Saying No to War

by Esther Epp-Tiessen

In the early months of 2003, ten years ago, the drums of war were beating menacingly.  Many of us were trying hard to prevent the U.S. from going to war against Iraq.  If we could not stop the war, we Canadians at least hoped Canada would not join.

Iraqi women

This photo of Iraqi women, taken around 2002, inspired MCC Canada to launch a women’s fast for peace in 2003. For three months, over one thousand women (and some men) fasted each Wednesday as a way of witnessing against war.

We lit candles, fasted and uttered countless prayers for peace.   We gathered signatures for letters to the Prime Minister.  We participated in vigils and rallies and marches. We took out newspaper ads.  We posted peace messages on our church buildings.  We joined with the larger Christian community and like-minded coalitions to speak out for peace.

Other people around the world acted in courageous ways to resist the war.  An MCC colleague in the U.S. fasted from food for a full 40 days, each day also sending a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush, urging diplomacy.  Many people engaged in civil disobedience.   On February 15, 2003, millions of people rallied simultaneously around the globe with a clear message:  No to war.

Despite the pleas of people worldwide, the U.S. and a “coalition of the willing” launched a massive air assault on March 19 and invaded Iraq with ground troops a short time later.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Numbers can never express the terrible toll of war on the lives of individuals and communities.  But they are staggering nonetheless:  Over 120,000 Iraqi civilian casualties and 10,000 military and security casualties. Some 4,500 U.S. soldiers killed.  Some 5 million Iraqis displaced from their homes.  I feel a profound sadness, as I contemplate the terrible legacy of death, disability, displacement, psychological trauma, and environmental devastation.

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Ontario Mennonites participate in a public peace witness, 2003.

In some ways, perhaps, the Canadian churches can take some credit for keeping Canada out of the Iraq War.  Prime Minister Jean Chretien reportedly acknowledged that the voice of the Canadian churches factored into his decision not to take Canada into the war.

In other ways, however, the “victory” rings hollow.  Canada, though officially not at war, nevertheless participated unofficially through significant numbers of special military personnel and through arms sales.

Nonetheless, to my mind, our humble witness against war was absolutely necessary.  History is increasingly judging those who counseled against war as right and correct.  More and more analysts are now calling the invasion of Iraq a foreign policy disaster or, more gently, a major error.  Prime Minister Chretien is being lauded for his decision not to officially support the U.S. war effort.

For people committed to the way of Jesus, however, more important than the judgment of history is the judgment of the One who calls us to love our enemies and do good to those who threaten us. When the nations march to war, followers of Christ simply must say No.

Esther Epp-Tiessen is public engagement coordinator for MCCanada.  She visited Iraq in 2002.

Water Water Everywhere

by Sue Eagle

Friday, March 22 is World Water Day.

I enjoy camping.   I don’t mind roughing it for a week or so.  I’ve camped in places where I’ve had to haul water and boil it before using it.  I realize, though, that this is temporary, and I can go home, and turn on my tap, fill a cup and take a drink or turn on the shower.   If it was part of my daily routine, hauling water and boiling it before using would take a lot of time and energy out of my day.

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Wekuskow Falls, Manitoba

On January 21, 2013, 113 First Nations communities were living under a water advisory.  Some of these First Nations are surrounded by water – lakes and rivers —  but don’t have a clean water source.  Their water is not safe for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning.  Some water advisories require water to be boiled before use, but others warn against contamination that heat cannot remove.  Advisories are meant to be temporary, but in many First Nations, they are ongoing with no end in sight.    Water issues impact hardest on the sick, elderly, women and children – the most vulnerable of the population.

As a country, Canada has the largest source of fresh water, but not all those living within Canada benefit from that water.   In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the human right to water and sanitation.  Clean drinking water is something that everyone should have access to.   Unfortunately, our country doesn’t have a great track record on making things right regarding water in First Nations.

Bill C-45 Rally, Timmins, Ontario, December 2012

Last fall’s Omnibus Budget Bill (Bill C-45) introduced a number of changes to legislation that further threaten our water.  Rather than taking care of vulnerable populations and ensuring fresh water for future generations, for all Canadians including First Nations, Canada is rolling out the red carpet for resource extraction companies with hopes of a quick fix to our country’s economic woes.

