Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Day of Peace

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

September 21 is marked on our kitchen calendar as the International Day of Peace.

Outside the United Nations is the peace bell, constructed in 1954 from coins donated by children from throughout the world. For the last 30 years this bell has been rung on this day in hope that today's children may see a world less damaged by the hatred and war of past and present.

It may well be that the sound of the bell will be drowned out this week by all clamor surrounding the proposal to the United Nations for Palestinian statehood debating whether this action is an appeal for peace or a declaration of war, whether it demonstrates the value of the world community coming together or whether this action is indeed "unilateral," whether the preferred way is that of non-violence or once again of reliance on the strength of weapons, and most of all whether the future of Middle East children should still be held hostage to political purposes and promises. 

"Pray without ceasing," says Paul.

We therefore submit to you a Prayer for Peace written earlier this summer by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem:

 Isaiah 2:1-5; 11:9
“In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of themountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it….”
“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of theknowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea….”

Almighty and Merciful God, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, you gathered the first Christians inJerusalem. Grant that, like the first church of Jerusalem, we may come together, and withcourage, we may preach and live the Word, and the good news of truth, reconciliation, andpeace.

God Creator, Giver of Life, Bearer of Pain, Initiator of Love, you made the world andeverything in it. You created the human race in your image and likeness, and gave us the earthfor all to share. Break down the walls that separate us.

God of Justice, your generosity is without bounds. Guard us from selfishness; inspire us to beinstruments of love, and witnesses of your mercy and justice. Help us to face challenges and tostruggle against all that is born of injustice. Lead us to act together in places and situations ofwant and need: where families are driven from their homes, where the vulnerable suffer in thehands of the powerful, where poverty and unemployment destroy lives.

God of Hope, you continue to call us to work for Peace in our world, broken and wounded byinjustice, violence, and indifference. Alone, we are overwhelmed by challenges but together,and inspired by your Spirit, we can prevail beyond dreams and imagination. In fear we losehope, and feel the futility of our efforts. Instill in our hearts and minds the image of yoursuffering and compassionate love as a source of courage and strength.

God, Protector of the widow, the orphan and the stranger, in a world where many know despair,you raised your Son Jesus Christ to give hope for humanity and renewal to the earth. Strengthenand unify your Church against the forces of evil in this part of the world, where aggression of allforms, killings and the blood of martyrs shed even in places of worship, obscure the hope of anew life.

God of Peace and Mercy, inspire nations to transform oppression and violence into freedomand peace for the sake of the poor, the vulnerable and the broken-hearted. Help us to respect andpromote the equality and dignity of all, particularly in your Holy Land. Grant discernment toleaders and legislators, that righteousness and truth may flourish among all peoples throughoutthe world.

God our Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ, who taught us to yearn through prayerfor the coming of your Kingdom. You are able to accept in us what we cannot acknowledge; toname in us what we cannot bear to speak of; to hold in your memory what we tried to forget.

Teach us to pray together to resist the evil and oppression by our non-violent actions and love forone another. May your Son’s earthly life be the model for our own, as we recognize yourpresence and guidance through all our joys and tribulations.

We pray these in the name of the Risen Lord, and in the power of His Spirit. Amen.

 Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
Statement Concerning
Upcoming Palestinian UN Statehood Bid

Looking toward the upcoming Palestinian UN Statehood Bid, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem released a statement last week (Sept. 12). We invite you to read the statement below:
Looking ahead to the upcoming General Assembly of the United Nations in this September 2011 and the bid for Palestinian statehood, the Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem feel the need to intensify the prayers and diplomatic efforts for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, see this as the most appropriate time for such an opportunity, and thus wish to reiterate the following principles upon which we agree: 
  • A two-state solution serves the cause of peace and justice
  • Israelis and Palestinians must live each in their own independent states with peace, security and justice, respecting human rights, according to international law.
  • Negotiations are the best way to resolve all outstanding problems between the two sides.
  • Palestinians and Israelis should exercise restraint, whatever the outcome of the vote at the United Nations.
  • Jerusalem is a Holy City to the followers of all three Abrahamic faiths, in which all people should be able to live in peace and tranquility, a city to be shared by the two peoples and the three faiths.  
Thus, we call upon decision makers and people of good will, to do their utmost to achieve the long awaited justice, peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians so that the prophecy of Prophet David is lived again:
"Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
(Ps. 85: 10)
From Fred & Gloria Strickert

Saturday, September 3, 2011

September 20

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

September 20 is a day circled on most calendars around here.

On September 20, the Palestinian Authority will officially request the United Nations for recognition of Statehood.  As of this first week in September, no one really knows what will come of this bid for statehood.

  • Celebration that non-violence wins out in the end?
  • Suppression by the military powers of the world?
  • Frustration that gives way once again to extremism?
Currently, two-thirds of the world's nations are on record in support of Palestinian statehood. Yet after 63 years of the Israeli state, the word from Tel Aviv is No, and as for the USA, the world's public advocate for democratic values and non-violence. . . .  well, we'll just have to wait until September 20.

September 20.

It seems like we've been down this road before. Only it was September 16. And the year was 1975.

September 16.

Then it was the nation of Papua New Guinea declaring Independence and seeking recognition from the UN and the world community of nations.  Only it was 1975.  September 16, 1975.

It's hard to believe that it was 36 years ago when Gloria & I were just ready to begin our ministries with a six-year position in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea.

It was just about this time of September in 1975, with tickets in hand, when the phone call came from our global mission sending agency informing us that our departure date had been postponed.

