Confronting the fear of our history

By Charity Nonkes

“Yet we Christians have also been called to take a good hard look at ourselves. To reflect on our Christian beliefs, to scrutinize our missional practices. And to decolonize. It’s not that Christianity is inherently colonial, but for generations the Church and its faith have been used – wittingly, unwittingly, and far too often – as instruments of dispossession in the settler colonial arsenal. Indigenous peoples are asking the Church to our own work, to beat our colonial swords into peaceable ploughshares.” – pg. xvi Unsettling the word

This is a quote taken from Unsettling the Word: Biblical experiments in decolonization. The book is a collection of Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors re-examining Biblical stories in order to reclaim the Bible as a tool for peacemaking from an instrument of dispossession. It was created by the Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations program.

In the process of truth and reconciliation there is a great need for us all to critically analyze the forces that favoured Christian Europeans and their descendants over others. This work brings up hard questions concerning our identity and our justification for being on the land. When I look to my upbringing, Christianity was not perceived as an instrument of dispossession. Christianity brought community and belonging, but I was coming from a place of privilege and European ancestry.

In the early settlement of Canada, the government claimed it had the authority over the land to sell or grant it to settlers. The Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius are concepts that the European powers used to justify the claim that land was theirs. These concepts provided a framework that said that North America was open to be ‘discovered’ because the indigenous population wasn’t Christian and therefore did not rightly own the land. Theology was used to create a narrative that the land was empty and therefore open for foreign powers to come and claim possession, leading to genocide and exploitation.

For the healing of others and ourselves, it is absolutely paramount for us all to understand the entire story of how Canada was established and the role of Christianity in it. In my experience destruction caused by Christianity is often ignored or hidden because of fear. This fear may be rooted in what these truths mean for who we are as a people – for our identity. This becomes especially difficult when our own histories are mingled with stories of fleeing persecution, hunger, and violence to find freedom in Canada. How do we reconcile it within ourselves that we have freedom in Canada but at the expense of Indigenous peoples? How can we do reconciliation work if we don’t address the truth of our history?

KAIROS banket exercise photo (002)

MCC Photo/Leona Lortie. University of Saskatchewan students participating in a KAIROS Blanket Exercise in 2015.

A part of this journey is to thoroughly examine the residential school system and the role of Mennonites. Mennonite Residential Schools in Northwestern Ontario were part of the larger residential school system that sought to eliminate Indigenous ways of life and ensure assimilation to Christian European practices. I have often heard the point that the Mennonites running these schools had good intentions but were misguided.

Good intentions are often clouded by privilege and ignorance of how oppression is engrained into society for the benefit of some over others. Anthony Siegrist, pastor at Ottawa Mennonite Church, has researched and written about Mennonite involvement in the residential school system.

Siegrist writes, “They (Mennonites) seemed sincere in their attempts to “improve” the lives of their Indigenous students. Many staff sacrificed comfort and pay to serve as they did. And yet they were complicit. Probably naïve, but still complicit. If you know anything about Mennonite Christians, you may know that historically ours is a minority tradition, a tradition rooted in martyrdom. We do not always realize the power of our own cultural connections or the power of skin color.”

The call for decolonization and a critical analysis of the role of Christianity in colonial history is a door that is often bolted shut because we fear what it will reveal about ourselves. However, this self-reflection is a healing process for us and everyone living on this land. Christianity has been used for destruction. Faith can also invite us towards reconciliation, as we learn new ways of reading the Bible.

The Church played an instrumental role in colonization and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples – no matter what the intentions were– we all must work to decolonize. The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action challenges us to do this. Action 49 – We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.

It is time for us to recognize the colonial swords that we all carry and beat them into peaceable ploughshares to till fields of truth and reconciliation.

Creator of this beautiful land,
What is truth and reconciliation
When truth is clouded by ideology and religion
Where there is seldom peace to reconcile back to

God of my ancestors,
You nurtured them when they fled persecution, hunger, and violence
They found peace and wealth in this land while others were removed from it
How do we reconcile with this?

