Category Archives: Iraq

Signing off from Amman

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (June 16, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
II Samuel 11:26-12:15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

This week we said our last goodbyes in Jordan. On Monday, Wafa Goussous of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate hosted a lovely farewell gathering on behalf of MCC Jordan partners.

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On Tuesday we traveled to Karak to say goodbye to our friend Mamun Tarawneh, who has introduced us to many Jordanian families during our time in the Middle East. We enjoyed the Jordanian national dish, mansef — a meat and rice dish served with nuts and yogurt.

Cindy enjoys mansef at the Tarawneh home in Karak

Cindy enjoys mansef at the Tarawneh home in Karak

On Thursday evening the MCC office staff took us out for a farewell dinner. To use a Middle Eastern expression, we feel generously “fare-welled.”

Cindy at farewell dinner with colleagues Suzi Khoury, Nada Zabaneh and Kristy Guertin

Cindy at farewell dinner with colleagues Suzi Khoury, Nada Zabaneh and Kristy Guertin

This will be our last posting from the Middle East. We plan to fly to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 15.

Thanks to those who have journeyed with us during these six years. According to WordPress, we have had readers from 127 countries during the past several years. Many have taken time to send notes of encouragement. Our friend Mike Charles from Arizona, our small group from Washington, D.C. and Don and Lurline Campbell from Brisbane, Australia, deserve distinction as “encouragers-in-chief”!  We are still trying to decide whether we will continue a blog — obviously under a new name — when we return to Virginia. If so, it will be at this same site.

There have been significant changes during our six years in the Middle East:

  • The aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war uprooted some 5 million Iraqis. By some estimates, up to 70 percent of the Iraqi Christian community left the country since the 1991 and 2003 wars.
  • When we arrived in 2007, as many as 700,000 Iraqi refuges lived in Jordan, seeking resettlement to third countries. While the number of Iraqis in Jordan has decreased to tens of thousands, more than 560,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in their place. UNHCR estimates the number could swell to 1.2 million by year end, severely straining Jordan’s infrastructure.
  • As a result of the Arab Spring, four governments in the region have been toppled in the past two years – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. A major civil war rages in Syria.
  • Long-simmering tensions between the minority Bedouin tribes of Jordan and the majority Palestinian population, which arrived as refugees in Jordan after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, are now threatening to split the country apart.

Amidst the political upheaval in the region, a new "downtown" is rising in the Abdali section of Amman

About a third of the high-rises are now visible in a new “Abdali downtown” that is rising in Amman

  • When we arrived in Amman, a large construction site near our flat was a patchwork of large holes in the ground. Today tall buildings are rising from the ground, comprising the new Abdali downtown.

MCC has also seen major changes.  A strategic planning and re-structuring process known as Wineskins has resulted in MCC Canada and MCC U.S. now jointly administering MCC international programs.  MCC has also adopted a more rigorous planning, evaluation and monitoring system for partner-implemented projects around the world.

Mamun with his bug-eating pet porcupine.  Cindy says it's a hedgehog and she's probably right!

Mamun with his bug-eating pet porcupine. Cindy says it’s a hedgehog and she’s probably right!

The Common Lectionary readings this week offer still timely reminders about the connections between confession, forgiveness and restoration.

The prophet Nathan confronts King David after he commits adultery with Bathsheba and has her husband killed.  To David’s credit, he acknowledges his sin. While God forgives David, the long-term consequences of his actions haunt him for the remainder of his days (II Sam. 11:26-12:15).

Reflecting on this experience David writes: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  . . . my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.  . . . Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Ps. 32:3-5)

In the Epistle reading, Paul acknowledges that we cannot be made right with God by “doing the works of the law” (Gal. 2:16), but by placing our faith in Christ who loves us and gave his life for us (vv. 16, 20).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus commends a sinful woman who has demonstrated her repentance by washing Jesus’ feet, while he criticize a religious leader who neither shows hospitality nor recognizes the depth of his need for God’s forgiveness.  “I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love,” Jesus observes, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke :47)

Farewell picture in MCC Jordan office (photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen)

Farewell picture in MCC Jordan office (photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen)

It will be special to arrive in Virginia in time for Father’s Day. We plan to spend time this Sunday with Holden, Heidi and granddaughter Sydney.

