Tag Archives: Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies

Turn, seek, satisfied

Lent 3 (March 3, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63; I Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

This was a full week. Cindy had 45 Iraqi adults in her ESL class on Monday evening. She is now teaching three classes each week – two for children and one for adults.  All of her students are in the process or resettling to third countries – primarily to the United States.

Prince Hassan greets performers Rose El-Weer, Hayffa' Kamal, Dr. Ayman Tayseer and Deacon Emad al-Bawab (Music House photo)

Prince Hassan greets performers Rose El-Weer, Hayffa’ Kamal, Dr. Ayman Tayseer and Deacon Emad al-Bawab (Music House photo)

Wednesday evening we attended “A Spiritual Chants Concert” – an event to strengthen interfaith understanding and appreciation by sharing sacred music from Christian and Muslim traditions.  The Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies organized and hosted this event, which was sponsored by MCC.

His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein and head of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, told the crowd that, around the world, music has lifted the human spirit in times of struggle and has been a bridge between various cultures and faith groups.  Prince Hassan called for taking the necessary steps to “transfer from the culture of hatred to the culture of love.”

This 88-year-old Syrian woman arrived in Za'atari six months ago from Daraa

This 88-year-old Syrian woman arrived in Za’atari six months ago from Daraa

On Wednesday Daryl attended a workshop on worker care issues for NGO staff who are responding to the growing Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan.  MCC is working with Lutheran World Federation to design a program that offers strategies and tools for humanitarian workers who are increasingly stressed by the burgeoning crisis.

Syrian girls at Za'atari Camp

Syrian girls at Za’atari Camp

On Saturday Daryl visited the Za’atari Camp near Mafraq along with worker care experts Amber Gray and John Fawcett, who are designing a proposal for supporting humanitarian workers.  More than 100,000 Syrian refugees live in the camp — about six miles (10 kilometers) from the Syrian border.  Click here for more photos.

Za'atari Camp receives as many as 4,000 new Syrian refugee arrivals each nite

Za’atari Camp receives as many as 4,000 new Syrian refugee arrivals each night

As many as 3,000 to 4,000 new refugees arrive at Za’atari Camp on any given night, stressing the camp’s infrastructure and placing heavy demands on NGO workers for organizations like Save the Children, which has some 300 staff working in the camp.  Street vendors are cropping up everywhere in the camp, selling everything from fruits and vegetables to washing machines.

Water arrives twice a day in the Za'atari Camp

Water arrives twice a day in the Za’atari Camp

In the region this week:

  • Iran and six nuclear powers (China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and the United States) engaged in talks about reducing sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran scaling back its nuclear program activities.  The negotiators agreed to meet again in April, hopefully helping to avert a major confrontation that would benefit no one.

The Common Lectionary Readings this week remind us that humans tend to seek satisfaction in things incapable of offering fulfillment.

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” asks the prophet Isaiah (Is. 55:2). “Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them.” (v.7)

The psalmist recognizes the source of satisfaction.  “My soul thirsts for you,” he writes. (Ps. 63:1).  “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast.” (v.5), he reflects.  “My soul clings to you.” (v.8)

Children walking the streets in Za'atari Camp

Children walking the streets in Za’atari Camp

In the Epistle reading Paul describes how God delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and provided resources during their 40 years in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:1-4).  And yet many of them turned to idolatry (v.7), sexual immorality (v.8), testing God (v.9) and complaining (v.10).  Paul urges his readers to learn from this negative example and to stand firm in times of testing, for “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength.” (v.13)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus repeats the call for repentance (Luke 13:3, 5) and tells a parable about a fig tree that fails to bear fruit (vv. 6-9).

One of the staff at Za’atari camp told us she used to work in a high-paying profession but left to become a humanitarian worker.  She finds the latter to be much richer and fuller of meaning.  Likewise, repentance is our human acknowledgement that we too often look for meaning in the wrong places and the wrong things.  It is only as we turn away from that which is hollow and seek God and God’s ways that we are satisfied as with a rich feast and that our lives bear fruit.

Amber Gray and John Fawcett are helping to design a worker care program for humanitarian aid staff

Amber Gray and John Fawcett are helping to design a staff care program for humanitarian workers

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Extreme makeovers

2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 20, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 62:1-5; Ps. 36:5-10; I Cor. 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

The directors of MCC’s three advocacy offices visited us in Amman this week to learn about the Syrian refugee situation in Jordan.

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach visits with Caritas Jordan emergency response coordinator, Jameel Dababneh outside a distribution center in Amman

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach visits with Caritas Jordan emergency response coordinator, Jameel Dababneh outside a distribution center in Amman

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach (MCC Washington), Paul Heidebrecht (MCC Ottawa) and Doug Hostetter (MCC United Nations) met with several refugee families and with MCC Jordan partners who are assisting some of the nearly 300,000 Syrians now living in Jordan.  The most recent issue of MCC’s a Common Place magazine features the stories of MCC partners working with refugees in Jordan.

Rachelle, Paul and Doug with Dr. Kamal Abu Jaber, director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies

Rachelle, Paul and Doug with Dr. Kamal Abu Jaber, director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies

The large influx of refugees is putting strong upward pressure on food and housing prices in Jordan and, in some cases, creating tensions between the refugees and Jordanian host communities.

7-year-old Ghadeer (right) served us tea at her family's one-room flat in Amman

7-year-old Ghadeer (right) served us tea at her family’s one-room flat in Amman (photo by Doug Hostetter)

In the Ashrafiyeh neighborhood of Amman, we visited a Syrian family with four small children, living in a one-room flat.  The father earns $125 per month selling clothing.  The rent on their flat costs $100 per month, forcing the family to take out loans to make ends meet.  In spite of the hardships the family has encountered, they welcomed us in their home and the 7-year-old daughter served us tea.

