10 + 1 reasons to oppose war

Remembrance Day—and, for Anabaptist-Mennonites, Peace Sunday—is once again upon us. It is the season to mourn the loss of human life in war. And the season to commit, once again, to building a culture of peace.

Resistance to war is part of the very heart of MCC.  As an agency of Anabaptist-Mennonite churches, MCC holds to the confession that war and participation in war are counter to the way of Jesus.  For us, resistance to war is at the core of our identify as pacifist Christians.

But there are many other reasons to oppose war.  And we suspect that many Canadians—who may not share our theological commitments—can nevertheless affirm these reasons.

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War’s destruction in Homs, Syria. MCC photo/Doug Enns

  1. War kills and harms soldiers. War kills, injures and disables the very people who must carry it out. It causes high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can lead to moral injury as well – namely, the deep shame, guilt, anger or anxiety experienced by soldiers as a result of killing or harming others. Some soldiers may commit suicide. Since 2010, 130 Canadian soldiers have taken their own lives.
  2. War kills and harms civilians. In the 20th century, some 200 million people were killed in war, and many millions have already been killed in this century. War not only kills, it also mains people, separates family members, causes disease, hunger and other forms of deprivation. Toxic substances released by some weapons result in severe birth defects, long after wars are officially over. Another frequent weapon of war is rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls. The human cost of war is staggering and the impacts extend over generations.
  3. War creates refugees. War causes people to flee their homes for safety, sometimes crossing an international border. The UN currently reports that around the world 65 million people are forcibly displaced. The personal upheaval for these individuals is profound, the social and political consequences breath-taking.
  4. War harms the natural environment. War contaminates earth, air and water. It destroys natural habitats, killing their flora and fauna. The use of Agent Orange by the U.S. to defoliate the Vietnamese countryside continues to wreak havoc on Vietnam decades later, while use of Depleted Uranium in Iraq will mean radioactive contamination for thousands of years to come. Even in peacetime, standing armies harm the environment because of their enormous carbon footprint.
  5. War’s financial cost is enormous. Consider these statistics: Canada’s 12-year military engagement in Afghanistan cost $8.4 billion, while U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (and related violence in Pakistan and Syria) from 2001 to 2016 cost about $4.8 trillion. The Institute for Economics & Peace determined that in 2016, the impact of violence (including war) to the global economy was $14.3 trillion per day – the equivalent of more than $5 per day for every person alive. What might be possible if those funds were invested in peacebuilding rather than war-making?
  6. War sets back development. The destruction of homes, schools and hospitals, as well as transportation, electrical, water treatment and sanitation systems in wartime can set back economic, social and community development for decades. Wars prevent farmers from farming, children and youth from going to school and ordinary people from going to work. A typical civil war in a medium-sized country costs more than 30 years of GDP growth. No wonder the United Nations in 2015 identified the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies as one of its key Sustainable Development Goals.
  7. War empowers the weapons dealers. War is good business for those who manufacture and trade in weapons and weapons system. In 2015 just 100 companies sold $370 billion worth of arms, and just one company —U.S.-based based Lockheed Martin—had $36 billion in sales. Weapons dealers often have undue influence on politics and foreign policy. In 1961 outgoing U.S. President Eisenhower warned against the power of the “military-industrial complex” to perpetuate war; in many ways, his predictions have come to pass.
  8. War distorts truth. In 1918, U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson’s 1919 stated, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” How very true! War promotes prejudices and stereotypes about people considered “enemy” and often portrays the enemy as less than human, thereby legitimizing the use of violence against them. War reduces moral categories to the simple binary of “we are good, they are evil.” Nuanced public discussion becomes increasingly difficult and sometimes impossible.
  9. War does not address root causes. While war may end in some measure of “peace” if accompanied by comprehensive peace negotiations, it rarely addresses the grievances that give rise to it, whether hunger, class division, religious or ethnic conflict, access to land and resources, political exclusion, etc. Because of this, many wars lead to new wars. The war against ISIS, for example, is rooted in the Iraq War, which is rooted in the Gulf War.
  10. peace buttonsThere are many nonviolent alternatives to war. Diplomacy, dialogue, disarmament, development, conflict resolution, peace education and strategic peacebuilding are only a few of the nonviolent approaches available to prevent war and thereby avoid war’s horrific consequences. A growing body of expertise also points to nonviolent alternatives to addressing terrorist and extremist violence. States and societies truly interested in peace have many nonviolent tools and approaches at their disposal!

Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”  Many reasons confirm his words.

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

Download MCC’s 2017 Peace Sunday Packet: Praying for Peace.

Welcome as a prelude to peace in Colombia

Alix Lozano is a Colombian  Pastor and Theologian and the Co-founder of the Ecumenical
Women’s Group of Peace-Builders (GemPaz). This piece was originally published on the MCC LACA Advocacy blog on June 21, 2017. This reflection is taken from the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia worship packet.

All people at different stages and different moments of life seek spaces of welcome, healing spaces, spaces of acceptance, inclusion, and transformation. Political violence, delinquency, invisibility, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and poverty are some of the sources of stress, isolation, and trauma present in the realities of the Colombian people.

At this time, Colombia is experiencing a peace process, where the reintegration of ex-combatants in civil society is fiat accompli. The role of spaces, circles, and groups as instruments of the welcoming and transforming love of God is very pertinent, both in times of peace and in times of peace-building. We remember the biblical text of 2 Corinthians 1:4 which says: He consoles us in our suffering that we may console those who suffer, giving them the same comfort that he has give us.

Hospitality is an essential practice and value in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, as a lifestyle and as teaching. Hospitality, understood as unconditional welcome of the most needy, is an act of unconditional love.

In fact, throughout the New Testament, much emphasis is given to the Greek concept of philoxenia, defined as love of the stranger. Philoxenia is more than just tolerating the other, without loving her or him; it is desiring his or her good. Xenos, which means “strange” as well as “stranger,” refers to the foreigner, the immigrant, and the exiled. It can be attributed to any human being who is a stranger, who needs welcoming in a strange land. This word is also the root of the term Xenophobia, which means rejection of the stranger, the foreigner. In diverse parables and teachings of Jesus, one finds reference to the responsibility to welcome others and offer them a home.

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Gathering of Colombian peacebuilders; Photo credit, Anna Vogt

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus is on the road and is received in a home, the home of his friends. He rests and is served and welcomed. He takes advantage of the friendly atmosphere to teach with love. The women, Martha and Mary, have a special moment with the Teacher which gives us much to reflect on. In that home, Mary and Martha experience conviction and special strength.

Martha and Mary each have a distinctive way of welcoming and showing hospitality to Jesus. Martha does this through her concrete responsibilities as lady of the house, from the starting point of what is “normal,” that is, the norms of hospitality and welcome; she is a symbol of those in society who believe that everything is solved by fulfilling one’s duty. Thus the criteria for judging the behavior of others is simply to determine whether or not they have done their duty.

Mary also fulfills the custom of welcome and hospitality, but she does it in a very different way, with a novel attitude born from her heart. She is attentive to the presence of the other, in this case Jesus, by sitting by his side, listening to him, and offering him a personal relationship; but she does this outside of the social norm, what is legal or cultural. In doing so, Mary chooses “the better way,” breaking with tradition. She acts from what is human, from what is closeness, from what is a posture of listening and seeing the needs of the other, which were also her own needs.

It is important to note that Jesus does not judge Martha, as sometimes is believed, but rather invites her to see, hear, and listen for new ways of relating – a welcome that humanizes, where BEING is more important than DOING.

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Gathering of Colombian peacebuilders; Photo credit, Anna Vogt

The call of the Spirit, the Ruah, is to be welcomed, to give welcome, and to offer peace to people who come from different spaces as a prelude to the path of reconciliation in Colombia, which has taken on this peace process, where government and guerrillas have decided to put an end to the armed conflict.

PRAYER FOR PEACE

God of life,
God of hope,
God of justice,
God of peace,
Our voices today unite in one cry,
A cry born from the depths of the heart
Of a humanity and creation wounded by war
That asks you to accompany our history
And knock down barriers that separate us so
that
Dialogues may come about that take us to
peace.

God of life,
God of hope,
God of justice,
Our hands, our emotions
And all that we are
Unites in one dream of love
To walk with all those
Who suffer in our world and who,
Through processes of
Resistance, create peace.
Come Lord, fill us with your strength and
Carry us in your arms when
Our feet can no longer walk.
Come Lord.

