Category: Prayers for Peace (P4P)

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 highlightpeace-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 Christians for Social Action in writing and sharing these prayers.


Prayers4Peace: Transformation

Transformation
by Rev. Su McClellan, Senior Church Engagement Manager at Embrace the Middle East

The day I first set eyes on the separation barrier is one that I will never forget. Back in 2004, the village of Abu Dis near Jerusalem had been sliced in half by 30 feet of vertical concrete, stretching as far as the eye could see. The local grocery store had been cut off from the houses it served. Families and neighbours had been forced apart and looking at its wounding presence broke my heart.

My next stop was the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was such an appropriate place to reflect on what I’d just experienced. In that garden, Jesus faced the consequences of human sin, but it was also the place where he chose to go to the cross and transform it. Jesus took the worst possible human violence and transformed it into a bridge, reconnecting humanity with God. Sitting in the church reminded me that walls, rockets, bullets, and checkpoints are not paragraphs in the final chapter. The resurrection tells the story of healing, forgiveness, new life, and therefore new possibilities and we are all invited to write ourselves into its narrative.

Embrace the Middle East has been part of the story since 1854. Originally founded as The Turkish Missions Aid Society in 1854, an evangelical charity supporting missionary work among Armenian Christians in Turkey, the name was eventually changed to Embrace the Middle East in 2012. Its vision is to tackle poverty and injustice in the Middle East through education, community, and healthcare. It forms partnerships with churches and Christian organisations that offer their services to all in need in their communities, regardless of their national identity or beliefs. Their work changes lives. 

The challenges faced by Embrace’s partners, in what is known to many as the Holy Land, are many and complex. Yet, despite these challenges, they continue to show and tell the story of God’s love. Since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 over a million olive trees have been destroyed as a result of settlement expansion, military zoning, and settler violence. Embrace’s partners have responded to this destruction by planting thousands of replacement trees, supporting Palestinian farmers, and standing up for human and equal rights. Something violent and brutal has been transformed into something beautiful and fruitful.

We have supported partners in Gaza, who when faced with the destruction of last year’s war, responded by providing counseling and therapy, often through the medium of the arts, for children and young adults. In Jericho, our partners are providing leadership training for young people. The programme includes taking them on trips to discover and understand their rich Palestinian heritage – giving them reasons to stay and work for peace with justice. Hopelessness and despondency are transformed into tenacity and the courage to dream.

For many children, growing up in the shadow of the occupation leaves terrible scars both physical and emotional. Embrace’s partner Musalaha reflects the reconciling love of God by training both Palestinian and Israeli young women in the Stages of Reconciliation, Conflict Transformation, and Listening. The project won’t change government policy, but it does offer the possibility of the transformation of relationships at a grassroots level.

After his resurrection, Jesus’ body still carried the scars
of the violence inflicted upon him.


Transformation does not hide from what has been and
the Holy Land and all those who call it home

will carry the scars of its history into the future,
just as Christ carried his into eternity.

But scar tissue is also a sign of healing,
and it is for healing and hope that our partners work so diligently.

Of course, we pray for the day when justice will flow like rivers through Israel and Palestine. But until that day comes, please pray for the partners and friends of Embrace the Middle East who, in following Christ, make transformation possible.


Rev. Su McClellan, Senior Church Engagement Manager, has been at Embrace the Middle East for 15 years and works in the Church Engagement Team. She regularly leads Encounter Tours to Israel and Palestine, giving Christians the opportunity to see for themselves the impact of the ongoing conflict on the people who call the land home. Su is also curate at Coventry Cathedral, home to the Community of the Cross of Nails, an international network of peacebuilders.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Grieving the Loss of a Prophetic Peace Activist

Grieving the Loss of a Prophetic Peace Activist – Dr. Ron Sider 
by Nicole Morgan, CMEP Executive Administrator

Dr. Ron Sider was a prophetic voice in the name of peacemaking and the founder of a CMEP board organization (Christians for Social Action). In addition, he served as an advisor and teacher to two CMEP staff members. He was the D.Min. Thesis Advisor to Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, and during the completion of my Master of Theological Studies, Dr. Sider was a Professor to myself (Nicole Morgan) – a former Sider Scholar and current CMEP Executive Administrator.

I learned of Ron Sider’s death as I was finishing up work last Friday afternoon and was hit by a wave of sadness. The world is more peaceful because Ron existed in it. The loss of his presence with us is a grief so many of us share.

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon remembers his influence, “It is hard to put to words the profound impact Ron Sider has had on my life both academically and spiritually. He and I would regularly discuss and often disagree about ideas like James Cone’s theology of the cross and whether or not pacifism was the only answer to living out the Gospel in a violent world. As my dissertation advisor, Ron advised me and heavily edited my thesis on ‘the spiritually transformative process of learning to love your enemy.’ His memory will live on in the ministry and efforts of myself and so many as we continue to work toward peace and advocate against injustice. Ron will be greatly missed!”

As a student at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University a decade ago I studied the intersection of theology and Public Policy and took several of Dr. Sider’s courses. I served as a Sider Scholar with Evangelicals (now Christians) for Social Action/Sider Center on Public Policy.

When I began seminary, I was not familiar with Dr. Sider or his work (having grown up in a more conservative evangelical environment). The first time I met him I was immediately aware of his kindness and humbleness. He greeted me while I was on a tour of the seminary. He wore a simple suit jacket with elbow patches and carried a briefcase with worn corners. I researched him later and learned of his most famous work: the book Rich Christians in the Age of Hunger published decades earlier. It was easy to imagine that the man I had only briefly met at that time was still living the principles of those convictions.

