“Injustice anywhere…” Liberation Theology from Canada and the US to Palestine and Israel

by Rebekah Sears

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1964).

Last month I had the pleasure of attending a conference entitled Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine, hosted by Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) in St Paul Minnesota. It was energizing and stirring to gather with so many others focused on justice and peace-focused solutions, coming from across the US and Canada sharing information, strategies and stories of hope.

What really stood out to me was the strong emphasis from the presenters and organizers on the natural connections between peace and justice issues and the work in the US, Canada, and Palestine and Israel. This emphasis elevated the voices of people standing up against systemic oppression and injustice from Canadian and US governments – Standing Rock and Ferguson, including Black Lives Matter, to name a few – and how these voices for justice so easily connect to the voices of Palestinians working for justice.

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Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine group photo, Photo Credit: Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fosnalive/

As the conference was based in the US, the specific examples were from the US context, but it doesn’t take much to make the connections to issues in Canada, especially of Indigenous peoples.

However, the focus of this conference was not to draw attention away from the important and urgent work in Palestine and Israel, but to:

  • Encourage people in Canada and the US to see and act against injustice in their own backyards as well as in Palestine and Israel;
  • Gain a deeper and personal understanding of the injustices facing Palestinians by seeing similar patterns and actions of oppression closer to home;
  • Seek solidarity around the world in the fight against oppression, including from a faith perspective, as something prophetic – with liberation theologies movements popping up around the world, unified in their goals of human dignity for all, especially for those who are oppressed.

These proclamations were clear throughout the conference, but I especially want to focus on two presentations early into the conference. In both, personal experiences of injustice at home lead to a greater understanding, empathy and solidarity with those in Palestine and Israel.

In her keynote address, Reverend Traci Blackmon, representing the United Church of Christ in Missouri, took us back to 2014 in Ferguson, particularly the aftermath of the shooting on an unarmed black young man, Michael Brown, by police officer Darren Wilson. What followed was a rising of justice-focused indignation from the community of Ferguson.

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Reverend Traci Blackmon, representing the United Church of Christ in Missouri, Photo courtesy of FOSNA https://www.fosna.org

Reverend Blackmon witnessed police forces constructing walls, barriers and checkpoints around community protestors across Ferguson. Meanwhile the protestors were also met with police in riot gear, with tanks and with tear gas.

At the same time, Reverend Blackmon, and other witnesses talked about a phenomenon happening on social media. Peace and justice activists from Palestine and Israel began reaching out, first to show solidarity with activists in Ferguson, but also to offer non-violent practical advice. They shared how protestors could protect themselves from the effects of tear gas attacks, among other things. For Reverend Blackmon and others this was a turning point, opening not just points of connection, but a deep understanding for the situation and work of others half a world away.

Reverend Jim Bear Jacobs, member of Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation and parish associate at Church of All Nations Presbyterian Church, gave the opening remarks of the conference. Before he started thinking about the situation in Palestine and Israel, he first had to come to terms with his own history, a history of colonialism, oppression, land loss, and erasure of the history of his people. The faith tradition where he grew up did not acknowledge any of this and emphasized that he needed to be Christian first, and to downplay his Indigenous identity and history.

When coming to terms with his own history, Reverend Bear’s faith also shifted, to focus on what Christ and the Scriptures say about standing with the oppressed. It helped solidify his own involvement with Indigenous justice movements in Minnesota, and across the country, leading to his involvement at Standing Rock.

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Reverend Jim Bear Jacobs, photo credit, Church of All Nations Presbyterian Church

While standing in solidarity for the protection of Indigenous lands and resources, demonstrators were met with water cannons, tear gas, and police in riot gear. At the same time messages of support for Indigenous communities came in from around the world, including from Palestinians. As with Reverend Blackmon, this opened a whole new perspective for Reverend Jacob to see the similarities of the struggle, and the urgency to speak out.

So, what does all this mean for our responsibility and possible response? I will bring in a quote from Reverend Traci Blackmon as a guide: “People are becoming disposable in the policies. We must see people. It’s not just physical or political constructs, but theological constructs.”

In light of this, may we see the humanity in others, at home and around the world, including in Palestine and Israel; may our actions and policies at home and abroad be informed by human experience; and may we have the eyes to see injustice in its many forms, all while continuing to challenge ourselves to speak out wherever we see it.

