A prayer for Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day.  Each year, KAIROS: Ecumenical Justice Initiatives provides an Earth Day worship resource that invites congregations and faith groups to express their gratitude for God’s good creation and to commit themselves to care for and nurture it. We post this prayer from the resource with special permission from KAIROS. The full worship packet is found here.

Prayers of the People

ONE: O God of All Creation
Our hearts fill with gratitude and wonder at all you have made.
We bask in the abundance of creation
and are nourished by all that is good in it.
Our thirst is quenched by clean waters.
The rivers and oceans team with life.
Our hunger is satisfied by bountiful harvests;
The orchards and fields burst with food.
We are comforted and loved by friends and family.
We freely create and work and play.

creation

MCC Photo/Melissa Hess

ALL: Every day we are reminded: all life depends on all life.

ONE: Our hearts fill with sorrow and guilt
for the destruction we have caused.
We misuse the abundance of creation
and squander the goodness in it.
Our thirst for resources knows no end,
the land and waters die by our hands.
Our appetite for power blinds us
to the vulnerable and the sacred;
we hurt and oppress each other;
we freely consume and pollute and destroy.

ALL: Every day we forget: All life depends on all life.

ONE: Our hearts fill with courage and hope
for a New Heaven and New Earth.
We heed your call to care for and restore creation,
and are energized by the goodness in it.
Our thirst for justice knows no end;
our hunger for peace opens us to new ways of being.
We find joy and support in each other;
we freely share and cooperate and grow.

ALL: Every day we learn: All life depends on all life.

ONE: With ancient words we pray as Jesus taught us…

ALL: Amen


					

Could it happen again?

Could Mennonites once again be drawn into supporting, collaborating with and even perpetrating such evil?

This is the question that haunts me after attending a recent conference on Mennonites and the Holocaust at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas.

HolocaustThe conference, attended by over 200 people from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, U.S. and Canada, was the 3rd in a series of conferences on the same topic. The first two occurred in Germany (2015) and Paraguay (2017). These three conferences have highlighted an emerging body of scholarship on Mennonite complicity in the Holocaust.

Over the course of the two days, we heard 20 different speakers present their research into a profoundly disturbing story.  These are a few of the things we heard…

…German Mennonite churches (both conservative and liberal) bought into National Socialism’s racist and anti-Semitic ideology that valued blood purity and Aryanism. Many Mennonites considered Adolf Hitler as God’s instrument to restore the fatherland of Germany.  Their theology gave them few tools to resist Nazi propaganda because they had abandoned earlier Anabaptist commitments to nonviolence and had also lost a sense of the centrality of the Kingdom of God as inaugurated by Jesus.

…Many Mennonites in the Ukraine knew about—and a few even participated in—massacres of Jews around their communities during the period of German occupation, 1941-43.  In one three-day massacre near Zaporizhia (and the Mennonite community of Chortitza) over 3,000 Jews were murdered and thrown into a mass grave. A Mennonite named Heinrich Wiens became an SS commander and was responsible for killing thousands of Jews. Many of the Mennonites hired by the Germans to act as interpreters translated lists of Jews who were subsequently murdered. Mennonites benefited from the German occupation while their Jewish neighbours suffered unmeasurably.

Bergen-Doris

Dr. Doris Bergen of the University of Toronto gave the keynote address.

…Some Mennonites in Poland accepted homes and businesses confiscated from Jews. Refugees accepted the clothing and effects of Jews who had been killed. One prominent local Mennonite, Erich Ratzlaff, assisted in rounding up Jews for a new ghetto. Later in Canada, he edited the Mennonitische Rundschau for many years.

…In the Netherlands, many Mennonites actively supported the occupying forces. One such individual, Jacob Luitjens, played a role in the Nazi propaganda service and also helped to track down Jews. In 1991 he was extradicted from Canada to the Netherlands to serve the prison sentence handed down in absentia decades earlier.

