In the Migrant Journey

The following prayer was written by Saulo Padilla, Director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Saulo came to Canada as a political refugee from Guatemala in the 1980s and is now a U.S. immigrant. He wrote this prayer as he participated in The Migrant Trail, a 75-mile walk along the U.S. /Mexico borderlands, intended to bear witness to those who have died along the trail in search of a better life in the U.S. We offer Saulo’s prayer in light of the tragic deaths of migrants in San Antonio this week.

I walk with my brothers and sisters in desolation.
Are you here God?
Please don’t be far.
I am afraid and my soul is trembling.
You cried in Gethsemane, come cry with me.

Walking on the highway with border patrol.
Many hunt for us and we are accused of breaking the law;
You have been persecuted,
come be our witness,
defend our cause.

Make known the roots of our suffering and the causes of our journey.
Make public that our intentions are in accord to your law.

Intercede for those who walk with us in this path.
Make their rights be known,
and their voices be heard.

Migrant shoes
Guide the feet of those who get lost.
You know the darkness.
Hold our hands.
In the dim night shine your light and direct our path.

Restore the lands of our ancestors.
Bring justice to our people.
Pour rain on their crops,
and give them peace to harvest their fruit.

Anxiety and fear are our companions in our journey;
replace them with peace and hope.

Nurture our spirits while we are far from home.
Be with our loved ones.
Do not let time erase the way back home,
so that we may not live in exile forever.

Crossing into Sesabe, Mexico and having a prayer service at a church there.
The desert is arid and thirst awaits us.
You know the desert.
You’ve been exiled.
Come walk with us,
and bring a fountain of justice into our lives.

Sow seeds of peace and justice in the hearts and minds of those who resist our journey.
Let us be seeds of peace and hope in our new home, this land of our exile. Amen.

Advocacy, living water and a prayer for parliamentarians

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. … whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:10, 14

If Jesus offered you a drink of “living water” what would you hope to receive from it? What would you need from the water?

These were questions asked by Kati Garrison from MCC’s liaison office at the UN in New York, as she led a devotional during a recent gathering of staff from MCC’s three advocacy offices (Ottawa, Washington and the UN). Kati was reflecting on the story of Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well — a passage  made familiar by Sunday School and the occasional sermon — and relating it to the work of advocacy.

I personally have never really considered what it might mean for me to receive “living water.” And in particular, what support and strengthening do I need for working in advocacy?

un-3

Staff from MCC’s advocacy offices pose in front of famous words from Isaiah, near the United Nations offices in New York.  MCC photo/Doug Hostetter

Each participant at the gathering was encouraged to write their response on a piece of paper shaped like a drop of water and to place it in an empty pitcher. At a later point, we were each invited to receive some “living water” by returning to the pitcher and removing a drop. I had written “hope” on the drop I deposited and found “peace” on the drop I received. May I offer hope to those needing an advocate and may I find peace for the long journey that is advocacy.

Kati also encouraged us to remember that it was to a Samaritan woman that Jesus first offered a drink of living water. She was someone the disciples viewed as “other.” In our current contexts, who do we view as “other”? How can we see past their “otherness” to see one another as human beings and find God’s light in each other?

In our work in advocacy, it is often all too easy to see politicians as “other.” We sometimes forget that they are people, too, struggling with difficult decisions and challenges. Sometimes we only see them as the government or part of a particular political party and not as individuals like ourselves seeking to make a difference in the world. Occasionally we may even see parliamentarians and civil servants as part of the problems we are seeking to solve or the challenge we are trying to overcome, rather than a part of the solution as God intended.

The Peace Tower at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

In less than two weeks, parliamentarians will be returning to Ottawa to resume the first session of the 42nd Parliament. Here in the Ottawa Office we will be watching a number of government initiatives including: a possible peacekeeping mission in Africa, the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, the government’s ongoing response to the Syrian refugee crisis, and next steps following consultations and reviews around international humanitarian assistance and defence. As we monitor these and other issues, we will also be praying for those “others” that we may hear each other, understand each other, and find God’s light in one another.

