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?

Advertisements

Everybody plays the fool

Orthodox Easter (May 5, 2013)
I Corinthians 1:18-25; Revelation 22:1-5

May 6 is Easter in the Orthodox Christian tradition. This morning, we participated in an Easter sunrise service at Mt. Nebo, where one has a beautiful view of the Jordan Valley and the West Bank of Palestine.

From Mt. Nebo looking east, the sun rises while the moon sets

From Mt. Nebo looking east, the sun rises while the moon sets

Daryl shared the reflection during the communion service at the MCC Europe-Middle East retreat in Barcelona earlier this week:

Aaron Neville is one of many musicians who have popularized the song, “Everybody plays the fool.” The song is about falling in love and getting hurt.

Fallin’ in love is such an easy thing to do;
But there’s no guarantee that the one you love, is gonna love you.
Oh, loving eyes they cannot see a certain person could never be.
Love runs deeper than any ocean, it clouds you’re mind with emotion;
There’s no exception to the rule, listen baby;
Everybody plays the fool, sometime;
It may be factual, it may be cruel, I ain’t lying;
Everybody plays the fool.

Falling in love aside, no one wants to be called a fool. Indeed, our culture is partial to intelligence and power.

The same was true in the first century. Paul writes: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom.” (I Cor. 1:22) Signs and wisdom. Power and intelligence. “But we proclaim Christ crucified,” Paul continues, “a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (v.23)

At first blush, getting crucified seems to be neither intelligent nor a show of strength.

Krystan  Pawlikowski and Ruth Plett (MCC East Europe Reps), with daughter Misha

Krystan Pawlikowski and Ruth Plett (MCC East Europe Reps), with daughter Misha

In Europe and the Middle East we live in the daily shadow of violence, volatility occupation, unrest and uncertainty. It’s enough to make anyone feel anxious and afraid.

Weapons – sometimes very large weapons — are the tool of choice for rulers and authorities who are afraid or who seek to impose their will or to maintain the status quo.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler recently wrote a piece for Mennonite World Review, comparing the prominent use of guns in Israel-Palestine with the use of guns in the United States. “Do such weapons provide real security?” Ryan asked. “Studies show guns in U.S. homes are far more likely to kill family or friends than an intruder. For all its advanced weaponry, Israel remains gripped by existential fears…”

The rain during most of the EME retreat didn't dampen our spirits.  Here Annie and Jean-Victor Brosseau (West Europe Reps) are pictured with Sarah Adams (Lebanon-Syria Rep)

The rain during most of the EME retreat didn’t dampen our spirits. Here Sarah Adams (Lebanon-Syria Rep) is pictured with Annie and Jean-Victor Brosseau (West Europe Reps)

At a gut human level, wielding power and using force make sense when we are afraid. What better way to protect our own interests and to be sure that we aren’t bullied around?

Using destructive force is the adult version of the playground threats that children sometimes make: “My dad will beat up your dad!” If our weapons are bigger than our enemy’s, we’ll come out ahead, right?

So why did Jesus choose the way the cross? Why such a foolish approach? If God is so powerful, why didn’t God just crush those who opposed God’s ways? Why didn’t God act like a superhero and smash them into submission?

Willie Reimer (MCC Canada program director) waits for the Metro train with Dan Bergen (Co-Palestine Rep) and his daughter Chloe

Willie Reimer (MCC Canada program director) waits for the Metro train with Dan Bergen (Co-Palestine Rep) and his daughter Chloe

Indeed, there are some examples in the Old Testament of God crushing enemies. But the trajectory and weight of Scripture offer a very different approach. God’s power is ultimately displayed as a force for creation and life and light – not as a force of destruction and death. God overcomes evil with good.

God does not overcome enemies through shock and awe. God overcomes enemies by exposing their weakness. God plays into their supposed strength; and then shows a better and more powerful way.

Do you remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal? According to Canaanite mythology, Baal was the most powerful of all gods. Among his many attributes, Baal was worshiped as the sun god – or the god of fire. Baal was usually depicted as holding a lightning bolt.

So Elijah proposed a contest that played to Baal’s supposed strength (I Kings 18). Who could send fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice? Would it be Baal – the god of fire? Or would it be Elijah’s God?

Looking north from Mt. Nebo

Looking north from Mt. Nebo

On Mount Carmel the prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice and called upon their god to send fire. But nothing happened. Elijah taunted them: “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” (v.27) The prophets of Baal cried even louder and “cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them.”(v.28) Still, there was no answer.

