.0 million by year end. UNHCR has registered most of the refugees. The high cost of energy – exacerbated by the influx of refugees — is pressing Jordan to look at renewable energy sources.
Za'atari Refugee Camp, home to 150,000 Syrians (Getty Photos)

Za’atari Refugee Camp, home to 150,000 Syrians (Getty Photos)

  • Talks between Iran and Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany resumed, Apr. 5, in Kazakhstan. So far there has been little progress toward agreement over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

The Common Lectionary Readings are about being witnesses.

In the reading from Acts, in spite of being warned by the religious authorities not to teach about Jesus, his disciples speak openly about witnessing his death, resurrection and exultation. “We must obey God rather than any human authority,” they reply when dragged before the angry religious leaders (Acts 5:29).

The views along the hilly Dead Sea Marathon course were stunning

The views along the hilly Dead Sea Marathon course were stunning

The psalmist gives witness to God’s mighty deeds and surpassing greatness (Ps. 150:2).

John, the writer of Revelation, describes Jesus as “the faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5) – the one who showed the world how God desires humanity to live in right relationship with God and one another.

#1 marathon fan and support crew, Franziska Kadur, Kristy and Lena's colleague at Arab Episcopal School

#1 marathon fan and support crew leader, Franziska Kadur, Kristy and Lena’s colleague at AES

The same John says that he has written a Gospel account to give witness to the signs that Jesus did in the presence of the disciples, as well as his resurrection from the dead, “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah.” (John 20:31)

In a world torn by suffering and violence, may our lives, too, bear faithful witness to God’s mighty acts and to God’s plan for a just and peaceful world.

#1 bakerette --granddaughter Sydney has already learned that waiting for the cookies to bake is overrated

#1 bakerette –granddaughter Sydney has already learned that waiting for the cookies to bake is highly overrated

Turn, seek, satisfied

Lent 3 (March 3, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63; I Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

This was a full week. Cindy had 45 Iraqi adults in her ESL class on Monday evening. She is now teaching three classes each week – two for children and one for adults.  All of her students are in the process or resettling to third countries – primarily to the United States.

Prince Hassan greets performers Rose El-Weer, Hayffa' Kamal, Dr. Ayman Tayseer and Deacon Emad al-Bawab (Music House photo)

Prince Hassan greets performers Rose El-Weer, Hayffa’ Kamal, Dr. Ayman Tayseer and Deacon Emad al-Bawab (Music House photo)

Wednesday evening we attended “A Spiritual Chants Concert” – an event to strengthen interfaith understanding and appreciation by sharing sacred music from Christian and Muslim traditions.  The Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies organized and hosted this event, which was sponsored by MCC.

His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein and head of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, told the crowd that, around the world, music has lifted the human spirit in times of struggle and has been a bridge between various cultures and faith groups.  Prince Hassan called for taking the necessary steps to “transfer from the culture of hatred to the culture of love.”

This 88-year-old Syrian woman arrived in Za'atari six months ago from Daraa

This 88-year-old Syrian woman arrived in Za’atari six months ago from Daraa

On Wednesday Daryl attended a workshop on worker care issues for NGO staff who are responding to the growing Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan.  MCC is working with Lutheran World Federation to design a program that offers strategies and tools for humanitarian workers who are increasingly stressed by the burgeoning crisis.

Syrian girls at Za'atari Camp

Syrian girls at Za’atari Camp

On Saturday Daryl visited the Za’atari Camp near Mafraq along with worker care experts Amber Gray and John Fawcett, who are designing a proposal for supporting humanitarian workers.  More than 100,000 Syrian refugees live in the camp — about six miles (10 kilometers) from the Syrian border.  Click here for more photos.

Za'atari Camp receives as many as 4,000 new Syrian refugee arrivals each nite

Za’atari Camp receives as many as 4,000 new Syrian refugee arrivals each night

As many as 3,000 to 4,000 new refugees arrive at Za’atari Camp on any given night, stressing the camp’s infrastructure and placing heavy demands on NGO workers for organizations like Save the Children, which has some 300 staff working in the camp.  Street vendors are cropping up everywhere in the camp, selling everything from fruits and vegetables to washing machines.

Water arrives twice a day in the Za'atari Camp

Water arrives twice a day in the Za’atari Camp

In the region this week:

  • Iran and six nuclear powers (China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and the United States) engaged in talks about reducing sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran scaling back its nuclear program activities.  The negotiators agreed to meet again in April, hopefully helping to avert a major confrontation that would benefit no one.

