Our New Year’s Prayer of hope

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

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

MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

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Connecting Honduras and working for peace

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

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

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

MCC LACA photo from Honduras

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

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

MCC LACA photo from Honduras

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

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

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

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

MCC LACA photo from Honduras (group)

(MCC Photo: Jill Steinmetz)

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

Remembering the saints

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

The Saints that connect faith with justice

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

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

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges

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

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

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

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

-Rebekah Sear, Policy Analyst

“She didn’t die, she multiplied”

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

Berta Caceres

“In defense of life, we resist.”

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

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

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

-Anna Vogt, Director

Quiet saints

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

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

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

Siegfried and Margaret Janzen, Petitcodiac NB

Siegfried and Margaret Janzen

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

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

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

-Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant

Prayer for World Refugee Day

June 20 is designated by the United Nations as World Refugee Day — a day to commemorate the strength, courage and resilience of refugees around the world. MCC offers worship resources to mark World Refugee Day with listening, learning, prayer, and giving. The following intercessory prayer was written by Brian Dyck, MCC Canada Refugee and Migration Coordinator. May you be inspired to offer hospitality and hope to refugees. 

 

Refugee

Prayer of Intercession

Our loving and compassionate God, we know you grieve

where there is violence,
where there is oppression,
where there is hatred
in the world.

We know you stand with the refugees in our world today, just as you stood with our ancestors in the faith who were compelled to flee their homes,

like Moses,
like Ruth,
like Jeremiah,
like Paul,
and even like Jesus and his parents.

We pray for comfort for those who mourn. We hold before you

those who have lost their homes,
those who have lost their communities,
those who have lost their families.
We grieve with them and long to reach out to them
to bring your healing comfort.

We pray for peace, O God. We pray that those who bring war will change their ways and beat their swords into plowshares. We pray for meaningful reconciliation in broken communities where hate is sown in the soil of prejudice and watered by our indifference.

We pray for courage and wisdom as we look for ways to be your agents of comfort and peace in a world that needs your holy and healing touch. We pray this in the name of Jesus. AMEN

 

 

From hand to hand to hand: The journey to North Korea

This piece by Julie Bell, a senior writer and editor for MCC, was originally published by MCC Canada on December 2, 2017.  We share this piece again in our Ottawa Notebook in light of the international summit Canada is hosting this week on North Korea.

PYONGYANG, DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea) – It’s been a long trek for these eight small bags of medical supplies. They have been packed and re-packed, crossed an ocean, passed through three countries and numerous airport security checks.

On this day the bags have reached their destination – a small medical clinic on a farm near Pyongyang.

North Korea story 2

Julie Bell, MCC Canada senior writer and Chris Rice, MCC representative for Northeast Asia, with medical staff at clinic near Pyongyang. MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

As I watch my MCC colleague, Chris Rice, hand one of the bags to the medical staff, I am humbled by the significance of this small gesture. Rice and I, and two of our MCC colleagues, are in DPRK at a time when tensions between this country and other parts of the world are running high. On this day, U.S. president Donald Trump is in the region and most people, including the people of DPRK, are aware of that.

And yet, the story of how the medical kits came to be is what matters most in this moment. Through translation, we tell the medical staff we have come to DPRK to visit some of the projects supported by MCC; including providing canned meat and soybean products to orphanages and schools and agricultural support on their farm. But their faces light up when we tell them that it was a conversation during a previous visit to the farm that prompted a collaboration of people around the world.

North Korea story 3

A farm near Pyongyang, DPRK, where MCC has provided agricultural support. MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

During that visit, medical staff told MCC about accidents on the farm – everything from cuts and scrapes to sprains and broken bones. Word of the need for medical supplies travelled through MCC’s regional office in South Korea and on to MCC offices in Canada and the U.S. We decided to put together medical kits and consulted with medical experts, both in and outside MCC, on what the kits should contain. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to buy the supplies and they were delivered to our material resources warehouse in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

That’s where Natalie Gulenchyn, a long-time volunteer at the resource centre got involved.  She cut the fabric and sewed the bags, complete with MCC’s iconic dove logo.

North Korea story 4

Natalie Gulenchyn, who is in her eighties and volunteers at MCC’s material resources warehouse in Winnipeg sewed the medical kit bags that were transported to DPRK. MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

Everything was packed into a piece of luggage, which travelled with me from Winnipeg to Beijing, China.

In Beijing, we checked to make sure everything was okay and re-packed the luggage.

The luggage crossed its last border when we travelled to Pyongyang in DPRK. In yet another hotel room, we moved the supplies – from bandages to surgical tape and disposable gloves – into the eight bags lovingly sewn by Natalie.

North Korea story

Julie Bell, MCC Canada senior writer and Chris Rice, MCC representative for Northeast Asia, along with medical staff at a farm clinic near Pyongyang, DPRK. MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Now, as the nurses and a doctor at the clinic thank us for the supplies, I am so grateful for all the hands and hearts involved in bringing these simple gifts here. Donors, volunteers, MCC workers and their families – these people made it happen.

On this day, the hostilities and harsh rhetoric of current times are irrelevant. I think about the many references in the Bible to “do the work of God’s hands.” The call to carry gifts of comfort and words of peace is the only truth that matters.

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.

destruction_old_homs_syria

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.