Rebekah Sears is the Policy Analyst for the MCC Ottawa Office.

BUILDING A CITY OF PEACE

by Annalee Giesbrecht

This post was originally published on MCC’s Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) blog on August 1, 2018.

Of the dozen or so people sitting talking together in a Port-au-Prince neighbourhood called Ti Plas Kazo, only two of them were born here. The rest come from all over the Haiti, some from other areas of the capital but most from the provinces: as far away as Cap-Haitien on Haiti’s northern coast and Jérémie on its far southwestern tip. Although Haiti is only the size of Maryland, its rugged geography and limited infrastructure make these relatively small distances seem vast.

I’m here visiting JUPED (Jeunes unis pour le protection de l’environnement et le developpement, or Youth United for the Protection of the Environment and Development), a longstanding MCC partner working in the areas of human rights, peace, and advocacy, who started a community justice pilot project in Ti Plas Kazo two years ago. As the JUPED staff team recounts the history of the area, I see they’re describing a hyper-local version of the migration patterns and community tensions seen throughout Latin America and around the world.

A place of refuge and opportunity

Ti Plas Kazo is on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince and used to be a semi-rural area where residents lived off agricultural labor, much like those in the countryside. But over the years, as rates of urbanization and internal migration have increased, Ti Plas Kazo has changed. Cycles of political instability, natural disasters, and grinding rural poverty have driven people from rural areas into the cities throughout the country, and especially into the capital. According the World Bank, Haiti’s urban population has more than doubled since 2000, and as of 2014, 74% of urban residents were living in slum conditions.

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Jean Milou Mercidieu. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

Jean Milou Mercidieu, JUPED’s administrator, is originally from the city of Cayes on Haiti’s south coast. He notes that there have been three major waves of migration to Ti Plas Kazo. The first was in the 1980s, the last days of the Duvalier dictatorship, when a government housing project connected to a nearby factory attracted large numbers of workers and their families. After Duvalier was ousted from power in 1986, a period of chaos and political violence swept Haiti as power alternated between military juntas and liberation-theologian-turned-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Many believed they could escape persecution in largely overlooked quarters of the capital like Ti Plas Kazo.

Most recently, after a massive earthquake shattered large swaths of Port-au-Prince in 2010, Ti Plas Kazo became home to several camps for people displaced by the quake. Many of those displaced people are still in Ti Plas Kazo today, whether in the camps–some of which have now become neighborhoods in their own right–or in the few remaining makeshift shelters left over from unofficial settlements.

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Eight years after the earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, both official IDP camps and improvised shelters, like this one in a public square in Ti Plas Kazo, remain. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

Whether fleeing violence across borders or moving to the city in search of a better life, displaced people often find themselves moving from one difficult situation to another. Although Ti Plas Kazo has been spared the worst consequences of natural disasters and political violence, it remains a poor neighborhood. Access to jobs and housing is limited. To accommodate new residents, and make a bit of money, some residents crowd into a portion of their homes so they can rent the rest: JUPED staff identified conflict between landlords and tenants as a common source of community tension. Over time and successive waves of new residents, many of whom aren’t planning to stay for long, the fabric of the community has become frayed.

Access to conflict resolution

Unfortunately, a widespread lack of government resources means that, when conflicts arise, the justice system is ill-equipped to handle them. Police are often undertrained and arbitrary arrests are common, lawyers are expensive, judges are overburdened, and the prison system, at 4.5x over capacity, is the most overcrowded in the world.

“Our justice system is weak, and it is sick,” says JUPED director Jean Junior Val emphatically. “Even if I’m the person who’s in the right, if you have more money, you’re the one who gets justice.”

Faced with a vulnerable, transient population and a weak and inefficient justice system, JUPED, with MCC support, launched a community-based restorative justice platform called Ti Platfòm Lapè, (Little Platforms of Peace) in 2017. The peace platforms are composed of pastors, teachers, market women, and other community members who have been trained in mediation skills and who meet every fifteen days to hear and resolve cases of conflict and violence in the community. In addition to peacefully resolving cases, JUPED monitors the rates of conflict and violence in the area and holds events to raise community awareness of human rights, conflict, violence, and peace.