The Common Lectionary Readings this week remind us that humans tend to seek satisfaction in things incapable of offering fulfillment.

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” asks the prophet Isaiah (Is. 55:2). “Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them.” (v.7)

The psalmist recognizes the source of satisfaction.  “My soul thirsts for you,” he writes. (Ps. 63:1).  “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast.” (v.5), he reflects.  “My soul clings to you.” (v.8)

Children walking the streets in Za'atari Camp

Children walking the streets in Za’atari Camp

In the Epistle reading Paul describes how God delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and provided resources during their 40 years in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:1-4).  And yet many of them turned to idolatry (v.7), sexual immorality (v.8), testing God (v.9) and complaining (v.10).  Paul urges his readers to learn from this negative example and to stand firm in times of testing, for “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” (v.13)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus repeats the call for repentance (Luke 13:3, 5) and tells a parable about a fig tree that fails to bear fruit (vv. 6-9).

One of the staff at Za’atari camp told us she used to work in a high-paying profession but left to become a humanitarian worker.  She finds the latter to be much richer and fuller of meaning.  Likewise, repentance is our human acknowledgement that we too often look for meaning in the wrong places and the wrong things.  It is only as we turn away from that which is hollow and seek God and God’s ways that we are satisfied as with a rich feast and that our lives bear fruit.

Amber Gray and John Fawcett are helping to design a worker care program for humanitarian aid staff

Amber Gray and John Fawcett are helping to design a staff care program for humanitarian workers

Clarity in the clouds

Transfiguration Sunday (February 10, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; II Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36

This week we hosted a delegation from the Food Resources Bank (FRB) and traveled the Jordan Valley from south to north.  FRB raises resources to strengthen global food security, by facilitating growing projects in the United States.  In Jordan, FRB supports an agricultural training project in Greigra – a small village in Wadi Araba.

Bev Abma, FRB director, inspects tomatoes at a farm in the northern Jordan Valley

Bev Abma, FRB director, inspects tomatoes at a farm in the northern Jordan Valley

FRB delegation members Wilma Wiens and LeRoy Brocka visit before a day trip to Wadi Araba

FRB delegation members Wilma Wiens and LeRoy Brocka visit before a day trip to Wadi Araba

The two-year-old Syrian crisis — started when several teenage boys painted anti-Assad graffiti in the southern Syrian city of Daraa — is having major impact on Jordan and other countries in the region.

This week the Economic and Social Council (ESC) issued a report stating that the economic cost of hosting the refugees for the past 18 months exceeded 590 million Jordanian Dinars ($833 million USD). This represents about 3 percent of Jordan’s gross domestic product.

According to the Jordanian government, the number of Syrians in Jordan now exceeds 320,000, placing strain on Jordan’s infrastructure and, in some cases, increasing social tensions between the refugees and Jordanian host communities.

Cindy with Rasha in Gregria

Cindy with Rasha in Greigra

More than 29,000 Syrian children are enrolled in Jordanian public schools at a cost of $19.8 million.  The influx of Syrians has also contributed to growing unemployment rates in Jordan, as 38,000 jobs have been offered to Syrians.

Some Syrians are moving their businesses to Jordan, creating stiff competition for Jordanian companies, according to The Media Line.  “Syrians are managing to cut production costs by operating from apartments, hiring refugees and avoiding taxation,” said garment factory owner Ebrahim Hadad.  “Syrians are welcomed; this country is comprised of refugees,” Hadad continued. “However, they are hurting our businesses. I am unable to compete with them.”

Za'atari Refugee Camp near Mafraq, where an MCC partner distributed children's shoes this week (photo by Mu'ath Freij)

Za’atari Refugee Camp near Mafraq, where an MCC partner distributed children’s shoes this week           (photo by Mu’ath Freij)

Dozens were killed Friday in a spate of car bomb attacks in mainly Shia Muslim areas near Baghdad.  Meanwhile, Sunni Muslims demonstrated against Iraq’s Shia-led government, alleging that Sunni’s are marginalized in Iraq.

Also in the region this week Iran and the United States considered the possibility of bilateral talks, but have not reached an agreement to do so.

Women from Gregria plant watermelons, using plastic "tents" to extend the growing season

Women from Greigra plant watermelons, using plastic “tents” to extend the growing season

Eric Mattson and Bev Abma, FRB staff, eye a delicious Jordanian Bedouin meal in Gregria

Eric Mattson and Bev Abma, FRB staff, eye a delicious Jordanian Bedouin meal in Greigra

The Common Lectionary readings this week are about finding clarity in the clouds!