Do you want to make a difference?  There is hope, even though there are no easy answers.  For action ideas and more information, check the ACT and RESOURCE tabs at  www.mythperceptions.ca .  To make the jump to additional water materials on mythperceptions a bit quicker and easier, use your favourite search engine pairing mythperceptions and water in the search box.

We can make choices today that look to a future of fresh, clean, protected water for the generations to come.  We have a responsibility as part of creation to care for what God has provided us.

Sue Eagle is Co-Coordinator of Indigenous Work for MCC Canada.  She lives in Winnipeg with her family.

“Craziness” in Colombia

By Joe Wiebe

Every morning a group of us pile into a van that drives us to the MCC office. Every morning people laugh in disbelief at the way traffic flows: steadily moving bumper to bumper through streets with paved lines that act, at most, as suggestions. A Colombian woman describes this movement as guided by relationships rather than as organized by rules. In Colombia, relationships are not mediated by law. I know this from reading articles, but in the van I feel it churning my stomach.

Cazucá road close to MB church

My stomach is knotted again going to Cazucá, a shantytown in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogotá. We have been invited by David and his wife Marina to visit them at their Mennonite Brethren church. Other churches and NGOs are active in and around Cazucá, but only David and Marina live there. We wait at the bottom of the hill for David to accompany us for the last quarter mile. The weather is comfortable and the church is close but we wait without explanation. Later we are told that the neighbourhood is dissected by invisible lines that mark gang territories, the results of crossing which are unclear. Presently, the silence is thick – enough to know that things here are serious.

childrenThe entrance to the church opens onto a patio teeming with playing children. They are gorgeous. The tin roof vibrates with their animation and we revel in it, basking in their laughter. They play with broken toys. One child scales the ground doing an army crawl. He pretends he´s playing with an object that explodes in his hands. We’re told these are the younger kids; the older ones play later so they “don’t hit” the younger ones. This, of course, is common to all children. But here it feels like a long shadow; I know the statistics of how these children will end up, and I’m terrified.

davidDavid (in photo to left) guides us through the labyrinthine structure to the sanctuary. There are several levels we go through that contain various rooms for different projects: a sewing room for women to make clothes; schoolrooms for the children; one room has a few computers and a keyboard. David tells us how they came to be in Cazucá for the past ten years. It all centers on a local woman whose body was riddled with cancer; her husband abandoned her in fear of catching it. David read the bible with her, and her neighbours started noticing his recurring presence. No other pastors come here, and they are perplexed. They tell him he’s crazy. Everyone tells him and Marina they’re crazy. David retorts, “It’s by being crazy we built all of this.”

MarinaThe craziness of Colombia itself is palpable, but difficult to describe – hence we tell stories. David tells us about the presence of the paramilitaries (paras) that brings both violence and protection; Marina (in photo to right) informs us about the women whose husbands have been killed (most likely by the paras) and must work from 3AM – 10PM, leaving their children either on the streets to be recruited by gangs or locked in their houses getting so hungry they eat toothpaste. It is only because of the paras´ protection that the church can function, but the law they bring is through selective assassinations that David is trying to stop.

When one of the MCC SEED workers describes the violence – rape, murder, thieving, drug trafficking – David shrugs and shakes his head. It’s crazy. And yet David does not have the world-weariness you see in pastors burnt out by tiresome demands of fickle congregations in Canada. He is tenacious and, well, attractive – both his laughter and his tears are infectious. The source of his virtues is his particular incarnation of Colombian craziness – I might put it more theologically by calling it the Holy Spirit (which it is), but that doesn’t explain anything beyond the stories he tells.

The difficulty is that we often say something is crazy as a gasp of exasperation, a release of tension that is supposed to lead to an explanation, an order or underlying reason for the way things are. Reason fails in Colombia; its reality is contained in the fraught silence of the potential violence that everyone knows is hovering invisibly overhead waiting to be given bodily form – present in the way “para” functions in the word “paranormal.”

walking down the roadOur tour of Cazucá can be given a sequential order: the hanging tree where people are executed, the brown door behind which drugs are trafficked, the rose garden, the dogs barking, the blood splattered in the dirt, the resourceful families, the smiles and greetings, the man with scars on his face, the woman whose stew David describes as “finger licking good.”

