Author: CMEP

Violence and chaos in the Middle East have left many around the world hopeless and feeling helpless. As followers of Jesus, we refuse to be sidetracked by the temptation to despair.

Prayers for Peace (P4P) provides a way for Christians of diverse political and theological backgrounds to stand up for peace and unite in supplication to God with a special focus on prayers for the Holy Land. Prayers for Peace provides Jesus’ followers with the common language of prayer around which to mobilize their energy and passion for the land that gave birth to our faith. To combat the prevailing images of discord, Prayers for Peace will highlight peace-building organizations that we may pray for them as they live out the reconciliation offered in the Prophets and Jesus’ message of peace.

 

Prayers for Peace is thankful for the partnership of our board member organization Evangelicals for Social Action in writing and sharing these prayers.

 

Ash Wednesday: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem


Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”

Psalm 122:6-8

The season of Lent is a time for solemn reflection, prayer, and repentance, leading up to Holy Week, when Jesus returned to Jerusalem, was crucified, buried, and resurrected. We enter into the season of Lent this Ash Wednesday, many of us wearing ashes on our foreheads, reminding us that it is from dust that we came, and to dust we will return. During this season, it is appropriate for us to reflect on ourselves and our world, both of which are broken and in need of repentance. As we do so, we pray with hopeful anticipation for peace and justice.

Many Christians around the world will observe this season through fasting, whether in the traditional sense from food, or in more creative means. Others will take on a new practice, whether intentional reading of Scripture, or acts of service. However you choose to observe this season, over the next forty days, Churches for Middle East Peace invites you to join with us in prayer for the peace of Jerusalem.

In Psalm 122, the Psalmist understands that the city of Jerusalem was fractured. Jerusalem literally translates to “city of peace” and yet the Psalmist understands that it is not, in fact, at peace. While the contemporary conflicts are not the same as those in the day of the Psalmist, it takes no stretch of our imaginations to look at Jerusalem and see the fractures there today.

This past year we saw protests in the streets following the Trump Administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We read about U.S. policies which would seem to only hinder a peace process. Our hearts have been broken, and our hope may be frail, but we continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and its many people.

Each Sunday this Lenten season we will examine the city’s deep meaning for the people who call it holy. We invite you to journey with us as we set aside preconceived notions and assumptions, and enter into this season of repentance, reflection, and prayer.

Dear God,

We pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and all its people. We pray for greater understanding of the fractures, and wisdom for those in positions to heal them. As we enter into this time of reflection and prayer we ask that you would show us the fractures in our own lives that also need healing so that we may repent. Where there is brokenness and conflict, we pray for your peace and justice to be made known. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Amen.

This devotion was written by Molly Lorden, the CMEP 1835 Coordinator for Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). She is also currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

<<Back to Lent Homepage

Over One Hundred Members of Congress Add Their Names to a Letter Urging President Trump to Reinstate Much-Needed Funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)

Washington, D.C., February 7, 2018: On Wednesday, 102 representatives, led by Rep. Peter Welch (VT) and Rep. David Price (NC), released a letter to President Trump urging the Administration to reconsider the recent withholding of funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) aid to Palestinian refugees.

On January 19th, the Trump Administration made the determination to withhold $65 million of its $125 million scheduled payment to UNRWA, the sole UN agency working with Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The U.S. has for many years been a main contributor to UNRWA’s humanitarian projects which include vital services such as education, healthcare, and the provision of basic humanitarian care for Palestinian refugees. CMEP strongly believes that removal of this funding undermines U.S. and Israeli security interests and will do significant harm to the Palestinian population; particularly to, children, many of whom already live below the poverty line.

Kyle Cristofalo, Government Relations Director for CMEP, states: “Defunding UNRWA has the effect of politicizing aid and undermines U.S. credibility in the region. CMEP stands behind the 102 representatives who are calling for the Administration to reverse this dangerous decision, and urge others to lend their voice and support to this cause.”

