No one can take away the faith in our hearts

by J. Ron Byler Ron Byler

How long, O God? Will you forget me forever? (Psalm 13:1)

Early this week, I arrived in Lebanon from where MCC staff work with a dozen partner groups in Lebanon and Syria. It has been several years since staff has been able to work from Syria or even travel there, but we continue to support relief and peace building work in communities in both countries through partner organizations.

Lebanon has a total population of only 4.5 million people but hosts about 2 million refugees, primarily from Syria. You can imagine the enormous strain this has put on the infrastructure of this small country.

The director of our partner, Permanent Peace Movement (PPM), tells us that MCC was the first outside organization that understood what they were doing and supported them in building peace in Lebanon. Another partner, Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), works in refugee settlements with women, children and families.

We visit a Syrian family in the Daouk settlement, a Palestinian gathering/neighborhood outside of the Palestinian refugee camp, who has been in Lebanon for three years. The father says he has four daughters and four sons and a number of these families are with them in this small three-room apartment. He tells me that, though he owned a large restaurant in Syria, the family left everything behind because he was only concerned about the safely of his children. He says “the future of his children has been lost because of the war in Syria.”

Last evening, we met in Beirut with three bishops of the Syrian Orthodox Church, one of our main partners in Syria in Damascus and in the region of Homs, about 100 miles north of Damascus. Bishop Selwanos offers us thanks on behalf of the families of Homs who have been assisted by MCC after their town was mostly destroyed by the bombing. He tells us that MCC’s help over many years has made him view himself as partly Mennonite! Recent help from MCC has included heaters for use during the winter season, cash supplements and hygiene kits.

Bishop Matta tells us about the situation in Damascus and about the thousands of families who have moved into his community because of the bombing in other parts of the country. He says, every day, the church has to process more than 150 baptismal certificates which are needed before people can migrate out of the country. He tells us that he wants his people to stay in Syria: “We love our country and if you want to help us, please help our people stay in Syria.”

I asked the Bishops whether, in the midst of the destruction and killing, they feel God has left them. Bishop Matta tells me that they have just one thing left – the mercy of God. He wonders whether maybe God hasn’t left them but whether the people have left God. He says that they have lost churches and schools and hospitals, and many people have been killed, but no one can take away the faith in their hearts.

This morning, as I read Psalm 13, I am challenged by the faith of these Bishops, holding fast to their faith in God, even through adversity.

Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S. and is in Sarajevo for two months, and visiting from there MCC’s programs in Lebanon, Iraq, Ukraine, Jordan and Palestine. 

 

Peace on the Hill – New raids focus on refugee families

by Tammy Alexander

Tammy A

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)

While many of us were still celebrating the Christmas season, the Obama administration began a series of immigration raids to deport refugee families. The raids began on January 2. So far, more than 100 mothers and children have been taken from homes and put into detention centers. Of these, 73 were quickly deported.

Just as Mary and Joseph took Jesus to safety in Egypt, many of these families were fleeing situations where their children’s lives were threatened—in many cases, due to widespread gang violence in the three Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Volunteer lawyers from the CARA project were able to interview 13 of the families picked up in the early January raids, finding that 12 of them had credible claims for “asylum,” or, protection, in the United States. After a judge reviewed their cases, the 12 mothers and their 21 children were granted stays of removal (a delay in their deportations).

The lawyers found that some of the mothers had had their cases heard in a “rocket docket” where they were expected to prepare evidence in a few days. Others were pressured into signing documents they did not understand. And some were arrested and detained even while complying with the asylum process requirements.

A typical raid involved five to fifteen armed immigration enforcement officers banging on the door of a home in the pre-dawn hours. Several individuals reported that the officers lied about who they were looking for, and why, in order to gain entry into a house. The new raids have struck fear into the hearts of refugees and undocumented immigrants in communities around the country.

In a press release about the raids, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson made several false claims. First, Johnson said that the families being targeted have exhausted their options for asylum. That 12 of 13 families were granted stays by a judge shows otherwise.