Once I was a student of his and had the chance to interact with him, that first instinct proved true. He welcomed debate in the classroom, shared reasons we should be cautious of putting too much into the scholarship of any one theologian, and challenged us to dig deeper.

In the class on Just War and Pacifism I took with Dr. Sider, he talked to us about how non-violence has not been tried. Not really. Nations devote billions of dollars to war. There are military schools and a large number of the population are trained to enforce the violent and deadly methods of using war to settle disputes. But non-violent direct action does not have government-funded training centers at that scale. National budgets are not prioritized to really try non-violent direct activism. In 1984, Sider spoke to the Mennonite World Conference along this same idea, and eventually, the Christian Peacemakers Team formed. Still not to the scale of the resources the world gives to wage war, but once again Sider’s prophetic vision was part of what set in motion a call to live by what many consider “radical” principles of peace and faithfulness.

Today the [now] Community Peacemakers Teams work in several locations around the world, including Palestine, where they are working to build “partnerships to transform violence and oppression.” CMEP’s former board chair Nate Hosler and our Executive Director traveled in 2019 to Northern Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams and learned directly about their impact on the border communities in Iraqi Kurdistan.

While Sider’s work and leadership have had such an impact on broad Christian culture, I most remember him for the significant impact he had on me. Because of the context of my religious upbringing in which men were the ones to lead, Ron was one of the first people to affirm in me my right to study theology and Christian leadership. I don’t think he knew he did that or that it was a goal of his, but the simple fruit of his authentic faith that viewed women as equals spoke volumes to me. When Ron spoke of his beloved wife, Arbutus, he talked about her work and her passions and the hobbies they did together. I was so used to hearing wives praised first and most often for their beauty and domestic skills. The pride in his voice for who his wife was as an individual felt like freedom for me.

I am grateful to Dr. Sider for his prophetic voice to Christianity, and for his quiet humble witness that made such a difference to me and to the world.


God of peace:

we thank you for the lives of faithful Christians
who have dedicated their lives to the mission of seeing
your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
We ask for your comfort for those who grieve.
Teach us to have the courage and patience
to live the radical truths of peace and holiness,
to invest our time and resources into feeding the hungry
and settling disputes without violence.

In the holy name of Jesus,
Amen.


If you would like to share a memory of Dr. Ron Sider, please use the comment section to share your thoughts, comments, or prayers.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Revisited – Being Children of God

Prayers4Peace: Revisited

At Churches for Middle East Peace, we understand that the work of holistic peacebuilding and advocacy is ongoing, and sometimes, the issues we faced in the past are still present with us today in a variety of ways.

With Prayers4Peace: Revisited we would like to occasionally share some of our previous Prayers4Peace blogs with you that we believe are still important messages to us today. We hope that you are encouraged as you continue supporting in prayer those working towards a just peace in Israel, Palestine, and the broader Middle East.


Being Children of God

by Sarah Withrow King, Former Deputy Director of Christians for Social Action
Originally posted November 19, 2013

Lord Jesus,

We are mothers and fathers;
we are sisters and brothers;
we are a family connected by your love.

God, we acknowledge that we are all your children. Each of us created in your holy image. Each of us created to love you and to love one another.

God, we praise you as the creator and caretaker of all children. You see all of your children. You love all of your children. You want every child to flourish in communities of care and concern. We praise you, Holy One.

God, we confess that we have failed to love well. We confess that we see your children with eyes clouded by past hurts and prejudice, by fear and uncertainty. We see one another not as recipients of your precious love, but as enemies and strangers. We see one another, not as children see other children, with curiosity, joy, and excitement, but as  enemies view enemies, with animosity, anxiety, and mistrust.

God, we mourn for your children.
We mourn especially for children who nurse at their mother’s breast while rockets scream through the sky;
For children confused by prejudice,  unaware of the history written on their forehead.
For children who cannot go to school; for children who hunger and thirst; and for children who are sick but cannot access medical care.

God, we mourn for your children who live soaked in fear, instead of your love.

Lord Jesus, help us to love well.
Help us to see the old and the young;
the Christian, the Muslim, and the Jew;
the Syrian, the Israeli, the Iranian, the Pakistani,
the Japanese, the American…
every body as part of your body.

We love you, Jesus.


The original story was written by Sarah Withrow King, Deputy Director of the Sider Centre at Eastern University, and an associate fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Revisited – Running for Human Rights

Introducing Prayers4Peace: Revisited

At Churches for Middle East Peace, we understand that the work of holistic peacebuilding and advocacy is ongoing, and sometimes, the issues we faced in the past are still present with us today in a variety of ways.

With Prayers4Peace: Revisited we would like to occasionally share some of our previous Prayers4Peace blogs with you that we believe are still important messages to us today. We hope that you are encouraged as you continue supporting in prayer those working towards a just peace in Israel, Palestine, and the broader Middle East.


Running for Human Rights

Sara Burback, a former volunteer at Churches for Middle East Peace.
Originally posted May 15, 2018

On March 23, I had the opportunity to join over 7,000 runners of all ages gathered in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, awaiting the signal to cross the starting line to begin the 6th annual Palestine Marathon. Established in support of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State,” the route of the Palestine Marathon begins in front of the Church of the Nativity and runs through two refugee camps. In order to demonstrate the restrictions to freedom of movement within the West Bank for Palestinians in their daily lives, runners journey alongside the eight-meter-high separation barrier and around the guard towers posted in various parts of the wall’s route.

