by Anna Vogt
In November, the Ottawa Office was pleased to host Syrian peacemaker S. Laham, (full name withheld for security purposes) formerly with MCC partner Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), for meetings with Canadian policymakers about Syria. Director Anna Vogt spoke with Laham about MECC’s work and his message for Canada. Here is a condensed and edited version of Laham’s reflections.
The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) has been involved in humanitarian work since its establishment in 1974 as a communion of churches in the Middle East. MECC started by supporting Palestinian refugees, then those impacted by civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as aiding refugees from Somalia, Sudan, and then again Iraqis fleeing invasions in 2003. MECC currently supports Syrian IDPs and Syrian refugees throughout the Middle East. When local churches have strength and capacity to respond where they are, we can maintain the sustainability of this work and the witness of the church in the context it serves.
We believe that all refugees should enjoy a dignified and safe return to their countries, wherever applicable. To live in dignity means that we must care about the wellbeing of every single person, regardless of background. Each person should enjoy equal life, opportunities, and social and economic justice. MECC works to enable each person to retain their resiliency.
My wish for the Canadian government is that it would look at the reality of the entirety of Syria and the many stories present in the region. Canada must play a role in peacebuilding and stability in the region, instead of involvement in military action. Military interests will not generate peace. Rather, this will generate more conflict. It will generate more sensitivities, more hatred and increased destruction of the social fabric. This will not help in the rebuilding of the social fabric or lead to civil governments.
When Canadians look at Syria, they need to see the whole reality of the story. The media may only be reflecting one perspective, but there are lots of different sides of the story. There are many people who are working and serving in a very courageous way, who don’t have the media means to share their work. We have witnessed a lot of fragmentation and destruction in our history – we need to come together again to show that Christians, whose mission and vision is based on love, can really translate that mission and vision into practice by working together.
Peace is not simply words. Peace within the Christian context is first to live in peace with God, because we understand peace from the context of our faith and theology. Peace cannot be achieved if we do not live in love. Peace goes beyond providing food and shelter rather by living according to God’s will. When we love our neighbours, especially those who are different from us, we are reflecting the peace of God.
It is also important for us to live out peace with each other as members of different churches. There are many theological differences among us and we have inherited historical differences. We should be more aware and mature, to put differences aside and work to overcome historical difficulties. We are living as minorities within an Islamic context. By living in peace and love with each other, we can give a lesson. This is how our Lord taught us, by his example, that the entire world may see that we belong to Christ, that we are disciples of Christ.
Hospitality is not a privilege that we are providing for others. We must recognize that we are all brothers and sisters in humanity. We are all created in the image of God and we are all living under the hospitality and generosity of God. If I am not a refugee today, I may be one tomorrow. Many people who provided service, hosting refugees in Syria, have become displaced. Jesus Christ was a refugee in Egypt. He was also hosted by welcoming communities who provided him with security and peace at that time.
It is the duty of the church to advocate and educate our people on how to practice our faith and turn it into action. How do we develop the concept of sharing? To what extent can we become unselfish, opening our pockets to give to others, even if we are also in need?
In the book of Acts, we read the stories of how, among the early church, everything was shared. What we have is not our own, it is a gift of God. If we have resources, they are not for ourselves but to be shared with others. It is very important for us to train ourselves to share, not just what we don’t need, but also the precious things that we have, with others.
When beautiful comforters from MCC arrive in Syria, they are high quality. We believe that anything that is given to people should be high quality. We must respect the people whom we serve. We should support people in the way we want to live. If I want to feed someone, I should feed that person with the same quality of food I eat. If I want to clothe someone, I should clothe them with the same quality of clothes that I buy.”
We’re thankful to Laham for sharing his work and a fuller understanding of Syria with us. To learn more about MCC’s work in the Middle East and see how you can join in, visit the MCC website.
Anna Vogt is Director of the MCC Ottawa Office