Thanks again to all who have journeyed with us!

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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

Last wishes

7th Sunday of Easter (May 12, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-21; John 17:20-26

We have just two weeks left in the MCC Jordan office before beginning a three-week period of transition with incoming MCC Reps Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen. Our time now is spent tidying up loose ends and preparing for the transition.

Following is a reflection that Cindy shared in a recent workshop via Skype with Illinois Mennonite Conference:

These girls from Baghdad are among tens of thousands of Iraqis for whom Amman is a temporary home while awaiting resettlement

These girls from Baghdad are among tens of thousands of Iraqis for whom Amman is a temporary home while awaiting resettlement

During the past year I have had the privilege of teaching ESL classes for groups of Iraqi adults, elementary and junior high students at a small Chaldean Catholic church near the MCC office in Amman. These students are part of a refugee community here in Amman, awaiting resettlement to a third country.

Their priest, Father Raymond, says Iraqi refugees began coming to Jordan in 1991 after the invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War. At the peak, he estimates 700,000 Iraqis – Muslims and Christians – were in Jordan. Some 35,000 – 40,000 of this number were Chaldean Catholics.

Now, more than 20 years later, he estimates there are still 200,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan – including 10,000-15,000 Chaldean Christians. There is a steady flow of resettlement, with Iraqis going to Australia, the United States, Canada, Sweden, and most recently, to Germany. In the U.S. many Chaldean Catholics are resettling in Detroit and San Diego. Chicago has a large Iraqi Assyrian Catholic community.

The children in my English classes, ages 7-16, have been in Jordan for anywhere between 1 to 9 years. Most come from Baghdad, but some come from Mosul and Basra. They say their families left Iraq because the war made life very difficult and unsafe. They will be resettling in Germany and the United States. Most don’t know when; but Ivan, whose family has been in Jordan for 2 years, excitedly explained that his family will move to Detroit at the end of May. The reality is that families are constantly leaving to begin their new lives, and other families are arriving to Jordan from Iraq to take their places.

MCC U.S. writer LInda Espenshade (right) talks with an Iraqi woman who is part of the higher education program run by MCC partner Jesuit Refugee Services

MCC U.S. writer LInda Espenshade (right) talks with an Iraqi woman who is part of the higher education program run by MCC partner Jesuit Refugee Services

My adult class includes 25-30 men and women, ages 15-76, keen to practice English with someone who has an American accent! They want to learn “survival” English — how to meet people, engage in small talk, shop, order dinner at a restaurant, catch a taxi and the list goes on.

My students are so motivated, appreciative and upbeat. But one gentleman confided, “You see us joking and laughing, but every Iraqi’s heart is sad.”

During one class I had my students write and share their hopes and dreams. One woman wrote: “I always dream I am with our children. I have four children and they have all moved away. Two daughters live in Canada. One daughter lives in the United States. One son lives in Sydney. They are all married. When I pray I beg God to let me see them. It’s a dream to me now, but I am patient. Patience and time bring everything to bear.”

Like this Iraqi woman, the Common Lectionary readings this week are about last wishes.

In the reading from Acts, a jailer charged with guarding Paul and Silas fears for his life when an earthquake breaks open the prison where his prisoners are singing and praying while locked in chains (Acts 16:26). But none of the prisoners choose to escape. So impressed by their example, the jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v.30) Paul and Silas take the opportunity to introduce the jailer and his household to Jesus.

