Tag Archives: Eastern Mennonite University

Images from Iran

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

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

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

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

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


God guides us

3rd Sunday after Epiphany (January 27, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Nehemiah 8:1-10; Ps. 19; I Cor. 12:12-31; Luke 4:14-21

This week we hosted a group of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) students who are spending the spring semester in the Middle East, led by Linford and Janet Stutzman.  The group of 30 students graciously squeezed into MCC’s small office in Amman to learn about MCC’s work in the region and to hear from several MCC partner organizations who work with refugees in Jordan.

EMU's Middle East students at Jordan's Arnon Valley (photo by Erin Rheinheimer)

EMU’s Middle East students at Jordan’s Arnon Valley (photo by Erin Rheinheimer)

Leila Diab, director of Jordan YWCA, reflected on how her childhood experiences as a Palestinian refugee have influenced her decision to work with refugee issues today.  Frances Voon, staff person with the Jesuit Refugee Services, spoke about JRS’s new higher education program for refugees and the challenges faced by Syrian, Iraqi, Somali and Sudanese refugees living in Jordan.

Amela Puljek-Shank (2nd from right) with Sisters Narges, Maryam and Azhar

Amela Puljek-Shank (2nd from right) with Sisters Narges, Maryam and Azhar

We also hosted Rick Janzen and Amela Puljek-Shank, outgoing and incoming MCC Europe-Middle East directors, respectively.  Daryl traveled with Rick and Amela to northern Iraq, where they met with MCC Iraqi partners — including Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who operate Kids House Kindergarten for some 240 children ages 3-5.

MCC Iraq program coordinator Jim Fine with Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

MCC Iraq program coordinator Jim Fine with Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

On Saturday evening, we hosted the MCC Jordan staff for a belated Christmas dinner.  It was a wonderful time of sharing food, stories and laughter.

MCC Jordan staff with Amela Puljek-Shank (l to r): Nada Zabaneh, Amela, Cindy, Kristy Guertin, Suzi Khoury, Willy Stell, Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen

MCC Jordan staff with Amela Puljek-Shank (l to r): Nada Zabaneh, Amela, Cindy, Kristy Guertin, Suzi Khoury, Willy Stell, Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen

In the region this week:

  • The Muslim Brotherhood boycotted Jordan’s parliamentary elections, Wednesday, due to concerns that the electoral system is weighted toward Jordan’s Bedouin tribes, who dominate the government and security forces.  Not surprisingly, initial results suggest that pro-government candidates will form a majority in the new parliament.  Jordan’s King Abdullah will appoint a prime minister from among the largest blocs in parliament, or someone approved by them.
  • Thousands of additional Syrian refugees spilled into Jordan, even as the Jordanian government prepares to open a second refugee camp. MCC is assisting the refugees through several local Jordanian partners.
  • At least five people were killed Friday in Fallujah when Iraqi security fired on Sunni protesters and worshipers.  For the past month, Sunni Muslims have been protesting what they perceive to be second-class treatment under the Shia-led Iraqi government.
Hanaa Edwar, general secretary of Iraqi al-Amal

Hanaa Edwar, general secretary of Iraqi al-Amal

The Common Lectionary readings offer glimpses of God’s guidance.

In the Old Testament reading, exiles who have returned to Jerusalem from Babylon ask Ezra the scribe to read the law of Moses to the assembled crowds. Ezra agrees, reading from early morning until midday.  His assistants then explain the law to the people so that they will fully understand God’s expectations (Neh. 8:1-10).

The Psalmist writes that God’s law revives the soul (v.7a), makes wise the simple (7b), brings rejoicing to the heart (8a), enlightens the eyes (8b) and warns against harmful ways (v.11).  There is great reward in keeping God’s commandments, the psalmist declares.

In the Epistle reading, Paul describes God’s plan for the church – the body of Christ.  Members are given differing gifts for the benefit of the whole. By functioning in unity, the parts of the body can effectively care for one another, both rejoicing and suffering together (I Cor. 12:12-31)

In the Gospel reading, the Spirit empowers the ministry of Jesus, guiding him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to free the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of God’s favor (Luke 4:14-19).

In the midst of the chaos and suffering which seem so prevalent in our world, God’s guidance comes in many ways – through God’s written word; through the community of God’s people working together; and through God’s empowering Spirit.

Amela with MCC Iraq English teacher Deb Fine, outside Mar Qardakh School -- expected to become the first IB school in Iraq

Amela with MCC Iraq English teacher Deb Fine, outside Mar Qardakh School — expected to become the first International Baccalaureate (IB) school in Iraq


Last of all, servant of all

17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 23, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 11:18-20; Ps. 54; James 3:13-4:8; Mark 9:30-37

The provocative Innocence of Muslims movie continues to generate violent responses in the Middle East.  This week the MCC Jordan office invited a small group of Jordanian Christians and Muslims together for a lunch conversation. All are alumni of Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Drawing on the concepts they learned at EMU, the group held a lively conversation, agreeing that: 1) religious faith should be a tool that unites rather than divides the human community; 2) there is no justification for denigrating one another’s religious leaders and symbols; and 3) the violent response after the movie is probably more about long-standing anger over U.S. policies in the region than about the movie itself.