The Palestine Marathon is a unique official race, in that most participants carry a personal motive for running, tied to their view of human rights and their fundamental right to movement within their homeland. “I’m running for the freedom of my people, the Palestinians,” says Jack Sara, the President of Bethlehem Bible College. “As I’m walking, I’m praying that the Lord will give mercies upon this land.” For Palestinians, the land of Palestine represents their history and collective identity as a people, and the race is an opportunity to physically express this intimate connection to the land and their right within this space to live out their narratives and freedom of movement. It is a collective voice expressing the need for change within a system that does not recognize their basic rights.

As a runner who has had the opportunity to participate in this race for the past three years, the general motivation comes from the view that the race is an opportunity to demonstrate the inherent need for change within the system of forced separation between Israelis and Palestinians. This is most clearly seen in their lack of freedom of movement, which is encountered on a daily basis by Palestinians in the West Bank. Whether traveling by foot or commuting from Bethlehem in the West Bank to Jerusalem, Palestinians face the separation barrier, pop-up checkpoints and sporadic road closures, checkpoints to cross from the West Bank into Israel proper, and settler-only roads across the West Bank, which Palestinians are forbidden from driving on.

“I’m running for freedom of movement,” said a runner from the city of Tubas in the northern West Bank. “…We need to breathe, we need to fly, we need to swim…[these] barriers are no longer accepted. The international community should pay attention.” One family pushing two strollers on the race course said they were running for freedom and their children. Many runners viewed the race itself as a physical form of expression of their need for free movement and their basic human rights, and the race was a way for participants to collectively demonstrate this by running, walking, or in some cases, dancing their way through the course.

The message of the race has annually drawn a number of international participants as well, who have traveled from throughout Europe and the United States to run in solidarity alongside the local community in a unified act of civil resistance. Participants carried flags from Finland, Ukraine, Denmark, Ireland, the UK, and other countries as a message of international recognition of the Palestinian struggle for equality. One runner from Norway was participating in his third Palestine Marathon, saying that he brings a group every year to experience the beauty of Palestine and to meet the people.

As an American Christian, this race holds significance for me as a way to encounter the city of Jesus’ birth in a way that lives out his work of redemption for the land and its people. When I reflect on his words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and the justice that Jesus calls his disciples to yearn for through showing mercy and seeking to be peacemakers, I find the simple act of running as a way of connecting with his message of reconciliation and sending a resounding “NO” to the injustice in the land. It is a way of being part of a larger story of peacemaking, which we can all find our role within, both as individuals and as part of organizations.

A number of international NGO workers based in the West Bank and Jerusalem also participated, including a team from UNICEF. “We’re here today with our own children to run for children in the State of Palestine,” said Genevieve Boutin, the Special Representative to the State of Palestine from UNICEF. “For children and young people still developing, the physical and mental benefits of sport and play set the foundation for healthy development and lifelong learning. It also gives them an opportunity to express themselves in a positive setting.”

Canon David Longe, the Chaplain to the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, said he was running to raise funds for cancer treatment in Gaza, where the Anglican church runs the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, but lacks the resources to treat cancer patients there. Despite obstacles of cost and the blockade on Gaza, their goal is to build a cancer unit in the hospital to ensure patients in need of life-saving treatment have proper access.

American runner Celia Riley has participated in the race every year since it began in 2013. She runs in solidarity with the local community in Bethlehem and describes the race as a journey for her: “Combining my heart for justice and running, hours side-by-side with people from all over the world, experiencing the Palestinian community around us, we become witnesses to their hospitality but we also see the humanity that’s restricted by the walls and checkpoints.”

Being present in the story of this race is a contribution to a much larger narrative. It is a narrative of the collective right to movement, the firm belief that peace can prevail in the Holy Land, and that God is in the midst of this place and continuing the work of redemption here. This redemption took place as each runner ran alongside the immense separation wall and crossed the finish line, and as they retold the story of overcoming adversity to run a challenging course on a very hot day to be part of a collective story of community. Being part of this shared story recognizes the shared belief that we are contributing not only to changing the present conditions, but working towards a future in which the huge physical wall we faced together will one day come down and that future generations will be part of a shared narrative of redemption and reconciliation that was written for them, beginning with crossing the finish line of this race.

Returning for the past three years to participate in this shared journey is an honor and story I will keep telling. It is a reminder that each of us has a role in dismantling the physical, emotional, and political walls we face in our own lives and collective narratives, and that it is our sacred duty to recognize these walls within ourselves and stand in solidarity alongside those who face these walls and help tear them down.


Jesus, I thank you for showing us your heart for justice through your everyday pursuit of peacemaking.

I thank you that your Spirit continues to live among your people in the Holy Land through the work of engaging in dialogue and participating in acts of creative civil resistance.

May your message of reconciliation continue to be heard, and may it spread among the Israelis and Palestinians there, so each person recognizes their role within a shared narrative of redemption of the land.

And may we all support this peacemaking through our own everyday acts of peacemaking.

Amen.


In the spring of 2022, CMEP’s own Manager of Middle East Relationships, Kevin Vollrath, also ran this race.

Kevin says, “I initially decided to participate in this race to help pace someone doing one of their first half-marathons. I got to know him through an organization called Right to Movement, where I’ve made many Palestinian friends committed to fitness and advocacy for Palestinian rights, especially the right to travel. Running all over Bethlehem, starting and finishing at the Nativity Church, and passing the separation barrier, refugee camps, and social hubs was a way to celebrate the life and culture of Bethlehem as well as acknowledge the many injustices surrounding it.”