Second, Johnson repeated the falsehood that those being targeted are “illegal” immigrants. In fact, these families are following the legal process for requesting asylum in another country—they are crossing the border and immediately turning themselves over to Border Patrol and requesting protection.

Third, Johnson and others in the Obama administration continue to repeat the myth that such raids and other enforcement measures deter future refugees. Raids will not deter families who are afraid that staying in or returning to their homes will mean certain death.

And their fears are well founded. According to a recent report in The Guardian, since 2014, as many as 83 persons have been killed shortly after being deported to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Tell President Obama that immigration raids focused on women and children fleeing violence are inhumane and unacceptable. A sensible immigration policy would focus on the root causes of this migration and on true threats to public safety.

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.

Forgiveness of Debt

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger

 

Forgiveness of debt

What a glorious thing-

My sins are forgiven-

Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!

 

When God loses an opportunity,

There is another one in store

 

He always follows through

On his promises.

Whether it takes a day,

A year, or many years of

A lifetime

 

God is waiting for the right moment

Pay your debt, and give you freedom!

 

Forgiveness of debt-

Sins all forgiven-

What a glorious thing!

To be free to love

And find hope

In every day living

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Wasting an Election Year

by Berry Friesen

Berry f

Congregations often take pains to be scrupulously apolitical in a year when a United States (US) President is elected.

This self-censorship is sometimes justified by reference to the Internal Revenue Code, but that doesn’t wash: a congregation’s tax exempt status is in jeopardy when it makes explicit candidate endorsements, not when it preaches the social and economic implications of the Bible.

More to the point, most congregations want to avoid giving offense during a season when people are easily riled due to the charged atmosphere of an acrimonious campaign.

Out of caution, then, we likely will hear less-than-usual from our pulpits during 2016 about widows and orphans, refugees and aliens, state-sponsored violence, dealing with criminals, the responsibilities of political leaders, or how economic opportunities and burdens should be allocated.

Yet Jesus chose a time when the public’s attention was most focused on political dynamics (the annual commemoration of the Passover in Jerusalem) to highlight the most potentially offensive aspects of his message. That’s how Jesus went about “taking up his cross.”

Can we imagine 2016 as an ideal time to bring the implications of Jesus’ message to bear on life here in the US? Sure, such discussions are likely to upset some people, but amid the ferment we can depend on the Spirit of God to be at work.

Toward that end, here is a list of suggestions to be worked into sermons, adult education classes and community forums.

  1. Reading through the letters of Paul and other New Testament authors, we see no concern whatsoever about who leads the Roman Empire. One gets the impression the early church regarded it as an irrelevancy. Why is our behavior today so different? Is it only because we have elections? If we feel passionately about who should be the next Commander-in-Chief of the empire, might we have invested in the wrong kingdom?
  1. Much has been written about the anger and restlessness of the US electorate. Getting in touch with those feelings can be a doorway to compassion for our neighbors and ministry within our neighborhoods. Why are people so angry and restless?

–Over the last 25 years, US-initiated wars have caused at least four million Muslim deaths and left five Islamic nations in chaos (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen). No candidate will say so, but it is obvious that the US is targeting Islam and Muslim nations. When we affirm our welcome of Muslim refugees, can we also speak honestly about why they are refugees?

–The purchasing power of wages has hardly increased at all for working people since 1973. Yet worker productivity has increased by 72 percent over that time and the country as a whole is much wealthier. Where has all the money gone?

–Terror attacks in the US are sensationalized by the media and used by politicians to restrict individual liberties, increase military spending and legitimize war. Yet the investigations of these crimes are inexplicably narrow and media discussions are surprisingly scripted. Why?

  1. We are living in a nation whose leaders expect endless war. As they tell it (and we hear this especially during an election year), war is the price of being the world’s leader, “the one indispensable nation,” an “exceptional nation.” This is empire talk; it is the way the reigning superpower justifies violence and domination.

Yet the Bible tells us YHWH opposes empires. Is the US-led empire an exception? Should Jesus-following congregations understand themselves to be communities of resistance to this empire?