On Orthodox Easter Sunday, we were invited to the home of Jordanian friends for lunch.  The remains a a 5th century Byzantine Church were recently discovered on their property during construction of a road connecting Amman with the Queen Alia Airport.

On Orthodox Easter Sunday, we were invited to the home of Jordanian friends for lunch. The remains of this 5th century Byzantine church were recently discovered on their property during construction of a road connecting Amman with the Queen Alia Airport.

In the reading from Revelation, Jesus – described as “the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13) – expresses his desire: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes to take the water of life as a gift.” (v.17)

In the Gospel reading, shortly before returning to heaven, Jesus prays for his disciples and those who will succeed them. His last desire for his followers is that they “may be one” (John 17:21-23). For it is only through the unity and love demonstrated by followers of Jesus that the world will come to know him (vv. 21, 23).

Really, could our granddaughter get any cuter?

Really, could our granddaughter get any cuter?

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.

The lamb who becomes the shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 21, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

This week we enjoyed hosting Darrin Yoder, MCC’s material resources manager. Darrin has been responsible for coordinating shipments of relief kits, school kits, health kits and blankets to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in the wake of the Syrian crisis.

These two brothers eventually each received an MCC school kit

These two brothers eventually each received an MCC school kit

On Monday we visited Caritas Jordan distribution sites in Husson and Mafraq and talked with Syrian families about the violent situations they left behind in their own country.

Caritas has an orderly, efficient and dignity-preserving distribution system, taking time to assess each family’s needs and tailoring its response accordingly. Caritas makes extensive use of a network of Jordanian and Syrian volunteers.

Darrin Yoder, MCC material resources coordinator; Dana Abawi, Caritas Jordan communications coordinator; and Nada Zabaneh, MCC Jordan program coordinator

Darrin Yoder, MCC material resources manager; Dana Abawi, Caritas Jordan communications coordinator; and Nada Zabaneh, MCC Jordan program coordinator, at Husson distribution site

At Caritas’ distribution site in Husson, a family with two boys received several MCC blankets, a relief kit and one school kit. The brother’s both wanted the school kit and had a friendly tugging match for who would get it. As the boys walked away from the distribution site, the Caritas staff member realized that they had made a mistake in the allotment and called the family back. The family ended up leaving with three school kits and lots of smiles.

A Syrian volunteer opens a bundle of MCC blankets at a Caritas distribution site in Mafraq

A Syrian volunteer opens a bundle of MCC blankets at a Caritas distribution site in Mafraq

At the Caritas distribution site in Mafraq an elderly volunteer removed his baseball cap and showed us a large bandage on his head. “I just had surgery,” he said. “I can’t go to my job, so I thought I’d volunteer with Caritas today!”

On Tuesday we visited the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, where MCC SALTer Willy Stell works with children on the deaf-blind unit and offers administrative support for Brother Andrew, who heads the school.

Willy Stell communicates with Hazim in the deaf-blind unit at Holy Land Institute for the Deaf

Willy Stell communicates with Hazim in the deaf-blind unit at Holy Land Institute for the Deaf

Wednesday we welcomed guests from MedAir, a Swiss organization responding to the Syrian crisis.  On Thursday, Paul Parker, a professor at Elmhurst College who is spending his sabbatical at Sabeel Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem, joined us for lunch. Paul regularly leads groups of students and adults on tours to Palestine/Israel.

In the region this week:

Syrian refugee Fatima practices her hobby of drawing at a facility run by Noor Al Hussein Foundation's Institute for Family Health at the Zaatari Refugee Camp on Wednesday (Jordan Times photo courtesy of the Institute for Family Health)

Syrian refugee Fatima practices her hobby of drawing at a facility run by Noor Al Hussein Foundation’s Institute for Family Health at the Zaatari Refugee Camp on Wednesday (Jordan Times photo courtesy of the Institute for Family Health)

The Common Lectionary readings this week are about shepherds and sheep.

