Tag Archives: Global Family

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

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Two-way waiting

Lent 2 (February 24, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Genesis 15:1-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

On Wednesday we shared lunch with Brent Stutzman, who is visiting Jordan with his parents.  Brent served with MCC for three years (2009-2012) at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, an MCC Global Family partner in Salt, Jordan.  He is currently doing graduate work in special education at Boston College, while working part-time at the Perkins School for the Blind.

Brent-HLID

Brent explains Holy Land’s deaf-blind unit to members of a Global Family learning tour (April 2012).

This week, Daryl accepted an offer to serve as executive director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, beginning July 1.  With mixed emotions — excitement about the adventure ahead and sadness about the relationships we leave behind — we plan to conclude our work in Jordan in the middle of June, moving to Harrisonburg, Virginia.

On Thursday, we were privileged to host a guest who is lives in Damascus and works with Syrian families affected by the civil war.  Just before arriving at the MCC office, our guest received word of a major bomb blast near his office in Damascus.

A Syrian child in Jordan (photo by Chevy Morris for CARE)

A Syrian child in Jordan (photo by Chevy Morris for CARE)

With the fighting in Syria growing worse, the United Nations says that an average of 70,000 Syrians are arriving in Jordan each month, and warns that more emergency camps must be developed in order to accommodate the rapid influx.

Trailers in the Mreijeb Al Fhoud camp, 14 miles (22km) east of Zarqa. The camp, which is yet to receive Syrian refugees, can accommodate 30,000 people (Photo by Muath Freij for the Jordan Times)

Trailers in the Mreijeb Al Fhoud camp, 14 miles (22km) east of Zarqa. The camp, which is yet to receive Syrian refugees, can accommodate 30,000 people (Photo by Mu’ath Freij for the Jordan Times)

A total of 360,900 Syrians are now living in Jordan.  That number is expected to double by June.  Some 42 percent of the arrivals are children who often carry with them the trauma they experienced in their country.

The large influx of Syrians into a resource-challenged country is creating tensions between the refugees and Jordanian host communities, as both groups compete for scarce resources and opportunities.

The Lectionary readings for this second week of Lent focus on waiting.

In the Old Testament reading, God promises the aging and childless Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and that, after a 400-year-long period of oppression, God will provide a place for them.  Amazingly, Abram believes God, trusting God to fulfill these distant promises.

Syrian children wait in Jordan (photo by Mu'ath Freij for the Jordan Times)

Syrian children wait in Jordan (photo by Mu’ath Freij for the Jordan Times)

While experiencing trouble and the assault of adversaries, the psalmist also chooses to trust God rather than taking matters into his own hands.  “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” the psalmist affirms.  “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:13-14)

In the Epistle reading, Paul reminds the church at Philippi that their citizenship is in God’s kingdom rather than in an earthly nation (Phil. 3:20). Furthermore, they are to wait as Jesus – the one who reigns supreme in God’s kingdom — transforms their humble bodies into bodies that glorify God (v.21).

The Gospel reading reminds us that not only do humans wait for God to act; God waits for humans to act as well.  Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and its resistance to God’s ways. “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” Jesus laments, “and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

Waiting aptly describes the life of refugees.  They wait for basic accommodations in a host country. They wait for word from their loved ones back in Syria.  They wait to see if and when they can return home.  There are few things that refugees control.

Waiting is also the testing grounds for our faith.  What we do while we wait for God’s promises to be fully realized is the truest measure of what we believe.  We are to live into God’s promises, demonstrating by our actions that we believe them to be true.

Meanwhile, God waits for us — to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly as our trust in God grows day by day.

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

 

Shepherd leaders

8th Sunday after Pentecost (July 22, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 23:1-6; Ps. 23; Eph. 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

It has been a week of transitions. We traveled to Palestine-Israel to say goodbye to staff and partners there. New MCC Jerusalem Reps will pick up responsibility for the Palestine-Israel program, August 1. In early 2013 we plan to pick up responsibility for MCC Syria program – along with ongoing leadership for MCC programs in Iran, Iraq and Jordan.

A Palestinian family traverses the caged “buffer zone” that separates Israel’s Erez terminal and the Gaza Strip

On Sunday we traveled from one end of the Gaza Strip to the other, enjoying visits with Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) and Al Najd.  MCC Global Family partner CFTA focuses on activities and leadership training for youth. Al Najd also works with youth. Additionally, with assistance from the Food Resource Bank, Al Najd offers food security to Gazan families by helping them raise rabbits for consumption and sale.