Lord,

Thank you for the gift of living water and the love, hope, peace, courage, trust, patience, community, and so much more that it provides. As we receive this gift may we also find ways to be “living water” for others. May we offer hope, understanding, strength, compassion, love, and light to those we meet and interact with each day as we seek to make this world a better place.

We pray for parliamentarians who face long days filled with meetings, debates and events, while away from their families for weeks at a time. Grant them strength and wisdom to make difficult decisions around complex issues. May they have the patience to hear the voices of all those concerned. May we see them as individual people seeking to serve the people of Canada and not just part of a particular party or system.

We pray for government officials and civil servants that they may receive wisdom as they advise members of Parliament, understanding as they work to implement government decisions and policies, and patience as they strive to work within systems that do not always value people.

We pray for all the support staff working in the high pressure environment of Parliament Hill that they too may find strength, wisdom and patience as they assist with the work of government.

May God’s light shine through each of us, casting away the shadows so that we may truly be revealed to each other.

AMEN

By Monica Scheifele, program assistant in the Ottawa Office.

 

A prayer for peace in August

by Joanna Hiebert Bergen, peacebuilding and advocacy coordinator for MCC Manitoba. This is one of a series of prayer services for peace that she has written for MCC staff and volunteers. 

During the month of August, MCC Manitoba invites you to join us in prayers for peace. The theme comes from 1 Corinthians 13, with its focus on faith, hope and love.

Faith and hope abide alongside love as a triad, those elements of our spiritual journey that allow for perseverance. We acknowledge a God who lived with us in the person of Jesus, exemplifying all three of these elements. God continues to show up in our world in visible and invisible ways, manifest through encounters with the natural world and with one another, pointing us to faith, hope and love.

As we take time to reflect on the work of peace in a broken world, may there be comfort taken from the verses of 1 Corinthians 13. “And now I will show you the most excellent way…”

Prayer

Amina Ahmed, a Nigerian peacebuilder 5th from the right, leads a group of MCC staff and partners in prayer, Jos, Nigeria, 2014. MCC photo/Dave Klassen

Gathering Reflection:

In what or whom do we place our faith? What pulls us in, hooks us into believing salvation lies in this or that promise? Political personalities, larger than life, demand our attention with promises of something better, retail markets lead us to believe possessions will foster the good life, and even communities of faith can promise a sense of belonging with programs and activity options. Ultimately, a sense of inner peace and security calls for embracing the mystery of God’s presence, both the visible and invisible.

During this summer, our hearts are breaking for those murdered in Paris, Nice, Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad, Medina… for those who love them, and for all who are suffering atrocities in Syria, in Palestine and Israel, in Central African Republic, in Nigeria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Myanmar, in inner-city Canada and America, and other places around our nation and world too numerous to name.

In what or in whom do we place our faith?

Reading:

Psalm 116

Context: 

Richard Rohr, Franciscan contemplative, writes the following, Both Jesus’ and Paul’s notion of faith is much better translated as foundational confidence or trust that God cares about what is happening right now.”   The Psalmist trusts that God will deliver him, indeed has delivered him from anguish, distress and sorrow, tears and stumbling–deep-seated emotions that can overwhelm the sense of hope for a more just future. God sees and listens, understands and delivers.

As people of faith, we are called to live into the darkness as people of the light, resting in the goodness of God despite a climate of fear and terror. There are many manifestations of goodness that affirm this faith. Take a few minutes to contemplate where you have experienced God’s caring presence in recent months.

Prayer of the People:

God of surprises,
You call us:
From the narrowness of our own lives to new ways of being with one another,
From the captivities of our culture to creative witness for justice,
From the smallness of our horizons to the bigness of Your vision.

Clear the way in us, your people,
That we might call ourselves and others to freedom and renewed faith.

Jesus, wounded healer,
You call us:
From preoccupation to the daily tasks of peacemaking,
From privilege to pilgrimage,
From insularity to inclusive community.
Help us to overcome our fears of ‘the other’–
To seek understanding and listen with an open heart to stories outside of our own imagining.

