Sharing our gifts: advocacy in the name of Christ

Guest writer for this week is Allan Reesor-McDowell, Community Engagement Coordinator for MCC Ontario. Allan has worked for MCC in Canada and internationally for about ten years. He recently completed a Master of Science degree in Development Studies at the University of London UK.

Feeding the hungry

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand in Mark (6:30-44) offers fascinating insights on the theme of sharing our God-given gifts. The disciples are clearly overwhelmed at what it will take to feed the crowds and want to send the crowds away. Instead, Jesus poses an important question: How many loaves and fishes to do you have?

 Since these kids' parents started participating in agriculture and nutrition trainings, they been growing (and eating!) a more diverse range of vegetables, including carrots, in Ratemate, Okhaldhunga. Since 2010, MCC Nepal, with funding from CFGB, has been working with local Nepali organizations in Okhaldhunga District to improve agriculture and livestock production, improve nutrition, and strengthen farmers' groups.

Since these Nepalese kids’ parents started participating in agriculture and nutrition trainings, they been growing (and eating!) a more diverse range of vegetables, including carrots, in Ratemate, Okhaldhunga.  Since 2010, MCC Nepal, with funding from CFGB, has been working with local Nepali organizations in Okhaldhunga District to improve agriculture and livestock production, improve nutrition, and strengthen farmers’ groups.

With the “loaves and fishes” its supporters offer, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) responds to basic needs around the world. For instance, MCC supports a project in Nepal enabling primary schools to provide nutritious snacks to over 400 children in early childhood classes – children who might not otherwise eat during the school day. This is an important and effective response to poverty, and one way to love our global neighbours. MCC supporters are very familiar with this aspect of our work.[1]

But beyond sharing literal “loaves and fishes,” I think Jesus is encouraging a shift in mindset that has the disciples focus not on what is lacking (which leads to being overwhelmed at tasks ahead), but on what they have. In other words, Jesus is asking, What do you have?

What I find so special about this question is the underlying assumption that we always have resources around us. There are gifts that can be shared in any given situation. This assumption has broad implications about sharing gifts that go beyond feeding hungry people.

What do you have?

MCC responds to basics needs, yes. But MCC doesn’t stop there. MCC also advocates for social and policy change that might, for example, reduce the number of children around the world who go hungry. Big changes are needed to reduce poverty and injustice around the world, and social change is seldom achieved without advocacy.[2] So, loving our neighbour means providing a meal to hungry children. And loving our neighbour also means we “shed light on an unjust situation, or tak[e] nonviolent steps to transform injustice to justice.”[3] Advocacy is a key tool in MCC’s ministry of relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.

IMG_6659Yet a recent research project on support for MCC’s advocacy work revealed that there is “limited awareness of MCC’s advocacy work or how it undergirds and supports other MCC work.”[4] My guess is that this indicates a lack of involvement in advocacy activities from a significant portion of MCC’s constituency. Perhaps, like the disciples, this has something to do with being overwhelmed by the challenges ahead? Or perhaps it relates to a lack of confidence that our voice and contribution will really make a difference?

Advocacy in the name of Christ

But if we take anything from the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, it is this: Don’t be overwhelmed! Look instead at what “we” have – as individuals, as congregations, as a broader church, and as part of coalitions who seek similar social and policy change that will contribute to peace and justice. With God’s help, we can and do make a difference. Each person, created in God’s image, has gifts to share. And one important avenue to share our gifts is through supporting advocacy efforts. We have “a role in promoting the reign of God while holding governments accountable to their God-given task to provide a just, peaceful and sustainable order for society.”[5]

[1] Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Canadian Advocacy Research Project Final Report, Winnipeg, MB., 2014, page 9.

[2] Steven Teles and Mark Schmitt, “The Elusive Craft of Evaluating Advocacy,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2011, page 39.

[3] Mennonite Central Committee, “Loving our neighbor through witness to government” [brochure]

[4] Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Canadian Advocacy Research Project Final Report, Winnipeg, MB., 2014, page 9.

