When is Peace Sunday anyway?

Are you wondering when Peace Sunday is?

If you are confused, you are not alone. Anabaptist conferences across North America, as well as MCC, have at various times suggested different dates for observing Peace Sunday.

peace buttonsTraditionally, MCC Canada and the provincial MCCs have encouraged observation of Peace Sunday in November, in conjunction with Remembrance Day.   From what we can tell, the first time MCC promoted Peace Sunday in Canada was in 1984 in Ontario (Mennonite Reporter, 29 October 1984, p. 12).

However, over the years, other ideas have surfaced. For a time, Mennonite Church USA (or its predecessors) observed Peace Sunday around July 4, arguing that Independence Day – with all its patriotic fervor – was a time for church members to remember and witness to a higher allegiance than that of the nation state.  For a short time, Mennonite Church Canada promoted Peace Sunday in connection with July 1, Dominion Day.

In 2002, the United Nations declared September 21 as International Day of Peace, a day for all peoples and all nations to commemorate and strengthen the ideals of peace. Subsequently, in 2006 the Peace Commission of the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) decided to encourage member churches to observe Peace Sunday on the Sunday closest to September 21.  And for the past several years, MWC has been preparing resource materials to use on Peace Sunday.  This year’s materials are prepared by Canadian Lois Siemens, pastor of the Superb Mennonite Church in Kerrobert, Saskatchewan.

This year also, Mennonite Church USA and MCC US have teamed up to create Peace Sunday materials for September 22 – or any other appropriate date.  Their resource packet is based on Romans 12:12, 9-21 and focuses on the theme, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”

Peacepacketcover13_webMCC Canada continues to prepare its Peace Sunday materials in connection with Remembrance Day in November.  Remembrance Day is the time of year when Canadians are told that freedom, democracy,  and security are won through war, and that peace is ensured through military might.

Remembrance Day is also the time of year when Anabaptist Christians remind each other that we live — not by the promise of peace through war — but by the story of Jesus and his nonviolent way of love, compassion and reconciliation.

Of course, it really does not matter when congregations choose to mark Peace Sunday. For those who believe that the reconciling nonviolent way of Jesus lies at the heart of the Gospel, every Sunday should be Peace Sunday.

Esther Epp-Tiessen is currently public engagement coordinator for MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office.  From 2000 to 2010 she served as peace program coordinator for MCC Canada.

A call to end the violence in Syria

International support for some kind of military intervention in Syria has been building since last week’s chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus.

This support appears to be solidifying in Canada as well. For months, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has been insisting that his government “believes the only way to halt the bloodshed in Syria is through a political solution,” a belief that MCC has affirmed.

2857_20130618_PG_05However, on Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama, and agreed that recent events demand “a firm response from the international community in an effective and timely manner.” On Wednesday afternoon, following a meeting with the President of the Syrian National Council in Montreal, Minister Baird indicated that it was unlikely that Canadian Forces would have a role to play in that response. Nonetheless, he affirmed that Canada is “of one mind” with its allies.

In light of this growing willingness to intervene militarily, MCC released “A call to end the violence in Syria.” Compelled to speak by the fears of our Syrian partners, this statement condemned “in the strongest terms all forms of violence and war,” and called for an escalation of humanitarian assistance and diplomatic efforts to negotiate “an inclusive political solution to the crisis.”

To be clear then, we do not agree with those who assume that rejecting armed intervention means there is nothing that can be done about the crisis in Syria. At the same time, we have no illusions that aid and diplomacy will be quick and easy.

Indeed, any intervention is bound to be inadequate in the face of a tragedy that has, to date, resulted in over 100,000 lives lost, created almost 2 million refugees, and displaced almost 5 million more people within their own country.

One might think then that MCC would be glad for the eagerness of world leaders to condemn violence in Syria. For example, Minister Baird was “incredibly outraged” by the recent use of chemical weapons, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the attack a “moral obscenity.”

Upon closer examination, however, I think there is plenty of cause for concern with this rhetoric.

I am unsettled, for example, by the way that violence in Syria is often condemned in a conditional way. Why are statements by world leaders or media pundits so preoccupied with making distinctions between different types of violence?

I certainly don’t want to minimize the horrors of chemical or other “weapons of mass destruction.” As was pointed out by many earlier this year when Human Rights Watch documented the use of cluster munitions by the Assad regime,176632072 the willingness to use technologies of war that the international community has sought to ban is clearly a troubling sign. However, I am troubled by the willingness of all sides in the Syrian conflict to employ violence to achieve their goals, regardless of their tactics. The moral obscenity of war in Syria has been going on for years now.

