Our New Year’s Prayer of hope

The following prayer was written by Carol Penner, a Mennonite pastor currently teaching theology at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. Copyright Carol Penner  www.leadinginworship.com.

Lord, we stand at the door of this New Year,
thankful for the year behind us,
a gift through which we’ve lived and moved.
At this timely threshold,
with our feet poised to walk into 2019,
we turn to you with our prayer of hope.
Hope springs eternal when we walk with you.
Help us walk this year with you.
We hope that this will be a year filled
with joy, with love, with laughter,
a year filled with plenty and abundance,
with purpose and fulfillment.
But if the year brings hard times and hurt,
pain and sorrow, tears and trials,
we know that your care and comfort
will console us month by month.
Grace us with forgiving spirits.
As a community help us walk
with the happy and the sorrowful,
holding their stories tenderly.
We hope for peace in our time,
for an end to wild war music.
We long to hear the sound of governments
listening to their people,
heeding their pleas for justice.
We long to hear the sound of the children of the world
cheering together because peace has been declared,
and they do not have to fear anymore.
We hope for healing for our beloved earth,
for harmony and balance where we have caused
disharmony and unbalance.
This year, Lord, help us to feel in our bones
the beauty of this life, this world;
its sounds and sights and smells and tastes,
the lavishness of being
which you give us in seconds and minutes
and hours and days and weeks and months.
Move in us, have your way with us,
so that on the last day of this year
we can say, wholeheartedly,
this year has been a gift
through which we’ve lived and moved
as followers of Jesus Christ, Amen.

MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

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Global Compact on Migration Q&A

by Anna Vogt

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen will indicate Canada’s adoption of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) on December 10 and 11 in Marrakech, Morocco, along with the majority of the world’s states. As such, the GCM has been receiving increased attention by Canadian media and in the House of Commons. So, what exactly is the Global Compact? Why is it necessary?  And what is Canada’s role?

Here are some key quotes and information from articles and stories, published over the last few months, that can help us unpack the Global Compact on Migration.

What is the Global Compact on Migration?

“The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration provides the first international and non-legally binding cooperative framework on migration. It is the result of a comprehensive process of discussions and negotiations among all Member States of the United Nations that started with the New York Declaration in 2016, unanimously adopted at the UN General Assembly in 2016.” The compact provides some guidelines on how states can respond well to migration, both by addressing the reasons why people are migrating, and providing avenues on how migration can be safer and regulated.

Source: Questions and Answers: what is the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration? 

Why now?

One out of every 30 people worldwide is a migrant. The GCM contains basic principles to guide states so they can best address migration, in a way that encourages migration that benefits receiving countries and also doesn’t harm those on the move.  “Migration is a global reality, which no country can address on its ownIt therefore requires global solutions and global responsibility sharing, based on international cooperation. The Global Compact on Migration aims to foster international cooperation by setting out guiding principles and providing for a multilateral political framework. It deals with the complex nature of international migration by addressing a wide range of migration-related aspects, such as border management, smuggling and trafficking in human beings, migrant documentation and return and readmission, as well as diasporas and remittances.”

Source: Questions and Answers: what is the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration? 

What about refugees? 

There is a separate Global Compact on Refugees.

On 19 September 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a set of commitments designed to enhance the protection of refugees and migrants… In it, governments committed to work towards the adoption of two new agreements: a Global Compact on Refugees and a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. While neither Compact is legally binding, they contain important political commitments and signal an opportunity to improve the international community’s response to refugees and migrants.

The Refugee Compact was developed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in consultation with governments and other actors; a roadmap and the Compact website detail the steps taken in the process. An initial draft of the Compact was released in January 2018 and the final draft in July 2018. It was presented to the UN General Assembly in September 2018 in the UN High Commissioner’s annual report.

Source: The Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants

What about Canadian sovereignty?

The Global Compact on Migration is not legally binding. Therefore, no legal obligations arise under domestic or international law for participating States. The Global Compact on Migration is based on the principle of full respect of national sovereignty. To quote: “The Global Compact reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction, in conformity with international law. The Global Compact on migration does not entail any transfer or restriction of national sovereign rights or competences. It is not an international agreement and will therefore have no legal effect on national legal systems and neither do obligations arise from it.”

What are some of the weaknesses of the GCM?