[5] Mennonite Central Committee, “Loving our neighbor through witness to government” [brochure]

Building together with Elements of Justice: Reflections on living into a new narrative

This week’s guest post is written by Deanna Zantingh, a Master’s student at Canadian Mennonite University, from Smithville, Ontario. She writes about her experience at Elements of Justice — an event sponsored by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Initiatives —  held in BC in October 2013. Deanna will be a speaker at Native Assembly in Winnipeg, July 28-31.

The smell of salmon from the river lingered in the foggy air while we gathered in the wooded meeting hall below the towering forest. Here, as guests in the unceded territory of the Salish people of BC, amidst the natural beauty, it was easy to know and lament how wrong it is to wreck the planet.

Photo credit Matthew Dueck for KAIROS Canada.

Photo credit Matthew Dueck for KAIROS Canada.

As the diverse ecumenical group assembled at the KAIROS Elements of Justice gathering, this larger challenge remained at the centre of our circles: How do we as people of faith live amidst our nation’s narrative that is built on profit from environmental degradation, and profit over people who stand to protect the land?

As we gathered as indigenous and non-indigenous people, it was impossible to ignore that our one commonality was our shared story: a story of two clashing worldviews and value systems, indigenous and western, and the ways we find ourselves as modern day actors in a deep-rooted story that has not, and will not end. A second question soon emerged: What does it mean to live as people of faith within the reality that we are all members of a treaty outlining a relationship of respect to people and to care of the land that has been utterly disrespected?

As a non-indigenous person, I grew up in a story that taught me some pretty terrible things about the First People of Canada, or Turtle Island. Yet the beautiful and wise voices of indigenous presenters and participants at this conference reminded me yet again of the ways we need each other, and of the ways we need to live into new stories together.

A young indigenous law student shared with us the devastating effects of fracking in his home community, and articulated that ecological justice is something that we must build together. He urged us as the church to reclaim our moral discourse in this amoral story, using our discipleship as a means of shaping people who do not seek to be self-aggrandizing individuals.

Janelle de Rocquigney leading a drum song. Photo credit Matthew Dueck for KAIROS Canada.

Janelle de Rocquigney leading a drum song. Photo credit Matthew Dueck for KAIROS Canada.

I also heard brave indigenous women like Brenda Sayers, a whistleblower on the secret and hidden implications of the Canada-China FIPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement), and trade deal which would handcuff Canadian environmental policy to Chinese business interests for at least 31 years. This grew to a court battle that has come at a great cost to both Sayers and her home community of Hupacasath First Nation. It is stories like these that make me truly proud and thankful for the boldness of our First Nations hosts, and highlight for me our own great need to mirror this example.

The best part of the gathering for me however was meeting Sylvia McAdam, a founding member of the Idle No More movement, who spoke with me personally using the same gracious and gentle attitude she employed throughout her passionate discussion of Canada’s unjust legal history toward Aboriginal people. After highlighting a history of disregard, including her own family’s slave labour on a sugar beet farm in Alberta where chemicals were sprayed on them, she closed with a bold reminder that “Even in our ceremonies to this day, we still honour you.” Perhaps that’s when it dawned on me what the Kairos conference was all about: Building a relationship together that centers on honouring and respecting each other and the land that affords us life.

I pray that as the body of Christ we might have the same grace and boldness exhibited by McAdam towards those who do us deep and irreparable harm. It’s time to build together using the building blocks of justice afforded from our different stories in defense of the elements that afford us life itself, knowing that it is the Creator of life who longs to meet us here in this work, and maybe even move us toward a fuller life than we now have eyes to see.

A prayer for Palestine and Israel

“Then justice will dwell in the land
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” — Isaiah 32:16-17

In December 2013, Hashem Al Attar stood in front of his tin-roofed, one-story, two-room concrete home in the Beit Lahia area of northern Gaza. Beit Lahia is one of the areas where MCC is providing a month of food to people affected by the recent conflict with Israel. MCC's partner, Al Najd Development Forum, is working in this area to address food shortages and malnutrition, which were problems even before the assault. (MCC Photo/Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

In December 2013, Hashem Al Attar stood in front of his tin-roofed, one-story, two-room concrete home in the Beit Lahia area of northern Gaza. Beit Lahia is one of the areas where MCC is providing a month of food to people affected by the recent conflict with Israel. MCC’s partner, Al Najd Development Forum, is working in this area to address food shortages and malnutrition, which were problems even before the assault. (MCC Photo/Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

O God of life and love and peace,
As the cycle of violence in Palestine and Israel repeats itself,
Our hearts break once again.