God of truth,
What is truth when the Bible was used to justify the murder of Indigenous peoples
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wherever placed”1
“Kill the Indian and save the man”2 – “take the Indian out of the child”3

God of reconciliation
Where do we go from here?
When divisions are like chasms
When hate and fear fuels public debates

God of the oppressed,
How can we be rooted to land that was stolen
How do we reach across the divides that were built to make exploitation easier
How do we decolonize ourselves, communities, and nations?

The TRC also calls us to adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a framework for reconciliation (Action 48). Please join us in urging the Canadian government to fulfill its commitment to reconciliation and adopting UNDRIP by supporting the passage of Bill C-262 through the Senate. Send a message to all senators here.

If you would like to find out more about Bill C-262 watch this new short video produced by MCC and our collaboration partners.


1 Papal Bull Dum Diveras (Doctrine of Discovery) – https://doctrineofdiscovery.org/dum-diversas/.
For more information about Doctrine of Discovery –  https://vimeo.com/118735770

2 Colonel Richard Henry Pratt on the education of Native Americans in the United States – http://carlisleindian.dickinson.edu/sites/all/files/docs-resources/CIS-Resources_PrattSpeechExcerptShort.pdf

3 Sir John A. MacDonald – https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/chief-justice-says-canada-attempted-cultural-genocide-on-aboriginals/article24688854/

To find out more about the KAIROS Blanket Exercise visit: https://www.kairosblanketexercise.org/

Charity Nonkes is the MCC Ottawa Office Advocacy Research Intern

 

Advertisements

Peacebuilding for Gender Equality: Supporting a Girl’s Right to Education

by Candacia Greeman

At the tender age of 17, Susan* stands tall – strong and resilient against threats of forced marriage. During a recent term break, she was informed that she was to be married upon her arrival home. In her absence, her uncles had accepted 90 heads of cattle, as her bride price. With her dream of becoming a doctor and her drive to pursue her secondary education, Susan* resisted for one week. During this time, she was beaten repeatedly.

An MCC partner, the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek in South Sudan, supports girls like Susan* through a school feeding project and a peace-building project. The Loreto Peace Club consists of 24 Loreto students who are supervised by two teachers. Every year, the Peace Club undertakes several outreach activities to provide trauma healing and peace-building resources for the girls at Loreto, and the community at large.

During the academic year, a trained counselor, who is a former Loreto teacher and well acquainted with challenges facing the girls, visits the school for one month to provide individual and group counseling sessions as needed. The counselor has noted that many students show significant signs of despair due to threats of forced marriage.

In the local culture, the bride price for a bride is paid by the brothers of her betrothed. When the couple’s first daughter is born, her life is held ransom as her future bride price will be used to repay the investment made by her uncles.

The tension between a girl’s desire for education, to choose when and who she should marry, and her uncles’ desire to recoup their investment, is the source of a lot of conflict for girls at Loreto and their families. In some cases, the conflict can become generational. The Peace Club provides girls with tools in conflict resolution to help them handle this conflict in a healthy manner.

“Being in the Peace Club has helped me a lot to deal with my own peace problems. When I lost my mother, a conflict broke out between by father’s family and that of my mother, that my father had not paid her bride price. It became a big problem until my father stopped talking to my grandfather. This disturbed me. One time I shared it during our peace club activities. From these [activities], I got new ideas on how to solve the problem and I have been talking to dad and my grandfather about it. Now the problem is being solved.”

-Elizabeth*

            For many girls, it is very important to have a safe space to talk about these issues and to discuss their feelings. The Loreto Peace Club facilitates this by offering Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) sessions for students. HROC is an approach initially developed in Rwanda to help communities to heal from trauma. In a recent HROC session at Loreto, Susan* and other girls facing threats of forced marriage were able to learn skills to heal from their trauma, and to build their resilience.