The original story was written by Sara Burback, a former volunteer at Churches for Middle East Peace.

To find out how you can volunteer with CMEP, please visit our website.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Beyond Dehumanization

Beyond Dehumanization
By Susan Nchubiri, Ecumenical Accompanier in Jerusalem
 

As I write, my heart is heavy with sadness and anger at the horrific dehumanization and hatred toward the Palestinian people by the Israeli military and police. This week has been especially painful for most Palestinians because of the senseless and brutal killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-respected journalist from Jerusalem. She was fatally shot, and her colleague, Ali Samoudi, was seriously injured by a bullet to his back, but he survived. The journalists were shot while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank. This area has experienced numerous Israeli military raids and lockdowns since March 2022, when some violent attacks were carried out in Hadera and Tel Aviv by individuals alleged to be from the camp or nearby. The raids and lockdowns have not only traumatized the civilians but also affected them socially and economically because those who work in Israel were denied entry into Israel. Jenin was closed even during Ramadan and the Easter Holy Weeks; therefore, people from that area could not participate in their special worship ceremonies in Jerusalem. This use of collective punishment by Israeli authorities is a violation of human rights.

On May 13, as the mourners carried Shireen’s casket, the Israeli police intervened by beating and throwing stun grenades at the mourners, including the pallbearers. What threat was a dead body? What security threat did pallbearers pose? At one point, the coffin almost fell to the ground. Why not let the family, friends, and the city mourn their daughter, sister, and friend? Shireen was a courageous journalist. One mourner I saw carried a poster with these words Shireen spoke at the 25th anniversary of Al Jazeera, “I chose to become a journalist to be close to people. It may not be easy to change reality, but I was at least able to bring their voice to the world.” Thousands of people came out to say goodbye to their beloved Shireen. Even her death has brought the voices of the Palestinians out to the world. 

As the armed officers terrorized the mourners, they also confiscated Palestinian flags, smashed the hearse’s window carrying Shireen’s body, and removed a Palestinian flag. It is reported that thirty-three people were injured, and some were hospitalized. Several Palestinian mourners were arrested, and most of these arrests were carried out by Israeli officers dressed in civilian clothes. Some in our team witnessed 3 of these arrests.

The international community has reacted with words like: “We were deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh. Every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner” (Blinken – US Secretary of State). A statement from the European Union says, “The EU condemns the disproportionate use of force and the disrespectful behavior by the Israeli police against the participants of the mourning procession.” Many other internationals expressed their displeasure, but what does this mean for the Palestinians living under the occupation? What does this mean for people who live without knowing whether they will be allowed to go to work, school, place of worship, or farmland, or when they leave home if they will return without being harassed and violently attacked by the police or settlers? The inhumanity that the world saw during Shireen’s funeral is just one incident. It is one example of what Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories endure daily, whether in arbitrary arrests and detention, denial of access to their livelihood, worship, or any form of movement. Even after the condemnation of Israeli action at the funeral procession by various world leaders and internationals, on May 16, the Israeli military again attacked mourners going to the funeral of Walid Al Shareef. Walid succumbed to gunshot injuries incurred on April 29 at the Al Aqsa compound when the Israel police stormed the compound beating up the worshippers. It is reported that over 50 people were injured at the funeral and were brought to Al Maqseed hospital.


Firm action to pressure Israel to respect human rights and end the occupation must accompany the words of condemnation from world leaders. Each of us has a responsibility to do something to bring a positive change to the oppressed brothers and sisters in Palestine.


Susan Nchubiri is a Maryknoll Sister and a Master of Global Affairs student at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, specializing in International Peace Studies. She is currently serving as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI program. She previously worked as a community organizer in Haiti where she founded 2 self-help women’s groups, a micro-credit co-operative, a community garden and goat-raising project for a youth group. Before that she has worked as a campus minister and pastoral care giver to students, migrant workers and prisoners in Hong Kong. Susan had also worked in campus ministry in Chicago and volunteered weekly at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.  She was program director at Euphrasia Women Refuge Center and at Maria House Imani Projects in Nairobi Kenya where she worked hand in hand with the social workers and instructors to support vulnerable women and children.

If you would like to learn more about the EAPPI program, please visit their website.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: An Easter Never to Forget

An Easter Never to Forget
By Susan Nchubiri, Ecumenical Accompanier in Jerusalem

“Jesus spoke these words to the Pharisees who were telling him to admonish his disciples to keep quiet. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,“ He replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
(Luke 19:37-40).

On April 5, 2022, our first full day at the EAPPI placement house in East Jerusalem, we went to a parish in Beit Hanina to meet with the Palestinian youth and scouts leader. He gave us a rundown of the upcoming two Holy Week services. The youth and scouts were charged with organizing the processions. At this meeting, Rafi, the youth and scout leader, quoted these words, “if they keep silent, the living stones will shout out.” He added, “the Israeli authorities want to silence the Palestinian Christians, but we won’t be silenced.  We have hope in the Risen Savior”. I heard the same words again on Palm Sunday, the EAPPI Handover Service (between Team 82 and my team), and Holy Thursday. I have heard these words proclaimed at Mass several times, but never did they have a similar impact on me as they do now. These words struck me deeply when a young woman speaking to the Church leadership and the faithful gathered at Bethpage at the start of the Catholic (Western Churches’) Holy Week. She said, “If they keep silent, the living stones will shout out, the living stones will speak…. We are the living stones; we shall speak for us and for Palestine, we shall uphold our faith, and we shall speak for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. We want you (Church) to include us.”