…During the German occupation, some Mennonites in the Netherlands participated in the resistance movement and some also hid Jews. One of the latter, Gerrtje Pel-Groot, took a Jewish baby into her home while the baby’s parents hid elsewhere. The little girl survived the war, but Geertje died in a German concentration camp after someone informed on her.  She is one of 40 Dutch Mennonites who have been honoured by Israel as “righteous among the nations.”  But, as the Dutch scholar put it,  why only 40?

…Mennonite Central Committee actively worked after the war to identify Mennonite refugees in Europe as Dutch rather than as German, and to minimize Mennonite connections to the Nazis. It did so in order to better enable the refugees’ escape from Europe to destinations in South America or Canada. MCC worked closely with avowed Mennonite Nazi supporters and party members like Benjamin H. Unruh.

0004216-friesennot-1935-dorf-im-roten-sturm

A 1935 film produced by the Third Reich’s Propaganda Ministry and featuring Mennonite themes was shown at the conference.

At the end of two days of hearing these stories and much more, my heart ached and I struggled to hold back the tears.  Questions swirled around in my mind.

  • Why the silence? Why are we only hearing these stories now? This question was actually put to me by the one person attending the conference who publicly identified herself as Jewish.  “Why has it taken Mennonites so long to acknowledge this?” she asked.
  • How does memory shape a people and a narrative? The conference highlighted that memory is constructed—shaped and re-shaped to “make sense” of people’s experience.  Memory can, for example, reinforce identities of victimhood, while denying identities of victimizer. How can memory serve to honestly bear witness to truth in all its complexity?
  • Does a community’s own experience of trauma absolve it of complicity in the harming of others? Soviet Mennonites were, when German occupying forces arrived in 1941, deeply traumatized. Under Stalin, they had lived through forced collectivization, starvation, repression, and the murder or disappearance of thousands. Does that reality lift the burden of responsibility? Or does it simply explain why Mennonites did not come to the aid of the Jewish community?
  • How do Mennonites recognize, acknowledge and atone for this dark side of our collective story? How do we lay aside the sense of “Mennonite exceptionalism” that we are somehow better than others?
  • And this one: Could it happen again? Could Mennonites once again be drawn into supporting power structures that commit such horrible atrocities?  How does the church in our day nurture the robust theological and spiritual resources, and the foundational commitments to justice, peacebuilding and Christian discipleship so necessary to resist systemic evil?

I am thankful to the historians and theologians, the preachers, poets and artists—as well as the organizers of this conference—for guiding our community in this painful but necessary journey.

More information on the conference is available here.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for MCC’s Ottawa Office.

Climate change and hands of resistance

By Rebekah Nimtz, an MCC Service Worker in the cross-roads, bread-basket city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. This post is part of a series by MCC Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) on climate change and food security

Several years ago in Bolivia during the rainy season I noticed that a drip bucket in my house was nearly overflowing when I returned from an annual absence of a few weeks. The next year I was surprised to come back to find it only half full. The rainy season had begun a month late. This past year it began well over two months late. On the south side of Cochabamba, in migrant zones where many kids I work with live without running water, even the cacti appeared to be drying up. Bolivia continues to experience the effects of its worst drought in almost four decades and the highest recorded temperatures in the past ten years.

The drought on the ground

The drought on the ground. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia.

El Niño and climate change are credited with playing the major roles in  weather fluctuations, in a country whose ecosystems the UN considers some of the most vulnerable worldwide to the effects of global warming. Late rains have made only a dent in lost reserves, which hovered around 8% capacity, with a reservoir in the governing capital of La Paz at only 1% at the end of last year. This lack of water caused President Evo Morales to declare a national emergency in November. Friends in the city of Cochabamba weren’t as startled by the state of the emergency as those in La Paz, as rationing of water in Cochabamba is the norm. This past year Cochabamba only received, on average, water via the municipal water company, SEMAPA, a few hours once a week.

In the region of Mizque, 160 km outside of Cochabamba, adaptability to the effects of drought depends on whether one lives closer to the village, with more access to an irrigation system and agricultural machinery, or half-an-hour further out in the mountains, where one’s livelihood is more dependent on cultivating corn and raising cows, goats and vicuñas.