– Inter-faith Dialogue for Peace, Peacebuilders in Prayer Liturgy.

We invite you and your congregation to join in with MCC partner organization, Justapaz, in celebrating Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia this summer. A packet of resource and worship materials is available here.

This post is also available in Spanish

We’ve got to be bold: Lessons from globally-renowned peacebuilders

What is Canada’s legacy?

Across the country in 2017, especially in Ottawa, this question seems unavoidable – everyone is talking about legacy. As we near the celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday, people are asking, what is our current legacy? What will future generations of Canadians say in 50, 100, or 150 years? We can’t escape it – on the barriers around construction sites, in city parks and at government events we see the signs: “Canada 150.”

By the time it’s over, 2017 will no doubt be a year of unending festivals, cheesy punch lines, and romanticized political speeches, glossing over complex and often disturbing elements of our history.

But beyond the fluff of “Canada 150” celebrations there is a real opportunity to build a legacy of leadership and peace in Canada and around the world. A legacy built on actions, not just words.

This was the challenge for Canada a few weeks ago from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. She was joined by fellow global renowned peacebuilder and human rights activist Yanar Mohammed, co-founder and President of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq.

On April 12 I had the privilege of attending an event where Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Matt DeCourcey and NDP Critic for Foreign Affairs Héne Laverdière joined Leymah and Yanar to discuss innovation in Canada’s development programming. The two global peacebuilders challenged Canada to be a leader when it comes to international assistance – funding and partnering with innovative grassroots organizations and individuals to promote peace and justice from the ground up.

Earlier that same day Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai had addressed Canadian Parliament upon receiving honourary Canadian citizenship. She praised some of Canada’s humanitarian commitments of recent years, all while challenging Canada to be a leader in supporting education for girls and young women as a means to promote development, peace, and a better world for all: “If Canada leads, the world will follow,” Malala said.

Leymah grabbed onto Malala’s message, challenging the Canadian government to put its money and resources where its mouth is. For Leymah and Yanar, this means funding grassroots women’s and human rights organizations. “There are 10,000 Malalas out there…we just need to find them!” Leymah said. The point that both women emphasized is that these grassroots peace, community development, and human rights organizations are showcasing innovation and action, getting things done.

It’s a common misconception that local organizations are sitting around, waiting for funding from Western governments and civil society organizations. But this is definitely not the case. People are always looking for ways to better their local communities and are doing so every day, in difficult circumstances and with few resources. What outside funding of these local initiatives does enable is for local champions and actors to expand their impact. At MCC we seek to partner with local organizations for the same reasons, and together support great work being done within communities around the world.

But where does the Government of Canada stand on funding local partners? That’s a good question!

Last spring and summer, MCC, along with dozens of other organizations and individuals, participated in the International Assistance Review, spearheaded by Global Affairs Canada and the Hon Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development. While the government has published some of the major feedback from the review, after almost a year there has yet to be any official policy tabled.

And what does Budget 2017 say about Canada’s commitment to international assistance? Not much! No new spending money has been allocated for Canada’s international assistance. The programming priorities can still shift, but by not increasing the overall spending Canada is taking zero steps in 2017 to move toward the internationally-recognized goal of 0.7% spending on Official Development Assistance. Yet in pre-budget consultations, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development identified this as a goal to be reached by 2030. Instead, Canada is staying at about 0.26% spending for international assistance, which is not much higher than our all-time low.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bill Morneau hopes that organizations and groups will “do more with less,” as the government is focusing on increasing Foreign Direct Investment private sector initiatives, rather than investing more in grassroots peace and development organizations.

So, what does that mean? What should the direction of Canadian assistance funding be?

In the spirit of Canada 150, Leymah directed her comments to Parliamentary Secretary DeCourcey, sighting a joint Match International/Nobel Women’s Initiative campaign that challenges Canada to mark this historic year by making 150 new contributions to 150 small grassroots peace, development or human rights women’s organization around the world.

While genuine consultation and working with the grassroots communities takes time and flexibility, and it can be messy, the results speak for themselves: change and action from the ground up!

They urged the government to make Canada 150 count for something tangible.