Our hearts break for the people of Gaza —
For those killed and injured and displaced by Israeli bombardments
For the children and young people who have witnessed and experienced violence
For the parents who cannot protect and provide for their families
For the grandparents who have lost hope and a will to live
For all who live with indescribable suffering.

Our hearts break for all Palestinians—
For the victims of violent attacks throughout Palestine
For those who have endured decades of occupation and oppression
For those whose homes and olive orchards have been demolished
For those who languish in Israeli prisons
For those who steadfastly choose nonviolent resistance
For those whose rage has turned to hatred and violence.

Our hearts break for the people of Israel—
For those threatened by rocket attacks
For the families of abducted and murdered teenagers
For those who live with fear and insecurity
For those who re-live the trauma of the past over and over
For those who work for a just peace for all
For those who support violent force as the only way to security.

Our hearts break for the wider world—
For those who are indifferent to the pain in your “holy land”
For those who distort or turn their eyes from truth
For those who label all resistance, even nonviolent resistance, as “terrorism”
For those who fail to see the humanity of all your children.

Heal us all, O God. Heal the brokenness.

May weapons and war, apathy and blame be laid down
May diminishing and demonizing of “the other” cease.
May there be acknowledgement of harms committed
May there be new energy for building bridges of understanding
May there be new efforts to address root causes of the violence
May there be new visions of a shared and peaceful future.

O God, whose heart breaks for the world,
May your justice dwell in the land
May your righteousness abide in fruitful fields
May the effect of righteousness be quietness and trust forever
May the effect of justice be peace — enduring peace.

Amen

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.

Oh Canada! I love you but . . .

This week’s guest post is written by Steve Plenert, peace program coordinator for MCC Manitoba.

Oh Canada, you make me so proud and so exasperated at the same time. I am so fortunate to have been born in this democratic, resource rich, multi-cultural, Olympic-curling-gold-medal producing nation! Winnipeg winters aside, for a white, middle class grandpa with educated, empowered daughters and grand-daughters, it couldn’t get much better.

Oh Canada, you have embarrassed me over the past decade or so as I’ve come (somewhat) to terms with our colonial history. The Indian Act, the reserve system and Indian Residential Schools have made it difficult to look Indigenous people in the eyes. I wish we didn’t have this racist legacy (and pain and brokenness and blood) on our hands.

Gitxaala territory near Kitkatla BCOh Canada, you are such a beautiful place with your forests and mountains and lakes and rivers and wildlife. Even the Manitoba mosquitoes can’t keep me from loving how gorgeous our geography is. How vast and intricate and exquisite!

Oh Canada, you are home to 70 percent of the world’s mining companies. Resource extraction has become the name of our prosperity game. I know how much I benefit from this in terms of social services, transfer payments and more. But couldn’t we find a way to leave some of the resources for future generations? Could we try and protect endangered wildlife and entire ecosystems from the ravages of our industriousness?

Oh Canada, you are a beacon of democracy and of government systems that include functional parliaments, legislatures, city councils and astonishingly effective bureaucracies. The people and parties that win elections get to take over power without military intervention. Government-run systems of health care and education provide quality healing and learning opportunities to the vast majority of Canadian people.

Canadian flagOh Canada, you annoy me with your Senate scandals and legislators who fear-monger people with their “tough on crime” mantras. Will locking up more Indigenous, indigent and mentally ill people actually make us safer and happier? I would like us to learn how to be communities that deal with the challenges in our midst rather than merely be individuals who care only about our own interests.

Oh Canada, I am so proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms! This is one banner piece of nation building for which much of the world envies us. I don’t have to be the same as everyone else to be safe here. I can live out my faith convictions or sexual orientation without fear of being locked up for them.

Oh Canada, I would love it if we could look past our individual rights and freedoms sometimes. We could do much better at helping the marginalized to be less so. Be they Indigenous, incarcerated, mentally ill, economically challenged, racial or sexual minorities, we could be still more inclusive and welcoming in our communities.

Oh Canada!  I love you but . . .