What connects them? Each is its own rorschach test: make of it what you will. For a tourist such as myself to say that there is a dignity and happiness in the people we meet (which Marina insists upon) that blots out the despair and redeems the gut-wrenching tales would be patronizing at best.

What I can say is that David and Marina have embraced the insanity by refusing to despair in a world in which communal life is not organized by laws. He does not turn to the government or to violence to make sense of life or enforce order; instead he forms relationships that exceed all social (and legal?) boundaries. In the silence and irrationality that marks reality in Colombia, David and Marina are immersed in a profound inter-involvement with both marginal and powerful lives.

group inside david marinaDavid informs us that people in the community do not go to him and Marina out of guilt or shame but because they are looking for a new life, an encounter with God.

As a Canadian irrevocably involved in an economy that enables the poverty Cazucá is mired in, the temptation to react to these horrific stories is one of guilt and shame. Indeed, during our time together there is a confession followed by tears.

But to feel only guilt and shame would not recognize, and therefore forestall participation in, the complex craziness that built an MB church in a place all others flee after sunset. It would give our transgressions the last word. Like Colombia, we are free from the law, which gives both love and hate incomprehensible fertility.

And so David and Marina say that while resources are needed, what is of utmost importance is that we pray for them. Their lives and mission are sustained in part by our encounters with God, by a continual search for a new life radically present to our community. This is not sentimental or simplistic; it should make our stomachs churn. For if our churches are not organized by laws (rules that tell us who our friends are, who we can worship with, who we listen to) then they are guided by relationships with our communities, which is crazy.

Joe Wiebe is a member of Grantham MB church and professor at McMaster University, both in Ontario.  He is one of several Mennonite Brethren church leaders from Canada visiting Colombia, March 4-17, as the invitation of the Colombian church.  Read their entire blog.

Creating a new generation of peaceniks: Reflections on MCC’s Ottawa Student Seminar

by Ellen Paulley

Twenty-nine participants. Ten speakers. Two-and-a-half days. One big topic: Peacebuilding in a Dangerous Time. I recently had the pleasure of attending the MCC Ottawa Office’s student seminar. We participants spent our time interacting with a host of great speakers who presented on a variety of topics related to peacekeeping and peacebuilding. There is much for us to process and reflect on.

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Seminar participants pose in front of the Parliament Buildings.

As I process all that we heard and learned, a couple of ideas stand out for me. Several of our speakers talked about the fact that conflict prevention is much more cost effective than responding to a conflict with military action. Conflict prevention has the potential, obviously, to prevent the tragic loss of life that can occur in a war scenario.

To my mind, conflict prevention has inherent merit, especially in a time when it seems the whole world is living in an age of austerity. The question I am left with is: If conflict prevention is more cost effective than a war and saves more lives, why does it seem that so little attention is paid to potential conflicts before they escalate to a war situation? What are the things that I, that we, can do to encourage the international community to invest in conflict prevention?

A second idea that I am wrestling with is whether war or force can effectively be used to bring about peace. Sometimes the thought is that saving lives can require the sacrifice of other lives. There are a number of ethical questions this raises for me – how is it determined which lives are okay to be sacrificed? Who makes those decisions? Is any sacrifice of life really justifiable?

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Students chat with Member of Parliament Paul Dewar (Right), one of the presenters at the seminar.

I am a firm believer in the power of peace and diplomacy. We heard several times that a large percentage of conflicts do not end through surrender or outright defeat. Instead, violent conflicts often end through negotiations. Knowing this, would it not be best to pursue diplomatic and peaceful ends to conflict, investing whatever is necessary to ensure no lives are lost? I long for a world where one day one life lost in a conflict will be one too many.

Peacebuilding is always tough work. It requires a willingness to try new things, to enter into uncomfortable places and to challenge the status quo. I was very encouraged by this conference, where both speakers and students alike had a desire for and an interest in peace. Thank you to MCC for helping to create a new generation of peaceniks!

Ellen Paulley is in her final year of International Development Studies at the University of Winnipeg.

For another reflection on the seminar, see Samuel Shnake on “What the Mennonites are teaching me…

For a photo gallery of the seminar, click here.