Tag Archives: Syrian Refugees

Signing off from Amman

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (June 16, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
II Samuel 11:26-12:15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

This week we said our last goodbyes in Jordan. On Monday, Wafa Goussous of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate hosted a lovely farewell gathering on behalf of MCC Jordan partners.

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On Tuesday we traveled to Karak to say goodbye to our friend Mamun Tarawneh, who has introduced us to many Jordanian families during our time in the Middle East. We enjoyed the Jordanian national dish, mansef — a meat and rice dish served with nuts and yogurt.

Cindy enjoys mansef at the Tarawneh home in Karak

Cindy enjoys mansef at the Tarawneh home in Karak

On Thursday evening the MCC office staff took us out for a farewell dinner. To use a Middle Eastern expression, we feel generously “fare-welled.”

Cindy at farewell dinner with colleagues Suzi Khoury, Nada Zabaneh and Kristy Guertin

Cindy at farewell dinner with colleagues Suzi Khoury, Nada Zabaneh and Kristy Guertin

This will be our last posting from the Middle East. We plan to fly to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 15.

Thanks to those who have journeyed with us during these six years. According to WordPress, we have had readers from 127 countries during the past several years. Many have taken time to send notes of encouragement. Our friend Mike Charles from Arizona, our small group from Washington, D.C. and Don and Lurline Campbell from Brisbane, Australia, deserve distinction as “encouragers-in-chief”!  We are still trying to decide whether we will continue a blog — obviously under a new name — when we return to Virginia. If so, it will be at this same site.

There have been significant changes during our six years in the Middle East:

  • The aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war uprooted some 5 million Iraqis. By some estimates, up to 70 percent of the Iraqi Christian community left the country since the 1991 and 2003 wars.
  • When we arrived in 2007, as many as 700,000 Iraqi refuges lived in Jordan, seeking resettlement to third countries. While the number of Iraqis in Jordan has decreased to tens of thousands, more than 560,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in their place. UNHCR estimates the number could swell to 1.2 million by year end, severely straining Jordan’s infrastructure.
  • As a result of the Arab Spring, four governments in the region have been toppled in the past two years – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. A major civil war rages in Syria.
  • Long-simmering tensions between the minority Bedouin tribes of Jordan and the majority Palestinian population, which arrived as refugees in Jordan after the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, are now threatening to split the country apart.

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

About a third of the high-rises are now visible in a new “Abdali downtown” that is rising in Amman

  • When we arrived in Amman, a large construction site near our flat was a patchwork of large holes in the ground. Today tall buildings are rising from the ground, comprising the new Abdali downtown.

MCC has also seen major changes.  A strategic planning and re-structuring process known as Wineskins has resulted in MCC Canada and MCC U.S. now jointly administering MCC international programs.  MCC has also adopted a more rigorous planning, evaluation and monitoring system for partner-implemented projects around the world.

Mamun with his bug-eating pet porcupine.  Cindy says it's a hedgehog and she's probably right!

Mamun with his bug-eating pet porcupine. Cindy says it’s a hedgehog and she’s probably right!

The Common Lectionary readings this week offer still timely reminders about the connections between confession, forgiveness and restoration.

The prophet Nathan confronts King David after he commits adultery with Bathsheba and has her husband killed.  To David’s credit, he acknowledges his sin. While God forgives David, the long-term consequences of his actions haunt him for the remainder of his days (II Sam. 11:26-12:15).

Reflecting on this experience David writes: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  . . . my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.  . . . Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Ps. 32:3-5)

In the Epistle reading, Paul acknowledges that we cannot be made right with God by “doing the works of the law” (Gal. 2:16), but by placing our faith in Christ who loves us and gave his life for us (vv. 16, 20).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus commends a sinful woman who has demonstrated her repentance by washing Jesus’ feet, while he criticize a religious leader who neither shows hospitality nor recognizes the depth of his need for God’s forgiveness.  “I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love,” Jesus observes, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke :47)

Farewell picture in MCC Jordan office (photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen)

Farewell picture in MCC Jordan office (photo by Gordon Epp-Fransen)

It will be special to arrive in Virginia in time for Father’s Day. We plan to spend time this Sunday with Holden, Heidi and granddaughter Sydney.

Thanks again to all who have journeyed with us!

Inseparably intertwined

Trinity Sunday (May 26, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

On Tuesday this week Cindy taught her last English class with Iraqi students here in Amman. Her students threw a party in her honor. For nearly a year now Cindy has been teaching ESL classes for children and adults at the Chaldean Catholic church near the MCC offices in Jabal Webdah.