CMEP strongly opposes the Trump Administration’s recent decision to withhold UNRWA funding in that it increases the hardship of the Palestinian people and further hinders the ability to reach a comprehensive peace solution. CMEP stands in support of the Welch-Price letter, and supports the United States’ commitment to security in Israel as well as the safety and dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians. We strongly urge President Trump to heed the advice of the Welch-Price letter and fully reinstate U.S. aid to UNRWA.

Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is a coalition of 27 national church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical traditions that works to encourage US policies that actively promote a comprehensive resolution to conflicts in the Middle East with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. CMEP works to mobilize US Christians to embrace a holistic perspective and to be advocates of equality, human rights, security, and justice for Israelis, Palestinians, and all people of the Middle East.

Contact:

Katie McRoberts
katie@cmep.org
Ph. 202-543-1222
###

Interns Working Toward Peace

 

In the news today, it is impossible to miss the headlines surrounding the Middle East. It’s an extraordinarily complex and diverse region of the world, with constant and growing attention towards Israel-Palestine, leading one to often wonder if there is a way to both learn more and make a meaningful impact. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) offers this opportunity through internships, which allow interns to engage critically and make a lasting contribution towards peace in the region. Located in the heart of Washington, D.C., near Capitol Hill, CMEP is a coalition of 27 national Church denominations and organizations working to encourage U.S. policies that actively promote just, lasting and comprehensive resolutions to conflicts in the Middle East. 

CMEP helps church organizations, leaders and individuals nationwide advocate in a knowledgeable, timely, holistic, and effective way to express their concerns about justice and peace for all peoples in the Middle East. Interns are an essential part of CMEP’s vision and mission. Interns have the opportunity to engage in many areas including: Church engagement, government affairs, development, communications, non-profit administration, and research. Interns are not confined to any one area, as CMEP offers opportunities to engage critically with each dimension of the work. Interns are encouraged to work on major projects, such as event coordinating, research, and writing articles with the freedom to propose and lead their own tasks. Throughout this, interns are also given the opportunity to gain exposure and network with a broad range of organizations and groups through summits, conferences and events, in which they attend and represent CMEP. Interns are also given the opportunity to participate in government engagement activities, including attending congressional briefings and meetings with U.S. administration, the State Department, National Security Council, and other government and NGO offices. They also receive honorable mention for their work through CMEP.

To get a better idea of what CMEP internships offer, here are a few past intern experiences below:

Nick Do, an intern from the fall 2017 intern class, came to CMEP with a background in working with broad religious coalitions. Seeking an internship for his master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, CMEP offered him the opportunity to work with faith communities in service of peace.

“I was impressed with how Christians in the region — communities, individuals, as well as entire denominations — have worked hard to have an outsized voice in the conversation around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are particularly well-placed and effective at undermining the reductive narratives that often seem to take over in this context. I particularly enjoyed the work related to this fall’s advocacy summit, Choose Hope. The experience of corresponding with congressional offices, setting up meetings, preparing talking points, and accompanying participants on their visits with representatives was very rewarding.”

CMEP has equipped Nick with invaluable experience and skills that will benefit his work in the future: “Applying for grants, doing research and communications are all very useful. Furthermore, my experience working on a small team will definitely help me adjust to such work environments in the future”.

Andrew Wickersham, an intern from the fall 2017 class said: “Of the internships that I’ve held, CMEP offers interns the greatest number of opportunities to make meaningful contributions. As an intern with CMEP, you will actually assist with projects that staff would normally be doing; they aren’t just inventing new projects to keep you busy. For those interested in learning more about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, interning with CMEP offers the chance to meet with politicians and human rights leaders… It is a lot more in-depth a learning experience than I had previously experienced in school. The soft-skills interns acquire, especially in communications and office operations, are bound to be helpful in any future career.”     

Jessica Hill, an intern during the spring 2017 class found CMEP through an interest in working for peace in the Holy Land and regional experiences.

“Throughout my internship with CMEP, [I was] exposed to experiences, perspectives and narratives that broadened my knowledge and commitment to peace in the region. I grew most from working on a project called Lights4Gaza, which made a lasting contribution to those suffering from the infrastructure crisis in Gaza. Focusing on research for CMEP, I also learned how to not only become a better writer but also how to interview and communicate with NGOs and individuals in the region. CMEP provided me with the opportunity to make a difference and a lasting impact. One of the most valuable interfaith learning experiences was seeing how to bring together such diverse perspectives within a multitude of faiths/denominations, and finding common ground on issues that are typically very polarized.”