Leymah and Yanar both see this year as the moment to speak out and act for the future. “A new legacy is waiting…It can be grabbed now, or by a future government!” Yanar challenged.

Now is the time: turn words into something tangible. Let’s make a new legacy of action!

Rebekah Sears is the Policy Analyst for MCC Ottawa. 

Swords into ploughshares

When Ernie Regehr and Murray Thomson started Project Ploughshares in 1976, their initiative was only supposed to last six months.

Just over forty years and many awards and accomplishments later, Ploughshares stands as one of the leading peace research organizations in Canada.

How did it all begin?

The seeds of Ploughshares were first sown four decades ago when two groups of people, each working separately on a common concern, came together.

Ernie Regehr—witnessing the links between militarism and under-development while working in southern Africa—teamed up with Murray Thomson (then-Director of CUSO) in 1976 to create a Working Group called “Ploughshares.” With the help of a bit of seed money and support (from CUSO, Canadian Friends Service Committee, Conrad Grebel University College, and Mennonite Central Committee), they studied the role of the international arms trade in impeding social and economic progress in developing countries.

Meanwhile, that same year, John Foster of the United Church had also convened a Working Group called “Canadian Defence Alternatives,” which aimed to educate the public on the increasing militarization of national security policy in Canada.

When these two groups merged together, Project Ploughshares was born.

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“Let us beat our swords into ploughshares,” by Evgeny Vuchetich (for the UN, 1959).

Emerging as the ecumenical voice on defence policy and disarmament, Ploughshares—formally established as a division of the Canadian Council of Churches—provided a critical assessment of the expansion of the Canadian arms industry, the nuclear arms race, and the impact of the world’s massive and growing stock of “swords” on security and development.

Not surprisingly, calling for the transformation of “swords into ploughshares” (Isaiah 2:4) was not an easy sell with political decision-makers.

As staff wrote in the very first issue of the The Ploughshares Monitor (which hit the shelves in April of 1977),

It is a common assertion of federal politicians and government officials that there is “no constituency” for peace issues. Public interest in the arms race, nuclear proliferation, and related issues is said to be minimal, making it difficult to place these items on the national political agenda. However, people with an active concern about these issues know otherwise. There is a “peace constituency” out there….

Over the decades, Ploughshares has proven that the peace constituency is alive and well!

Our office copy of the very first Ploughshares Monitor (Vol. 1, No.1)!

Serving as the focal point for broader church and civil society participation, they have shaped public policy conversations on some of the most complex international security challenges—from nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, to conventional arms control, weaponization of space, reduction of armed violence, and more.

Some of this work has focused on mobilizing Canadians to act for peace.

In the 1980s, for instance, during a time of deep public anxiety about the Cold War, Ploughshares not only led a high-level church leaders’ delegation to meet with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on nuclear disarmament, but they organized Canadians to send two million postcards to MPs, urging them to oppose the modernization of nuclear arsenals.

Later, in the lead-up to the 2003 war on Iraq, Ploughshares co-wrote Prepare for Peace in Iraq, a statement endorsed by 40,000 Canadians, which helped influence the government’s decision not to participate in the “coalition of the willing.”

Other elements of Ploughshares’ work may have been less visible to the broader public, but have played a significant role in furthering various agendas of the global disarmament community.

indexIn 1986, for example, they created the only database on Canadian military production and exports, still used by international organizations researching the global arms industry.

Since 1987, they’ve published the annual (and popular!) Armed Conflicts Report, which monitors the number and nature of conflicts worldwide.

And in 2003, they initiated the annual Space Security Index project, the first and only comprehensive and integrated assessment of space security.

In addition to providing technical expertise, Ploughshares has co-founded some important coalitions (the International Action Network on Small Arms, Mines Action Canada, etc.) and provided thoughtful leadership on others (like Control Arms Coalition). This civil society collaboration has been particularly important in the development of a convention like the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Since the 1990s, Ploughshares, in partnership with other NGOs, actively and persistently promoted a treaty to regulate the trade and transfer of conventional weapons. In 2013, this decades-long endeavor finally paid off when, after rigorous negotiations, the UN adopted the ATT—a monumental achievement for the disarmament community.

