NEWS RELEASE – Coffee for Peace

Coffee for peaceJoji Pantoja started working in Mindanao, Philippines with her husband as a Mennonite missionary with a vision to help in peace building. They were trying to better understand one of the longest armed conflicts in the world—the war between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. While doing their peace and reconciliation work among the conflicted groups in Mindanao, they began offering coffee to both disagreeing parties.  The goal was to try to encourage them to resolve their issues through dialogue over a cup of coffee. It seemed as long as coffee was available, peaceful talk would continue. Since then, they coined those events “Coffee for Peace.”

coffee for peace 2Their dream expanded as they saw the need for a safe place to talk about peace issues in Davao City. Their small coffee shop was established and became known among peace workers and non-government personnel. The need for coffee supplies increased over time and they were brought to various tribal communities who had been marginalized. Their lands were reluctantly leased for 25 years to big companies and multinational corporations at a very low price. The lease payments were not enough to sustain the tribal people, even for basic needs.  They, in turn, needed to borrow money from those same big businesses, which left them dependent and impoverished. Coffee for Peace is now a social enterprise that seeks to help advance justice and peace through finding a market that would pay fair price for the farmers’ labor and produce.  They strive to protect their environment by planting more trees side by side with Arabica trees and are committed to building peace in Mindanao.

Submitted by Jessica Peachey,  member at Grace Mennonite Fellowship in Lacey Spring, VA.

Peace on the Hill – Above and Beyond Peace Accords

czehr_photoBy Charissa Zehr

For years the process of forging peace accords in Colombia seemed elusive. An armed conflict between government forces, guerrilla & paramilitary groups has long beleaguered the Colombian people. In 50 years of conflict, thousands have been killed, kidnapped and impacted by horrific acts of violence. Many more have been displaced from their homes, creating the largest population of internally displaced people in the world at a staggering 5.5 million people.

But since 2012 there has been some forward progress. The government and the largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have been in peace negotiations in Havana since September 2012. Now, after more than 22 rounds of peace talks, people are cautiously optimistic about the peace process.

Tentative agreement has been reached on several key points, but challenges continue. Remaining agenda items include the challenging issues of addressing the needs and reparations for victims of the conflict, as well as bringing human rights offenders to justice.

It is important to ensure that other international actors who played a significant role in funding the armed conflict for decades are also engaged in the peace process. The U.S. government has been Colombia’s largest source of foreign assistance over the last 15 years, with 60-70 percent of that aid given to the military and the so-called “war on drugs.”

For years, Mennonite Central Committee has called on the U.S. government to end military aid to Colombia, in line with our beliefs as people of peace and a vision for a future when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares…neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4) We stand with partner organizations and churches in Colombia who want to see an end to the violence in their communities and an end to damaging policies in the “war on drugs” that address only symptoms, not root causes. We support our Colombian brothers and sisters who understand that the absence of conflict will not mean immediate peace, but will require a re-imagining and re-constructing to be able to move forward.

Our government and military empire have long influenced the conflict, and now it is their responsibility to support the entirety of the peace process—not only negotiations and peace accords but supporting processes of truth, justice and victims’ rights to reparations for years to come.  A 2013 letter signed by 62 members of Congress began to bring these issues to the forefront of policy towards Colombia.

Peace will not come overnight in Colombia. Just as dawn breaks slowly over the horizon, gradually coloring the sky with imperceptible shifts, so is the process of building peace after long years of conflict. The changes may be slow at first, and special care must be given to each step of the process, building momentum and not diminishing the steps that have come before.

Read more

Timeline of peace negotiations

Analysis of peace talks

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting domestic and international issues and detailing ways the church can be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy to elected leaders.

Charissa Zehr is a Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the MCC U.S. Washington Office.

Tell Me Your Story

by Max Ediger max e

Immigration is a big issue in America.  Like so many important issues being debated, there seems to be little dialogue; only very polarized opinions, criticisms and judgments.  This is unfortunate for all of us, not just for those facing deportation.  We need to listen calmly and deeply to all the different perspectives in order to find a just solution.  Most importantly we must be willing to listen to the stories of the immigrants themselves for each of them has a very important story to tell us.

The USA policy on immigration reaches all the way here to Cambodia.  In the late 1970s, as the Khmer Rouge regime fell, the US began to resettle large numbers of Cambodian refugees to the States.  They were scattered around the different States, but ultimately many migrated to areas with a climate more similar to Cambodia and where larger numbers of Khmer people were living.  Like so many of us, the people of Cambodia like to live in community, and they best found this among their own people.

Having survived life under the Khmer Rouge and a difficult life in the refugee camps, the resettled Khmers also found their new life extremely difficult.  Many were suffering from severe trauma inflicted by war and the Khmer Rouge, but often did not receive the help they needed.  The smallest children also suffered.  Their families, still suffering from the brutality of the Khmer Rouge and not having work that could provide sufficiently, were dealing with many psychological issues which were passed down to the children.  The children grew up in low income communities and were influenced by the youth culture in these areas.