Shirin Bouzari, an intern during the spring 2017 class, worked on event coordinating and building new relationships with ambassadors, I do believe, deep down, that this internship was meant to be, and that working towards a greater cause like seeking peace and justice for those in need is not limited to any religion. It is the work we do as individuals and as groups, regardless of our faith, that matters the most. CMEP gave me the opportunity to start my journey in a place that is welcoming and supportive, a place that allowed me to grow as an individual and to be a better [person]”.

Most of our interns work from our Washington, D.C. office, but some internships are also available in Atlanta, Seattle, New York, and remotely. Interns must be willing to support CMEP’s current policy positions. To learn more about CMEP internships visit http://cmep.org/internships/ and apply today!

 

Story by Jessica Hill, a volunteer and former intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Choose Hope

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1:1-3a

As we celebrate the final Sunday of Advent, as well as Christmas Eve, it is only fitting to focus on JesusEmmanuel, God With Uswho is Love.  With so much discussion in the news about the actions of the powerful, of nations, states, and politicians, let us remember our savior, who came into the world in the most vulnerable of circumstances. He came as a baby, born in the most dire of circumstances, to parents who weren’t even wed. And yet, his birth changed everything. Through him we are able to see God, because he is God.

As 2017 comes to a close many are reflecting on this past year. Let us also look towards the coming year with great expectation, the way we would with a little baby so full of opportunity and potential. Jesus, the embodiment of Love, came into this world as a baby at the complete mercy of those around him. He came to bring a message of hope, to restore peace, to give us joy, and to show us what love is. As we celebrate Christmas and the New Year,, let us do so Choosing Hope and seeking to follow Jesus’ example.

In light of the recent declarations made by the United States government, Churches for Middle East Peace seeks to Choose Hope by reaffirming our commitment to our Policy Positions, specifically to “pursue a just and durable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in which Israelis and Palestinians realize the vision of a just peace, which illuminates human dignity and cultivates thriving relationships”; to “realize the vision of two viable states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace within secure and recognized borders”; and finally, to “promote a shared Jerusalem by Palestinians and Israelis, as well as full access to the Holy Sites of the three religious communities—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—by those who call them holy.” We invite you to join us this year, as we seek to follow Jesus.

God,

We thank you for sending your son, Jesus, into this world to bring a message of hope, to restore peace, to give us joy, and to show us what love is. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth, let us also seek to follow him in all our ways.

Amen.

This devotion was written by Molly Lorden, the Millennial Engagement Coordinator at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). She is also currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Uniting Christians in the Holy Land, Middle East Council of Churches

The Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) is a council of church bodies throughout the Middle East: Lebanon, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. In some ways, it’s like an extended family gathering. In fact, the MECC is organized around four families of churches – Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical/Protestant. Together, these churches are working to support each other and build bridges between people and groups in the Middle East.

MECC was founded in 1974 as a collaboration between the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Protestant churches of the region. The Catholic church joined in 1990 as a fourth tradition on the council. Each of these four “ecclesial families” is represented by a president and members on MECC’s executive committee. Working as an ecumenical group is not always easy, and building a consensus among the different churches can be a long process. But the result is that MECC can offer powerful statements that carry the weight of their shared deliberation. Fr. Michel Jalakh is Secretary General of the Council, with the headquarters located in Beirut, Lebanon.

The Council’s mission is to build bridges, and the inclusion of churches from diverse traditions is just one part of their endeavor. In addition to bringing together the churches of the region, MECC strives to build bridges with Christians in the West, and with people of other faiths. In Lebanon, for instance, the Council has programs that promote dialogue and bridge-building among youth. A recent program targeted societal divisions across several lines, working to overcome tensions between national (Lebanese and Syrian), religious (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and other Christian groups; Sunni Muslim, and Shia Muslim), and gender identities. Another current project is bringing together youth from Muslim, Druze, and Christian backgrounds. The program focuses on working together towards common goals, and in the final phase, small groups will plan activities and projects in their communities. In a recent webinar hosted by Churches for Middle East Peace, MECC’s Secretary General Fr. Michel Jalakh, described how the Christians and Muslims he works with are often united around the same causes, in opposition to the injustice they see in the world. “This is a big opportunity to live together, to share the same values, to share the same vision, for our society and for our future,” Jalakh said.