Jaime Pardo works for OBADES, the social arm of the Baptist church in Bolivia. MCC partners with OBADES in its work with locals in Mizque on food security projects such as irrigation systems, greenhouses, and crop diversity. Jaime shared that in early 2016 the rainy season not only started late, but was cut short when the rains stopped in March, leaving already planted corn unable to reach maturity. By the end of the year there was no more pasture left for livestock. Animals had to move around for hours in search of first water and then food, complicated by the drying up of once full rivers. It was a bit easier for the goats, who would eat anything within sight, even plastic. Jaime commented that the image seared in his mind of this past year is of skin-and-bone cows wobbling down the mountainside as though drunk, trembling and barely able to stand. As for their owners, without water to sow their crops, the only option has been to leave for the city.

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity. Photo by Jaime Pardo.

A vast number of farmers have also left Bolivia’s already dry southeast Chaco due to the unprecedented rate of cattle deaths, the region’s primary income. Lake Poopo in the western part of the country completely dried up at the beginning of 2016, not only due to drought,  but also water deviation for mining. The Uru people, who lived off the lake for centuries, have long since gone, along with their way of life. The swell in already exploding urban populations exacerbates poverty and puts greater demands on failing infrastructure and local municipalities to implement solutions.

In rural and urban areas alike, communities have plead with the government for assistance, with the repeated loss of crops resulting in economic ruin for families. Some irrigation and groundwater projects have come about as a result. Nevertheless, even the breadbasket of Cochabamba unprecedentedly began importing food from neighboring countries. Outdated infrastructure exacerbates the problem with up to 50% losses of water in some places within pipes and distribution networks. Privatization is an option, but faces opposition for often failing to reach city outskirts and municipalities. The Misicuni dam and hydroelectric project of Cochabamba, underway since 1957, is a set-back filled effort of 10 private local and international companies that is only now gradually approaching completion. It was originally planned to give water to 400,000 people in a city with now closer to a million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, deforestation of the northern Amazon, in Bolivia and beyond, inhibits the flow of humid air and rain to the Andes. Hydroelectric projects damage the river arteries of the jungle and affects the natural water preservation cycle. Damaged water cycles leave torrents of rain that show up late, to destroy crops at the time of harvest and cause catastrophes with flash-flooding, as opposed to the gradual, soft rains of days gone by. The need to address emergency situations means that working on root causes turns into a catch-up game for a government that is already behind on developing prevention and relief plans for a problem long foreseen.

Bolivia has accessed, however, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s green fund for a “My Irrigation” program to assist in rural areas. The construction of grain storage plants are underway. Experts emphasize the need for long term water shortage plans such as dikes for water storage, preservation and education initiatives, and continued efforts to renovate outdated water distribution systems so they can be ready to carry, for example, the water now beginning to finally gush from the Misicuni dam project.

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia Ramos.

The small, hopeful steps of local communities across the country, especially alongside governing bodies, are prevailing against the obstacles, even if those steps begin as little more than drops in a dry bucket. The community of Villa Vinto, not far from Mizque, in partnership with OBADES, is enlisting a Peruvian model in the creation of artificial lakes and dykes to capture and store rainwater. With municipal government offers of new farming tools as prizes for the best efforts, the project is hoped to spread to communities throughout the entire region. Mizque continues to produce drought-resistant maca, which in addition to being a delicious superfood, reaps greater economic benefits than typical potato crops. The persistent well-digging of colony Mennonites in Durango on the border with Argentina has allowed them to grow crops in previously declared agricultural dead-zones. If a drop of water can carve out a canyon, the small efforts of hands working together might be able to eventually fill that canyon with more water for the future.

 

What DFATD can learn from CIDA

This week’s blog is written by Dan Leonard, Operating Principles Coordinator for MCC.  Originally from Philadelphia, Dan now lives in Winnipeg where he has learned to love the winter. In February, he nevertheless looks forward to the start of Major League Baseball spring training.