Over the last number of years, they’ve weighed-in on many important public debates: in 2010, they critiqued the planned Joint Strike Fighter Jet program, long before it became top political news; this last year they’ve questioned the government’s $15 billion Saudi arms deal through innumerable op-eds and interviews; and, most recently, they’ve called out Canada—once a disarmament champion—for its absence at UN negotiations to create a worldwide nuclear ban.

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Ploughshares staff, past and present (photograph by Emilia Zibaei–at the 40th anniversary celebration; from the Ploughshares website)

As new staff have come on board, Ploughshares has been able to delve more deeply into research on fully autonomous weapons systems, and to expand into new areas such as refugees and forced migration.

Known for its credible research, precise analysis, and long-term commitment to advancing policies for peace, Project Ploughshares as consistently punched well above its weight.

Where will the next 40 years lead?

Jenn Wiebe is Director of the MCC Ottawa Office and serves on the Governing Committee of Project Ploughshares 

Colombia’s long road to bread and peace

Angélica Rincón could not stop smiling. All around her, crowds of people cheered and waved signs, banners and Colombian flags. Rincón – like others who have worked with MCC Colombia’s partners [Justapaz] – had longed for this turning point toward peace for many years.

After nearly four years of negotiations, [a historic peace accord] effectively ended the longest-running armed conflict in the Western hemisphere. Fighting between diverse armed groups has killed some 260,000 people and displaced close to 7 million since 1958.  (Elizabeth Phelps, Saying goodbye to war and hello to peace in Colombia.)

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Angélica Rincón of MCC partner Justapaz lights a candle for peace. Photo courtesy Anna Vogt

This week churches and community groups across Colombia will be marking the International Day of Peace – September 21.  For years churches, organizations and communities across Colombia, including many of MCC’s partners like Justapaz, have come together to celebrate this day with a call to action – calling for the basic necessities of life – Pan y Paz (Bread and Peace). A positive peace is more than a lack of armed conflict; it is a world where everyone has enough to eat and all are able to live without fear. On this day churches and communities march through the streets with candles, singing songs of hope and peace and offering bread to everyone they pass.

In September 2014, in my first blog post as policy analyst for the Ottawa Office and while still working in Colombia, I shared the hopes and dreams for peace of a small community just outside of Bogota, San Nicolas in Soacha. Residents of San Nicolas, especially the youth, have long felt the impacts of violence and threats of violence on a very regular basis.  After more than five decades of armed conflict, the cries ringing out from this community represent the cries from across Colombia – “We just want peace.”

The political context in Colombia is quite different in September 2016. After almost four years of peace talks, the Colombian government and the largest and longest running guerrilla group, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), have announced peace accords, coupled with a bilateral ceasefire and an action plan for implementation. The announcement of the ceasefire was made in late June – resulting in celebrations throughout the streets of Bogota – and the final agreement was reached by both parties at the end of August 2016, with the objective of signing the accords by the end of September.

The peace accords themselves follow the original agenda of the negotiations:

  • Political participation in the national arena for the FARC;
  • Agrarian reform aimed at supporting small-scale land owners and property rights;
  • Greater investment in legal crops, creating incentives for farmers to disengage from the illicit economy;
  • Commissions and special courts to hear directly from victims of the armed conflict;
  • A roadmap to wide scale demobilization of the FARC, to be monitored by international bodies.
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MCC workers, together with partners, celebrate the June 2016 announcement of coming peace accords.  Photos courtesy Anna Vogt

MCC’s partner organizations and staff, such as Justapaz, have worked tirelessly for years in the lead-up to negotiations, and connecting with communities and civil society as the talks progressed. But the work is hardly over.

One could say we are just beginning generations of work.

The first step is gaining approval from Colombians in a national plebiscite (referendum) to be held on October 2, 2016.

But  beyond this lies the challenge of turning the peace accords into reality. Although the announcement of accords was publicly celebrated in the streets of Bogota, how will the various regions respond to the post-accord era? Many critics claim past demobilization processes of other armed groups had significant problems. Will disarmament, support for development and recovery reach all corners of Colombia? And how can the government accommodate the needs and concerns of over 6 million victims of forced displacement? Critics of the accords also claim excessive leniency was granted to both FARC and government perpetrators. Plus, the roots of the 50+ year conflict run very deep, relating to longstanding inequality and access to land and resources. Finally, many Colombians are hesitant to trust this process, as several previous attempts by the FARC and the government to reach a sustainable peace agreement have failed.