Clear the way in us, your people,
That we might call ourselves and others to wholeness and integrity.

Holy, transforming Spirit,
You call us:
From fear to faithfulness,
From clutter to clarity,
From a desire to control to deeper trust.

Clear the way in us, your people,
That we might know the beauty and the power and the danger of the gospel.

 Sending:

Go in faith to be part of
The new creation of human community.
Go in love to take the hand of those who suffer and long for peace.
Go in peace.

Zambia prayer

Participants in an MCC-sponsored peace club in Lusaka, Zambia end their meeting with prayer. MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

Peace is not achieved by saying, “We want peace,” but by working for it

This blog was written by Amy Eanes, who lives and works in Istmina, Choco (Colombia) as part of the MCC Seed program. This blog was first posted on the Seed Blog

Peace building in the context of the armed conflict, government neglect, and poverty is an enormous and multifaceted challenge, but in my role as a Seeder with the Mennonite Brethren Churches of Chocó, Colombia, I interact with many who are diligently laboring to that end, often far from the spotlight. I sat down with Arosa Palacio, a member of the Jerusalem Mennonite Brethren Church in Istmina, Chocó, to talk about her life and experiences as a person who has been displaced by the armed conflict and has worked for justice in her community.

Originally from Chocó, Arosa and her family were living in another part of img_2332-web-editColombia when intense violence forced them to flee their home and return to the department in the mid-1990s. “Chocó was our refuge of peace,” she says, adding that illegal armed groups had not yet arrived.

Protecting their children and removing them from a violent context was their top priority. Upon arriving in Istmina, Arosa and her family sustained themselves through mining and agriculture, traveling down the San Juan River to work in various communities.

Three years after their displacement, she joined a group of displaced persons that had begun organizing, led by a local teacher. Under Law 387 of 1997, displaced persons were recognized and guaranteed assistance and protection in their process of resettlement. But, as Arosa explains, when the people went to claim their status at the level of local government, “they didn’t want to respond or accept the responsibility because they saw us as beggars. They rejected any formal declarations if the people arrived dirty or without shoes, but if you arrived well-groomed, they asked how you could really be displaced if you were clean.” As a result, the group organized trainings on human rights and a trip to Bogotá to meet with government entities to advocate for their situation as victims who had not received legal recognition.

The group’s advocacy efforts enabled them to gain official status as displaced persons but did not achieve the financial reparations that were their right. “They didn’t collaborate with us, economically,” she says, “but with recognition of our status.”

img_9278-editWith backing by the Catholic diocese, the association of displaced persons started an agricultural initiative of raising fish, pigs, and chickens. Though it did provide employment for many people during its time, the initiative ultimately proved to be unsustainable.

Arosa continued to work with the organization’s leadership and was later selected as its vice president. “They liked my way of working in respect and solidarity with the people,” she says.

Despite decades of work with the association, roadblocks remain: “I don’t have answers to respond to the needs of the communities…. I’m watching how things are going, but I also see that the government isn’t responding and isn’t fulfilling its responsibilities. The same people who wrote the law are violating it. We have been victims of violence, and now we are victims of the government.”

img_1559-editAcknowledging the power of prayer and the hope that she has for God to intervene in their situation, she states, “Peace is not achieved by saying ‘We want peace,’ but by working for it.” Just as Jesus preached and fed the multitudes, so too the work of the church should preoccupy itself with both spiritual and physical needs. “Jesus, with the little that he had, fed the five thousand and had baskets of leftovers. The disciples who were with Jesus, when they saw the hunger of the people, told Jesus to send them away, but Jesus, guided by the Holy Spirit, was able to meet their physical needs. This is the Christian life,” she says, “to see reality through the eyes of Jesus.”

In addition to accompanying displaced persons in her community, participating actively in the Mennonite Brethren Church, and her role as a mother and grandmother, over the past twenty years Arosa has served as foster mother to approximately fifty children who have arrived at her door in a state of malnutrition and neglect. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit to feed the multitude, her passion to meet the needs of the people in her community and work towards justice is real and breathing despite the years of struggle and injustice.