In the reading from Acts, Peter puts into practice the charge that Jesus gave him to “tend and feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). When the beloved disciple Tabitha becomes ill and dies, Peter prays and restores her to life (Acts 9:36-43).

The psalmist describes the shepherd who cares for the sheep by leading them to green pastures and still waters, on right paths and through dark valleys (Ps. 23).

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me,” Jesus says in the Gospel reading. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish,” he promises. (John 10:27-28).

The reading from Revelation offers a stunning image. The Lamb who was slaughtered and who now sits with God at the center of the throne, will become the shepherd, guiding God people to “springs of the water of life.” (Rev. 7:17a). With such a shepherd, God’s people “will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat … and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (vv. 16, 17b)

The Bible is filled with paradoxes:

  • A shepherd boy with only an abiding faith and a sling shot defeats a bullying giant in full military armor (I Samuel 17).
  • The prophet Isaiah paints this image of God’s coming kingdom:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them (Is. 11:6)

Granddaughter Sydney enjoys playing with bubbles

Granddaughter Sydney enjoys playing with bubbles

  • Gentile men and women – thought to be outside the community of the faithful – are lauded by Jesus as the examples of true faith (Mathew 8:5-10; Mark 7:24-30; Luke 4:25-27).

But perhaps the ultimate paradox is that the Lamb who was slaughtered – the picture of utter vulnerability – becomes the powerful shepherd of the sheep, offering them protection, guidance and sustenance.

Through new eyes

Third Sunday of Easter (April 14, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

This week we enjoyed meeting with Larry Miller, former General Secretary of Mennonite World Conference, who now serves in a similar role with the Global Christian Forum.  GCF staff gathered in Amman to discuss regional connections with Middle Eastern Christian bodies.

Suzi Khoury, MCC Jordan office and financial manager, feeds nephew Elias

Suzi Khoury, MCC Jordan office and financial manager, feeds nephew Elias

For the first time, we also met our colleague Suzi Khory’s niece and nephew, Jessica and Elias, when they visited the MCC Jordan office on Thursday afternoon.

We are rapidly coming to the end of our time in Jordan – with just two months now until we complete our service with MCC and return to the United States. We feel a mixture of excitement and sadness.

Willy Stell has been a SALT worker at Holy Land Institute for the Deaf since Sept. 2012

Willy Stell has been a SALT worker at Holy Land Institute for the Deaf since Sept. 2012

On Wednesday, we shared a delightful evening with Willy Stell, SALT volunteer at MCC Global Family partner Holy Land Institute. We have been blessed with wonderful SALT volunteers during our six years in Jordan.

In the region this week:

  • In a meeting with William Swing, director general of the International Organization of Migration, Interior Minister Hussein Majali announced that Jordan will keep open its shared borders with Syria, despite a refugee influx that has surpassed some 2,000 persons per day.

    William Swing (l), director general of the International Organization of Migration, with Jordan's Interior Minister Hussein Majali (Jordan Times photo)

    William Swing (l), director general of the International Organization of Migration, with Jordan’s Interior Minister Hussein Majali (Petra photo in Jordan Times)

The Common Lectionary readings for this third Sunday of Easter focus on seeing through new eyes.

In the reading from Acts, the religious zealot Saul makes a dramatic shift from persecuting the followers of Jesus (Acts 9:1-5) to proclaiming that Jesus “is the Son of God.” (v.20) Temporarily blinded by a light from heaven while traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians, “something like “scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored” when Ananias, a church leader in Damascus, told Saul that God had a different mission for him (v.18).

The psalmist reflects on his journey from a place of favor, prosperity and strength (Ps. 32:6-7a); to a place of mourning, dismay and weeping (vv. 2, 5, 7, 9, 11); and back to a place of wholeness, joy and dancing (vv. 2, 3, 5, 11). It is only by going through a time of hardship that the psalmist is clearly able to see God’s restoring work in his life.