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JUPED staff and members of the Ti Platfom Lape outside the JUPED office in Ti Plas Kazo. The banner reads “Conflict is vital, but violence is mortal.” MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

Win-win

Alex Pierre is originally from the city of Cap-Haitien on Haiti’s northern coast. He came to the Ti Platfòm Lapè with a problem that was related, as so many problems in Haiti are, to land and residency: he and his family were struggling to split up an inheritance left to them by their grandparents.

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Jean Milou Mercidieu. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

After the peace platform helped Pierre and his family come up with a solution for dividing the land, which he credits with saving his family relationships, Pierre himself became a member so he could help others benefit from mediation too. Now, he’s helping to manage a delicate case brought to JUPED by a man who has been ordered by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to pay child support on his child from a previous relationship. He’s now married to a different woman and has children with her; news of his first child and his attendant financial obligations had come as a shock to her.

“It’s really difficult, but not uncommon,” he says. “We’re working together to see how we can move things forward.”

Of course, not every case can be resolved at the Ti Platfòm Lapè. Cases of elevated violence, such as sexual assault, need to be referred to the justice system, and when these cases arise, platform members accompany victims through the legal process, or help connect them with other organizations that can assist them. However, the vast majority of cases heard by the peace platform over the previous year have been successfully resolved through mediation.

“Mediation has one objective in all scenarios,” says Mercidieu, “and that’s for both parties to come out on top. Win-win.” This expression, ‘win-win,’ comes up throughout our discussion: the goal of the Ti Platfòm Lapè is to arrive at a solution that is not only acceptable, but positive, for all involved.

“Justice divides people—it says to one person ‘you’re guilty,’ and to the other person, ‘you’re in the right.’ That’s why we work in mediation. We want people to be able to live together.”

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Everyday life on the main thoroughfare running through Ti Plas Kazo. MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht

While developing community cohesion is a long process, the JUPED team are starting to see a difference. Residents know they have an effective and affordable means of seeking resolution when conflict arises. Over the course of two pilot projects, over 1,228 conflicts were brought before the Ti Platfòm Lapè, and 88% of them saw both parties come to a mutual and peaceful agreement: win-win. 53 mediators—people like Alex Pierre—have been trained, and in turn have provided training on basic conflict resolution to 1,180 community members. The peace platforms have been so successful that, even after the end of MCC’s project, they have continued meeting and resolving cases.

The JUPED team believes that this work will ultimately strengthen Haiti’s justice system, because when ordinary citizens know their rights, they become empowered to advocate for themselves and seek out the justice they know they deserve.

“Maybe it will take 5 or 10 or 20 years, but Haiti can change,” says Val. “Haitians can change it. We believe that.”

Annalee Giesbrecht is the MCC Haiti Advocacy and Communications Co-ordinator.

Supporting Advocacy through Service and Humility

This post is comprised of excerpts from “Learning to lead through relationship: Developing leadership skills that mirror Anabaptist values of service grounded in listening and learning,” by Marla Pierson Lester, published on June 29, 2018 in A Common Place.

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As a participant in MCC’s Seed program, Albin Sanchez of La Cumbre, Valle de Cauca, Colombia, supported the work of MCC partner Sembrandopaz in Libertad from 2016 to 2018. Sembrandopaz, an organization that promotes peace, justice, reconciliation and holistic development, works with communities in projects to empower youth and promote sustainable agriculture and supports communities as they advocate for justice and peace.

Around the world, MCC partners with local organizations, communities and churches in projects that empower and equip people to work for change for themselves and their neighbours.

MCC’s Seed program brings together teams of young adults, ages 20 to 30, from around the world to live in local communities and serve with churches or MCC partners such as Sembrandopaz for two years.

Building the skills of others, along with listening and reflecting individually and as a group, are cornerstones of the program.

In a world where tangible tasks and goal-setting are prized, Seed asks young people to enter a community with as few expectations as possible — to not assume they know what is best for the community or even what is most needed — and to spend the first few weeks investing intense effort in listening, learning and building relationships with local people.

As Albin Sanchez returned to his Mennonite Brethren church and community of La Cumbre, Colombia, after serving in the Seed program for two years, he carried with him lessons from this time — from how to treat others with deep respect to seeing how people maintain hope even in the face of steep challenges.