Perhaps there is some reluctance among the world’s leaders to condemn violence categorically because the whole point of their rhetoric is to create space for another kind of violence? Is the point to justify their own—presumably legitimate, necessary, or even honourable—military action?

I have also been struck by the slipperiness of the international community’s rationale for violent intervention. On the one hand, we have repeatedly been reminded that the Syrian regime is committing acts of violence “against its own people.” As a result, words such as “cowardly,” “crazy,” and “delusional” have been used to characterize Syrian President Bashar al Assad. How often have you heard that phrase or those words mentioned in news reports on Syria, just as they were with Libya and Iraq in years past?

In recent days, however, armed intervention is increasingly being framed as a necessary response to an offense that the Assad regime has committed against the international community. It is now a matter of international (and national) security rather than a transgression against the Syrian people.

The origins of this latest rationale can be traced to President Obama’s declaration one year ago that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a “red line.” And it now seems that Assad’s greatest sin is that he had the nerve to cross that line.

President Obama has insisted that “when countries break international norms” they have to be “held accountable.” Prime Minister Harper has expressed worries about “the risks of the international community not acting,” as this would set “an extremely dangerous precedent.” British Foreign Secretary William Hague has argued that “we cannot in the 21st century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity.” And German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the “large-scale use of poison gas breaks a taboo.”

It seems then that the fundamental problem that the nations of the world are being mobilized to address is not violence per se, or even a particular kind of violence, but a regime that refuses to use violence in acceptable ways. The concern is not just punishing the Assad regime, but regimes everywhere that refuse to play by the rules.

Is this a compelling enough justification to put more lives at risk through more violence? Will this kind of intervention be able to meet the needs of Syrians in the near and long term?

By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director

Head and heart, body and soul: the Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders institute

This week’s guest writer is Stephen Siemens, coordinator of the Restorative Justice program of MCC Canada.  Stephen lives in Hepburn, Saskatchewan.

This past June I was privileged to take part in the fifth annual Global Anabaptist Peacemakers (or GAP) Institute at Fresno Pacific University (FPU), Fresno, CA. GAP is dynamic partnership between MCC West Coast and FPU offering students cutting-edge immersion into many of the key areas in which MCC is working (locally and globally) through six classes: Care for Creation, Migration and Resettlement, Food Security, Restorative Justice, Advocacy, and Peacebulding on the (Arizona/ Mexico) Border.

As MCC West Cost explains: Global Anabaptist Peacebuilders are young leaders from across the country [the U.S.] who gather for a week to learn together what it means, as an Anabaptist, to respond with the love of Christ in an increasingly interconnected world.

I was invited to GAP to co-teach the Restorative Justice course and helped to lead the GAP “House of Prayer” — more on both of those, shortly.

GAP 2

All the GAP participants

The GAP institute has an excellent format that challenges heart and mind, left and right brain. Our days would began with worship and devotions, and, using the book of Acts as the template, we reflected on what truly is the Gospel, and how we are seeing it unfold in and through us, and in the world around us. Many of us participating in GAP, both students and faculty, marveled at how precious and refreshing good Bible teaching is!

Then all students broke out into the six classes listed above for a good balance of classroom learning (PowerPoints, group discussion, role plays) and “outside” experiential learning (field trips, interviews, mini-learning tours, etc).

The Restorative Justice course, for example, tackled the following subjects in the classroom: the contours of Biblical Justice juxtaposed to secular western understandings of justice (state law); the needs of victims and offenders; learned peacemaking strategies to capture the opportunity for reconciliation; and developing skills in conflict management and mediation through role playing.

GAP 1

Stephen Siemens (back row, left) and participants in the Conflict Resolution and Peacemaking module.

Our field trips consisted of listening to those who began the Reedley Victims Initiative, touring the local juvenile detention center, touring FPU’s Victim Offender Reconciliation Program or VORP, and a tour of Fresno Superior Court.

But the day was not over when the “bell rang.” Courses would wrap up for the day just before supper, but the community of the faithful would continue to gather, learn, and encounter Christ.