Cindy with some of her students at the Chaldean Catholic church in Amman

Cindy with some of her students at the Chaldean Catholic church in Amman (photo by Fr. Raymond)

On Wednesday we hosted a lunch for young adult staff from several MCC partners here in Amman. Daryl made West African Groundnut Stew (More-with-Less Cookbook, page 172) for the occasion. We have been inspired by the vision and commitment of many young adults who work with NGOs in Jordan.

On Thursday Carolyne and Gordon Epp-Fransen finished their four-month formal Arabic language training. We now begin a three-week orientation period as they assume the MCC Rep role here in Jordan in mid-June.

Carolyne and Gordon with Mark LaChonce, the director of their Arabic language school

Carolyne and Gordon with Mark LaChonce, the director of their Arabic language school

Saturday morning we fly to northern Iraq to introduce the Epp-Fransen’s to MCC Iraq partners; then on to Istanbul where we will meet with one of MCC’s key Iran partners. Getting visas to Iran is not possible due to the upcoming presidential elections.

In the region this week:

  • UNHCR announced a temporary lull in the arrival of Syrian refugees to Jordan due to intensified fighting on the Syrian-Jordanian border, making it difficult for refugees to cross. On Thursday the World Bank announced that it will provide $150 million of economic support to Jordan to assist with the cost of hosting the refugees. Jordan is currently hosting 540,000 Syrians.
Syrian children haul mattresses into one-room caravan homes at Za'atari Camp (photo by Muath Freij for the Jordan Times)

Syrian children haul mattresses into a one-room caravan home at Za’atari Camp (photo by Muath Freij for the Jordan Times)

  • Syrian opposition leaders began three days of talks in Istanbul, seeking a political solution to the conflict which has taken the lives of some 80,000 Syrians and uprooted an additional 5 million.
Jordanian demonstrators outside the Iraqi embassy in Amman (AP photo in Jordan Times)

Anti-riot police outside the Iraqi embassy in Amman (AP photo in Jordan Times)

The Common Lectionary readings for this Trinity Sunday highlight the interwoven relationships between members of the Trinity.

God, who is Creator and Sovereign, gives humans dominion over creation (Ps. 8) and shares everything with Jesus Christ, God’s son (John 16:15).

Jesus Christ is co-creator with God (Prov. 8:22-31) and mediator between God and humanity. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul declares (Rom. 5:1).

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” Paul continues (Rom. 5:5). In addition to being the channel of God’s love, the Spirit guides humanity into all the truth, glorifying and bearing witness to Jesus (John 16:13-15).

Such collaboration and unselfish interaction are rare. Indeed, the relationship between the members of the Trinity is a powerful example of the kind of unity that God desires for the human community as well. In a world torn by divisions and fighting, may such unity be so!

Granddaughter Sydney tests the waters and decides it's too cold to climb in (photo by Holden Byler)

Granddaughter Sydney tests the waters and decides it’s too cold to climb in (photo by Holden Byler)

Coming with power

Pentecost Sunday (May 19, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-35; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27

As our time draws to a close in Jordan, we are receiving a number of farewell dinner invitations. Wednesday we spent a lovely evening with Wafa Goussous, who has worked with the Middle East Council of Churches and the Orthodox Initiative during the past 10 years. On Friday, our MCC Jordan colleague Nada Zabaneh hosted us for a delightful lunch in her home. On Saturday evening, Barbara Jones – with whom we served on the council at the International Anglican Church of Amman – hosted a beautiful farewell dinner for us and the Fabrycky family who is also leaving this summer.

Nada Zabaneh serves Arabic coffee after dinner

Nada Zabaneh serves Arabic coffee after dinner

Cindy conducted interviews for short-term Intensive English teachers in Iraq. This is the fourth year that MCC plans to provide ESL teachers for a program initiated by the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Our friend Wafa took this picture in her home in Jabal Amman, Wednesday. We're coming home with a few more gray hairs than when we arrived in Amman six years ago!

Our friend Wafa took this picture in her home in Jabal Amman, Wednesday. We’re coming home with a few more gray hairs than when we arrived in Amman six years ago!