“Thinking in a spiritual way, I can see Jesus in the people — a humble, simple Jesus that can relate to anybody,” he says. “Even though I’m from the outside, they welcomed me as a son. I see Jesus reflected in this warmth.”

Like other MCC assignments that include living in a community or with a host family, service in Seed is holistic — encompassing aspects of life far beyond a job description.

Sembrandopaz is an organization that promotes peace, justice, reconciliation and holistic development, works with communities in projects to empower youth and promote sustainable agriculture, and supports communities as they advocate for justice and peace.

Eyes, ears – and a voice – in Washington

by Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

MCC’s Washington Office is turning 50 this month. This week Ottawa Notebook shares reflections on those 50 years. This story was originally published on June 26, 2018 by Mennonite World Review

In the Feb. 27, 1968, Gospel Herald, Mennonite leader Guy F. Hershberger reflected on why there should be a “Mennonite office” in Washington. He noted the “emergency” in May 1967, when Congress nearly passed legislation that would have placed conscientious objectors under the purview of the military.

“We discovered that many congressmen did not know us as well as we — and they — thought they did,” he wrote.

This incident, along with the work of Mennonite Central Committee in Vietnam during the war, helped to persuade Mennonites that they should have “eyes and ears” in Washington. And so, 50 years ago this July, MCC’s Peace Section opened its Washington Office, led by Delton Franz.

Some Anabaptists were not sure MCC should have an office in Washington, preferring to remain “quiet in the land.” But in reality, Mennonite leaders had been meeting regularly with U.S. government officials on the issue of conscientious objection. From 1940 to 1967, Mennonite leaders testified 13 times before congressional committees on the issue.

“Our traditional willingness to testify when our own interests were involved,” observed the executive committee of MCC’s Peace Section in 1966, “has led to suggestions that we should also be willing to testify when the rights of others are involved. Constituent groups have expressed a growing concern that witness to the state should be a dimension of our service of Christian compassion.”

In its early years, the MCC office focused on the draft, military spending vs. human needs, global economic justice, domestic poverty, racial justice and religious liberty. While we still work on some of these topics, there have been shifts. The office’s current priorities reflect MCC’s domestic and international work, including immigration, mass incarceration, North Korea, Nigeria and the Syria crisis. In each of these areas, there is still a great need for “Christian compassion” in the political sphere.

When the office opened, many saw it as representing “the” Mennonite voice in Washington. Of course, Mennonites have never been of one mind on political issues. Mennonite agencies and individuals have increasingly advocated directly with the U.S. government on issues ranging from health care to education to peace and security.

Our office is no longer just a listening post but monitors and analyzes policies, facilitates meetings for MCC staff and constituents and encourages church members to be advocates themselves. As we carry out these activities, we listen to and learn from churches and partners in the U.S. and around the world.

In its earlier years, the office saw one of its main activities as sponsoring seminars for Mennonites in Washington. Some seminars drew more than 100 participants. Today, we have found there is not as much demand for MCC seminars, as many more conferences vie for people’s attention. So we partner with other Christian organizations to sponsor “Ecumenical Advocacy Days” each spring and meet with school and church groups who come to Washington.

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Hyun Hur of ReconciliAsian, Samuel Resendez of Iglesia La Roca and Rhonda Dueck of North Fresno (Calif.) Mennonite Brethren Church speak with California Rep. Judy Chu’s aides, Krystal Ka’ai and Rricha Mathur, as part of an immigration delegation in February. — Danielle Gonzales/MCC

Have we changed?

One concern expressed when the office was opened was that Washington would change Mennonites more than Mennonites would change Washington. It is a valid concern. Our staff take regular retreat days to remind ourselves of our rootedness in Christ and the reason we do this work.

But there is also some hubris in assuming our voice is unique and should not change. In his Gospel Herald article, Hershberger argued Mennonites have a “more sound theological base” than other peace groups.

Anabaptists do have important contributions to make to the discussions in Washington. But these days, it is frequently our ecumenical and interfaith colleagues who push us to think about what peace looks like.

We also have much that we can continue to learn about advocacy by and with — not just on behalf of — people who are on the margins. These voices are within our churches and outside them. This past February, many of the church leaders who came to Washington to advocate for better immigration policies spoke from firsthand experience.