Most of the evenings also included worship, or as we called it, the GAP “House of Prayer.” This was a rich time indeed, as students reflected on both the many injustices to which the church is called to respond —but also as we gathered in the presence of Christ, and through song, Scripture, and prayer, encountered the One who provides hope, power, wisdom and compassion to transform individuals, families, structures and whole societies.

It was wonderful. It was needed, personally and corporately. We experienced the Gospel confirmed in us. Head and heart, body and soul, fully interconnected. No conflict of interest between academic explorations and simply worshiping Jesus. What an incredible way for many students to be introduced to the multifaceted nature of God’s kingdom and God’s personality!

Though I am obviously biased, I was humbled by the quality of students at this event, and I marveled at how they see opportunity and hope, not obstacles and despair. I saw God doing a mighty work in confirming the passion in many students to participate with Christ in reconciling people to people and people to God. I was also thankful for how God uses MCC to introduce many to God’s holistic body and soul outreach, in which all of us can participate.

Is MINUSTAH worth the cost?

They say news travels fast. Well, this news didn’t seem to.

On June 21st, the boots of 34 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel hit the ground in Haiti. Deployed for six months as part of the Brazilian battalion of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), this infantry platoon is anticipated to provide things like security patrols, check points, convoy escorts, and logistical support to other units.

By the time interested Canadians caught wind of this development, the troops were9088773892_2b84e49187 probably already suiting up for their first day on the job.

The news was pretty easy to miss. After all, former Defence Minister Peter MacKay only made the announcement two days earlier. A speedy policy decision? So it seemed, until reporters quickly unearthed—much to the surprise of almost everyone, including many parliamentarians (who, you would figure, should be in the know)—that the deployment had really been approved nine months prior.

It seems not many people got the memo.

All process questions aside, what are we to make of this decision? Perhaps the deployment was an attempt to mark last week’s National Peacekeepers Day really early. Not likely. For a government that has increasingly distanced our military from Canada’s historic peacekeeping legacy (opting instead to contribute police officers to peacekeeping missions), the decision seemed unusual, to say the least.

A bit of a head-scratcher, really.

None of this necessarily matters if Canada’s announcement is welcome news to the Haitian people. Given that the UN Security Council has unanimously approved the renewal of the mission’s mandate every year since 2004, MINUSTAH must have some substantial wins under its proverbial belt. It must be doing something right.

Right?

Well, as is so often the case, it all depends on who you ask.

To some, MINUSTAH is the right tool for providing civilian protection and, according to the original UN Security Council Resolution that authorized its deployment, “ensur[ing] a secure and stable environment,” especially given the relative weakness of Haiti’s own security sector.

To many Haitians who have seen MINUSTAH in action over the last eight years, however, the mission’s presence has come to signal something entirely different. With a big-ticket price tag of $650 million per year, MINUSTAH’s astronomical costs appear increasingly difficult to justify.

Based on extensive consultations with our local partners, MCC has voiced serious concerns to the U.N. in recent years over several dimensions of the MINUSTAH mission, including (but unfortunately not limited to) the:

  • absence of legal legitimacy for the mission’s presence, as it violates Article 139 of the Haitian Constitution;
  • lack of justification for the mission’s Chapter VII (combat) mandate, given the absence of armed conflict in Haiti since 2004;
  • widespread allegations of human rights and sexual abuses perpetrated by U.N. soldiers;
  • introduction of cholera by a U.N. base, which has already reportedly killed more than 8,000 Haitians and infected another 650,000.

Despite eight years on the ground, it is difficult to point to any real successes. In fact, many Haitians argue that the long-term presence of MINUSTAH troops has only made things worse and exacerbated Haiti’s structural crisis.

So why has Canada sent troops to Haiti? And why now?

Well, as Minister MacKay is reported to have said, this decision signals Canada’s commitment to support Haiti (although that makes the current freeze on all future aid funding for Haiti a bit confusing), and has the added benefit of strengthening bilateral ties with Brazil.

Economic interest with Brazil a driving factor in our decision to deploy to MINUSTAH?

It has long been acknowledged that Haiti needs sustained commitment from the international community for building its capacity to become a strong, stable, and flourishing country.

But what kind of international support might help address the real sources—or, to use an haiti2un-previewincreasingly unwelcome term, root causes—of Haiti’s insecurity? Is an ongoing militarized response, supplied with heavy equipment and arms (and a hefty price tag to boot), the right tool to grab from the toolbox?