Please pray for the Mennonite Brethren Churches in Chocó, their regional projects, and the women and men who work for peace in the midst of such difficult circumstances.

A prayer for Earth Day

In honour of Earth Day, we share this creation prayer from a 2012 worship resource produced by our friends and colleagues at KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.

IMG_20140611_134019ONE: 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.

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.Pokerflower

Feeding hope

It seems an odd thing to admit during Advent, but—full disclosure here—the last number of years I’ve sometimes had difficulty hanging on to hope.

Maybe it’s partly the line of work. After all, as the media continually reminds us, we are no strangers to things falling apart.

0sp0454a

A woman bursts into tears during the morning meeting at the village which was shelled during an overnight artillery raid outside Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine. MCC Photo by Sergey Ponomarev

Every day we read accounts of people displaced by conflict and war. Personal stories coloured by sickness, loneliness, and loss. Reports of broken political systems and structural injustices our governments do too little to rectify. Admittedly, the chaotic spin of the world can leave me feeling off-kilter, unnerved, and groping for answers…

We say that God’s peace will come to its fullness.

But sometimes the price of our experience is high. As a person committed to the Christian story, perhaps my hope is not supposed to wax and wane. Yet there can sometimes be an unbearable mismatch between predictable theological explanations and the unpredictability of our lived realities.

But this Advent season, in spite of (or maybe because of?) this dissonance, I am on a personal journey to retrieve hope. It’s a journey that is leaving me at once fascinated, inspired, and befuddled in equal measure.

What exactly is hope? Is it endless optimism under-girded by a certainty that “things will work out”? A mental or emotional state? A gift that comes from holding tight to a particular theological narrative?

Is hope practical—a pragmatic tool to help you navigate the muck-and-mire of life? Or is it about shattering the practical so that new possibilities can be dreamed, imagined, and birthed?

For all its mystery, I know that hope is important. I know because I’ve wrestled with the apathy, resignation, and despair that befriend you in its absence.

“Hope,” American poet Emily Dickinson famously penned, “is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul,/And sings the tune without the words,/And never stops — at all.”

There is something really beautiful about this image of hope as a winged melody-maker—a constant friend that “no storm” can break, and that keeps you warm on “the chilliest land,/And on the strangest sea.”

Hope is always present, she says, and “yet never, in extremity…asked a crumb of me.”

This, truth be told, is where Dickinson loses me. In my own eye-of-a-storm, swimming-upstream, wandering-in-a-desert (or whatever other metaphor) kind of moments, I’ve often waited for hope to arrive, crossing my fingers that it might spontaneously re-emerge somehow.

Well, perhaps waiting is not my forte, but more and more I believe that hope does ask something—often a lot (and usually more than just a “crumb”)—of us, particularly in our darkest moments.

Hope, I think, is participatory.

In my own preoccupation with hope, I’ve been trying different images and metaphors on for size. I’ve imagined hope as a habit that must be practiced. Or as a muscle that must be flexed—a muscle that, admittedly, I’ve let atrophy in recent years. I’m still exploring what practices help me rebuild that muscle, what tools might challenge the muscle memory of cynicism (built up over years!), which can quickly pull me back into old stories and habits of thinking.

To circle back to Dickinson’s metaphor, I believe more every day that for hope to live, thrive, and be resilient, I need to feed it. After all, what you choose to feed gets stronger.

CandleIn the world of advocacy, quite frankly it isn’t hard for me to feed my cynicism. When years of political engagement result in only minor improvements to policy, and new world crises quickly overtake existing political agendas, one’s hope can be tried. Transformative change is a long process that often takes years or even decades to bear fruit.

Yet we are still called to enact hope in a world that isn’t always entirely hospitable to our dreams—to say “yes” (or even just “maybe”!) to possibility….to the surprises of the Spirit.

This is the mysterious dimension of faith—we are in relationship with the divine that admits to no easy or quick resolution for all of life’s challenges. Sometimes things change for the better; other times we don’t see a way out. And this tension is made all the more pointed, depending on what side of privilege we are on.