MCC’s connections to communities directly impacted by U.S. policies provide integrity to our advocacy. On a recent trip to Lebanon, one of MCC’s partners said, “We partner with you not only for your [financial] support, but for your advocacy.” In recent months, MCC staff who traveled to Syria and North Korea were able to share their experiences with congressional offices.

U.S. policymakers may not always follow our recommendations, but they know us better than they once did.

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach is director for the MCC U.S. Washington Office.

“In Search of a Better World:” A revolution of empathy

“We cannot remain comfortably detached from the painful realities and urgent challenges [of our time] … There can be no meaningful change if we choose to look down at the arena of anguish from thirty thousand feet,” Payam Akhavan, In Search of a Better World: A human rights odyssey, 5-6.

Today’s world is facing a seemingly never-ending stream of conflicts and human-made humanitarian crises. It is exhausting and disheartening to even follow the news and the stories of suffering. On top of this, the punditry and competing narratives – often steeped in self-interest and cynicism – brings further the division and dehumanization of suffering. It is difficult to even imagine a way forward.

At high-level decision-making tables in Canada and around the world, policy makers and pundits debate potential solutions. There are no shortages of experts, theories and summits, but the suffering persists. Of course, there has been significant globally-led change and collaboration aimed at alleviating suffering, yet so many crises protract for years or even decades, while new crises continue to emerge.

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Dr. Payam Akhavan Aug. 29, 2016 in Toronto. Photo by Peter Bregg CM, from McGill University profile

McGill International Law Professor and human rights activist Payam Akhavan, the 2017 CBC Massey Lecturer, has spent much of his career in these high-level bodies, addressing human-made atrocities. He has served as legal counsel on numerous international courts, including the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, and in The Hague for the International Court of Justice.

Yet, Akhavan argues there is a significant element missing from many of these high-level conversations: addressing such crises from the foundation of our common humanity, coupled with a deep and personal knowledge of human suffering – moving forward with a revolution of empathy.

A resolution cannot fit in a neat policy package made “at thirty thousand feet,” comfortably detached from human suffering. The policy expertise is, of course, indispensable, but without a foundation of humanity and empathy, Akhavan envisions that even the most well-thought-out plans will fall short.

In his Massey lectures and accompanying book, In Search of a Better World: A human rights odyssey, Akhavan brings readers on a journey through his own suffering – fleeing persecution in Iran– to his career, encountering the aftermaths of atrocities. Through the lens of common humanity, he examines human rights laws, mechanisms for pursuing justice, and the Will to Intervene – for the long-run.

In the world of human rights policy, it is easy to be engulfed with analysis and punditry at the expense of humanization. There is a temptation to divide players into simple categories – “allies” and “enemies” –succumbing to the inevitability of conflict, all while making grand proclamations about the future.

Bringing perspectives and stories of common humanity to the table is not about warming the hearts of policy makers. Instead, Akhavan is calling for a significant shift in how policy ideas are conceived and developed, factoring in an understanding of suffering, with its complexities. It is about muddying the waters where policy options once seemed clear, and laying the foundation for the long road of change.

As I listened to Akhavan’s words I found myself nodding along, laughing, crying, feeling despair, but also a deep sense of solidarity and hope. I found it easy to make the connection with MCC and our work – first to embrace the Christian principle of recognizing that all human beings are made in the image of God. And second, in peacebuilding, engaging local partners, seeking just and genuine relationships.

Working in MCC Ottawa’s Advocacy Office, I regularly find myself engulfed in policy-speak and political commentary. Yet, it’s always been the human connections – visiting people face to face, hearing stories, seeing the image of God in everyone – that truly fuel my own passion and pursuit of justice and peace. An empathy-based approach is not about feeling warm and fuzzy inside. It is about seeking a common humanity, in all its complexities, and creating spaces to imagine the road to justice.