MECC is also working to connect with Christians in the West. The Council is developing a Christmas project that will feature short documentaries showcasing the liturgical diversity of the Middle East. Each film segment will highlight a particular celebration of the birth of Christ. In total, MECC plans to film documentaries at 12 different churches across five countries. The goal of the project is twofold: to strengthen the unity of the churches in the Middle East, and to open the eyes of Western Christians to new facets of their faith and perspectives that they may not have seen before. It is important for Western Christians to realize that their perspectives are not the only Christian viewpoint, and that those Christians living in the land of Christ may in fact have very different perspectives. This has immediate relevance: just last week, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While some American Christians supported this and saw it as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, many Christians in the Middle East strongly opposed it. We must listen to our spiritual brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and let their testimony inspire action, from the way we vote to the policies we encourage our elected officials to support.

MECC’s work doesn’t come without challenges. As a representative body for its member churches, the Council is involved in the hopes and struggles of Christians throughout the region. For some, this is a struggle for equal rights in their own societies, while others face violent persecution at the hands of militant groups like ISIS and al-Nusra. All of them are caught up in the struggle to build freer societies across the Middle East. In the midst of these challenges, MECC supports the Christians of the region in several ways: providing tools for dialogue and peacemaking, uniting the churches in deliberation on various issues, and as a unified voice bringing awareness of the challenges faced by Middle Eastern Christians to the global community.
CMEP hosted an Advent Webinar featuring MECC’s Secretary General Fr. Michel Jalakh. Watch it here.

Dear God, we pray for the churches and Christians in the Middle East, that they would be able to live in peace and security. Strengthen them as they build bridges with their neighbors and give them hope even in the midst of conflict. As Western Christians, we ask that you would help us to see beyond our own cultural assumptions, and to intentionally seek out viewpoints different from our own. Help us remember that our political decisions often reverberate far beyond our own borders, affecting the lives of those living in the Middle East. As Advent leads us closer to the birth of your son, the Prince of Peace, let us work with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East to pursue peace for all in the region.

Amen

Featured Photo: Greek Catholic Basilica of Saint Paul in Harissa, Lebanon; taken by Bahador, used by permission under Creative Commons License.

Story by Michael Santulli, a research intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Third Sunday of Advent: Choose Hope

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
(Luke 1:46b-55)

In observance of the third week of Advent, many Christians around the world will read the Magnificat, Mary’s song of joy. It may feel wrong to focus on the theme of joy during a time with so much turmoil, especially following the recent declaration about the status of Jerusalem. However, in light of the declaration and the events that followed, it is even more pressing that we take a moment to reflect on this theme, as we continue to Choose Hope this Advent. We do not put aside our anger, frustration, or fear, but allow joy to permeate our hearts as we anticipate the coming of Jesus.

Mary begins her song glorifying God and rejoicing in what God has done for her. Then, she moves into a list of the wonderful things God has done throughout history. God has shown great strength, scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry, and sent the rich away empty. Mary sings of a God who is for the oppressed, and more powerful than any human. It is because of what God has already done that she rejoices. Even though the political climate of Mary’s day was full of unrest, she sings of the wonderful things God had already done. In doing so, her song becomes a prophetic testimony to what God will do through the birth of her son. Mary has reason to rejoice.