In the region this week:

"I received a package of milk and diapers . . . they were my hope since I desperately needed them for my newborn twins," said Azad Al Bardan, a Syrian refugee who received assistance through MCC partner Caritas Jordan (photo by Dana Shahin)

“I received a package of milk and diapers . . . they were my hope since I desperately needed them for my newborn twins,” said Azad Al Bardan, a Syrian refugee who received assistance through MCC partner Caritas Jordan (photo by Dana Shahin)

  • Turkey alleged it has evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the fighting in Syria.
  • Iran’s Guardian Council will announce on Tuesday the list of candidates for the June 14 elections. While 30 women have registered, one member of the Guardian Council said this week that Iran’s constitution rules out women presidential candidates. Women are allowed to run for parliamentary seats.

The Common Lectionary readings for this Pentecost Sunday highlight the impact of God’s Holy Spirit.

The story in Acts is the most familiar. God’s Spirit comes from heaven with the sound of a rushing wind and tongues of fire rest on the disciples of Jesus, giving them the ability to speak in diverse languages so that everyone in the crowd is able to hear in his or her own language about God’s deeds of power (Acts 2:1-13). Some allege that the disciples are drunk, but Peter reminds the crowd that the prophets of foretold the coming of the Spirit with power, helping some to see visions and others to dream dreams (vv.17-21).

Our friend Agnes Chen, who served as a HNGR intern with Caritas Jordan, graduated from Wheaton College this week.

Our friend Agnes Chen, who served as a HNGR intern with Caritas Jordan, graduated from Wheaton College this week.

The psalmist associates the coming of God’s Spirit with creation and renewal of the earth (Ps. 104:30).

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that God’s Spirit connects with our human spirit, reminding us that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus says that God’s Spirit of truth will serve as our Advocate (John 14:16, 26), abiding with us to teach us everything and to remind us of the words of Jesus (vv. 17, 26).

Our prayer for Pentecost is that God’s Spirit will come with power, bringing new understanding between warring nations, helping leaders to see visions of justice and peace, renewing the earth, teaching humanity how to follow the way of Jesus, and reminding all that we are God’s children.

Lunch feast at Nada's house (left to right): Cindy, Carolyne & Gordon, Nada and Luna

Lunch feast at Nada’s house (left to right): Cindy, Carolyne & Gordon, Nada and Luna

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.

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!

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

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

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.

Speaking our faith

Lent 1 (February 17, 2013)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

We spent much of this week finishing reports for the past year and plans for the coming year.  February 15 is one of two annual reporting deadlines for MCC partners and projects.  Everyone is happy when these deadlines are in the past!

A young Syrian boy with his grandfather at the Za'atari Refugee Camp (Reuters photo by Muhammad Hamed)

A  Syrian boy with his grandfather at Za’atari Refugee Camp (Reuters photo by Muhammad Hamed)

Cindy continues to teach Friday morning English classes at the Chaldean Catholic Church in Jabal Webdah.  Her students are Iraqi refugee children, living in Amman while waiting with their families for resettlement to third countries.  Daryl contributed an article about Syrian refugees in Jordan to the Thirdway Café this week.

Ten years ago this week, Daryl was in the second week of a 40-day fast during which he wrote daily letters to President Bush, urging him to consider alternatives to war with Iraq.

In the region this week:

Wafa Goussous with children at Za'atari Camp, where 2,750 pairs of children's boots were distributed, Feb. 5, using MCC funds

Wafa Goussous, director of the Orthodox Initiative,  with children at Za’atari Camp.  MCC purchased 2,750 pairs of children’s boots, which were distributed on Feb. 5.  (photo by Azmi al-Edwan)

The Common Lectionary readings this week are about speaking our faith – in good times and bad.

In the Old Testament reading – even while they are still wandering in the wilderness – Moses instructs the people that, when they enter the “Promised Land” and benefit from its bounty, they are to take some of the first fruits of the harvest to the priest and recount their story:

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.  When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.  The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” (Deut. 26:5-10)

Books like these were purchased for children at the Zaatari Camp

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem purchased boots like these for children at the Zaatari Camp, using MCC funds (photo by Azmi al-Edwan)

In times of terror, trouble and destruction, the psalmist reminds us to call out to the Lord, saying, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps. 91:2)  The psalmist promises that God will send angels to guard, protect, deliver and rescue us (vv. 11-16).

In the Epistle reading Paul urges Christians living in the heart of the Roman Empire to “confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord.” (Rom. 10:9) By implication, the Roman emperor is not Lord.  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” writes Paul (v.13).

The Gospel reading describes the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  Three times Jesus resists the devil’s temptations to grandeur and greatness by reciting the Scriptures he knows to be true (Luke 3:4, 8, 12).

Our faith becomes powerful when we speak it aloud. It helps us remember our story and our identity.  And it helps us remember that it is God who saves and delivers us.