Let’s view 2016 as an opportunity to engage our communities with the Way of Jesus. Let’s not hide the light of Jesus under a bushel just because a presidential campaign is going on.

Berry Friesen lives in Lancaster, PA and is part of the East Chestnut Street Mennonite congregation in that city. He blogs at http://www.bible-and-empire.net

 

 

Balancing Acts – Hot dog!

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

John 14:6 (NIV)

We assume that people generally tell the truth; at least we assume that Christians tell the truth. We base this on our understanding that God’s nature includes truthfulness; that, as the verse above reminds us, Jesus is the truth. Jesus taught that lies come not from God, but from Satan. “When he (Satan) lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

But, we humans, as often as not, are more than willing to lie and to believe lies. We lie to get what we want. We lie to protect ourselves. We lie to make ourselves seem better than we really. We tell “little white lies.” But, Jesus says that he is truth.

We listen to lies and willingly believe them. We believe lies because they tell us what we want to hear. We believe lies because they (we think) shield us from harm. We believe lies because they flatter us into thinking we are better than we are. But, Jesus says the Satan is the father of lies.

It is difficult to know what is really true and what is not. And with the proliferation and rapid dissemination of ideas and claims possible on the internet, television, and other mass media outlets, the problem becomes very difficult indeed. I recently learned that the name of one of Americans’ favorite foods, the “hot dog,” came from the fact that it was widely believed that sausages were often made from dog meat. While not true (for the most part) people believed it to be true; hence the name!

Truth-telling is an important part of peacemaking. We can only have and promote healthy, right relationships when we tell the truth. If peace (shalom) is “things as they ought to be,” (Perry Yoder, Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace), then truth-telling is a key element. Things are not as they ought to be when we lie to one another, to God, or even to ourselves. What is true is true! No amount of trying to make it otherwise will change it. By clinging to untruth, we will most certainly cause harm to ourselves or others.

If our actions are causing harm to another, we must acknowledge the truth and change our ways. If our ideas or behavior are contrary to the nature of God and the teachings of scripture – God’s word – then we gain nothing by pretending otherwise or trying to “spin” truth to match our own wishes. “Truth will out,” says Launcelot in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Justice and peacemaking are founded on truth. We must always be careful that our claims are true. In an effort to succeed in a “good cause” we must not distort, embellish, or omit that which is true. We dishonor God and imperil our peacemaking and our well-being when we rely on lies or deception.

This would probably be a good place to end, but with the United States presidential election now really getting in to full swing, a word or two may be appropriate. Whatever party, platform, or candidate you favor, be sure to take the time to check the truth of claims and counterclaims. It is probably safe to say that all candidates, parties, and political groups will slant the truth at the least, and outright lie at the worst, all, they believe in a good cause. If we favor a given candidate or position we at least need to do so without eyes wide open and be ready to explain, truthfully, our position to others.

If you are not involved in partisan politics, including voting, nevertheless, you probably have positions on issues and will most likely (hopefully) be engaged in work to further your convictions. It is just as important to be sure you know the truth as it is for those supporting political candidates. We, all of us, can only nurture peace when we are committed to truth.

For those who might be interested, here are a couple of web sites which attempt to analyze and rate the truthfulness of candidates:

  • Politifact: produced by the Tampa Bay Times

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/

  • org: a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters

http://www.factcheck.org/

 

Still My Soul and Set To Work

By Cara Ediger

Cara Ediger

Still my soul and set to work

Find the things in life worth doing,

Find the people in life that support your life.

 

Still my soul and set to work

The time is now to go back

And sift through the clutter

And find the meaningful

 

Still my soul and set to work

Dig deep to find meaning

In every empty space of waiting

For the next step

 

Still my soul and set to work

Let God use your gifts

And build your heart up

Where love shows

 

Still my soul and set to work

In the silence of waiting

Find love where you are.

 

Still my soul and set to work

In the silence of waiting

Find love where you are.