(left to right) Arthur Mann, Jim Fine, Carolyn Reesor, waiter, Deb Fine and Diana Epp-Fransen enjoy a meal together

Arthur and Diana received costumes (dishdasha) from a play about Jonah, which they directed at St. Peter’s Seminary

Also this week, three short-term MCC volunteers finished teaching a five-week Intensive English course at St. Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Seminary in Erbil, Iraq.  They did an excellent job, under the leadership of Deb Fine, a MCC service worker who lives in Iraq with her husband Jim. While in Iraq, the teachers had opportunities to travel and experience the local culture.

Diana Epp-Fransen, Arthur Mann and Carolyn Reesor will now join MCC staff from Palestine, Jordan and Iraq for a retreat in Amman, Sept. 22-25, before leaving the region.

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on what it means to trust and be fully surrendered to God.

In the Old Testament reading Jeremiah describes himself like a gentle lamb led to slaughter (Jer. 11:19a).  The people don’t like Jeremiah’s call for justice.  They look for a way to kill him.  “Let us cut him off from the land of the living,” they say, “so that his name will no longer be remembered!” (v.19b)  Jeremiah trusts God to judge righteously, “for to you I have committed my cause,” he concludes.

Likewise, when the psalmist is under attack he calls out to God, affirming, “But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.  He will repay my enemies for their evil.” (Ps. 54:4-5a)

The hotter and drier it is in Amman, the more the Bogendelia seems to thrive!

In the Epistle reading James writes that heavenly wisdom is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)  “God opposes the proud,” says James, “but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God.” (4:6-7)

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells his disciples that he will be betrayed into human hands, killed and three days later he will rise again. (Mark 9:31)  The disciples miss his message and the importance of the moment.  Instead, they argue about which one of them is the greatest.  Rather than chastising them, Jesus challenges them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (v.35)

The Lectionary readings remind us that being surrendered to God means:

  • trusting God to deal with our enemies, rather than taking matters into our own hands;
  • being willing to serve others; and
  • willingly being last of all; trusting God to raise us up rather than promoting ourselves.

    Our granddaughter Sydney will celebrate her first birthday in just over a month!

No God but one

Epiphany IV (January 29, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ps. 111; Deut. 18:15-20; I Cor. 8:1-13; Mk. 1:21-28

The big success story for this week was getting our annual residency renewals. Cindy gets the credit this year for navigating the bureaucratic web and emerging with Jordanian residency cards that are good until January 2013.  We also enjoyed hosting several young adults for lunch on Wednesday, and hearing about their justice-oriented work in Jordan.

Heidi and Sydney catch up on a little Middle East history reading

In the coming week we will briefly host a group of students from Eastern Mennonite University and welcome Ron Byler (MCC U.S. Executive Director), Cheryl Zehr Walker (MCC U.S. Communications Director) and Rick Janzen (MCC Europe-Middle East Co-Director). We plan to travel to Iraq and Palestine with our MCC guests.

In the region this week:

The Egyptian Parliament in session, January 23 (Photo by Asmma Waguih - Pool/Getty Images)

A car bomb blast in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad killed 8 and wounded 21 (Reuters photo)

The Common Lectionary readings focus on the one true God.

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that, while there are many so-called gods, in truth “there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (I Cor. 8:6)

For this reason, the psalmist declares that he will give thanks to this great God “with my whole heart.” (Ps. 111:1) This God is “full of honor and majesty” (v.3). This God’s works are faithful and just, established forever and ever (vv.7-8).

In the Old Testament reading, Moses says that true prophets will speak only in the name of God. Indeed, God will punish any prophet who speaks “in the name of other gods” (Deut. 18:20).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus demonstrates the authority of this one God by commanding an unclean spirit to be silent and to leave the man the spirit was tormenting (Mk. 1:26). The unclean spirit obeyed, to the amazement of the crowd in Capernaum (v.27).

Much of the world’s violence and injustice is rooted in the human pursuit of false gods – the belief that security comes through wealth, power or by dominating others for one’s own benefit or pleasure. In selfishly pursuing such gods, humans harm one another and our planet.

Five times a day, the call to prayer sounds from the minarets of mosques dotting the hills of Amman. Each prayer begins, “God is the Greatest! I bear witness that there is no God except God.”

The world would be a more just and peaceful place if we truly believed this and lived our lives accordingly.

Sydney and Heidi enjoy a quiet moment on Christmas Eve