During HROC training sessions, I have learnt about things that other people see in me and things that I don’t see. I have also learnt about types of traumas and their cause. [I have learnt] how to heal [from] trauma and [to] live happily again. I have learnt that good listening can help overcome situation before it becomes worse. Above all I have also leant how to overcome loss, grief and mourning that is common in our society since people are blinded by hatred and revenge. Sharing our problem with few trusted ones is also another thing that I learnt. It is important to share things that troubled us because not everyone gets to know what we are going through unless we are willing to share it with them. This training has helped me a lot and I intend to teach others who haven’t had the chance to learn.

– Anna*

After graduating, more than half of Loreto’s students enroll in post-secondary education (52%), or work for NGOs and local ministries (31%). In recent years, graduates have enrolled in an internship program at Loreto where they receive two years of work experience as trainee teachers and nurses, and as assistants in the finance, administrative, logistics and development offices. Upon completion of the internships, they receive scholarships for training as nurses, doctors, teachers and lawyers. Internship placements are especially reserved for girls facing threats of forced marriage since they live on the Loreto compound and are protected from these threats during their internships.

While they face many challenges, girls at Loreto receive comprehensive support throughout and after their secondary education. This allows them to develop into young women empowered to promote peace and positive change in their society.

 

*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the girls interviewed.

Candacia Greeman is a MCC service worker serving as an education specialist at the Loreto Girls Secondary School in Rumbek, South Sudan.


This week is International Development Week and Canadians are celebrating the difference Canadian aid has made around the world. This year’s theme is Together for Gender Equality.

Continue reading

Persistent faithfulness as an approach to community transformation

by Christopher Lortie

Many people begin the New Year by making resolutions, a decision to remove something or to incorporate something new in one’s life. I have to admit that I did not make any “official” resolutions this year, although I have recently made an effort to include more fitness activities in my life. I write ‘effort’ because ‘commitment’ may be too strong of a word. This is often the case with New Year’s resolutions. For many of us, it doesn’t take too long until they are forgotten.

Looking back, I often find that my New Year’s resolution goals were too big and unrealistic. The process usually ends in disappointment when I have to accept that I am not meeting my goals.

A similar feeling comes to mind when I consider the state of peace and justice in the world. Currently, I don’t think I need to argue too forcefully that reading or watching the news can create a feeling of despair when wondering about the lack of peace and justice in the world.

Like personal resolutions, promises made by governments toward large scale domestic or international initiatives seem to fade away soon after commitments are made. News headlines can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to imagine any measurable impact our actions could make – or even where to start.

I recently preached a sermon looking at 1 Peter, which I believe provides us with some direction and hope when feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world. In this context, the New Testament church was facing the reality that Jesus’s return wasn’t happening as quickly as they expected and the realization that they would have to settle into everyday life. Peter presents a way forward for the church, responding to how members of the church are to engage with the world around them, as well as how the church should engage with each other in community life.

Peter argues that those who make up the church should do what is “good” or “right” in the places they find themselves (e.g., 1 Peter 2:15, 20; 3:16; 4:19). They should embody Christ in all situations. This is why Peter uses language from Isaiah 53 – what is often called the suffering servant song – extensively in 1 Peter 2 describing how to take on the role of the suffering servant as Christ did, modeling Christ’s actions, especially in vulnerable situations. This might not sound like a very satisfying option for those who are presently experiencing forms of severe oppression; however, Peter believes that persistent faithfulness would be transformative in the context of the New Testament church.

In the context of community, Peter suggests a response which focuses on love and hospitality where each individual contributes their gifts and talents. He emphasizes that each person should excel with the gifts and opportunities they have been given. Each person has something to contribute, and Peter invites them to do well in their area of giftedness.

First Peter 4:8–11 reads, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (NRSV).

When working for peace and justice, let us start by using our gifts in the places that we find ourselves. We all have unique talents and a sphere of influence, and with these gifts and in these places, we have a solid foundation.