“The compact may have some inherent weaknesses, such as not sufficiently demonstrating that it will be relevant and actionable in member states with such contrasting migration features and policy approaches. Doubts also persist on the levels of financial resources that will be allocated to implement such a nonbinding and largely aspirational policy framework.” The non-binding nature of the GCM means that it is up to each state to decide how and when they will implement the practices within the GCM. Besides internal pressure from citizens, there is no way that states can be held accountable for failing to act in accordance with the GCM.

Source: What’s to fear in the UN Global Compact for Migration?

Leona and Bekah on Hill with Kati Garrison and Abby Hershberger from UN Office (2)

Abby Hershberger, Kati Garrison, Bekah Sears, Leona Lortie on Parliament Hill, August 2018

What has been the role of civil society?

MCC’s office in New York has been involved in advocacy around the Global Compact and ensuring that civil society is well represented since the negotiation and consultation phase. The office visited MCC country programs and heard from partners. MCC staff member Kati Garisson highlights MCC’s role in working with the NGO Committee on Migration, a civil society coalition in drafting a “Now and How: Ten Acts for the Global Compact.” This document represents civil society’s attempt to re-frame the conversation on migration to emphasize human dignity, full participation in discussion and solutions (especially honouring the multiplicity of migrant voices), development for all, and a commitment to implementing both existing international human rights law and labor conventions and protocols and the actions outlined in the Global Compact for Human Mobility and Migration.

You can also read about a visit from MCC New York staff to Canada to advocate for continued Canadian support for the GCM.

Additional Information:

A Glance at the Global Compact for Migration

Migration Data Portal 

MCC UN Office on Twitter

Anna Vogt is Director of the MCC Ottawa Office

 

Connecting Honduras and working for peace

By Jill Steinmetz, Digital Media Specialist with MCC’s SALT program in Honduras.

This post was originally published on MCC’s Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) blog on November 13, 2018 and is also available in Spanish.

Sweet bread and hot coffee fueled discussions of peace and justice at a faith-based Partner Gathering in Valle de Ángeles, Honduras in September of this year. Each morning between enriching sessions, the meeting organizers created space for connection over coffee – a space where meaningful conversations could emerge  between attendees coming from more than 20 different Christian organizations all over the country. The event was initiated by MCC Honduras and co-organized with Tearfund, World Renew and Resonate Global Mission. Though MCC Honduras hosts an annual partners meeting, this was the first year to also include partners from other international faith-based organizations. The 2018 Partner Gathering aimed to foster environments for exchange and support among those working for peace and justice around the country. “We believe that we are stronger when we are together. These Christian organizations enrich our MCC partners, the Mennonite perspective and the work that we do,” said Matthieu Dobler Paganoni, Co-Representative of MCC Honduras. The gathering stretched over a 4 day period and at its close on September 7, representatives left with stretched minds, new and fostered relationships and a collaborative official declaration of commitments to guide further action.

MCC LACA photo from Honduras

A small group including Cesar Flores, MCC Area Director for Central America, brainstorms ideas before coming together as a large group. (MCC Photo: Jill Steinmetz)

The topic chosen by the partners for this year was “Analysis of the Honduran Context.” In part because the extremely relevant work these organizations are doing today must be understood in relation to the recent political history of this country. The coup d’état of President Jose Manuel Zelaya in 2009 sent the country into political crisis, highlighting the till-then latent partisanship of national politics. From this new political climate, Juan Orlando Hernandez emerged as a powerful congressional leader who then won the presidency in 2013 and again in 2017. His second presidency challenged the country’s constitution, which he had a hand in amending to allow for his reelection.  A panel of supreme court justices appointed by Hernandez upheld the new law, while distrust and polarization continued to escalate. When election results were made public and declared fraudulent by international observers, protests broke out across the country for months. While the immediate causes of the protests have normalized, the situation has aggravated partisan tensions and contributed to police militarization and violence against protesters which has risen with the government’s investment in tough-on-crime and anti-corruption policies.