At the same time, the resettled families were often not informed of the proper processes for getting citizenship.  Many children grew up without any identity papers.  This was no problem until they got into some kind of problem such as a charge of possessing drugs, dangerous driving or street fighting.  They would be sentenced to prison for a period, and upon release were often again arrested and deported back to Cambodia because they lacked proper citizenship papers – something that should have been provided to them by the authorities where they were first resettled.

These young people abruptly find themselves in Cambodia, a country they hardly know with a language they may not speak.  In some cases they have no idea in which part of the country they were born of if they even have any living relatives here.  A few come back with severe mental problems and cannot receive the help they need to adjust to a new life.

A local organization by the name of Returnee Integration Support Center (RISC) provides valuable service to these young people as they struggle with adapting to their new life.  Not all of them can do it.  Suicides are, unfortunately, too common.  RISC, with limited funds, provides counseling services, help in getting jobs or just a place to hang out when the going gets too difficult.

This situation reflects many injustices.  One of the most glaring of the injustices is that these young people and their families were resettled in the USA by the government but were not given the proper attention needed to find a new home and solid place to live.  That same government now deports the youth when they break a law, throwing them into a new situation far from their families, their wives and children and the American life they grew up in.

As Christians we are required to care for the homeless, the hungry and the distraught.  Jesus said that what we do to the least of the people around us, we do also to him.  This must become a part of the immigration dialogue.  It will require us to listen to the stories of the immigrants with love and compassion before passing any judgment on them.

Before we make assumptions about immigrants, or pass judgment on them, let us simply ask them, “Can you tell me your story?” Perhaps we will then discover that we are entertained by angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:  1-2)

Another Map than Empire’s

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

The faith of Messiah Jesus is powerful enough to break empire’s spell.  That’s the good news.  But I get ahead of myself.

Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh, in their must-read volume on Colossians, describe our empire problem.

“Empires project a sense of all-embracing normality. Not only do empires want us to think that reality is totally composed of the structures, symbols and systems that have been imperially constructed, they also want us to believe that the future holds no more than a heightened realization of imperial hopes and dreams . . . If all the maps are provided by the empire, if all the reality we can see is what the empire has constructed as reality for us, then our praxis will never be creative, and it will never be subversive to that empire” (Colossians Remixed:  Subverting the Empire at 155-6). 

They also give us a definition of empire:   “systematic centralizations of power . . . secured by structures of socio-economic and military control.  They are religiously legitimated by powerful myths that are rooted in foundational assumptions, and they are sustained by a proliferation of imperial images that captivate the imagination of the population” (Id. at 31).

Thus, in addition to the U.S. government and its various military and security forces, the current empire includes other nations, international financial institutions and networks of private entities (global corporations, banks, media outlets, think tanks, human rights organizations, charitable foundations).  Indeed, private entities and individuals are the primary beneficiaries of empire.

Biblical faith – the faith of Jesus – breaks the spell of empire by giving us another map.  Let me try to explain.

Empire wants us to think of life here in the educated and cultured West as tragedy – well-intentioned but flawed people doing the best they can to bring a measure of peace and stability to a world too big and complex to be managed.  “We do the best we can,” our leaders say; “do you really think anyone could do better?”

Biblical faith knows about tragedy, but it speaks more about evil.  We hear it each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer:  “deliver us from evil.”  It’s what biblical faith calls what the U.S. and its allies have done over the course of a decade to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and now Ukraine.

Empire wants us to think of the U.S.A. as the “indispensable nation.”  This phrase, first used by Madeleine Albright in 1998 during the Clinton Administration, is meant to remind us how the forces of chaos would overwhelm us if the empire didn’t hold them back.

Biblical faith calls such talk idolatry – the worship of “the power of darkness” instead of YHWH.  It speaks of Jesus “disarming” empire by his death on the cross (Colossian 1:13; 2:15).

Empire wants us to live in fear of death.  It sends a parade of horribles across our flat screens so that we never forget our need for a savior.

Biblical faith associates empire with deceitfulness, especially in the book of Revelation, where empire is portrayed as a violent beast.  This bit of realism opens our eyes to what should be obvious by now: empire fights on both sides of its wars, uses stealth and subterfuge to create instability and set people against one another, and creates threats that it then boasts of saving us from.

Empire wants us to doubt our own resourcefulness.  It tells us that our future economic well-being depends on the financial wizards of Wall Street and on corporate giants who “create jobs.”

Biblical faith speaks of each dwelling under his/her own vine and fig tree, living in houses we built, eating food we grew.

Do we need an example of how compelling the empire’s map is?  Consider this: after a decade in which the Bush Administration deceived us about Afghanistan and Iraq and the Obama Administration deceived us about Libya and Syria, most of us remain as loyal as ever to the empire’s map.

That is, most of believe Secretary of State John Kerry when he tells us that Ukrainian separatists shot down Malaysian Flight 17 and that Russia helped them do it. Or that the resurgence of Sunni militants in Iraq is a shocking surprise and a new and dangerous threat.  Or that the people of Venezuela are oppressed by a corrupt government that lacks popular support.  Or that after fifty years of trying, the United States still seeks a just peace between Israel and Palestine.