More than a few times in my life, I have made the New Year’s resolution to start running. The problem is, I really don’t like running. The concept of persistent faithfulness reminds me of a time when as a teenager I had to participate in running exercises as part of a training routine for my hockey team. At first, I put almost no effort into this training, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to complete the run.

A change happened when I realized that since I had to do it, I might as well do it to the best of my abilities. As I ran, I would set small goals that allowed me to focus on accomplishments. I would pick a sign or landmark that was fairly close and simply focus on making that goal, and then I would pick another and another. My running time reduced significantly, and I actually began to enjoy the experience.

Rather than giving in to that despairing feeling about the state of our world today, we can apply Peter’s message to the church. We can set small goals or find a sign or landmark that we can run to and not be discouraged by the great overall distance we have ahead of us – one step at a time.

For example, we might not be able to solve the global migration crisis, but we can extend hospitality to newcomers who are in need of friendship and care. Our next goal might be to start informing ourselves about relevant conversations in our community, then our province and our country relating to Canada’s immigration policies. The more we learn and the more we get involved, the more opportunity we will see to use our gifts within our current and potential future sphere of influence.

Solving the great problems of the world can be overwhelming and seem impossible, but when we use our gifts through the concept of persistent faithfulness to be a positive influence, we might find ourselves empowered to do more than we thought was possible.

Christopher Lortie is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Providence University College in Otterburne, MB.

Photo credit: MCC Photo/Colin Vandenberg

Peace is not simply words

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.   

img_7637 (002) samer

(MCC Photo/Anna Vogt)

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

Embracing the ‘Spirit’ in Bethlehem

I was never the most spirited person when it came to Christmas. Come New Years, Passover, Mother’s Day, Halloween, literally any other holiday, I’ll be making plans, creating surprises, planning parties and decorations. But during the Christmas season, I am the family’s Grinch. I never understood why the acclaimed “Christmas Spirit” – the niceness, kindness, care for others – should be only expressed during this particular time of the year.

Back when I lived with my parents, I enjoyed the Christmas dinner because we had such good food – my great aunts would get together and cook every favourite dessert for their 16 great nephews and nieces. It is impossible to not love that dinner.

In August I started an MCC assignment based in Bethlehem, Palestine. You can imagine how ironic it felt when I finally rented an apartment in the place that arguably most represents Christmas. When I was moving in, I realized that at the beginning of my street there were some Christmas decorations and I rolled my eyes at it. I truly believed that God enjoyed a good old chuckle at my expense in that moment.

However, in the months that followed, I couldn’t focus so much on the relationship between Bethlehem and Christmas. This past year brought a lot of changes to my life. Moving to Palestine meant dealing with an international move, trying to understand cultural differences, learning new languages, figuring out a new job and context, making new friends and discovering new tastes and colours. Oh and all this while developing a self-care plan. I didn’t have time to stop and think about what Bethlehem represents.

Another reason why I was not thinking about the holidays, was the realization that this region – Palestine and Israel – as beautiful as it is, is so restless, always on the verge of war. There is so much suffering, so many walls and barriers between the people, that honestly, I sometimes forget that it is the “Holy Land.” The first months here felt like anything but that. I felt powerless and asked God many difficult questions. I was struck with the reality and complexity of the conflict in such a way that it seemed unreal to me to think that this is where Jesus was born, where he walked, preached, and gave His life so we could have salvation. I believe this land needs salvation – in many different ways. Amidst all of that, I barely had time to breathe properly or to notice that the months were passing me by.

On a chilly Friday afternoon in November, I was returning from Aida Camp, desperately looking for an open coffee shop, when I suddenly saw some workers decorating Manger Square in the heart of Bethlehem for Christmas. I thought to myself “Not this again.” It was the last Friday of November, and later that day a very excited friend informed me that the lightning of the Christmas tree would be the next day. In that moment I decided to not go anywhere near the Church of the Nativity or the Christmas tree until this was all over.