In the reading from Revelation, the angels and every creature on earth finally recognize that the lamb who was slaughtered – the one who appeared to be weak and vulnerable – is the only one who is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5:12-13)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples seem confused after his death and resurrection. They decide to return to fishing – the profession of several disciples before they first met Jesus. After a futile night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus shouts at them from the shore, urging them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Immediately they make a large catch of fish. Only then do they realize that it is Jesus on the shoreline – the one who years earlier had called them to leave their nets and follow him (John 21:1-19).

Elias and Jessica Khoury -- didn't miss a beat as they took in their surroundings at the MCC Jordan office

Elias and Jessica Khoury didn’t miss a beat as they took in their surroundings at the MCC office

We enjoyed watching Elias and Jessica take in the sights and surroundings of the MCC Amman office on Thursday. For babies, each day, each experience, is an adventure of seeing the world through new eyes.

My our eyes also be opened each day to see how God is at work, giving new purpose to those with misguided zeal, restoring wholeness and joy to those who despair and mourn, revealing power through weakness, and calling us back to our true identity.

The last enemy

Easter Sunday (March 31, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18

This is Passion Week and Easter in the Western Christian tradition. Palestinian and Iraqi Christians who follow the Western church calendar will celebrate this weekend. In the Eastern tradition – which is followed here in Jordan and by Orthodox Christians throughout the region — Easter will not be celebrated until May 5.

Pilate washes his hands of responsibility for Jesus' death (stain glass window in the Church of the Flagellation, Jerusalem)

Pilate washes his hands of responsibility for Jesus’ death (stain glass window in the Church of the Flagellation, Jerusalem)

In the region this week:

Syrians crossing the Yarmouk River (Jordan Times file photo)

Syrians cross the Yarmouk River into Jordan (Jordan Times file photo)

  • U.S. President Barak Obama visited Jordan, pledging an additional $200 million to help Jordan offset burgeoning costs of hosting Syrian refugees. In a joint press conference with Obama on Mar. 22, Jordan’s King Abdullah said:

Jordan today is hosting, by far, the largest number of Syrian refugees. The numbers have just exceeded 460,000 Syrians. That is 10 percent of our population. And the alarming figures, if the rates continue as we’re seeing today, will probably double by the end of the year. So for the Americans in the audience, that’s the equivalent of 30 million refugees crossing into the United States — the possibility of that going up to 60 million by the end of the year — relative, obviously, to our populations.

Syrian refugees watch the convoy of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres as he visits Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria March 13, 2013. (REUTERS photo by Muhammad Hamed)

Syrian refugees at Al Za’atari camp watch convoy for UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, during his  March 13, 2013 visit (REUTERS photo by Muhammad Hamed)

The Common Lectionary readings for this Easter Sunday focus on death and new life.

In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah describes a day when there will be no more weeping or cries of distress. “No more shall there be in (Jerusalem) an infant that lives but a few days,” Isaiah writes, “or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.” (Is. 65:20) Isaiah’s hope is rooted in God’s promise: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (v.17)

In the Gospel reading, Mary of Magdalene visits the tomb of Jesus, only to find it empty. Weeping in her grief, she encounters Jesus outside the tomb and mistakes him for the gardener. When she finally realizes it is Jesus, her grief turns to joy and she dashes off to announce to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:1-18)

In the Epistle reading, Paul declares that Jesus has been raised from the dead, “the first fruits of those who have died.” (I Cor. 15:20) Paul writes that, during the period between Christ’s resurrection and his return, Jesus will destroy “every ruler and every authority and power.” (v.24) “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” Paul asserts (v.26).

Candles burn brightly inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, also known as the Church of the Resurrection

Candles burn brightly inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, also known as the Church of the Resurrection

Indeed, death is the most powerful of all enemies. The fear of death and its cousins – the fear of being incarcerated, the fear of suffering, and the fear of being insecure or insignificant – determine many of our human choices.