In November, the government released the Global Markets Action Plan, a government strategic plan for promoting international trade opportunities for the Canadian private sector. One of the standout lines in the document is this: “under the plan, all diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector in order to achieve the stated objectives within key foreign markets.”

Goat project Jordan

A goat project in Jordan provides income and food for poor families. Khulood, 11, holds one of the offspring of the goat that her father received. MCC partners with the Wadi Araba Benevolent Society to provide goats for families.

The government’s focus on “economic diplomacy” is particularly interesting to read in light of the decision last year to amalgamate Canada’s foreign affairs, trade and development agendas into one new department—the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).

The action plan deals little with the development agenda specifically, other than to “leverage development programming to advance Canada’s trade interests.” This leads some to question whether global poverty reduction as an end in itself is still a goal for Canada. So what impact, if any, will prioritizing the international trade agenda have on Canada’s international development agenda? This question been discussed previously on this blog; MCC Canada’s ongoing concerns on policy coherence recently prompted letters to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and International Development.

Some context for the Global Markets Action Plan is helpful. The 2012 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer review of Canadian foreign aid noted that Canada has a “strong reputation for its contributions to international development, multilateral organizations and the promotion of human rights.” Central to the effectiveness of Canadian development work has been the insistence that communities should be active participants in defining their own development. One of the key aspects of Canada’s commitment to the Aid Effectiveness Agenda is that “development must be locally-led in order to produce and sustain meaningful results.” More so, Canada has been at the forefront among donor countries pushing NGOs to integrate a gender lens into programming, regularly outspending other DAC members in resources allocated to gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Mahmoud Hassan sorts tomatoes he picked in the field where he works in Wadi Araba. The crops were grown with water from an MCC-supported water catchment project.

Mahmoud Hassan sorts tomatoes he picked in the field where he works in Wadi Araba, Jordan. The crops were grown with water from an MCC-supported water catchment project.

My intention is not to create an idyllic and selective narrative of CIDA’s past. But recognizing the role and reputation of Canada in international development in years past is useful for reflecting on how the intentions and values guiding Canadian development work overseas might change in the future, as Canada aligns a development agenda with a trade agenda.

For example, how will marshalling all Canadian diplomats “on behalf of the private sector” coincide with a desire for “locally-led” development? Will diplomats reviewing CIDA proposals analyze them for community participation, or for how well they align with Canadian economic interests, or perhaps both? Can gender equality help define trade interests? What might that even look like? Or for instance, will plans for a mining project be required to adopt a gender lens and demonstrate that the environment is not unnecessarily degraded? Or, in that same example, if a community does not want the mine, will the project be halted or adjusted even if it limits Canada’s economic opportunities?

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Goldcorp, a global leader in gold mining.

The Marlin Mine in San Marcos, Guatemala is owned by Vancouver-based gold mining giant, Goldcorp.

Truthfully, we do not know fully what this amalgamation of agendas will mean in practice. But some clues are emerging in the Global Markets Action Plan. Even in the years leading up to the amalgamation, CIDA began funding partnerships between NGOs and mining companies, raising questions as to whether development is acting as a subsidy to, or public relations activity for, mining companies.

On the other hand, in the “development” section of the DFATD website, key priorities of gender equality and environmental sustainability are still mentioned. Projects implemented by NGOs are also still required to integrate a gender and environment lens. So perhaps there is potential for these principles to more forcefully speak into how we conduct trade–though there is no indication in the Global Markets Action Plan that this will be the case.

The win-win of Canadian growth and international development is admittedly tempting. The questions I raise here are not to dispute the merits of aid and trade, or to reject the idea that private sector and NGOs should work together. The point here is that Canada’s private sector interests overseas should not compromise the tremendous learning gained over years of  Canadian development work–namely, that essential ingredients to sustainable development are local ownership, gender equity, and environmental sustainability. This is true whether you are an NGO or part of the private sector. Otherwise the win-win of aid and trade will be more of a dream than a reality.