Author: CMEP

The Enduring Contributions of Christians in the Middle East

Dr. Peter Makari, Executive, Middle East and Europe

Dr. Makari is a CMEP board member on behalf of Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.

In her recent book, The Vanished: Faith, Loss, and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets, journalist Janine di Giovanni writes of her encounters with Middle Eastern Christians in Iraq, Gaza, Syria, and Egypt. Her conversations led her to lament the disappearance of the Christian communities in those places, characterizing her writing by saying, “it grew into a book about how people pray to survive their own most turbulent times.” In her introduction, di Giovanni remarks, “I traveled to these places to try to record for history people whose villages, cultures, and ethos would perhaps not be standing in one hundred years’ time.” The emigration of Christians (and others) from the Middle East is a reality that cannot be denied, but Christian presence in the Middle East, with all its diversity and diverse circumstances, cannot simply be reduced to impending extinction. There is much to admire, and to be inspired by, in the enduring Christian presence across the region.

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A Prayer for the New Year

As we near the precipice of 2021 turning to 2022 perhaps you are examining the past year (or two, they seem to blend together somehow). Perhaps you choose to skip that part to look ahead and focus energies on the possibilities a new year holds. Dates on the calendar are yet to be scheduled and defined. A sense of hope-filled anticipation is practically palpable.

Today, I sit with music playing softly in the background, a cozy blanket around me, and the gentle flicker of a candle beside me. I am transfixed, observing the snow outside my window. Each flake, we’re taught, is unique. How many of these unique flakes are in a small handful of snow? Formed by water vapor, particles, and freezing temperatures. What a wonderous thing.

These flakes eventually melt, water the earth, and the water cycle continues. This water is the same water that has always existed on earth. Water is strong enough to cut through rock and gentle enough to cleanse. Life requires it to be sustained. This water has seen many lives – through storms, bubbling creeks, teardrops, snowflakes, and baptismal waters.

For those who follow Christ, baptism is both an ending and starting point, it is about death to old identities and solidarities, and rebirth into hope, promise, and abundant life for all. As we follow God we are to bless the world, serve the vulnerable, hungry, sick, and frightened. Emerging from the water we are to roll on like a river of blessing, bringing peace to the warring and healing to the nations. Water is not meant to stop at any boundary, but to continue to pour over the dikes and levees that some would build to keep God’s work within bounds.

I pray that as you continue your day you might take a lingering look at the water around you, a cupful, a snowball, a water fountain, a cloud above and remember our place in the world is much like the boundless yet unique and fleeting life of snow. May we release the past year knowing that God is above all and constantly working in the world even as we may not perceive it.

May each of us give thanks for what has been and what may be with a resolve to seek faithfulness over perfection, love over fear, kairos over chronos, peacemaking over conflict or apathy. Now, take a big gulp of water as you prepare to greet the new year.

Written by Rev. Aune M. Carlson, Director of Operations for CMEP

Christmas Day: He will bring us goodness and light

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all people (Luke 2:14).

Christmas has arrived! The hope of the living Messiah has come. Today, of all days, may we not be discouraged by the realities of this earthly world. Problems, conflict, and war continue to exist throughout the Middle East, but the good news remains – war does not have the final word. Rather today, we hold onto the hope of all the things the birth of Christ represents. 

He will bring us goodness and light. 

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Christmas Eve: A Child, a Child shivers in the cold… Let us bring him silver and gold

As we read the Gospel stories about Jesus’ birth and childhood, we find King Herod learning from the Magi that the promised one, born king of the Jews, had been born (Matthew 2:1-6). The announcement of the long-awaited’s birth was not joyous news to this earthly king. On the contrary, the advent of this young child posed a significant threat to Herod’s power and position and led him to terrible pronouncements that altered a generation. Herod’s fear manifested in his order that all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, two years old and under, be killed (Matthew 2:16). 

When faced with the fear of losing their power and comfort, leaders and the privileged often lose sight of the broader picture. This was true in ancient times, as it remains true today in current politics, business, kingdoms, nations, neighborhoods, and even our faith communities. The “us and them” mentality presents a false dichotomy. There is only “us” – all of God’s children – a grand reality that those with wealth and influence still belong to those who are vulnerable, underserved, without voice or platform.

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Advent: Do you know what I know?