"We have some concerns," they said. "It's too unpredictable."

This independence thing. This statehood thing.

Mind you we had moved out of our apartment, having sold or given away most of our belongings, and were living out of a suitcase with Gloria's family in Nebraska, where the tall corn grows.

"Just another month," they said.  "After independence--September 16."

We made it just fine, Gloria, I, and our two year old daughter Angela.

We arrived in Papua New Guinea the first week of October, 1975--after independence--after September 16.
The stories we heard were fascinating.
  • Some Australian government workers, NGOs, and missionaries had deserted the country, convinced that the door was now open for Chinese expansion, leap-frogging South-east Asian islands to invade and conquer the Australian continent.
  • Others, missionaries included, slept with suitcases packed under their beds and ready to go at a moments notice.
  • But most spoke wisely, "It's not about us!  Shouldn't we be supporting the local people in this historic day?"
All that was soon forgotten as we watched the lives of Papua New Guineans unfold in amazing ways now in control of their own destinies.

And we were priviledged to accompany them.
Six years later as we stood at the airfield to return to the states, among our biggest regrets was not being in PNG on that historic September 16.

September 20, 2011

Now we await September 20, 2011 -- an equally historic day.

 Palestinians seeking statehood by peaceul means, seeking fulfillment of
  • a dream planted by T.E.Lawrence (of Arabia) nearly a century ago when Britain sent him with promises of self-determination in return for throwing off the yoke of Ottoman rule;
  • a whole series of reports in the 1930s, like the Peel commission, that sought a solution to Europe's problems by finding a homeland for Jews in a predominantly Arab land;
  • the Nov. 29, 1947 United Nations Partition vote that sought to create two nations side by side;
  • the Camp David accords of Jimmy Carter fame which established peace for Israel with Egypt conditioned on promises of a West Bank State;
  • the Oslo Accords of 1993 that demanded Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel as the starting point of a process expecting reciprocity in return;
  • and hundreds of other diplomatic initiatives that always hit a dead end.
Why so many delays?  Why the wait?  Why is it that the powerful of the world are so reluctant to share power?

Spin doctors and politicians have always placed blame in one direction
although it would seem logical that a two-state solution
would assume failures on two sides and blame on two sides,
as well as accomplishments and achievments on two sides,
concessions and sacrifices on two sides,
responsibilities and assurances on two sides,
for the benefit, well-being, prosperity, and security of two sides
to be celebrated simultaneously by two sides
because the fiuture of the two sides is ultimately one.

Ultimately it is not ours to decide whether or not the Palestinian Authority should apply for statehood on September 20.  Our role is to be here in accompaniment and to offer a little interpretation.  Click here to read a selection of articles on the CMEP website.  Click here to see links to a few stories in the local media this week.
Why is it that so many Americans view the Palestinian situation so differently than do much of the rest of the world?  Who knows?  But perhaps it has something to do with cornfields (that's where the presidential candidates are hanging out these days.)  Cornfields?

Cornfields and terraced hillsides

Cornfields? Really? When driving on Interstate 80 across Iowa or Nebraska, all those rows of corn merge together so that it's easy to forget they are individual stalks spaced 30 inches apart.

How often is it that people approach the situation here with a bit of historical amnesia, forgetting the many life-shaping events that have taken place over the last century or more, such as all those unfulfilled promises of statehood, or all those events where bit by bit the land has been stripped away so that the possibility of a viable Palestinian state is slipping away.  The individual stalks of corn are lost, blurred together, and only remotely resembling the reality that exists when one stops the car and strolls through the rows.                                                                                                                                                            Palestinian farming is quite different. 
A Sunday afternoon drive north through the West Bank to Nablus or Jenin winds through a picturesque landscape of terraced hillsides following the natural contour of the land.  There each individual olive tree stands out with its own story to be told.  Just as each tree has witnessed a succession of generations with their joys and sorrows, accomplishments and tragedies, so the people of the land are not so prone to forget.

Mornings in Jenin
It has been suggested that what Palestinians have lacked is their own narrative.  Yes there are history books and political and apologetic tracts.  But a popular narrative has been missing, at least in the West.

The Kite Runner has opened eyes to the history and culture of Afghanistan.

Leon Uris' novel Exodus and the 1960 award-winning Paul-Newman-starring film did that for our generation about Israel. 

Yes, they are both fiction, but fiction has a way of taking a complicated issue and making it manageable.  It also has the capacity of drawing the reader into empathy with the other, helping one to listen to the other side of the story.  If there's one thing that's been missing in the western media, it's been empathy.

We've both recently read the novel Mornings in Jenin and recommend it highly. It  tells the story of four generations of a refugee family from Jenin-- the largest Refugee Camp in Palestine -- beginning in 1941 in the village of Ein Hod, (now home to an Israeli artists colony) near Haifa. The story is told  through the eyes of the family patriarch's granddaughter Amal-- spelled in Arabic  with a double "A" meaning "the strongest hope."  Besides helping to understand the conflict, Mornings in Jenin opens a window to Palestinian culture and to Islam as it is commonly practiced.                                                                         
Susan Abulhawa, the author, was born into a refugee family in Jenin and now makes her home in Pennsylvania.  Click here to read more about the book.                                                             Check out Amazon and Barnes Noble online for info.
In Mornings in Jenin  each olive tree tells the story it has witnessed through the generations and refuses to forget.

Each olive tree will be there to witness what develops on September 20.

by Fred & Gloria Strickert