In a webinar hosted by Churches for Middle East Peace this week, three Christian leaders from the Middle East spoke about the recent decision on Jerusalem and its effects on the people in the region. While, there is much to be said about the Jerusalem decision and the repercussions it will have in the peace process (read more in CMEP’s press release), let us turn our eyes to these leaders to learn where they find hope and joy in the midst of unrest. Father. Dr. Michel Jalakh, an Antonine monk in the Maronite Catholic Church, who also serves as the Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) spoke about the coming together of the Muslim and Christian communities in Beirut. Rev. Najla Kassab,  President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) and Director of the Christian Education Department for the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) spoke about the passion of young people in Beirut to continue to work toward peace. Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, founder and President of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, spoke about the creative ways his students are using beauty, art, and culture as tools for peacemaking. All three spoke of hope and joy in the midst of turmoil.

Let us not forget the great things our God has already done, and prophetically speak to what God will do. As Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb reminded us in the webinar, hope is not what we see, but what we do. This Advent, we Choose Hope and rejoice with Mary, not setting aside our frustrations and angers, but remembering what God has done, and expectantly waiting for what God will do.

God,

Thank you for giving us reasons to rejoice, even when our world looks grim. We ask for safety for all people in the Holy Land as they respond to the recent declaration on Jerusalem. We rejoice alongside Mary, thanking you for joy and hope in the midst of unrest. And, we ask that the things you have already done, you would do again: for the proud to be scattered, the powerful to be brought down, the lowly to be lifted up, and the hungry filled.

Amen.

This devotion was written by Molly Lorden, the Millennial Engagement Coordinator at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). She is also currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Second Sunday of Advent: Choose Hope

The Advent season is the time when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus. Isaiah 9:6 says:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Yet when we look at the Middle East today, peace seems to be absent, if not impossible to achieve. The brutal civil war in Syria, the destructive actions of ISIS, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are just a few reasons why peace seems so far away. This past week, President Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the Capital of Israel without regard for final status negotiations or the aspirations of the Palestinians, contributes to this chaos.

In the midst of these realities, we must ask ourselves what is a biblical vision of peace? In his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey notes,“Peace is often limited to absence of war and the cessation of violence…but peace in the Bible includes the finest of loving relationships between individuals, within families, communities and nations.” In other words, peace is not just the absence of conflict, but the transformation of conflict between people into flourishing relationships. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom (cognate with the Arabic word salaam), carries this meaning as well. Shalom is peace in the sense of wholeness, completion, and reconciliation. The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and particularly the status of Jerusalem, can make such a vision of peace seem impossible. After all, it’s difficult enough to work out peace treaties and ceasefires. To go beyond this to the point where wrongs are made right and enemies can become friends, even family, would require a miracle.

But this is the beauty of the birth of Christ. Two thousand years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace was born. His Kingdom was not what his followers expected, for it was not a kingdom of earthly power. In contrast to the Pax Romana, Jesus demonstrated a different kind of peace. His peace did not come through the exercise of force and violence but through self-giving love and solidarity with the oppressed.

Today, the peace and reconciliation of Christ is needed as much as ever in the Holy Land and around the world. Christian leaders in Jerusalem have expressed concern for recent threats to the Status Quo of Jerusalem that would harm the Christian community. Churches for Middle East Peace stands alongside the Christians in Jerusalem and affirms that the “vision of a shared Jerusalem – a Jerusalem of Jews, Christians, and Muslims; a Jerusalem of Palestinians and Israelis – represents the only viable option for a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land.”

This Advent season, let us endeavor to peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). As we look at the conflict in Jerusalem and in the broader Middle East, let us work for more than an end to violence. Let us work for justice for those who have been wronged, wherever possible seeking to restore what was lost, and for reconciliation where before there was only hate. Though it often seems impossible, we Choose Hope in the knowledge that the Prince of Peace has gone before us. The celebration of his birth is a celebration of hope for justice and peace in Jerusalem and beyond.

God,

As we look forward to the birth of the Prince of Peace, we pray for the chaos here in the United States and also for all the people in the Middle East who live in the absence of peace. We pray especially for the Christians in Jerusalem, that you would preserve the historic presence of their communities in the city. We pray for Israelis to live in a society free of fear and with hope for a future for their children. We pray for Palestinians who have aspirations for freedom and dignity and self-determination. We pray that conflict would cease, and that a peace full of your love would rise in its place, and that enemies would become brothers and sisters. May we be active in working toward this peace in the knowledge that you are already at work in the world.