The fear of death causes some to flee their homes and countries. It causes others to live in gated communities. It compels others to exercise extraordinary caution in where they will travel or what jobs they will do. It causes nations to build massive weapons systems for their protection.

Rulers and authorities use the fear of death as their ultimate weapon to intimidate the masses to obey orders. We have witnessed the use of this tool many times during the Arab Spring. We have also witnessed courageous crowds who refused to be intimidated by threats.

By allowing the Roman Empire and the Jewish religious establishment to crucify Jesus, God unmasked the bluster and bravado of their threat of death. The resurrection of Jesus showed convincingly that death could not contain him.

With the heaviness of the issues in the Middle East, we continue to be buoyed by photos of our granddaughter Sydney, here visiting Heidi's third-grade class

With the heaviness of the issues in the Middle East, we continue to be buoyed by photos of our granddaughter Sydney, here visiting Heidi’s third-grade class

God does not destroy enemies with shock and awe, blowing them to bits. Rather, God exposes their impotence in the face of God’s mighty power.

Death has been a source of suffering and pain for many families. It is a terrible and terrifying thing. But death’s days are numbered. It has already been exposed as insufficient to control those who place their trust in God. Thank God, it will someday be destroyed!

An open letter to my children on the eve of war

027bThe biblical story of David and Bathsheba begins, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…” (II Sam. 11:1).  How little changes across the centuries! 

March 15 marked two years since the beginning of the Syrian revolution.  I wrote this piece for PBS “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” about the impact of Syria’s civil war on its neighbors. 

March 16 marked 25 years since Saddam Hussein’s poison gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja, killing 5,000.  

March 19 marks 10 years since the U.S.-led Iraq war.  Below is an open letter I wrote to my children on the eve of that war. – Daryl

 

March 18, 2003

Dear Jessica, Holden and Jeremy:

Our nation is again on the eve of war. During the first Gulf War back in 1991, you were eight, seven and almost two-years-old. Can it be true that you are now in college, Jessica and Holden, and you are almost ready to start high school, Jeremy?

Jessica is a social worker for the City of Denver, where she lives with her beloved dog Kojack

Jessica is a social worker for the City of Denver, where she lives with her beloved dog Kojack

That war started just weeks after the death of my father and your grandfather. It was a dark and despairing time. Each night our family lit a candle of hope and, after supper, placed it in a gallon jar on our front porch. Most of our neighbors fastened yellow ribbons on trees or doorposts – wishing for the safe return of U.S. troops from the war. We shared that hope, but decided instead to craft a bow using all the colors of the Olympic flag — a wish that the troops from all nations would return home safely.

And now, barring an act of God, there will be war again very soon. Under the “best case” scenario, the war will be quick, there will be minimal loss of life, Iraqi people will welcome positive changes in their lives, the Middle East will grow more stable, and the nations of the world will forgive the United States for rushing to war without their blessing.

Holden works in the IT department at Eastern Mennonite University. Pictured here with spouse, Heidi (a third grade teacher) and daughter Sydney

Holden works in the IT department at Eastern Mennonite University. Pictured here with spouse, Heidi (a third grade teacher) and daughter Sydney

But rarely, if ever, does war produce “best case” scenarios. The more sobering possibilities are that: this war will kill or injure tens of thousands of children, civilians and troops; millions of Iraqis will be left homeless; the Middle East will become even more unstable; anti-U.S. feelings around the world will grow stronger; and terror attacks on U.S. soil will increase. Under worst case scenarios, this war could involve the use of weapons of mass destruction by both Iraq and the United States.

Human cost of Iraq war:
Iraqi civilian casualties: 122,195
Iraqi security casualties: 10,125
Iraqi deaths so far in 2013: 788
U.S. military casualties: 4,488
Uprooted Iraqis: 5.0 million

Financial cost of Iraq war:
$832.3 billion

Thank you for being a wonderful source of encouragement during my recent 40-day fast for peace. As you know, I undertook this fast because it feels like so very much is at stake. I do not wish for you or your children to live in a world trapped by an endless cycle of terror and military retaliation. That is my greatest fear of what this war will bring.