I realized soon that I was naïve to think that I could avoid Christmas in Bethlehem – it is all around. All of my friends wanted to go see the lights, see the church, visit the Christmas market, and despite my best efforts to avoid all of that, my curiosity got the best of me. When I left my house, with my best Grinch face on, I was sure that there isn’t such a thing as a Christmas Spirit, not even where Jesus was born.

5a2c675e-5ac0-4642-b5f6-22d7cad1a131

As I walked to the Church of the Nativity, trying not get run over by cars on my way, I noticed the stars on ‘Star Street’. My little grinchy heart started to soften. Bethlehem is a beautiful city, and truth be told, it looks even more fantastic with the lights all around. The lights made me happy. I kept walking, mulling over my new-found love for Christmas lights, until I finally reached the church and saw the gigantic golden Christmas tree in the square in front of me.

In that moment, my heart calmed down. I did not feel an increased urge to help others, I did not feel overwhelmed by joy, or the necessity to sing any Christmas songs. However, in that moment, while I stood with so many people from many diverse backgrounds, where He was born, after 2000 years, I felt in peace. I felt as if He was right there taking care of my anxious heart. My heart, which missed home and family, felt powerless and restless, and on most days does not know where it belongs. The beating of it slowed down, and I was struck by a ferocious sense of gratitude.

1030db4e-9751-43ac-bbec-944a54891755And there, in front of that enormous tree, around the red and green lights, surrounded by mostly tourists, God took a little bit of my stubbornness away and I remembered once again what we celebrate in this time of the year. Yes, we can celebrate and live it more often, but I finally stopped and thought about the world-changing impact that the birth of that baby had in this world and in my life. Still broken, fallen and failed, but now, because of that birth that happened in this small little town, we received salvation. Then I felt the Spirit, not the Christmas one, but the Holy one.

The author’s name is omitted at their request.

Faith communities must show clear leadership: Abolishing Nuclear Weapons

by Rebekah Sears

“We thus make a passionate plea to the leaders of all religions, all people of good will, and all leaders of nations both with and without nuclear weapons to commit to work to eliminate these horrific devices forever,” from a statement adopted by the Parliament of the World’s Religions, November 2018, developed by Jonathan Granoff of the Global Security Institute.

FB ICAN

Photo courtesy of the Parliament of World’s Religions Facebook Page.

Last month I had the privilege of participating in the Parliament of the World Religions in Toronto. The Parliament is a gathering held every six years, bringing together religious leaders and organizations from around the world, with the purpose of seeking interfaith cooperation to addressing the greatest challenges and obstacles for a just peace facing our world today – challenges that transcend international borders, and that impact peoples of all ethnicities, faiths and creeds.

The theme of this year’s Parliament was: The Promise of Inclusion, the power of love: Pursuing global understanding, reconciliation and change. For seven days, thousands of people participated in plenaries and keynotes, as well as hundreds of workshops, on responding to the global forced migration and refugee crisis; protecting the rights, sovereignty and languages of Indigenous peoples; confronting violence against women and supporting greater leadership of women in faith communities; urgent, timely and coordinated action on climate change; combating social injustice, and countering hate and war; and speaking with a united voice against the looming threat of nuclear war.

Unfortunately, so often religion has been, and continues to be, used as a cover to justify political and social injustice and violence. Faith is a persuasive motivator, and regrettably has, and continues to be, used and manipulated in the pursuit of power – often as a great divider of peoples.

The message at the Parliament was aimed at countering such actions, seeking unity, in both action and conviction, calling all faith leaders to reject the use of religion to harm or oppress others, and instead applying such principles to uphold human dignity and justice.

There are so many themes, panels, workshops and keynotes that I could highlight, but one of the issues that kept coming up – from both political leaders and leaders of faith – was the looming threat of nuclear war and the call to abolish nuclear weapons.

