Tag Archives: King Abdullah

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!


Grace to help in time of need

20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 14, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Ps. 90:12-17; Heb. 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

This week we welcomed Evanna Hess and Jean Peifer from Lancaster, Pa. and Hagerstown, Md., respectively. They will volunteer for three weeks with MCC partner Caritas Jordan, providing training to women at a Caritas center in Husn, Jordan.  Caritas is seeking to boost its capacity for local collection and preparation of items such as school kits.

Wafa and Cindy at Orthodox Patriarchate office in Amman

We also enjoyed visiting with our friend Wafa Goussous, who is now serving as director for the Orthodox Initiative – the Syrian refugee response on behalf of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

In the region this week:

  • Jordan’s King Abdullah appointed a new Prime Minister, who immediately extended the registration deadline for participation by the Muslim Brotherhood in upcoming elections.  Brotherhood leaders responded that they still plan to boycott the elections, citing their belief that the government is not serious about reforms.  Tension is mounting between the protesters and the regime.
  • The leader of Hezbollah announced that his organization was responsible for sending an Iranian-built drone into Israeli airspace as a response to repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace.  Israel shot down the drone.
  • Some 4,000 Syrian children attended school in 14 temporary tent classrooms in the Zaatari Refugee Camp near Mafraq. Workers are preparing more durable classrooms that are expected to open in November.

Syrian boys attend a class at the Zaatari Refugee Camp (Jordan Times photo by Muath Freij)

The Common Lectionary readings this week juxtapose God’s judgment and God’s grace.

In the Old Testament reading, Amos prophesies that those who “trample on the poor” will build stone houses but not live in them and plant pleasant vineyards but not drink their wine. (Amos 5:11).  “Hate evil and love good,” challenges Amos, “and establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord … will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (v.15)

“Turn, O Lord! How long?” a weary Moses pleads in Psalm 90.  “Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us . . . Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands . . .”

“The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-sword,” the writer of Hebrews asserts. “It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). Indeed, “all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” (v.13) Still, Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses, the writer encourages. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (v.16)

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

In the Gospel reading, Jesus encounters a man who is weighted down by his possessions. He invites the man to sell his possession, give the money to the poor and then come follow Jesus. It is more than the man is willing to give up. Jesus promises his disciples that those who leave everything to follow him will receive a hundredfold in return – albeit, not without persecution (Mark 10:17-31).

The Middle East is undergoing dramatic changes.  Those in power seek to hold on to the old ways, while those at the margins are demanding governance that listens to a broader spectrum of voices.  We are watching human judgment play out before our eyes. We pray that God’s favor and grace will ultimately win the day.

We do not control God’s grace.  Still, we place ourselves in a space to most abundantly receive God’s grace when we act justly, surrender fully and plead boldly.

A place and provisions

10th Sunday after Pentecost (August 5, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Ex. 16:2-4, 9-15; Ps. 78:23-29; Eph. 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

We spent several days of orientation this week with Dan Bergen and Joanna Hiebert Bergen, who became MCC Reps for the Palestine-Israel program, Aug. 1. Dan and Jo, along with their daughters Emma and Chloe, are from Winnipeg, Manitoba.  They will be living on the Mt. of Olives in East Jerusalem.  We wish them well as they support MCC partners and staff who are working nonviolently to end Israel’s military occupation and to create a a just place in which Palestinians and Israelis share the land.

Dan Bergen with daughters Chloe (left) and Emma (right), leaving Amman for the trip to Jerusalem

We also enjoyed visits from a number of MCC partners and friends who stopped by the MCC office in Amman to say hello.  The pace of work during Ramadan is generally slower, with official hours in government offices from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.  However, things come alive in the evening after the iftar meal that breaks the dawn to dusk fast.   It is not uncommon to hear children still playing until 1 or 2 a.m., in the cool of the night.

Cindy and Jo Hiebert Bergen go over last minute details before departure for Jerusalem

In the region this week:

Jordan’s King Abdullah greets U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Amman on Thursday for discussions about Syria and the region (photo by Yousef Allan)

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on place and provisions.

In the Old Testament reading, God’s people complain of hunger in the wilderness (Ex. 16:2).  They are afraid of going to the “promised land” where God has called them, but are unhappy with the place they are.  So they pine for their past, forgetting that they were slaves.  “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread…” they lament (v.3) God promises to rain bread from heaven (v.4).  “You shall have your fill of bread,” says God, “then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” (v.12)

Reflecting on this same wilderness experience the psalmist writes that God “commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.” (Ps. 78:23-24)  The people “ate and were well filled.” (v.29a)

In the Gospel reading, after Jesus feeds them with bread and fish, the crowds follow him (John 6:22-24).  Jesus bluntly tells them that they are only following because they ate their “fill of loaves” (v.26).  He challenges them instead to work for “the food that endures for eternal life” (v. 27).  “It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. . . (bread that) gives life to the world.” (vv.32-33)  Jesus himself is this bread.

In the Epistle reading, Paul says that God gives gifts for the purpose of building up the body of Christ.  God’s provision of gifts is expansive – Christ ascended to the heights and descended to the depths — so that he could “fill all things.” (v.10)

A place to live and daily provisions are basic human needs.  Too often we take these things for granted.  Not so with the Syrian refugees who are streaming into Jordan.  Their stories are compelling.  Syrian families who used to travel to Jordan for work or vacation are now coming as refugees.

Syrians huddle under a tent at the King Abdullah Park transit facility in Ramtha. Refugees from Damascus began pouring into Jordan in late July after rebels began an offensive against regime forces in the capital (Jordan Times photo by Taylor Luck)

We also are thinking more about a place and provisions as we begin to pray about and plan for our transition back to the United States in the coming year.  Like God’s people in the wilderness and the crowds who followed Jesus, we sometimes find it difficult to trust God for these daily necessities.  God has always been faithful to us in the past.  Why then is it is still hard to trust God for the future?