Jeremy on graduation day at Bucknell University. He is now a civil and environmental engineer for a firm in Hershey, Pennsylvania

Jeremy on graduation day at Bucknell University. He is now a civil and environmental engineer for a firm in Hershey, Pennsylvania

During my time of fasting, I sent letters to President Bush each day based on the Episcopal Daily Office lectionary. While I did finally get a meeting with the Iraq specialist at the White House, it is clear to me that nothing I wrote or did during the fast changed the president’s mind about war. But the fast did change me and taught or reinforced for me some lessons that I would like to share with you:

1. Focus on one day at a time. Forty days seemed like a long time at the beginning of my fast. But it became easier as I focused on God’s strength and my charge for the day at hand, without also trying to manage the future as I am so prone to do. Fasting had a powerfully focusing and calming effect.

"Auntie" Jessica with Sydney

“Auntie” Jessica with Sydney

2. Allow others to be community with and for you. In my task-oriented style, I too often feel disconnected from the people around me. This fast connected me in ways that I never imagined. I was overwhelmed by the prayers and notes of encouragement from around the world. In my time of “weakness” people I barely knew chose to fast days or even weeks in solidarity with me and for the cause of peace. I cannot remember a time in my life where I have felt so connected or supported.

3. The core themes in Scripture are hard to miss. As I reflected on each day’s lectionary texts, I was amazed how the same themes kept repeating in all slices of Scripture — our human frailty and God’s steadfast love and mercy; God’s call for us to walk humbly, act justly, and love mercy; and the importance of trusting God alone to provide for all of our needs and to deal with our enemies.

Jeremy and Lyndsay Adams Byler on their wedding day (June 9, 2012)

Jeremy and Lyndsay Adams Byler on their wedding day (June 9, 2012)

4. Changing the world begins with being changed. I began this time of fasting feeling angry – perhaps in part “righteous” anger, but not altogether so! As my children, you have unfortunately too often seen this anger over the years — the frustration of many “great causes” on which I have worked. As the fast progressed I found my anger giving way to a profound sense of sadness about the direction our country seems to be headed and my own complicity in that hurtful path. If peace and justice work is to have integrity, it must begin with being transformed.

5. Peacemakers will never be fully understood. While some lawmakers in Washington appreciated my fast for peace, others totally ignored it. Sometimes it felt as if the call for peaceful alternatives was viewed as irrelevant or impractical. Still, I found strength in Paul’s words: “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God”    (I Corinthians 1:18). It is no wonder that the world does not accept a message about loving enemies and laying down our lives for others. We have enough trouble embracing this message as Christians!

Holden with Sydney, at Jeremy and Lyndsay's wedding reception

Holden with Sydney, at Jeremy and Lyndsay’s wedding reception

6. We will reap what we sow. As I have watched the international debate about Iraq unfolding, I have felt distraught that our nation’s leaders seemed so ready to forcefully impose their will on others in spite of the strong opposition of other nations. As the world’s only superpower, the United States seems ready to act alone simply because it can. Years ago Thomas Jefferson wrote of slavery: “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; (and) that his justice cannot sleep for ever. . .” I tremble for my country today as well.

Cindy with Sydney

Cindy with Sydney

7. God holds the earth’s pillars. We cannot know for sure what the next days and weeks hold for the people of Iraq or even for ourselves. There could well be days ahead that remind us again of September 11. The world seems filled with turmoil. As we continue to do all we can to work for peace, I find these words of God quoted by the psalmist to be especially reassuring: “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I who keep its pillars steady” (Psalm 75:3). God is still sovereign!

Today I bought another large candle. God’s light will always be stronger than darkness.

Love,
Dad