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A perfect example from the ground: Violette Khoury shows traditional Palestinian embroidery to MCC visitors from Canada. Khoury is the director of Sabeel Nazareth, the Nazareth office of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, an MCC partner that provides a theological and spiritual resource for the Palestinian church. Violette leads a program that brings together local people, particularly women, of different faith traditions, to share and preserve their common Palestinian heritage with activities like embroidery. (MCC photo/Elizabeth Kessler)

“In a world of dizzying distractions and endless entertainment, where even suffering has been reduced to a spectacle, we must rediscover the profound power of the everyday, of heartfelt compassion, of the transcendent healing connections that transform our impoverished culture of indifference from the bottom up. The political pendulum swings intermittently from the superficial sentimentality of liberals to the populist rage of demagogues, and we imagine foolishly that we can trust those in power to bring about meaningful change. Such apathy is the best accomplice of evil in the world. We need to take more seriously the immense impact of our own empathy, of our own engagement – of our responsibility both to comfort those who suffer and to awaken those who suffer from too much comfort. Just as the oppressed must be made whole, so too must the complacent…The cure that a world groaning from emptiness needs most is a grassroots conspiracy of authenticity, implemented by transactions of selfless beauty,” Akhavan, In Search of a Better World, 333-334.

Moving together: Exploring our shared humanity

Today’s blog post is a re-post from MCC’s Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) blog, specifically a photo essay from MCC LACA’s Anna Vogt. In today’s political climate, it seems more important than ever to tell the stories of migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and people on the move in order to recognize and share our common humanity.

Moving Together

Come on a journey with us to explore our common humanity with migrants, their families, and helpers, across Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout this photo essay, you will find links that lead back to our blog for more information about the stories and people, our neighbours, featured throughout.

Anna Vogt is the Regional Advocacy Support and Context Analyst for MCC LACA.

The scoop on the summit

by Charissa Zehr

This week Ottawa Notebook shares reflections on the recent U.S.-North Korea summit. MCC has three advocacy offices in North America working on different national and international campaigns. These offices are in Ottawa, Washington and at the United Nations in New York. Working for peace between the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea and the U.S. is one of the priorities of the Washington Office.

While much ink has already been spilled on the U.S.-North Korea summit of last week, it bears taking a closer look. First, let’s look at what is in the agreement between the U.S. and North Korea:

  1. A commitment to new relations between the U.S. and DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea) because the people of the two countries desire peace and prosperity;
  2. Joint efforts to build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula;
  3. A commitment by DPRK to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; and
  4. A pledge from both countries to recover POW/MIA remains from the Korean War and return those already identified.

The main objections are focused on what is not in the signed agreement. It lacks detail on how North Korea will denuclearize and prove they are not developing further weapons. The agreement gives no indication of initial steps or a mutually agreed-upon strategy.

The other objection is that President Trump “gave too much” without getting anything in return. This is largely a response to the president’s press conference statement that the U.S. will stop joint military exercises with South Korea. Many policymakers assumed this will also mean drawing down the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

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Photo was published by Third Way

But the summit is a positive step, moving us away from the brink of military confrontation. International negotiations require patience, time, and behind-the-scenes relationship-building. It was never reasonable to expect complete denuclearization in one meeting. This summit was the start of a long process.

While there aren’t many details in the signed document, this agreement allows for flexibility in subsequent negotiations, which is critical. It would be dangerous to set a narrow path to success without first building trust. Years of frozen relations cannot be thawed in three hours. At this point, the leaders are still learning to read each other and test if the other party is to be trusted.

From the beginning of their diplomatic engagement with South Korea and the U.S., the DPRK has been insisting on security assurances. North Korea has halted missile and nuclear testing, released American detainees, and destroyed its nuclear test site. President Trump’s decision to halt the U.S. military exercises is an appropriate reciprocal security guarantee, a trust-building gesture.

The decision to recover and return U.S. servicemember remains is a substantial commitment that is largely overlooked in the political analysis. Not only will this bring closure to thousands of families, it allows for U.S. and North Korean military engagement on a humanitarian issue. This helps lower tensions and provides a channel for communication between our two countries.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has long advocated for people-to-people engagement between the U.S. and DPRK with the hope that it would plant the seeds for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The engagement between our leaders has been a politically unorthodox, bumpy ride. We need to ensure that there is follow through on the commitments of the summit and that subsequent negotiations seek the peaceful disarmament of all parties involved. But we should welcome this critical step away from brinkmanship. It is only through face-to-face encounters that we begin to build bridges of empathy and understanding with our adversaries.

Charissa Zehr is the Legislative Associate for International Affairs for MCC’s Washington Office.

This post was originally published by Third Way on June 22, 2018.