On Friday, we welcomed Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen from Winnipeg, Manitoba. They will be studying Arabic until summer when they succeed us as MCC Reps in Amman.

Gordon and Carolyne Epp-Fransen from Winnipeg will become new MCC Reps in summer of 2013

Gordon and Carolyne Epp-Fransen from Winnipeg will become new MCC Reps in summer of 2013

In the region this week:

  • The Jordanian government announced a contract with MCC partner the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies (RIIS) to promote the Amman Message in the Middle East and Europe.  The Amman Message – which, according to the Jordan Times “seeks to affirm what Islam is and what it is not, and what actions represent it and what actions do not” — was released by His Majesty King Abdullah in November 2004.  “The promotion of the Amman Message reminds Muslims themselves of the true nature of their religion,” said Dr. Kamal Abu Jaber, director of the RIIS. “It is not the terrorist ugly faith that is presented sometimes by the Islamophobia in the West.”

The Common Lectionary readings for this second Sunday after Epiphany highlight extreme makeovers and second chances.

In the Old Testament reading, after a period of exile and shame, God’s wayward people receive a new name and a second chance.  “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,” God promises, “but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married.” (Is. 62:4)

The psalmist contrasts the wicked who do not fear God or do good, who are full of deceit and who plot mischief and evil, with those who drink from the river of God’s delights.  “For with you is the fountain of life,” the psalmist proclaims. “In your light we see light.” (Ps. 36:9)

Our granddaughter Sydney examines a snowflake (photo by Holden Byler)

Our granddaughter Sydney examines a snowflake outside her home in Virginia (photo by Holden Byler)

In the Gospel reading, Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-11).  In a dramatic sign of the theological shift from law to grace, Jesus transforms the water in six large stone jars used for Jewish rites of purification into the finest wine for joyful wedding guests.

In the Epistle reading, God’s Spirit activates gifts in each member of the community, transforming self-interested individuals into ministers for the common good. (I Cor. 12:1-11).

With all the brokenness around us, it is encouraging to know that God is in the business of extreme makeovers – transforming exile and shame into intimacy and delight; legalism into grace and celebration; and self-seeking individuals into a caring community.

Walking in the resurrection

Easter 2 (April 15, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
I John 1:1-2:2; Acts 4:32-35; Ps. 133; John 20:19-31

We celebrated Eastern Orthodox Easter, April 15, with a sunrise service at Mt. Nebo. The western horizon was hazy, so our view of the Holy Land was not as clear as the famed panorama attributed to Moses (Deut. 34:1); still, it was pretty spectacular!

The Dead Sea and Plains of Moab as seen from Mt. Nebo

In the Middle East, Easter is a time for giving gifts, and visiting family and friends. During Easter season the media often profiles Christian communities in the region. We especially appreciated stories about Christians in Iraq and Syria.

Additionally, an article in the Jordan Times highlighted a recent workshop hosted by the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies (RIIFS), “Christianity in the East, Where to?” Participants from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Iran and Iraq discussed the reality and future of Arab Christians in the region at the MCC-sponsored event.

Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Sarkissian, with MCC staff Nada Zabaneh, Daryl Byler and Suzi Khoury, at RIIFS event


Speaking at the opening session Jordan’s Prince Hassan, chairman of the RIIFS, said that “Arab Christians are the pioneers of Arab thought.” RIIFS Director Dr. Kamel Abu Jaber noted that “Christians should not only stay in the region, but contribute to rebuilding pluralism in its social fabric.” At the end of the two-day workshop participants endorsed a proposal for an Arab “social charter” that can mobilize public opinion towards achieving public freedoms and equal rights, as well as strengthen democracy and achieve social justice and human dignity.

A fragile ceasefire in Syria is being tested, while a small group of U.N. monitors is set to arrive in Syria on Sunday.

On Thursday, Jordanian security officials arrested a Syrian government supporter in northern Jordan, after he was caught attempting to poison the water system for Syrian refugees who continue to come to Jordan. According to the Jordan Times, the Syrian refugees have “become a sensitive issue for Jordan, which has delayed the opening of the Kingdom’s first official refugee camp over fears of Damascus misinterpreting humanitarian assistance as official support for rebels.”

Syrian refugees in Mafraq load supplies on a pickup (photo by Taylor Luck for the Jordan Times)

Meanwhile, Israeli government and European airline authorities are preventing some 1,200 international activists from traveling to the West Bank this week to help open an international school and museum in Bethlehem, as part of the third annual “Welcome to Palestine” event.

In the Common Lectionary readings for this week, eyewitnesses give testimony to the resurrection of Jesus and describe life in the new community of those who follow him.

“We declare to you what was from the beginning,” writes John, “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (I John 1:1). John proclaims that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (v.5). All who want to have fellowship with God and with one another must walk in God’s light (v.7)

Luke writes, “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,” (Acts 4:33) and notes that those who believed shared their lives together in extraordinary ways. They “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common . . . (and) there was not a needy person among them.” (vv.32-34). In short, they put into practice the words of the psalmist: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)

The Gospel reading records the appearances of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection, concluding that these and many other signs are written so that you “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

In God’s design, Easter is not simply a one-time miracle of Jesus being raised from the dead. It is the basis and power for all humanity to walk in God’s light – living in unity, practicing justice and sharing resources.

Christian Orthodox worshipers hold up candles lit from the "Holy Fire" inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

On Saturday before Easter, Christians pack the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem (also known as the “Church of the Resurrection”). The Patriarch goes into the tomb of Jesus and his torch is lit by Holy Fire, which he then spreads quickly to the pilgrims who have packed the church, each holding a candle.

May God’s vision for a human community that walks in the light and power of the resurrection, spread like the Holy Fire, becoming soon a reality around the world.