People still say, “I read it in the New York Times. I heard it on NPR. I saw it on CNN.  Our leaders are doing the best they can.”

Experience, intelligence, sophistication, empathy – they all fail us as we encounter the empire’s map.  It overwhelms our best judgment and most acute faculties.  Though it repeatedly leads us to more violence, more inequality, more global warming, we remain convinced it is the only reasonable path forward.

Unless, that is, we have caught the virus of biblical faith – the yeast in Jesus’ parable of the woman baking bread.  Then we follow another map.

Editor’s Note – The Realm of Shalom

Keith 1Friends;

Looking around at the current state of the world, it is not difficult to see the implications of Empire and its worship. This month our writers offer reflections on Empire  and call us to that elusive, yet prevalent, now-and-not-yet, alternative called the Kingdom of God.

May their words encourage our resistance to that which seeks to usurp our allegiance to Christ’s realm of shalom.



Lectio Divina Paci – July 28, 2014

Monday, July 28th

for Sunday, August 3rd, 8th Sunday after Pentecost

READ: Genesis 32.22-31 “crossed,” “striven,” “struck”

REFLECT: This is not how Lectio Divina is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be one word or one short phrase, not three words. They don’t even occur in the same phrase! But this is where Scripture as the living word really comes to life for me. I’m draw to these three words and I can’t help the chuckle that comes up when I think that they would make a nice three-point sermon.

Truth be told, I have to read through the passage a number of times before a clear sense of direction begins to emerge. I land first on the word “struck,” with an image of striking the outer shell of something, so that something else inside it – some true essence or being – can emerge.

I wonder about that shell, and I wonder what I myself am striving for. Am I striving to protect that shell? Keep it from shattering? And then I see the stream that must be crossed over, and a bird’s egg on one side. That egg isn’t going to cross that stream. But a bird hatched from the egg can fly over it.

RESPOND: God, it seems that there is no end to the streams in life that must be crossed. Sometimes I feel weary when I see the next one appearing on the horizon. I’d rather just stay in my shell. Help me to trust that you are preparing the way before me, and that you will provision me with all that I need for the crossing. Help me to remember the joy and freedom of emerging from dark and cramped places.

What stream is laying before you, waiting to be crossed? What would you need in order to cross it? What in you needs to be struck, cracked open? Tell God about your hopes and hesitations. How do you sense God responding? Feel free to respond or ask questions in the comments below.

LECTIONARY TEXTS FOR THE UPCOMING SUNDAY (and for you to try on your own):

Isaiah 55:1-5 Romans 9:1-5 Matthew 14:13-21

Lectio Divina Paci is a weekly devotional guide for peacemakers in the lectio divina form. Lectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) is a traditional Benedictine practice of scripture reading, prayer, meditation, and reflection that treats scripture as the Living Word. Lectio Divina Paci is an opportunity for peacemakers to become more in tune with the voice of the Prince of Peace.

Lectio Divina Paci – July 21, 2014

Matthew 13:1-9 “choke”

Monday, July 21st

for Sunday, July 27th, 7th Sunday after Pentecost

by Audrey Hindes

READ: Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52 “pearls”

REFLECT: At the first reading of this passage, I almost dismissed the phrase “in search of fine pearls.” I thought to myself, “’pearls’ only stands out to me because they’re both my father’s and my husband’s birthstone.” But I’ve learned over time to trust praying this Lectio Divina way, to trust that the Spirit is leading and prompting me in the direction I need to go.

The next time around the image of a strand of pearls came to mind. There is a necklace like this in our family. My dad bought it for my grandmother shortly before she died. I understand that she only ever wore them in the hospital. My mom wore them for my parents’ wedding. My sister and I also wore them for our weddings. Pearls of great value, indeed!

As I continued to read, I imagined the stringing together of these pearls, each one followed by a knot to secure it. Should a string of pearls break, all the pearls would not be lost. And I began to wonder, what else do I collect and string together in my life?

A lenten small group I lead this spring centered on the Ignatian practice of the Examen, in which one reflects on the day’s consolations and desolations – the highlights and lowlights. One day we talked about how the gathering up the graces of the day was like a strand of twinkle lights. One by itself might not seem like much, but a whole strand of twinkle lights can provide quite a bit of light.

RESPOND: God, I’m a little afraid to ask, but what am I searching for, and what does this say about what I value most? Help me to set those imitation pearls down. Help me to seek out and collect only what is good and which builds up others.

What do you string together like those twinkle lights? Does it provide light and warmth to others wherever you go? Or does criticism and cynicism radiate from you instead? What does this say about what you value? Free to respond or ask questions in the comments below.

LECTIONARY TEXTS FOR THE UPCOMING SUNDAY (and for you to try on your own):

Genesis 29:15-28

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128

Romans 8:26-39

Lectio Divina Paci is a weekly devotional guide for peacemakers in the lectio divina form. Lectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) is a traditional Benedictine practice of scripture reading, prayer, meditation, and reflection that treats scripture as the Living Word. Lectio Divina Paci is an opportunity for peacemakers to become more in tune with the voice of the Prince of Peace.