In the Old Testament reading, Moses spends 40 days and nights on Mt. Sinai in a cloud, speaking with God and receiving the Ten Commandments.  When Moses comes down the mountain his face shines because he has been talking to God. (Ex. 34:29-35)

The psalmist writes that Moses, Aaron and Samuel were among those who called on God’s name and that God answered them (Ps. 99:6).  God “spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.” (v.7)

The FRB delegation made a quick stop at the Dead Sea on the way to Wadi Araba

The FRB delegation made a quick stop at the Dead Sea on the way to Wadi Araba

In the Epistle reading, Paul recounts that Moses’ face shone after encountering God on Mt. Sinai.  Subsequently, after speaking with the people, Moses put a veil over his face so that the people would not see that the shine was fading.  Paul says that this same veil is there today for those who hear the old covenant.  However, in Christ, the veil is set aside.  “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (II Cor. 3:18)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on a mountain to pray.  While praying, the appearance of Jesus’ face is changed and his clothes become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear briefly.  A cloud envelops Jesus and his terrified disciples.  A voice says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

Ironically, God often speaks most clearly when things feel most cloudy to us.  Clouds can cause us to feel confused and disoriented.  But they can also filter out distractions, freeing us to concentrate fully on God’s presence and to hear God’s voice with greater clarity.  In the clouds, God seeks to transform us from one degree of glory to another.

Ripe tomatoes in Jordan -- in February!

Ripe tomatoes in Jordan — in February!

From the womb God calls and delivers us

4th Sunday after Epiphany (February 3, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 1:4-10; Ps. 71:1-6; I Cor. 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Cindy, along with our MCC Amman office colleague Suzi Khoury, successfully navigated the annual process of renewing our Jordanian residency – no small feat when working with multiple government ministries!

A Palestinian woman walks with her grandchildren in Jerusalem's Old City

A Palestinian woman walks with her grandchildren in Jerusalem’s Old City

Daryl accompanied incoming MCC Europe-Middle East area director Amela Puljek-Shank to Jerusalem for three days, where she learned about MCC’s Palestine-Israel program.

On Monday, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem distributed MCC blankets, relief kits and school kits in Husun, a community in northern Jordan.  Two other MCC partners in Jordan submitted large proposals to the Canadian government, seeking funds for their work with Syrian refugees in Jordan.

A young girl carries MCC blankets at a distribution for Syrian refugees in Husun (photo provided by Greek Orthodox Patriarchate)

A young girl carries MCC school kits at a distribution for Syrian refugees in Husun (photo provided by Greek Orthodox Patriarchate)

In the region this week:

 

Bassem Thabet, MCC Palestine staff, serves coffee at his home in Jerusalem

Bassem Thabet, MCC Palestine staff, serves coffee at his home in Jerusalem

The Common Lectionary readings this week describe how God calls and delivers us — from the womb to adulthood.

In the Old Testament reading, God reassures Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)  Jeremiah protests that he is too young and not a good public speaker, but God persists: “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.” (v.7)  God reassures, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” (v.8)

In a time of trouble, the psalmist appeals to God for deliverance from the unjust and cruel, taking comfort in God’s faithfulness in the past. “Upon you I have leaned from my birth,” the psalmist reflects, “it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.” (Ps. 71:6)

In the Epistle reading, Paul acknowledges: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (I Cor. 13:11).  In a familiar and powerful text, Paul describes what mature love looks like:

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (vv.4-8a)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus encounters resistance in his hometown of Nazareth after announcing the ministry to which God has called him. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they ask (Luke 4:22), not convinced that the young man they knew as a child was capable of carrying out such a mission. “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown,” Jesus responds (v.24). The angry crowd drives him out of town and seeks to hurl him off a cliff, but Jesus escapes.

Daryl visited the cross-shaped pathways of the Garden of Gethsemane while in Jerusalem

Daryl visited the cross-shaped pathways of the Garden of Gethsemane while in Jerusalem

From the womb God calls and delivers us. Sometimes we feel ill-equipped to carry out that calling. Or we experience resistance from others along the journey. The readings this week assure us that the God who calls us also delivers us from our enemies. Our job is to put away childish resistance, to trust God and to walk faithfully in our calling.