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Photo courtesy Anna Vogt

Despite the excitement around the peace agreement, MCC’s partners across the country, as reported by staff on the ground share many of these and other concerns. Integral peace goes beyond high level negotiations. Integral peace calls for a just society where everyone has access to sufficient food, resources and livelihoods; where everyone across the country can live in dignity and pursue their dreams; where people can live without fear or the imminent threat of violence.

As churches and communities mark September 21 this year, calling for Pan y Paz, my thoughts and prayers continue to follow the communities across the country, rural and urban, including Soacha, where communities and local leaders stand up for peace and justice, despite continuing challenges. My prayer is that this year’s Pan y Paz continues to reflect calls for peace and dignity throughout the communities of Colombia, as the country begins to move down the long and challenging road to peace.

By Rebekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office

 

Love in the time of sanctions

This reflection is written by Jacob Greaser, who recently completed an internship with the MCC U.S.’Washington office, focusing on U.S. foreign policy.  It originally appeared on Third Way Cafe. For information on Canada’s relationship with the DPRK, click here.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea) is probably one of the most mysterious and least visited places in the world for North Americans. Even for many U.S. policymakers, DPRK is often seen through a political cloud of fear and presented as an unknowable and unpredictable enemy. For the U.S. government, the label of “enemy” usually leads to punitive measures such as sanctions. For Christians, the label of “enemy” should mean something quite different.

Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) may seem to be a meaningless phrase in the midst of political complexity, but it is an important perspective that is often missing from U.S. policy. In fact, there are more open avenues for peacebuilding in DPRK than many people realize. DPRK has been placed under increasingly strict sanctions by the U.S., but humanitarian assistance is still permitted and needed. In the recent flurry of policies directed at the DPRK government, it is important not to ignore cries for help from vulnerable citizens inside DPRK.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), one of just a few organizations providing humanitarian aid in DPRK, assists individuals with tuberculosis and provides orphanages with food and other material resources. MCC heeds Christ’s call to address the needs of the most vulnerable in society and believes this applies everywhere, including DPRK. Over 20 years of working in DPRK, MCC has been allowed access to verify that our resources get to those vulnerable people. Through MCC’s commitment to serving vulnerable people everywhere, MCC has the rare opportunity to work and build relationships with people in DPRK.

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These children at the South Pyongan Kindergarten Orphanage in Pyongsong, DPRK receive soya milk made from soybeans provided by MCC. MCC photo/Rachelyn Ritchie

The picture that is painted of DPRK as a repressive, secretive country often leads people to forget that DPRK allows humanitarian workers and even tourists into parts of the country. By working in DPRK, MCC is able to challenge assumptions that engagement with DPRK is impossible and shows that some level of trust can be built through consistent engagement over 20 years. Even though the relationship between the U.S. and DPRK governments is tense right now, MCC finds hope in the relationships it has built with partners in DPRK and sees relationships on that small scale as one potential path towards a larger dialogue.

MCC’s commitment to vulnerable people looks beyond the political rhetoric to love our enemies. This ultimately opens up spaces for relationship building and ongoing dialogue. While both governments frequently blame the other for escalation and refusing engagement, this destructive cycle of blame denies all possibility of meaningful engagement or understanding. MCC is able to challenge the narrative of DPRK as unreachable through the individual relationships it has built and to provide an example of small scale engagement.

Eventually, small examples of love can open the door for large acts of peace.

 

The awful grace of God: Thoughts on an MCC learning tour to Lebanon

This reflection is written by Jon Nofziger, constituency relations coordinator for MCCBC.  Jon wrote this reflection as he led a group of MCC constituents on a learning tour to Lebanon, where they learned about the Syrian refugee crisis and met with Syrian partners. 

“What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.  The Life-Light blazed out of darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.”  John 1:4-5 The Message

“He who learns must suffer, and even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” Aeschylus, fifth century BC Greek playwright of tragedies

I liken a learning tour to being enrolled in the College of Life and taking a course in “hard knocks.”  While our group did not endure the same “knocks” as people  we met in Lebanon, one thing is certain: we learned that many who have passed through the crucible of suffering will acknowledge they have found themselves better for the experience—bitter though it may have been. These saints have insights to offer a hurting world.