Though only held and controlled in the hands of the few and powerful, the possible and very real and devastating threat of nuclear weapons knows no borders nor abides by international law or recognizes human dignity.

Last year, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) oversaw the final push for the adoption of a  Global Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, for which ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. The nine states that currently hold nuclear weapons refused to sign the treaty, as did many of their allies, including Canada.

The position of the leadership of the Parliament of the World’s Religions on this is clear, based on a statement released just after the conference. It was a call to action for religious leaders of all faiths to lead the way and speak truth and demand justice and peace from the powerful nations of the world, regarding the very real threat of nuclear weapons.

Representatives of ICAN were also at the Parliament itself, professors and experts Dr. Emily Welty, also of the World Council of Churches, and her spouse Dr. Matthew Bolton. At a plenary session they spoke about the often-patronizing reaction they get when speaking out to states resistant to signing the treaty, both weapon-holders and others – “It’s complicated.” Yes, like most big geopolitical issues, denuclearization is a complicated process. But to throw in the towel and ignore the potential devastating realities is just not an option.

FB Welty

Photo courtesy of the Parliament of World’s Religions Facebook Page.

The message of Welty and Bolton was clear. We know, through the research and investigations – the science and testimonies – the definite devastating impacts of a possible nuclear war. As we speak, nuclear testing continues to have devastating impacts on communities on Christmas Island in the South Pacific, along with a dozen other countries where there has been nuclear testing since 1945. Locals are rarely consulted and often not even warned. As people of faith we understand the call to come together on the issues that unite us and to speak up for justice and human dignity.

 

After this plenary session, Peter Noteboom, the General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, and Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares co-lead a workshop called Principles to Practices: peace and abolishing nuclear weapons. Peter and Cesar presented research, testimonies and personal stories with a call to action from a Christian faith perspective. Earlier this year the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) passed a resolution outlining their Shared Principles of Peace, for all member churches. The document outlines principles of peace as part of the vocation of the church and its members, peace as means to work for justice, peacemaking as political engagement and a response to the threats of conflict.

ican-nobelpressconference-27oct2017

Cesar Jaramillo and others at a press conference when ICAN won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize: Photo courtesy of Paula Cardenas Left to right: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) campaigners Setsuko Thurlow, Ray Acheson, and Cesar Jaramillo call on Canada to join a UN nuclear weapons ban at a press conference in Toronto on October 27, 2017. Jaramillo is the executive director of Project Ploughshares, an MCC partner.

To Peter the vocation of people of faith is clear – to be a united voice, speaking out of both practicalities and principles to demand a nuclear weapon-free world now – not after another Hiroshima…now!

Rebekah Sears is the MCC Ottawa Office Policy Analyst

From despair to hope on the shepherd’s field: listening to stories of child detention

In October I joined an MCC-led learning tour travelling through Palestine and Israel to learn about the conflict and to see the realities on the ground first hand. Our schedule was composed of an interesting mix of visiting MCC partners, travelling through the region to see the differences between occupation and relative freedom, and tourist spots including the holy sites.

During one of the mornings, we made our way from Bethlehem to visit the YMCA, an MCC partner, in neighbouring Beit Sahour. The YMCA is fortunate to have offices on one of the shepherd’s fields, a site where the shepherds may have heard the angels proclaim the good news of Jesus’ birth.

Photo of YMCA Beit Sahour

The front entrance of the YMCA in Beit Sahour. (Photo/Craig Neufeld)

We arrived at the YMCA office early and strolled over the shepherd’s field and briefly climbed into an old cave, which shepherds may have used for their sheep at night. While the shepherd’s field was charming, our visit to the YMCA had a very different tone: one of a hard and somber reality. The YMCA offers rehabilitation programs to former child detainees. Every year hundreds of Palestinian children are arrested by the Israeli army, detained, and often serve a prison sentence at an adult detention center or military prison.