Isn’t technology marvelous? Computers used to take up the space of entire rooms; now, many carry what are essentially tiny transistors that are faster, with more memory, and include high definition cameras in our pockets and purses! Our smartphones connect us to others by phone, through social media, and we’re only a search away from being able to find answers to countless questions. This connectedness provides us with much information, misinformation, knowledge, and opinions. The news seems to find us these days rather than needing to walk to the postbox for a paper copy. 

The pervasiveness of information and interaction can lead us to believe that we’re more connected to one another now than ever before; however, we are also more susceptible to find ourselves in silos of like-thinkers, separating “us” from “them.” These dividing lines previously crossed by coffee shop conversations, attending family gatherings, or around the water cooler at work have taken hold. Society loves dichotomies, consider these categories: right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, scarcity vs. abundance, dark vs. light, evil vs. goodness, sinful vs. righteous. More often than not, we put ourselves in the “good” or “right” category, simultaneously placing those who aren’t sure they agree or who certainly do disagree in the “other” camp. The gap fills with distance, darkness, vilification, distrust, and fear as the separation wall’s cornerstone. 

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Advent: A song, a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea

A song, a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea…

This year included the voices of many people exclaiming loudly the injustices they experienced and witnessed firsthand. Consider the story of Mohammed El Kurd, who raised his voice to talk about the realities his family suffered from settlers while living in the East Jerusalem of Sheik Jarrah. I wrote about his story in the article “From Child Displaced to International Activist” on the Do Justice blog of the Christian Reformed Church. The world first learned about El Kurd’s story from a Just Vision documentary called “My Neighborhood” featuring Mohammed when he was only eleven years old. At that time, in 2012, Mohammed’s family lost a portion of their home to settlers who moved into one side of his grandmother’s house. By 2021, Mohammed’s story hit international media, where he and his sister once again faced the threat of displacement as a part of the dozens of Palestinians from the neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah being forced out by opposing claims of Jewish settlers. The activism of Mohammed and his sister Muna had such an impact that Time Magazine named them both on the list of 100 Most Influential People of 2021.

May we have ears to hear their story.

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Advent: A star, a star, dancing in the night

A star, a star, dancing in the night… with a tail as big as a kite. 

Stars are symbolic of many things. For some, they are a spiritual or sacred symbol. For example, an eight-pointed star is a Native American symbol of hope and guidance. For others, stars are a symbol of magic, humanity, divinity, direction (as the Northern Star), excellence, or even fame. Some may say “reach for the stars” as a means to motivate. The star of Bethlehem is one of guidance, the star of David representing hope in the coming Messiah. 

In the Christmas story, we read in Matthew 2 that the Magi (wise men, magicians, astronomers) see a star rise to their west and travel great distances to worship the one who has been born, Jesus, the king of the Jews. This star is the beacon of their long-awaited hope, now realized. Imagine yourself in their shoes. For generations the Jews have been awaiting the coming of the Messiah, literally looking to the skies. Can you imagine the heart palpitations, the thoughts that raced through their minds “do you think it could be?” The compelling sense to see the star, to not miss the joyous occasion, the motivation to go and see – with the thought “we must see this miraculous occasion for ourselves.” 

Do you see what I see? 

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Advent: Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?

One of my favorite holiday memories as a little girl involves driving through local neighborhoods at night, looking at Christmas lights, and belting out carols with my Dad – mostly off-key! Do you hear what I hear? was one of his favorites and remains one of mine.

Since October 1962, the song Do you hear what I hear? has sold millions of copies and been recorded by dozens of artists. So as we head into Christmas and for those who celebrate Advent, we at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) will be reflecting on the words of the song as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus at Christmas.

With the realities affecting the Middle East — from the coronavirus to the May 2021 hostilities between Israel and Gaza, the humanitarian needs in Yemen, the economic crisis in Lebanon, to the one year anniversary of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan — all of us are in great need of seeing and understanding what is happening in the Middle East more clearly.

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A Thanksgiving Prayer

Lord God, help us to be truly thankful amidst our great abundance. Forgive us if our wealth blinds us to the needs and poverty of others. Help us to accept every gift as a miracle and blessing from you, and may we seek opportunities to share our bounty with others, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Covenant Publications. (2003). The Covenant Book of Worship (p. 99). Chicago, IL.

In this season of thanksgiving, we would like to thank those who work alongside us and support the work of CMEP. Our generous donors, the Leadership Council, our Board Members, and Church Partners.

Without the support of each of these groups, we would not be able to educate those in our communities, elevate the voices of the vulnerable or advocate for lasting policy change.

We give thanks to God for your commitment to justice and passion for peace.

We give thanks to God for your encouragement and engagement.

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