Then, in dramatic fashion, Elijah doused his sacrifice with 12 large jars of water before calling for God to send fire from heaven.

Immediately, “The fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” (vv. 38-39)

The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus – which Christians in the Orthodox tradition commemorate this week – is a similar to the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

The Roman Empire and the Jewish religious establishment both used the threat of death as their ultimate weapon to intimidate the masses into obeying orders.

By allowing the alliance of the Empire and the religious establishment to crucify Jesus, God unmasked the bluster and bravado of their threat of death. God called their bluff.

If God had instead used overwhelming force, God would have only validated that destructive power is a legitimate tool for accomplishing one’s ends.

Instead, by appearing foolish, by accepting the way of the cross, Jesus demonstrated God’s power of life and resurrection is both different and superior to the forces of death. Indeed, the power of life is always stronger than death. The power of light always overcomes the darkness.

This is the amazing thing that MCC’s partner organizations continue to grasp: In the face of violence and oppression, in the face of poverty and injustice, in the face of war itself, our partners continue to choose the seemingly foolish way.

MCC workers from across Europe and the Middle East gathered in Barcelona for a retreat, April 27-30

MCC workers from across Europe and the Middle East gathered in Barcelona for a retreat, April 27-30

MCC’s partners have chosen not to take up arms to promote the cause of justice and freedom. They have chosen not to use the tools favored by rulers and authorities.

Instead, they have chosen the tools of life and light. They have chosen to become part of that healing river described in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22 —

  • The river that sends down its waters to wash the blood from off the sand.
  • The river that transforms the Dead Sea into a body of fresh water teaming with life.
  • The river that helps seeds to grow in a parched and barren land.
  • The river that makes seeds of freedom to flourish and tall stalks to rise.
Our retreat center n Barcelona was with beautiful flowers

Our retreat center n Barcelona was adorned with beautiful flowers

The bread and wine – representing the body and blood of Christ — are forever reminders of God’s seemingly foolish way of working.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (I Cor.1:18, 25)

For those who would follow Jesus, everybody plays the fool. There’s no exception to the rule. Everybody plays the fool.

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.

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

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!

Humility and trust

Palm Sunday (March 24, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ps. 118:1-2, 19-29; Ps. 31:9-16; Is. 50:4-9; Phil 2:5-11; Lk. 19:28-40; Lk. 23:1-49

We enjoyed a week of vacation, traveling in Palestine-Israel with friends from the United States. Duane and Elaine Maust are pastors at Jubilee Mennonite Church in Meridian, Mississippi and Karl and Marlene Bernhard lead Amor Viviente Church in New Orleans.

We learned about the current realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and read Scripture at the sites of many biblical stories.

Christians from around the world sang hymns in their own language during the walk

Christians from around the world sang hymns in their own language during the walk, which was led by Palestinian Christians

Our trip culminated by participating in the Palm Sunday walk with thousands of Christians who traced the first Palm Sunday path of Jesus from Bethphage and Bethany to Jerusalem via the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane.

(l to r): Elaine, Cindy, Marlene, Karl and Duane at the synagogue in Capernaum

(l to r): Elaine, Cindy, Marlene, Karl and Duane at the synagogue in Capernaum

The Lectionary readings for this Palm Sunday week focus on humility and trust.

Faced with the threats of his enemies the psalmist declares, “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand.” (Ps. 31:14-15)

Similarly, the prophet Isaiah writes, “I did not hide my face from insult and spitting . . . The Lord helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced.” (Is. 50:6-7)

Our taxi driver from Takoa gave us a tour of Bethlehem and Hebron, then took us to his home for lunch, where we met his two nieces

Our taxi driver from Takoa gave us a tour of Bethlehem and Hebron, then took us to his home for lunch, where we met his two nieces

In the Epistle reading, Paul describes the example of Jesus. “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8)

In the Gospel readings, Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday (Lk. 19:28-40) and at the time of his crucifixion utters, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk. 23:16)

The "Wailing" or Western wall in Jerusalem

The “Wailing” or Western wall in Jerusalem

Humility is the willingness to set aside our power and privilege and to be obedient to God no matter the cost. Trust means surrendering the outcome to God.