Part of our visit to the YMCA was to meet some individuals who had gone through the rehabilitation program. As we finished our introductory session with one of the psychological counselors who works with children, youth and young adults in the program, we all looked at the doors as seven young men walked in.

In that moment I was struck by the reality of the concept of child detention. Before going on this trip, I had been working with MCC’s A Cry for Home campaign for about four months. I had read testimonies and reports, but meeting people who had experienced arrest and detention as a child humbled me. I wondered, how hard it was for them to come and talk to us about their experience and I felt myself cringing, as the first person started to share.

I listened to each heartbreaking story about arrest, mistreatment by military personnel, torture, and physical, emotional, and mental injuries. Detentions and prison sentences ranged from three to eighteen months. While each experience was different, many commonalities appeared.

Each person spoke of an emptiness, hopelessness, and the loss of seeing a future past the experience of the detention. One young man, who is now 17 years old, shared how he was in a vulnerable psychological state when he was released. When he was arrested by the Israeli military, his arm was already in a cast and during the ensuing interrogation the cast was taken off and under torture, his arm was broken for a second time. To this day, he has not regained full mobility. To make matters worse, after his three-month detention and release, military personnel continued to show up at his house, disrupting his reentry into normal life and retraumatizing him. He shared, “When I closed my eyes, I saw them coming to arrest me… I thought I would always see that.”

Another young man shared how he was arrested and detained for two days when he was thirteen years old. At fourteen he was shot in the leg right before he was arrested again. At the beginning of his eighteen-months prison sentence, he spent 6 weeks handcuffed to a hospital bed while recovering from that major injury. When he came to the YMCA, he remembered being completely disillusioned. He could not imagine a future after what he had been through.

While these young men briefly described their detention experience, some not going into much detail, they each made a point of telling us about how far they had come since then. Every-day-life seemed impossible after their release, but they now shared with pride that they were in university, employed, in a trade apprenticeship, or working toward having their own business venture.

Photo of the Young Men

A photo of the seven young men accompanied by a YMCA staff member. Identity of the persons in this picture is not shared publicly. (Photo/Craig Neufeld)

These young men underwent significant psychological counselling, and some received vocational training. The pride of accomplishment and hope for a good future was shining in their eyes. However, overcoming trauma in one way or another is not where the story ended for them. These young men are part of a leadership program, designed to allow them to give back to their communities, focusing on matters such as capacity building, communications tools, and teaching others about positive leadership.

After all of the young man had shared parts of their story, one of them raised his hand, signaling that he wished to add something. He looked around the room and said: “The children of the past are the leaders of the future!”

_________

Later, when my group debriefed about the experience at the YMCA, we reflected on the hardship of what these young men had gone through, and marveled at their resilience, positive outlook, and motivation to help others. But we also wondered what their lives would have been like without occupation, without conflict, without the trauma of arrest, interrogation and detention.

We also remembered all of the children and youth who either have not had access to psychological care, or those who have not receive help in time. Since 2000, over 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and detained by the Israeli military, 500-700 each year.

Photo of Shepherd's field

The shepherd’s field behind the YMCA building. (MCC Photo/Leona Lortie)

In this advent season, as the YMCA possibly stands on the very ground where the angels appeared to the shepherds in Beit Sahour, let us remember their message of hope and comfort, “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people… Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (KJV, Luke 2:10, 14).

At this moment in time, peace with justice has not yet come to Palestine and Israel as the conflict persists, but there is hope and the young men we met at the YMCA are determined to not only be part of a better, peaceful future, but they are actively working toward it.

Let us join them.

ACT Today: Sign this petition to urge the Canadian federal government to prioritize the human rights of Palestinian children and hold Israeli authorities accountable for widespread and systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian child detainees.

 

For more information and resources on the context in Palestine and Israel, and the work of MCC’s partners, see MCC’s A Cry for Home Campaign.

 

Leona Lortie is the Public Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office.