Amen.

This devotion was written by Michael Santulli, the Research and Partnership Intern at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Michael recently completed his Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Economics at Gordon College.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

First Sunday of Advent: Choose Hope

In the season of Advent, the Christian community around the world anticipates with great expectation the birth of Christ. Yes, Christ came 2,000 years ago, but we observe his birth today to remember there are still areas of the world where it feels as though he has not yet come. There is still so much pain, suffering, and loss. It is easy to see the challenges and brokenness in the Holy Land, particularly the situation of Christians in the broader Middle East, as those types of places.

This Advent – as we observe a time of waiting and wondering in a world filled with very real pain, suffering, and loss – we invite you to Choose Hope. While optimism falters in the face of these realities, we know Christmas will arrive and Emmanuel, God with us, will be born. We Choose Hope not because we ignore the realities of pain and conflict, but because we know that Emmanuel walks with us as we do the work of peace and justice God has called all of us to do.

This First Sunday of Advent, as we light the candle of hope, we turn our eyes to the Holy Land. There are an estimated 38,000 Christians living in the not-so-little town of Bethlehem many of us will sing about in our worship services during this season. When asked when they became Christians, the response of believers there today is often “2,000 years ago.” Yet, Palestinian and other Arab Christians are often forgotten by the Christian community in other parts of the world, especially here in the United States. In an article in The Washington Post last year, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian wrote, “by forgetting their Palestinian coreligionists, American Christians aren’t just missing the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are missing an opportunity to live out the message of peace that Jesus, born in Bethlehem, gave to the world.” We must not forget these siblings in Christ. We remember Jesus, our greatest hope, was born in Bethlehem. And as we do so we also remember those people who witnessed his birth and his life, who told their families and communities. It is because of them that we are here today.

So, we remember our siblings in Christ in Bethlehem, and we Choose Hope. To Choose Hope is not to ignore their pain and suffering, or to simply send our best wishes. To Choose Hope is to recognize the truth of their situation, and actively hope toward peace and work toward justice.

God,

As we await the birth of Jesus, we pray for Palestinian and Arab Christians – and all Christians in the Middle East – especially those living in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Teach us what it means to actively hope alongside Christians in the Holy Land. Teach us to diligently pursue peace and work for justice.

Amen.

To read more in this series, click here.

This devotion was written by Molly Lorden, the Millennial Engagement Coordinator at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). She is also currently studying toward a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.

CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

Choosing Hope: Millennials Advocate for Peace

One of the hallmarks of democracy is the ability of people to connect with the legislative process through their elected officials. Unfortunately, all too often, the political sphere seems completely disconnected from our everyday lives and the issues we are passionate about. Choose Hope, an advocacy summit hosted by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and Millennial Voices for Peace (MVforPeace), gave students and young professionals the opportunity to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, practice advocacy, and interact with their congressional representatives.

The summit participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds and levels of awareness about the conflict. Many had travelled to Israel/Palestine with churches or on educational trips and were looking for ways to get involved from the US. One of the participants, Shelby Mathis, had stayed in Israel/Palestine for a month in the summer of 2015. “In my time there, I saw a lot of things that made me uncomfortable and a lot of things that made me really hopeful,” she said. “Since I’ve come back, in the last two years I’ve been trying to find ways to deal with some of the struggle, the Palestinian struggle and the Israeli struggle, but also how to elevate the voices of hope.”

Other participants came to the conference looking to engage with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for the first time. Danielle Chun first heard about the summit from the Office of Social Justice of her denomination, the Christian Reformed Church. “Being able to listen to firsthand stories from Palestinians as well as all the different sides that are involved in this issue has been a learning experience for me; I think it’s been very eye opening,” Chun said. “It’s been a very hopeful experience to know there are so many groups and people who are advocating for peace in the Middle East. I do think [peace] is something that can come about in our lifetime, and so it was encouraging to be a part of that opportunity to be involved.”