On Palm Sunday, as thousands of worshippers processed down the hill waving palm and tree branches, national flags, and singing “Hosanna,” occasional groups broke into dance and shouts of jubilation. I kept thinking of the many Palestinian Christians who had wanted to enter Jerusalem that day to celebrate this special day in their faith tradition. They could not because the Israeli authorities denied their permits to enter Jerusalem. I watched as flags from different countries of Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia waved above heads, pilgrim groups’ flags, scarves, etc., contributing to the colorful procession. BUT not a single Palestinian flag, scarf, or lapel pin bearing the Palestinian flag colors. They had been ordered not to bring their flags or even wear a scarf or a lapel pin with their flag colors. Should one be found to break this order, the procession would be stopped. Israeli authorities usually apply collective punishment. When a single Palestinian violates a law, the punishment extends to their family and sometimes the whole village. One example is a parent or a sibling related to anyone in jail will be denied entry into Jerusalem. Another example is from the Jenin refugee camp, where after a young man from a nearby village attacked people in Tel Aviv, the Israeli military went on raids in the camp.

With all the joy and jubilation around me, I felt sad. I kept hearing the words, “if they are silent, the living stones will shout out.” Indeed, at this Palm Sunday procession, the living stones were shouting out. And when at an entrance to the Old City, New Gate, the police officers started blocking the scout procession to St. Savior Church, the faithful stood their ground. They would not let the police change the route because this might set a precedent.

Israel not only denies the Palestinians access to fundamental human rights but also the right to self-determination. For this, Israel has received a lot of condemnation from the international community, but nothing has changed.

Jerusalem is claimed by three Abrahamic faith traditions (Christians, Jews, Muslims) as their inheritance and hence their holy city. The Christian faith has two large divisions: Eastern and Western Churches, and each starts its liturgical calendars at different times; therefore, Jerusalem ends up with two Holy Weeks for Easter. For Muslims, the schedule for Ramadan is guided by a lunar calendar, and for Jews, the timing of Pesach is somewhat consistent. Every 30 years or so, Easter, Pesach, and Ramadan overlap. The weekend of Friday, April 14 through Sunday, April 17 marked this rare overlap.

Initially, I had assumed that this would be a spectacularly memorable weekend in a positive way but listening to the news, reading social media, and receiving information from our security and field officer, my assumptions and aspirations of a special holy weekend were dashed. It was clear that tensions were high leading into this period. We braced for the worst and prayed for the best. Some Israeli ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers had planned on entering the Al Aqsa compound (Islam’s third holiest site) during Pesach (April 14-22) to perform a ritual animal sacrifice, which is illegal according to the status quo agreements and a provocative act. The Muslim community had vowed to protect their sacred space. On April 14, during the dawn prayers, heavily armed Israeli security officers stormed the Al Aqsa compound chasing away worshippers. The Israeli authorities allowed the afternoon prayers to go on as usual but then disrupted them again the following morning. The Catholic Way of the Cross celebration went on without any harassment from the Israeli security forces, although there were many of them along the path.

The Catholic and the Orthodox Church’s liturgical calendars being different meant that the Orthodox Church was celebrating Palm Sunday when Catholics celebrated Easter Sunday. Both celebrations were taking place in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I was designated to monitor access to worship at this site while also participating in the service. However, due to the two groups having their services simultaneously, the church was overcrowded and extremely noisy, so I felt I could not pray. I checked with my fellow accompaniers, and they told me that there were clashes at one of the gates to Al Aqsa Mosque/Haram al-Sharif. I decided to join them to monitor the situation.

I had left the chaotic but joyful “noise” at the Holy Sepulcher Church and its safety for the deafening sounds of stun/sound and lights bombs, gunshots, pushing and shoving, shouting, screaming, and ambulance sirens. Instead of celebrating Easter, new life, and the resurrection with joy, reverence, and jubilation, I was amid violence, pain, anger, and frustration. Several injured people were brought out on stretchers to the Red Crescent ambulances. Was this the reason why Jesus had cried when he entered Jerusalem? As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes (Luke 19:41-42).

When we sensed the clashes escalating, we moved away and returned later and stood at a safe distance, and when that space got unsafe, we moved again. While the Palestinian Muslims were being denied entry to Al Aqsa/Haram al-Sharif, my companions who went to monitor access at the site found around 30 or more Israeli Jews walking freely into the same compound. On April 15, more than 150 Palestinian worshippers were injured, and more than 400 others were arrested. This is only a little glimpse of how discriminatory the Israeli authorities are toward the Palestinian people. These words hit me again: “if they are quiet, the stones will cry out.” The Palestinian Muslim community wanted to go to the Mosque to pray, but they were constantly harassed and denied access. The gates are guarded by heavily armed police all the time.

On Holy Fire Saturday, the Orthodox Church’s celebrated day before the Orthodox Easter, brought another awakening of how arbitrarily the Israeli authorities apply their laws against the Palestinian people. Palestinian Christians from the West Bank were denied permits to attend this holy feast. A great majority of Palestinian Christians living in Jerusalem were denied access to the Old City. My teammate and I arrived at the Old City at 7:30 am to make our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the celebration of Holy Fire was taking place. We found every alley/street leading to the Christian quarter and the Church barricaded with metal bars and hundreds of police officers. We tried to access the Christian Quarter and Church compound from 7:30 am until 4:00 pm. Although the police brutality was not as pronounced as with the Muslims, there were a few violent beatings and arrests of worshippers trying to go to Church. The Orthodox Christians were trying to go to their holy place to worship in communion with each other. The Christians trying to get to Church and the Muslims trying to get to the Mosques are not criminals. Why do the Israeli security officers use excessive and brutal force to stop them? Why criminalize a people? “If they should be quiet, the stones will speak, will cry out.”