Cindy visits with Majeda, who works with CFTA’s youth programs

Getting into Gaza is no small feat! It involves navigating Israel’s Erez terminal, walking through a half-mile-long caged corridor that traverses the Israeli-imposed buffer zone inside the Gaza Strip, and finally encountering the Hamas checkpoint at the northern end of Gaza.

A Palestinian woman drives a donkey cart through an Hamas-run checkpoint in the northern  Gaza Strip

On Monday and Tuesday, we said goodbye to MCC Palestinian and Israeli partners in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Ramallah, then returned to Jordan.

Brent Stutzman admires his Jordanian kafeyah

Wednesday was a time of debriefing for three MCC SALT workers — Meredith Alexander, Sarah Thompson and Trish Elgersma — who completed their assignments in Palestine and Jordan this week and returned to the U.S. and Canada early Thursday morning. Brent Stutzman, an MCC service worker at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, also finished a three-year assignment this week in Jordan.

Trish Elgersma, an MCC SALTer at the Arab Episcopal School in Irbid, opens a farewell gift — a silk scarf from Syria

All the goodbyes give us a sense of sadness; but also of thankfulness for the honor of walking together with such great partners and staff.

Sarah Thompson, a MCC SALT worker who spent a year at Sabeel in East Jerusalem, stretches at Queen Alia Airport in Amman before boarding her plane

On Saturday morning we spoke to a TourMagination group from the United States. They plan to visit sites in Jordan and Palestine-Israel during the next eight days.
In the region this week:

  • Fighting intensified in Syria, creating a new wave of refugees to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. UNHCR has already registered 34,500 Syrians in Jordan. The Jordanian government places the total number of Syrians in Jordan at around 140,000.

Early morning view from Mt. of Olives — overlooking the Jordan Valley to the West

The Common Lectionary readings this week describe the qualities of good leaders or shepherds.

In the Old Testament reading God denounces leaders who destroy, scatter and neglect the people (Jer. 23:1-2). God promises to “gather the remnant of my flock . . . (bringing) them back to their fold” (v.3), and to raise up new shepherds (v.4). Because of this, the people “shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing.” (v.5)

The familiar Psalm 23 describes the good shepherd who leads the sheep to green pastures, still waters and on right paths. (vv. 2-3). Because of the shepherd’s presence, the sheep will not fear – even in the darkest valleys and in the presence of their enemies (vv. 4-5).

In the Epistle reading the good shepherd breaks down the dividing walls between hostile groups – Jews and Gentiles — and “creates in himself one new humanity in place of the two.” (Eph. 2:15) Both groups have the same access to God and are full members of the household of God (vv. 18-19).

In the Gospel reading, out of compassion Jesus teaches and cares for the crowds because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34)

The crisis in this region and in many places worldwide highlight the need for the kind of shepherd-leaders described in this week’s Lectionary reading – leaders who gather rather than scatter; leaders who promote human security rather than fan fears; leaders with compassion who ensure that the most vulnerable people have the basic necessities of life; and leaders who unify rather than create divisions. May God raise up such leaders for this time.

Al Najd leaders, Khalid and Rifqa, give Cindy a cross-stitched map of historic Palestine

Through darkest valleys

Easter 4 (April 29, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 4:5-12; Ps. 23; I John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

We hosted a 12-member learning tour from Canada and the United States, April 19-26, who came to visit MCC Global Family projects in Jordan and Palestine-Israel. Global Family is an MCC sponsorship program supporting quality community-based education for children and youth around the world.

Cindy shares a letter from a student in the U.S. with a 12-year-old blind student at the Arab Episcopal School


In Palestine the group visited a special education program in Beit Sahour operated by Al Malath and the Latin Patriarchate School in Zababdeh; they also shared a Skype conversation with children who are part of the Shoroq wa-Amal (Sunrise and Hope) program at Culture and Free Thought Association in Gaza. While the learning tour was in Bethlehem, the CBS show 60 Minutes aired a piece on Christians in the Holy Land.

MCC SALT worker Trish Elgersma explains a Braille typewriter to the learning tour group


In Jordan the group visited an integrated education program for blind, low-vision and sighted students at the Arab Episcopal School in Irbid; the deaf-blind unit at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Salt; the university loans program operated by Caritas Jordan; and a kindergarten run by the Orthodox Educational Society in Ashrafiyeh.