MCC LACA photo from Honduras

Valezca Zacapa from MCC partner Christian Action for Education of the Mennonite Church (ACEM) shares during a session on education. (MCC photo: Jill Steinmetz)

Meeting in the hills outside the capital, participants discussed how the current situation in the country relates to the work they do, brainstormed how to overcome political division and polarization, and reflected on how they could foster reconciliation as Christian organizations. “The need of the country right now is to form alliances and talk about new strategies,” said Adolfo Espinal as he reflected on the week spent in fellowship with representatives from other Christian ministries and organizations. “It was an invaluable time to meet together to find common ground, discuss strategy and share with one another – especially because we have these same day-to-day struggles working for peace and justice.”

Espinal directs the Social Development Committee (CODESO), an MCC partner of the Brethren in Christ Church in Honduras, where he also serves as pastor and denominational president. He traveled to the gathering with several co-workers from Choluteca, a department in southern Honduras. Though small, Orocuina often makes news for its active culture of political protest. Espinal described his hometown by saying that “while the rest of the population talks about the topic, Orocuina stays in the streets, protesting 2-3 times a week. The streets are packed with people.” Adolfo Espinal and many of the attendees came to the event asking what the church can do to address internal polarization and division. As the pastor of a church of about 200 families, his connections and visibility challenge him to navigate sensitive terrain that runs through family and congregation: “My cousin is running for the Liberal Party and the opposing candidate is also a member of my church congregation,” he said. “Another man in my church is running for mayor for the National Party.” Deep political and religious rifts affect daily life for Espinal and for many of MCC’s partners in Honduras. This shared reality of division brought them together in September.

The deep polarization impacting Honduras cuts across political, social and religious spheres. The merits of this meeting included the range of organizations and communities represented and the rich dialogue drawn from such diverse perspectives. Presenters shared thoughts, ideas, and research which provoked discussions among the larger group. Among the speakers were an economic expert, a social historian, and a Catholic priest. Dolores Martinez of MCC partner the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) felt intellectually engaged by the speakers as well as inspired to actively revitalize the local church. She hopes to continue working, moving, fighting actively for justice in her community. The overall integrity of the week was boosted by having both Evangelical and Catholic participants share and find common ground. Social activities, including an evening bonfire, provided opportunities to share stories from different backgrounds while morning worship sessions brought together those from many denominations to share songs in a time of praise.

MCC LACA photo from Honduras (group)

(MCC Photo: Jill Steinmetz)

One of these songs, based on Micah 6:8, highlighted the reason behind why these passionate and committed professionals work the way they do in these challenging issues. The song’s invocation, “to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” articulated a shared mission for many of these organizations. While strategies and organizational structures differed, participants found common ground and mutual support with one another this week. Marcia Gutierrez, from the Jesuit Reflection, Research and Communication Foundation (ERIC), was grateful to MCC for holding the event. During a coffee break she reflected, “I found a diverse set of people here promoting healthy dialogue. This is an important step in the construction of peace and justice in a country that needs it desperately.” Participants hope to meet again next year and extend an even broader invitation to like-minded organizations. Perhaps by working together, they can offer a concrete alternative to the religious, social and political divisions so rife in the country.

Prayer for Peace

flowers painted on wallIn light of the chaos, disorder and violence in our wider world, it is right to clasp our hands, hearts and voices in prayer for peace. We invite you to join us in prayer for the people of 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

O God of life and love and peace,
We witness the violence and injustice in your Holy
Land
And our hearts break.

Our hearts break for all Palestinians—
For the victims of violent attacks from Israelis
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 and in the
“open air prison” of Gaza
For those without nearly enough water and electricity
and medical care
For those who are refugees, long displaced from
their homes.

Our hearts break for the Jewish people of Israel—
For the victims of violent attacks from Palestinians
For those who live with fear and insecurity
For those who re-live the trauma of the Holocaust
over and over.

Our hearts break for the wider world—
For those who are indifferent to the pain and suffering
in your Holy Land
For those who distort or turn their eyes from truth
For those who fail to see the humanity of all your
children.

Heal us all, O God.
Heal the broken and comfort the sorrowful.
Give hope to the hopeless and courage to the
fearful.
Strengthen the peacemakers and reconcilers.
Confront those who practice injustice and commit
violence.

We especially pray—
That weapons of war be laid down
That walls of separation and the machinery of occupation
be dismantled
That prisoners be released
That demonizing of “the other” cease
That political leaders seek the good of all people in
Palestine and Israel.

We pray also for ourselves—
That our eyes will be opened to the ways in which
our beliefs and actions have contributed to injustice
and to violence.