The Holy Fire Day was the only day that my movement in and out of the Old City of Jerusalem was restricted. Why was I so frustrated? The Palestinians go through these horrible experiences every day. They can’t move freely in their own land, and they can’t access their places of worship, education, medical care, work, etc., without permits. Reflecting on this experience brought tears to my eyes, not because of my own frustrations but the heightened awareness that this was the “normal” life for the Palestinians under the occupation. How can this inhumane living be normal? Talking with a teammate who had previously tried hard not to get angry or sad about the Palestinian situation, she acknowledged that Holy Fire Saturday experience had put her over the edge. She felt anger, despair, and sadness. Experiencing the restrictions and violence against us made the reality hit home. It is one thing to be in solidarity, empathize with another person, and have a different reality when one experiences those things, not by choice. One cannot adequately understand or feel the pain of another person. You can only feel your own. On this day, when we were denied access to worship and a police officer pushed me, I felt very sad. If this is repeatedly happening, how will I shield myself from being sensitized into accepting it as “normal” life under occupation?


Are you the stone being called to cry out, shout out the injustice
the Palestinians are suffering under the occupation laws?
Are you willing to speak to the forces that give Israel such liberty and power to oppress a people?


Susan Nchubiri is serving with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as an Ecumenical Accompanier. Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WCC. If you would like to learn more about the EAPPI program, please visit their website.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Small Things with Great Love

Small Things with Great Love
By David Hindman

“Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place.” (Hebrews 13:3)

“I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me… I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” (Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 25:36b, 40)

In 2006 and 2009, when I was the United Methodist campus minister at the Wesley Foundation at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, I was privileged to spend time with Daoud Nassar and his family at Tent of Nations outside Bethlehem in the occupied Palestinian territories. We planted trees and heard stories of their faithful and resilient efforts to embody Christ’s ministry in the place where Christ was born. Their 100-acre farm has been in the family’s possession for more than a century but is surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements; from those settlements and other Israelis, they have experienced constant harassment. Although they have documents proving their ownership of the land, Daoud and his family have been embroiled in legal wrangling with Israeli officials for more than 30 years. Despite these hurdles, occasional acts of vandalism and intimidation, and frustrations, this Christian family continues to live by the motto, “We refuse to be enemies.”

Some years after my experiences, David Benedict, a fellow retired clergy and member of Williamsburg United Methodist Church, also visited and worked at Tent of Nations; currently, he serves on the Advisory Board for Tent of Nations North America (FOTONNA). Thanks to organizations like CMEP (Williamsburg UMC is a Partner Congregation), FOTONNA, and other allies, we were distressed to learn that earlier this year, a group of 15 masked men came onto the Tent of Nations property and severely beat Daoud and his older brother, leading them both to be hospitalized. We felt disheartened by this news, coming as it did after yet another delay in the legal process of finalizing registration of their ownership and last summer’s destruction of more than 1000 trees by Israelis. David and I wondered if some of the destroyed trees had been planted during our visits.  What could we do to communicate our care and concern and bear witness that the Nassars were neither forgotten nor abandoned? With the above scriptures in mind, we invited members of Williamsburg UMC to send messages of care, concern, encouragement, and hope. On two Sundays during Lent, we provided cards with messages of hope at a table in a high traffic area of our facilities. We encouraged members to sign their names and offer positive and faithful messages to the Nassars. We could not travel to the farm physically, but we could be with them spiritually in this simple but essential way. This action sparked many conversations as nearly 100 members of the congregation offered their prayers and affirmations. True, the Nassars are not literally prisoners in jail; but we imagine they may feel stuck every time their way forward is barred. They are being mistreated in unnecessary and unjust ways while they do so much to be faithful in their commitment to peace with justice for all; our efforts seem small. We hope and pray that “while we cannot all do great things, we can all do small things with great love” (St. Teresa of Calcutta).


A prayer in the words of Graham Kendrick:

Until your justice, Burns brightly again
Until the nations, Learn of your ways
Seek your salvation, And bring you their praise.

God of the poor, Friend of the weak
Give us compassion we pray
Melt our cold hearts, Let tears fall like rain
Come, change our love, From a spark to a flame.”


  David Hindman is a retired United Methodist clergyperson living in Williamsburg, VA. To learn more about Williamsburg UMC, visit their website.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: “Is this really for me?”

“Is This Really for Me?”
by Rev. Rick Sides
The Moravian Church

 Since 1867 the worldwide Moravian Church has been involved in ministries of care, support, and advocacy for those in need in the Holy Land. The work began with founding a home in Jerusalem for persons with leprosy. Located in the Kidron Valley, not far from the Jaffa Gate outside of the Old City of Jerusalem, the home was named JESUSHILFE (the help of Jesus). By the 1880s, there were over 60 residents of the home, each receiving a place to live, medical treatment, and the loving support of a community grounded in acceptance and grace rather than banishment and fear. 

   By the time the nation of Israel was formed in 1948, the residents of the home included both Arab and Jewish patients. Still, the work of the home (which was physically located in the West Bank of what was then Jordan) became increasingly difficult. In 1957, the Moravian Church purchased a twenty-acre tract of land outside of Jerusalem near Ramallah, in the village of Abu Qash, to build an entirely new residential community. The new home was named Star Mountain. The new facilities opened in 1960, patients moved in, and over 7,000 trees were planted on the location, mainly through the efforts of Sister Johanna Larsen, a Danish Moravian nurse and administrator who had come to lead the work.