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Syrian refugees, living in Lebanon and receiving psychosocial assistance informal education activities from MCC partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development, pose with members of the learning tour. MCC photo/Scott Campbell

For centuries, skeptics have argued that the presence of evil in this world negates the idea that a good God exists. It is alleged that if an all-powerful God exists, who refuses to put an end to evil and suffering, then certainly God could not be all-good.

But blaming God for current woes in the world is akin to charging Henry Ford with the responsibility for the death of a person killed in a drunk-driving accident.

The argument against the goodness of God, grounded on the basis of earthly evil, assumes there is no logical purpose to be served by God’s toleration of human tragedy.  Yet at the end of the day, we must own up to the fact that we simply are not qualified to judge what God is doing. Our scope of vision is microscopic.

This is one of the lessons the patriarch Job had to learn when, in his suffering, he became very critical of his Maker, questioning the Lord’s wisdom. God gave him an examination to show him how “small” he actually was (Job 38-41); Job was in no position to subject the Almighty to critical analysis.

Rather than question God’s wisdom and purpose, we, like Job, should acknowledge God’s company/communion with human tragedy.

 With our lives, we testify to believe in one of two Gods: either an omnipotent idol that controls and arranges everything, or the God of hope who works alongside us.Dorothee Soelle, German theologian.

While in Lebanon, our group was introduced to the suffering of the church in Syria through our partner, the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMEEC). We met and heard from Father Walid, a Catholic priest from Syria.  He and his volunteer crew of 16 have been distributing material resources from MCC and other NGOs to over 2,000 families in rural areas in the western part of Syria.

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Father Walid and his team assist with the distribution of MCC blankets, September 2015. Photo courtesy of FMEEC.

Father Walid is a quiet, unassuming man. Another MCC partner translated from Arabic to English as Father Walid shared with us details of his work. At one point he stopped, visibly overcome with emotion. He swiveled his chair so his back faced us, taking deep breaths and gathering himself in order to continue. When he was ready to begin again, he said, “The burden is too heavy.”  He also made clear that his primary work is not simply to provide material help. Rather, it is to “bring hope and be with the people.”  When asked what does hope look like, his quick, humble response was simply, “We are Christians aren’t we?”

To be honest, I didn’t fully comprehend the profundity of his reply.  To my western, affluent ears, the words sounded rather fatalistic. Upon return to Canada, I went surfing the web for insight to what Father Walid could have meant by his reply.  I came across some writings of Ivone Gerbara, Brazilian nun/philosopher/liberation theologian who worked alongside Dom Helder Camara (grandfather of liberation theology).  She offers similar sentiment:

 God is our hope because we want to go beyond the terror, violence, and fear that crush us. God is our hope because we often have no visible hope, because the haze of fear that envelops us seems terrifying. God is our hope as the ultimate cry for justice: a no to unjust killing, to arms and armies, and a yes to dignified life. God is our hope in our despair…For this reason, within the mystery of our lives, God is our hope.

When we suffer or share in the suffering of others, our compassion for others deepens. It has been said that the difference between “sympathy” and “empathy” is that in the former instance one “feels with” (i.e., has feelings of tenderness for) those who suffer. One becomes aware there are 1.2 million refugees now living in Lebanon. With “empathy” one almost is able to “get inside” the one who suffers—because the one offering comfort has been there!  For example, we have met Amlah (not real name) and two of her children and she invited us into her current home, a UNHCR-provided tent.

If you choose to enter into other people’s suffering, or to love others, you have to consent in some way to the possible consequences.Ita Ford, Maryknoll sister, murdered in El Salvador 1980.

While our learning tour group has not suffered as those we met during our days in Lebanon, we will share in their suffering.  We will have images, names and faces, not just statistics, because we have been there.  We will be changed people.  There will be consequences. Thanks to the awful grace of God.

Prayer:  May acceptance of our brokenness, of our healing, of our being called to serve, be a sign of our faith in the ongoing goodness of a God who journeys with us– in the power and love to remove any barrier within and among us; in the mystery of the challenge given to each one to make bread and life and beauty available to everyone. Amen.