The Palm Sunday crowd streams down the Mt. of Olives

The Palm Sunday crowd streams down the Mt. of Olives

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

Day 40

From Feb. 5 – Mar. 16, 2003, I engaged in a 40-day fast, urging then President George W. Bush to consider alternatives to war with Iraq. Each day, I sent the President a letter — with copies to Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice — using the Daily Office Readings (from the President’s Episcopal tradition) as a foundation for my reflections. For the next 10 days, I plan to re-post the letters from Days 31 to 40 of the fast, interspersing them with photos of Iraqis. Whether one supported or opposed the war, the costs are indisputably high. In the 10 short days of re-posting these letters from 2003, at least 106 Iraqis have been killed in violence.
-Daryl (March 16, 2013)

Sakar in her greenhouse

Sakar Hussain in her greenhouse in Dashety Telee village

Human cost of Iraq war:
Iraqi civilian casualties: 122,115
Civilian casualties in 2013: 682
Iraqi security casualties: 10,125
U.S. military casualties: 4,488
Uprooted Iraqis: 5.0 million

Financial cost of Iraq war:
$831.9 billion

 

March 16, 2003

Daily Office Readings
Morning
-Psalm 24, 29
-Jeremiah 1:1-10
-I Corinthians 3:11-23
Evening
-Psalm 8, 84
-Mark 3:31-4:9

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings speak of dwelling humbly in God’s presence, listening to God’s voice and leaving a legacy worthy of God’s calling.

“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” David exclaims (Ps. 8:1) “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers . . . what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (8:3-4) “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,” David continues, for God has “founded” and “established” it (Ps. 24:1-2). God’s voice is powerful and “full of majesty.” (Ps. 29:4) It “breaks the cedars” (29:5), “flashes forth flames of fire” (29:7), “shakes the wilderness” (29:8) and “causes the oaks to whirl.” (29:9) Who can dwell in this great God’s presence? “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.” (24:4) God’s dwelling place is lovely and the psalmist longs to be present with God, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (84:10)

Iraqi refugee children in Damascus, Syria.  In 2013 the tables have turned; more than 114,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq. (Photo by James Gordon)

Iraqi refugee children in Damascus, Syria. In 2013 the tables have turned; more than 114,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraq. (Photo by James Gordon)

The Old Testament reading profiles God’s call of 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 . . . for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.” (Jer. 1:5, 7). The prophet will both warn the nations of destruction and promise a time of rebuilding (v.10).

In the Epistle reading, Paul declares, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 3:11). Paul says that time will tell the quality of building we have done on this strong foundation. If our work survives, we will receive a reward (v.14).

In the Gospel reading Jesus says: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35) Jesus then tells the parable of a sower who scatters seed on various kinds of soil — each soil depicts a different level of receptivity to and productivity from God’s word (4:1-9).

Fruit and vegetable market in Ankawa, where many of the internally displaced Iraqi Christians have relocated since the 2003 war

Fruit and vegetable market in Ankawa, where many of the internally displaced Iraqi Christians have relocated since the 2003 war

Mr. President, this is 40th day of my fast which I will break later today during the communion service at my church. It many ways, this experience has been like running a marathon — one mile at a time! I know you can appreciate this from your own running experience.

This is also my 40th letter to you during this fast. While the White House has acknowledged receiving them, I have no idea whether you have actually read or even heard about these letters. They have been written in a spirit of longing for you to be guided by God’s wisdom and ways. I can say without question that never before have I prayed for a president as much as I have prayed for you during these last six weeks. The pressures of the presidency must be extraordinary.

Mr. President, on what foundation will you build? And with what materials? The decision you make today or tomorrow about war with Iraq will likely determine the legacy of your presidency – for better or for worse. Sadly, my sense is that you are choosing war. It seems that only an act of God can stop your decision at this point. In spite of the unprecedented grassroots global protests and the strong counsel at the United Nation to give inspections more time, you have felt that the risks of going to war — even with little international support — are less than the risks of waiting.

Student at Kids House flies a homemade kite (Photo by Deb Fine)

Student at Kids House flies a homemade kite (Photo by Deb Fine)

The question is not whether the United States can “prevail” on the battlefield in Iraq. Likely it can. The more important question is what kind of world will there be a year from now and five years from now as a result of war? Will Iraq and the Middle East be more stable? Will U.S. residents feel safer? Will there be a functioning international body to which the United States is accountable?

While I strongly disagree with the view that war will bring a better world, I pray that you have listened attentively to God’s voice and will only act as God clearly calls you to act.

May God have mercy on all of us.

Sincerely,
J. Daryl Byler