   By the 1970s, mainly due to the advances in medical treatments for the disease of leprosy, the Moravian Church refocused the work of the mission at Star Mountain to support Palestinian girls with mental disabilities. By the 1980s,  the work included a residential school and growing support for families in the surrounding villages who had children challenged by intellectual disabilities.

   Today the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center – Moravian Church continues its significant work in Palestine. Currently, the center provides education, training, and rehabilitation for around 100 persons with intellectual disabilities whose ages range from three months to 40 years. A highly qualified ecumenical staff serves with outstanding commitment and pride to help secure a life of dignity for persons with intellectual disabilities. The vision of Star Mountain is that all persons with disabilities in Palestine shall have equal rights, the same as non-disabled persons, especially the right to education, social and economic integration, access to health care services, and protection from all kinds of abuse. The Moravian Church continues to feel privileged to serve there and share this vision. With this vision, Star Mountain continues to shine a bright light on the dream of a life of peace, justice, and equality for all people in the region.

   On one of the early trips I led to the Holy Land in the late 1990s, our Moravian group was able to visit Star Mountain. During the visit, members of our group were sitting on the school floor, interacting with some of the young children who had welcomed us with Danish cookies and hot tea (it was a cold January day!). Some members of our group had brought the students small gifts, which were enjoyed with great excitement and joy. One young boy with a gift in hand turned to one of our group and asked him a question in Arabic. A Star Mountain teacher nearby smiled and translated. The teacher said the boy had asked, “Is this really for me?”

   Is this really for me? I have thought many times about how profound and vital this question is. It is a question of faith, a question of grace, and a question of blessing. It is a question that continues to invite and inspire our witness to the gifts of Christ’s love, reconciliation, and healing work in the world, at places like Star Mountain and many more. Are these gifts for everyone? They certainly are! And as a Moravian, I am thankful that the light, dedication, and hard work of a small, faithful community on a beautiful, wooded hill north of Ramallah keeps that hope alive every day.

Students and Teachers at Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center

Gracious God, grant special measures of your grace and strength this day
to all those who serve the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.
Where there is darkness, may their faithfulness bring light;
where there is confusion, may their skills bring clarity and calm;
where there is fear, may their empathy and compassion bring trust;
and where there is exhaustion and desperation,
may their love bring new hope and sustaining joy.

We pray in the name of the One of Palestine who said,
“Let the little children come unto me,” even Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen

Rev. Rick Sides formerly served as the representative for the Moravians to the Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) board. He was also the pastor of Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. To find out more about the Moravian Church, visit their website.

Prayers4Peace: Antiochian Orthodox Christians Pray for Peace

by Subdeacon Peter Samore
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

The word “peace” appears no fewer than 33 times throughout the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. The first words of the deacon in the “litany of peace” are “In peace, let us pray to the Lord.” He goes on to pray for the gift of peace for God’s churches and His world. When blessing the people, the bishop or priest exclaims, “Peace be to all.” The people respond, “And to your spirit.” They are asking God for His peace upon the leaders of His church.

It’s no coincidence that the children of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (based in Damascus, Syria) and her archdioceses in the Middle East and around the world – like the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America – constantly beg God for this blessing. Peace is abundant from Him, but a rare commodity in this world, including in the Middle East.

Right after persistent prayer for peace, Antiochian Orthodox Christians are called to abstain from anything non-peaceful and unprofitable. The leader of our Archdiocese, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph, often tells his church about the example set by his mentor and spiritual father, His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV (1920-2012). “During the chaos of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90), he distinguished himself from the other religious leaders of the region by rising above the disastrous sectarianism that was raging and stoking violence at the time. He was the one that all sides knew could be trusted because his only allegiance was to Christ.”

The incumbent of the Church of Antioch, His Beatitude Patriarch John X, constantly calls upon leaders of the regional governments to put aside sectarian differences and political interests to stabilize the region so that their people – Christians, Muslims, and others – can have peace and stability not only to build up their nations but their own places of worship.

Right after setting an example, Orthodox Christians with the spiritual heritage of Antioch – where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26) – then work to achieve peace. They do this by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting and healing the sick (Matthew 25:35-36). The Church of Antioch’s archdiocese in Beirut, Lebanon, owns and operates the famed St. George Hospital, which set up emergency beds in its parking lot to treat victims who were badly hurt by the explosion on August 4, 2020. Doctors and nurses worked ceaselessly to care for them, even as their own hospital suffered severe damage. The Antiochian Archdiocese of North America raised more than $1 million to help with ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts.

The Patriarchate of Antioch owns and operates a hospital in El-Hosn, Syria, in the area known as the “Valley of the Christians.” It constantly cared for victims during the senseless war over the last decade. Our archdiocese assists the Patriarchate’s Department of Ecumenical Relationships and Development with humanitarian efforts to rebuild churches, schools, and homes, as well as providing food and medical care.

Palestinian Orthodox Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have their own sets of struggles living in occupation. Those that immigrate to the U.S. and Canada attend our churches, so we are very sensitive to their needs. Our archdiocese has helped them in many ways, including financially, over the years.