The first full day of the summit was dedicated to hearing from a wide array of speakers with connections to the conflict: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian voices. The keynote speaker of the morning, Yousef Bashir, shared about his experience growing up in Gaza. When he was around the age of 15, his house was taken over by the Israeli military. Bashir’s father strongly believed in nonviolence, and insisted that the family would not leave the house as an act of peaceful resistance. One day, Bashir was shot by an Israeli soldier as he was exiting the house. He was taken to an Israeli hospital and treated by Israeli doctors. Bashir began to see the conflict differently, and dedicated himself to understanding the Israeli side and pursuing peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people. Summit participant Hava Zuidema found Bashir’s story especially compelling: “I liked how he talked about forgiveness, and how he forgave the Israelis even after everything his family went through. I thought he was inspiring,” Zuidema said.

Above: Participants listen to a panel discussion.


Following Bashir’s keynote presentation were several panels about different avenues for advocacy – Christian engagement, campus engagement, and creative engagement. Mathis enjoyed the panel on creative engagement the most, especially hearing from Bshara Nassar, whose family farm, Tent of Nations, Mathis stayed on when she visited Israel/Palestine in 2015. “What I take from Bshara, in terms of creative engagement, is that it doesn’t have to look a certain way,” Mathis said. “I think we all have gifts and talents that we can put to good use. For me personally, that is being an artist and a graphic designer vocationally, getting gears turning on how to best use those skills and talents to help promote peace in the region.”

The panel on campus engagement likewise provided thought provoking perspectives and dialogue. Panelist Rachel Stryer works with J Street U, a Jewish campus organization that is a part of J Street and advocates for a two-state solution. Youval Yadlin works with OneVoice and Seeds for Peace, organizations that promote dialogue and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in the pursuit of peace. The panelists discussed the challenges of working in campus environments that have become increasingly polarized. Although pro-Israel and pro-Palestine views are often portrayed as mutually exclusive, Stryer and Yadlin gave a different perspective – one that strongly supports the security of Israelis, as well as self-determination for the Palestinians.

Above: Summit participants wrote their favorite quotes from the speakers on paper leaves.


The second day of the summit was a time to practice advocacy and engage with elected officials. The day began with a briefing in the Capitol by the mayors of Bethlehem and Wadi Foquin, who both shared about challenges they faced in the West Bank. In the afternoon, summit participants were split into groups based on which states they were from, and went to their respective congressional offices. Each group presented the Millennial Voices for Peace Statement of Principles, which describes a holistic approach to peacebuilding and a commitment to the well being of both Israelis and Palestinians. Participants also advocated for the continuation of aid to the the West Bank and Gaza for humanitarian assistance.

The chance to speak with representatives or their staff was something many of the summit participants were doing for the first time. “Meeting my members of congress today was empowering,” Chun said. “Being at the conference and being coached [by CMEP staff] through different stories and how we could approach the issue was very helpful beforehand. While we were [visiting the congressional offices] it was good to see [the staffers] as people who would listen to us as their constituents.” Another participant, Amber Reed, felt the same way: “This was my very first time doing something like this,” she said. “Honestly, I’m not super involved in politics or in the know with who my representatives are, and so that was really cool to match faces to names I’ve heard, and empowering to get to talk to them, share my story, and just be personal with them.”

The summit ended with a round-table discussion of the previous few days. Although the summit brought to light the complexity of the conflict, the discussions, panels, and advocacy also brought hope. “The most impactful thing while being here is seeing how many people have a heart for this part of the world, and all the diverse ways that people are contributing to making peace in the land,” Reed said at the end of the conference. “It’s really encouraging and hopeful and inspiring.”

The Choose Hope Summit was organized by Molly Lorden, CMEP’s Millennial Engagement Coordinator. If you are interested in learning about future opportunities for engagement, Molly can be reached by email at molly17@cmep.org.

Churches for Middle East Peace will be hosting its next summit in Washington, D.C. June 17-19, 2018 – And Still We Rise: Transforming U.S. Policy Toward a Just Middle East. And Still We Rise will focus on the contributions and leadership of women peacemakers, but both men and women are encouraged to attend. For more information, visit http://cmep.org/werise2018/.

The next summit specifically focused on Millennial Advocacy will be in Washington D.C. from January 12-14, 2019.

1 2 3 7