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

– Esther Epp-Tiessen is the former public engagement coordinator for MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office. This prayer is part of MCC’s Prayers for Peace Packet.

Remembering the saints

All Saints Day is a Christian celebration in honour of the saints that have gone before, known or unknown. In many cultures and traditions across the world, families and friends gather to remember the “great cloud of witnesses who surround us”. Here in the Ottawa Office, we are sharing some of the saints and inspirations in our own lives, people who have encouraged us to continue in our work of advocacy and seeking justice.  As you read our examples, we invite you to also take a moment to reflect and honour those in your own life who have also inspired you.

The Saints that connect faith with justice

I grew up in the church, while also growing up in a family passionate about politics and advocacy. But I’d never connected these two spheres – faith and politics – until watching a movie (a Disney TV movie, of all things!) on the real-life story of Ruby Bridges.

The message in Ruby’s story was clear: Christ calls us to work for justice, and it’s a vocation inseparable from the call to love others.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges

In 1960 at age 6, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, Ruby became the first African American in New Orleans to participate in efforts to desegregate public schools. The reaction was swift and terrible. Every day for a year Ruby walked through a hate-filled mob of parents, children and community members, yelling degrading slurs, and even death threats.

Yet amidst the horror, Ruby’s reaction moved me beyond words. Instead of lashing out, she prayed for the mob, even as they degraded her dignity. Ruby and her family were committed to their fight for justice, as evidenced by their persistence and boldness, but this was combined with such humility and a choice to love when faced with hate.

Ruby’s example has left a permanent mark on my life in helping to frame my own vocation. The Christian vocation of justice is about confronting injustice clearly and without hesitation. Yet, in these confrontations, we must also reflect Christ’s humility and love, even in the face of hate.

Ruby’s brave actions led to the desegregation of all public schools in New Orleans, starting the following year.

-Rebekah Sear, Policy Analyst

“She didn’t die, she multiplied”

Berta Caceres was a Lenca Indigenous woman from Honduras who dedicated her life to stopping large scale invasive development in the Lenca territories of Honduras. She was the co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Berta won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, for “a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam” at the Río Gualcarque in Honduras.

Berta Caceres

“In defense of life, we resist.”

On March 2, 2016, hired assassins with connections to private security companies connected with protecting the dam project killed Berta Caceres. Those responsible have not yet faced justice.

Berta’s assassination is one of many, as Latin America is currently the most dangerous region in the world to be an environmental defender, yet because of her international recognition, Berta’s death has helped push this issue into the spotlight.  Many people refer to Berta as someone who did not die, but rather multiplied, like a seed being planted.

I remember Berta and I also remember all of the brave, ordinary people around the world who daily put their lives in harm’s way to protect the world we live in. I also remember that Berta’s work was not simply about protecting one river, but challenging the way society functions, through the lens of environmental protections.  As Berta said, “We should then build a society that is capable of co-existing in a just manner, in a dignified manner, and in a way that protects life.”

-Anna Vogt, Director

Quiet saints

There is a picture on the shelf behind my desk of two people whom I often think of on All Saints Day, though neither one would have wanted to be called a saint.

I met Margaret and Siegfried Janzen while doing an MCC service assignment in Petitcodiac, NB. Siegfried was pastor of the local Mennonite Church and Margaret was the pastor’s wife and so much more.

During the second world war Siegfried served as a conscientious objector, but afterwards both Margaret and Siegried served with MCC in Europe. Initially, they distributed food and clothing to refugees, but later directed the processing of over 10,000 refugees fleeing from repatriation to the Soviet Union. They even set up a hospital to help people pass the medical requirements to enter Canada.

Siegfried and Margaret Janzen, Petitcodiac NB

Siegfried and Margaret Janzen

After returning to Canada and raising a family, they retired to New Brunswick and Siegfried began pastoring and prison chaplaincy at the age of 65. For almost 20 years Siegfried visited inmates at Dorchester Penitentiary at least once a week to lead Bible studies and offer mediation and conflict resolution classes. Margaret baked cookies for ‘the boys’, visited inmates, provided a safe refuge for parolees and a permanent home for the wife of an inmate.

Siegfried was also instrumental in the development of a Peace Centre for the Greater Moncton Area.

I remember Margaret and Siegfried as quiet peacemakers and advocates, and while they have both passed away I try to keep their example before me each day.

-Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant

Canada and the Cuban missile crisis

By Monica Scheifele

Fifty-six years ago, the world faced the very real possibility of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. On Oct. 14 that year an American spy plane flying over Cuba photographed the installation of a Soviet medium-range ballistic missile. For almost two weeks following that discovery, US President Kennedy and Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev with their respective teams of advisors and diplomats wrestled with a crisis that could have resulted in nuclear war.

Cuban missile crisis

Up until recently, I’d never considered Canada’s role in these historic events. I’d only ever thought about the actions of the main players Cuba, the US and the Soviet Union. In my limited understanding Canada didn’t really have a part to play in this drama. Granted we were geographically close to the action but with limited clout on the political stage in comparison to the superpowers of the US and Russia.

In October 1962 John Diefenbaker was the Prime Minister of a Conservative minority government with Lester Pearson and the Liberals as the Official Opposition. The Social Credits and the New Democrats filled the rest of the House of Commons.

The Canadian government was only informed of the situation a few hours before President Kennedy shared the details of the crisis on television with the American people on October 22.  The Canadian government quickly acted to ensure that Canadian airspace and Canadian air transport facilities were not being used to transport Soviet weapons to Cuba. However, when the US asked the government to put Canadian troops on alert and raise the military threat level to DEFCON 3 to match that of the US military, Diefenbaker delayed acting resulting in divisions within his own cabinet. The delay may have stemmed from Diefenbaker’s dislike of Kennedy or as an effort to avoid actions that could escalate tensions.

Pearson and the Liberals fully supported the US from the beginning and commended Kennedy for bringing the matter before the UN Security Council, but Diefenbaker still called for independent UN inspectors to go to Cuba to survey the nuclear sites and verify the facts. Generally, Diefenbaker was supportive of American action during the crisis, but he did not offer the unequivocal support that Kennedy might have expected.

Eventually the Prime Minister did put Canadian troops on alert (only after the Canadian military had already put itself on alert), supported the US proposed NATO blockade or “quarantine” as it was called, and agreed to aid the United States if an attack occurred.

The biggest source of contention, though, was likely Diefenbaker’s refusal to allow nuclear weapons on Canadian soil. This was also a position strongly supported by the New Democratic Party of the day.

On Oct. 24 there were questions in the House of Commons about whether Canada had defaulted on an obligation in respect to the NORAD treaty by refusing the request of the United States to arm Canadian Bomarc squadrons with atomic warheads. The Minister of Defence claimed there was no default of the treaty. It wasn’t until Pearson became Prime Minister in 1963 that Canadian missiles were armed with nuclear warheads.

DiefenbakerAgain, it may have been his dislike of Kennedy or a sense of nationalism and a need to stand up to the Americans that led to the decision. However, Diefenbaker’s words in an update to Parliament on Oct. 25 suggest it may have been an effort to keep the crisis from escalating.

“It has been necessary and will always remain necessary to weigh the risks both of action and inaction in such circumstances. I need not refer to the record of Canada in two world wars, in the NATO alliance and in Korea and demonstrating the fact that Canadians stand by their allies and their undertakings, and we intend in the present crisis to do the same. On the other hand, we shall not fail to do everything possible to seek solutions to these problems without war. We shall seek to avoid provocative action. Our purpose will be to do everything to reduce tension.” – Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, House of Commons, October 25, 1962.

In the end nuclear war was averted and the underground bunker (now known as the Diefenbunker) built 30 km outside of Ottawa from 1959 to 1961 and designed to withstand the force of a nuclear blast was never put to the test of protecting Canada’s leaders.

Canada’s actions or in the case of the warheads, lack of action, may not have changed the outcome of the crisis. I like to think, though, that the Canadian government’s responses did help maintain some form of equilibrium and calm. Perhaps in light of new nuclear threats from North Korea and the US pulling out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, Canada will again find a way to act as a stabilizing force.

Want to learn more about Canada’s current policy around nuclear weapons? Check out some of these resources:

Project Ploughshares Factsheet on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

MCC Ottawa Office Notebook – Out of step with nuclear disarmament

Ploughshares Monitor Vol. 39 Issue 2 –  Statement to the 2018 Preparatory Committee of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – Positions on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

– Monica Scheifele is the Program Assistant for MCC Ottawa Office