A blind teacher at the Arab Episcopal School teaches kindergarten students


The group shared many laughs but also shed many tears as they listened to inspiring and painful stories, and processed the political dynamics of the region. They now return home to share these stories with MCC’s constituency.

Just before the learning tour, we hosted Ruth Keidel Clemens (MCC U.S. program director) and Rick Janzen (MCC Europe-Middle East director), who came to learn about the Syrian refugee situation in Jordan. We visited a center in Mafraq where Caritas is distributing MCC-purchased milk powder and diapers to families with infants.

Dr. Hazar Kaboshi from Caritas Jordan explains the best use of infant milk powder


The Common Lectionary readings for this week describe the qualities of a good shepherd.

The familiar Psalm 23 describes a shepherd who makes the sheep lie down in green pastures (v. 2a), leads them beside still waters (v. 2b), restores life (v. 3a), leads them in right paths (v. 3b), and accompanies them through darkest valleys (v. 4).

Ruth Keidel Clemens shares a laugh with Jameel Dababneh, emergency response coordinator for Caritas Jordan


In the Gospel reading, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). The good shepherd, who has himself walked through dark valleys, now walks with frightened sheep on their similar journeys — unlike the hired hand who runs away when danger arises.

In the Epistle reading, John writes that God’s love for us is demonstrated in Jesus who “laid down his life for us” (I John 3:16a). In the same manner, we are to lay down our lives for one another (v. 16b).

In the reading from Acts, Peter and John put their lives on the line by healing a lame man, and then defending themselves before the religious authorities who want to know “by what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4: 7)

In Mafraq, we visited a group of Syrian refugee children who are living with their family in a small rented warehouse


As we traveled around Jordan with our visitors, we saw many shepherds guiding their sheep and goats to the best patches of green grass. We also witnessed MCC partners who are acting as shepherds — providing amazing educational opportunities to vulnerable population groups and accompanying refugee families who have experienced dark valleys of violence in Syria.

Cindy chats with James Wheeler, co-leader of the Global Family learning tour

God lifts up the downtrodden

Epiphany 5 (February 5, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Mk. 1:29-39; Is. 40:21-31; Ps. 147; I Cor. 9:16-23

This week we have been traveling in the region with a small delegation of visitors. Cindy flew to Baghdad with Jim Fine and Rick Janzen, for a quick visit with MCC Iraqi partners there. It was the first MCC trip to Baghdad in six years. The MCC group was hosted by an Iraqi partner and most of the meetings took place at their headquarters. Still, the group managed to get out for an evening walk on the streets of Baghdad, and to visit Our Lady of Salvation Church, where more than 50 Christians were killed during a worship service in October 2010.

Kids House pre-schoolers sing a welcome song for Ron Byler in Ankawa (northern Iraq)

Daryl traveled with Ron Byler to northern Iraq and met with partners there. Since the 2003 war, more than half of the Christians have left Iraq. Most of those who remain in Iraq now live in the northern Kurdish areas. They are building schools and hospitals to provide jobs and services that will encourage Christians to stay in Iraq, while also serving the broader Iraqi society.

MCC worker Deb Fine shares a gift with Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Ankawa)

Cindy, Jim and Rick meet with a women's group in Baghdad

The delegation next traveled to Jerusalem for meetings with MCC partners in Palestine/Israel. Across the region, folks are expressing uncertainty about what lies ahead. The Arab Spring has created new regional dynamics; no one knows what the long-term outcome will look like.  Some are fearful; others are cautiously optimistic.

The view from Wi'am, where the separation wall cuts off Aida Refugee Camp from Jerusalem

The Common Lectionary readings this week are about God’s concern for vulnerable people.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus cures many who are sick and casts out demons from those who are tormented (Mk. 1:32).

In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah writes that God “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” (Is. 40:29)

The psalmist proclaims that God gathers the outcasts, heals the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden (Ps. 147:2-6).

In the Epistle reading, Paul becomes weak himself so that he can win the weak to a better way of life (I Cor. 9:22).

This week we heard many powerful stories from persons who have struggled through war and under occupation. We listened to both the fears and hopes of Christians who are a dwindling and vulnerable minority in the region. We visited a visionary program designed to teach life skills to persons with disabilities. We were inspired by all those who have not given up and who continue to find ways to serve their communities.

In a time of great uncertainty, we take comfort in knowing that God cares especially for the vulnerable. And we cling to God’s promise: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31)

In Beit Sahour (West Bank), Al Malath -- a new Global Family partner -- provides life skills and social training for persons with disabilities