An honest faith must live through these “gaps,” and move forward through the shadows. This, I’m realizing, is precisely where hope lives—deeply entangled within all of life’s messy rhythms.

As American novelist Anne Lamott wrote, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

Though for me it requires more than a dash of vulnerability and a pinch of risk, this Advent season—the season of light birthed in the midst of darkness—I am committed to giving more than a crumb to hope.

Jenn Wiebe is the Interim Ottawa Office Director

A prayer for peace in the Middle East

This prayer was written by Steve Plenert, peace program coordinator for MCC Manitoba.  Through the month of August, MCC Manitoba has organized weekly gatherings for staff and constituents to pray for peace with justice in the Middle East.  This prayer was written for use on August 29, 2014.

Volunteers wearing MCC and Al Najd Development Forum vests deliver mattresses to families who opened their homes to other Gazans displaced by the Israel-Hamas conflict. MCC provided $35,000 of bedding and related supplies that were distributed through partner organization Al Najd in late July. (Photo courtesy of Al Najd Development Forum)

Volunteers wearing MCC and Al Najd Development Forum vests deliver mattresses to families who opened their homes to other Gazans displaced by the Israel-Hamas conflict. MCC provided $35,000 of bedding and related supplies that were distributed through partner organization Al Najd in late July. (Photo courtesy of Al Najd Development Forum)

Lord God,

We pray to you for peace in this day.  We give you thanks for life, for love, for hope and for goodness.  And we give you thanks for peace.  Sometimes it feels that peace is elusive both within our hearts and in the world.  We ask that we might know and understand your peace and your way of peace.  We pray that our world – your world – would experience true peace in the ways incarnated in Christ and in ways that reflect your coming Kingdom. Forgive our doubts, our faintness of heart, and our complicity with structures of violence. Guide us and all the earth into the ways of peace.

O God, we give you thanks for the ceasefire in Gaza. We grieve the deaths of Palestinian civilians, especially children, even while we mourn the loss of all human life and are grateful that the bombs have stopped.**  We pray that the blockade of Gaza will end. We pray, O God, that against all odds and predictions, this ceasefire would lead to a lasting truce with the conditions for true justice and reconciliation for Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and Jews.  We pray that as children of Abraham we would all learn to see each other as a blessing to all nations.

Our hearts remain troubled with the plight of the Yazidi people of Iraq. We pray for mercy, kindness and justice for them and for all. We pray that the Yazidi would experience alleviation of their distress. O God, the fruits of your Spirit are needed in every region, in every corner of this world.  We pray that we would live by these fruits and be known by them also.

O Lord, for many of us these situations are distant and do not impact our day to day lives.  For those living in many parts of the Middle East the impacts are much more tangible.

For those who have lost homes – we pray to you, O God.
For those who have lost family members – we pray to you, O God.
For those whose lives and potential have been lost to their communities – we pray to you, O God.
For those who have killed in the name of their religion – we pray to you, O God.
For those who have killed in the name of the state – we pray to you, O God.
For those who have ordered killings – we pray to you, O God.
For those who have killed because they saw no alternative – we pray to you, O God.
For those who have sought to bring peace in the Middle East – we pray to you, O God.
For those who have labored to heal those injured and traumatized – we pray to you, O God.
For those who provide humanitarian assistance to those in need — we pray to you, O God
For those who negotiate ceasefires – we pray to you, O God.
For those whose lives are indirectly impacted by these conflicts – we pray to you O God.

We pray for the healing of the nations, for the healing of our own souls and for the healing of people in the Middle East.  Lord have mercy on your children.  Listen to your children praying.  Amen.

 

** As of August 28, 2014, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the  Occupied Palestinian Territory  noted the following: “Palestinian fatality toll is 2,104, of whom 1,462 have been identified as civilians, including 495 children, according to preliminary assessments… As of August 20,  10,224 Palestinians, including 3,106 children and 1,970 women and 368 elderly, have been injured. The cumulative Israeli fatality toll is 69, of whom at least four were civilians, including one child, in addition to one foreign national killed in Israel.”