As our partners have long advocated, the problems facing Haiti are not military in nature but are the by-product of deeply-rooted poverty and structural incapacity. What the country needs most is investment in health care, employment, food security, education, and water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as providing technical training and capacity building for the judiciary. Such work is best carried out by specialized agencies better equipped to deal with insecurity caused by a lack of development.

For these reasons, MCC partners believe the cost of MINUSTAH to be wasteful. Haiti’s National Cholera Elimination Plan, for instance, will cost $2.2 billion over ten years while MINUSTAH (at its current rate) will cost $6.7 billion. Simple math says that’s about three times the total amount needed to eliminate cholera. That’s some upsetting math.

This is why MCC Canada voiced our concern last month to the Minister of National Defence.

With unclear benchmarks for a timely withdrawal, it looks like MINUSTAH could be around a while. But our partners believe that the recent deployment of Canadian military personnel is not a show of solidarity but of force, and has the potential to tarnish the kind of cooperation being sought by the Haitian people.

By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst

Truth and Mercy in the South Saskatchewan Watershed

This week’s guest writer is Eileen Klassen Hamm, program director for MCC Saskatchewan.  Her piece was originally written for KAIROS: Ecumenical Justice Initiatives as part of their series of spirited reflections.

I grew up on a farm in Treaty 6 Territory, on the eastern banks of the South Saskatchewan River north of  Clark’s Crossing. Coulees, abundant with Saskatoon berry and chokecherry bushes, wildflowers and creatures, were the play structures of my childhood. The rhythm of the seasons connected us to the watershed with its cycles of abundance and respite. On pleasant Sunday afternoons, my brothers and I would bug our Dad to take us to the South Quarter to look for arrowheads. The fields there were quite sandy and often we would find these markers from another time, another people.

As a young adult I left the watershed of my childhood to pursue education, travel, and love. Watersheds in other provinces, countries and continents shaped my vocation and sharpened my understanding of my home. And then I returned, with my love, to the watershed of the South Saskatchewan River. Our children have grown up here, eating Saskatoon berries and chokecherries.

South Saskatchewan RiverMy ancestors came to this watershed from Ukraine in the 1890s with stories of dislocation, losses and hopes. They perceived the landscape to be empty and they set about filling it with fence lines and buildings, plowed fields and future dreams. They failed to understand that the watershed was already rich in stories, and that their relocation was part of the dislocation of Indigenous peoples who thus became strangers in the land of their own ancestors.

In the two decades since I have returned to the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, I have attempted to learn more about broken treaty relationships, Indian Residential Schools, the Doctrine of Discovery. I have attempted to listen carefully to Indigenous stories from this watershed, stories of suffering and strength, despair and resurgence. I witness small signs of hopeful change. But mostly I wonder how best to take responsibility as a settler, an heir of colonialism, an heir of oppression. I wonder how best to honour the beautiful and the tragic stories of the watershed.

Psalm 85 is a cry from a people who have been exiled and are seeking to return to their land and to the Lord’s favour – “Restore us again, O God … Will you prolong your anger through all generations?” The psalm is a plea for peace and justice and well-being. Verse 10 holds an amazing and intimate vision of restoration – “truth and mercy have met together; peace and justice have kissed.”

John Paul Lederach[i], a well-known peacebuilding practitioner and educator, invites justice seeking people to imagine each of these four concepts in Psalm 85:10 – Truth, Mercy, Peace, Justice – as a person, and then to invite these persons into your context. What do Truth, Mercy, Peace, and Justice have to say to my watershed? To the conflict, injustice, and pain that is here? We often pit these concepts against each other, or argue that one needs to happen before another. What wisdom and strengths do they bring as collaborators? Truth seeks acknowledgement, honesty, revelation and clarity. Mercy brings acceptance, grace, compassion and healing. Peace holds harmony, well-being, security and respect. And Justice carries right relationships, equality and restitution.

The psalmist’s vision for restoration has these four teachers/teachings interacting in a dynamic social space. I find this vision energizing as we, in the church, seek to be part of life-retrieving, reconciling stories in our watersheds. In all of our particular places, we can be encouraged to sift through the wisdom of Truth and Mercy, Peace and Justice. At times we may be called to amplify the voice of Truth. To emphasize the strengths of Peace. To learn the hard teachings of Justice. To accept the gifts of Mercy. And we do this all that “faithfulness will spring forth from the earth … and our land will yield its harvest.”


[i] John Paul Lederach, The Journey Toward Reconciliation (Herald Press, 1999), p 51-61.