Since its inception in 1895, the Antiochian Archdiocese has welcomed tens of thousands of Orthodox Christian immigrants from the Middle East, helping them set up homes and livelihoods. They, in turn, built our first churches; their descendants and the Americans and Canadians who have converted to the Orthodox Faith build our churches and institutions today. These communities then send money and resources “back home” to their families and churches in Lebanon, Syria, and other lands. The Archdiocese provides liturgical texts for worship in English – and in Arabic for the newcomers and refugees – so that they can all pray for precious peace in their native tongues.

Of course, we must all pray for peace in North America, the Middle East, and the entire world. Then, we must act. This action includes connecting with charitable groups here (like International Orthodox Christian Charities) and abroad (like St. George Hospital of Beirut) to send our lifesaving aid to our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. We must also learn more about the complexities of the Middle East so that we can teach against misperceptions. Some Americans do not realize that Christians still live in the Middle East – indigenous Christians have lived there continually since the time of Christ – and they need our attention and support. Seek out the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Middle East Christians who have crossed onto our shores for their stories, perspectives, and expertise. Finally, we must be peacemakers in our own churches and society, solving problems and focusing on our Lord himself so that he can call us his children (Matthew 5:9).


Subdeacon Peter Samore is the Director of Communications for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. To learn more about the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in North American, please visit their website.


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

Prayers4Peace: Prayers for Lebanon

Prayers for Lebanon
by Rev. Elmarie Parker
PCUSA Regional Liaison to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon

For Lebanon, the past two plus years have held numerous catastrophes including the August 4, 2020 Beirut explosion and the ongoing devastating economic crisis. Partners in Lebanon communicate that the current reality is unlike anything our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and partners in Lebanon have ever experienced…economically worse even than any period during their 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. This report is from ministry partners on the ground in Lebanon. 

Lebanon is collectively enduring the country’s catastrophic economic and banking collapse (one of the three worst such collapses in the past 150 years of global history) with all of its crippling and debasing impacts especially affecting the most vulnerable around us. No one ever dreamed that more than two years ago all they had worked for would be stripped away. A recent UN investigation reports that nearly 80% of the Lebanese population currently lives below the poverty line. Another report from the United Nations reveals that multi-dimensional poverty impacts 82% of the population with reduced or no access to health care, education, or public utilities and meager to zero income. This same report highlights how inflation soared 281% between June 2019 and June 2021, and the situation has only grown worse since then with collapsing fuel subsidies and the Lira still losing value. The value of the Lira currently fluctuates between 19,000LL to the USD and 34,000LL to the USD, making it extremely challenging to conduct business of any kind, let alone figure out basic household expenses like food, fuel, generator subscription prices, medications, etc.

For example, our neighbor is a teacher who used to earn the equivalent of $1,000 USD per month. She now brings home the same salary, but it is worth only $65 USD. At the same time, the propane tank she buys for cooking that used to cost 17,500LL now costs her over 400,000LL. A tank of gas for her car has escalated at the same rate. Her food costs have risen 500%. In the meantime, she must hunt all over the city for a pharmacy that still has medications available. Basic medicines like aspirin are almost impossible to find, let alone medications for treating chronic conditions. Public utilities provide only 1-2 hours of electricity a day, so if funds aren’t available for the now very expensive generator subscriptions. It is impossible to keep one’s refrigerator going, let alone all the other life tasks that demand electricity. 

During Lebanon’s very cold winter this year, this also means people aren’t able to heat their homes. We are hearing reports from partners that people are burning clothes, wood, and anything else they can find to stay warm. While people begging on the streets in past months and years have been mostly from among the Syrian refugee population, now there are more and more Lebanese begging or going through the trash bins looking for whatever might be edible. Meat and chicken has pretty much dropped out of people’s meal plans, and even beans, because they use too much propane time to cook. Lentils, rice, oil, and vegetables are the basic foodstuffs making up relief packages these days. You can see why the middle class has become impoverished and the impoverished have become destitute.

Anyone who had a bank account has long been locked out from freely accessing it. Only very limited withdrawals are possible, and those withdrawals come at very unfavorable exchange rates. Accounting has become a very complex process for any business as they work with multiple exchange rate realities every day. Much more can be said about this dynamic.

The persistent refusal of those with governing authority to act for the good of all in Lebanon is leaving most of those in Lebanon feeling deeply discouraged and angry. The not yet healed physical, emotional, and spiritual wound left by the catastrophic Beirut Port explosion in August 2020 still lays raw. And then there is the covid19 pandemic which has just amplified all the above. Though it must be said that the Health Ministry and remaining medical community have provided excellent care and communication throughout the pandemic—from lock-down and/or masking & temperature-taking protocols, to an effective and efficient vaccination platform, to exceptional testing capacity (a full lab PCR test taken in the morning has results sent out by SMS by the afternoon), to comprehensive contact tracing.

Our partners, including both Palestinian and Syrian refugees, are living and feeling the pain of all the above in their own lives, the lives of their families, and in the lives of those they seek to accompany and serve in the midst of these multiple disasters. Most of the focus is on simple relief aid—food security work, vouchers for fuel or rent or medicines or medical care, school scholarships. Several partners are also providing mental health care/trauma resiliency efforts. And several are helping families whose homes were damaged in the blast, repair those homes (or businesses). Our partners need the wider church body to weep with them, and stand with them through both prayer and financial grants that are needed now more than ever.


Please join Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) in praying for Lebanon. You can leave your prayers in the comments section of this blog. If you would like to support ministries of the PCUSA church you can make a donation here with “relief support” on the comments line. Or you can send a check to: 

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
Memo/Comments Line:  E864355—Relief Support 

To learn more about the economic crisis in Lebanon, see this Do Justice Blog written by CMEP’s executive director Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon (September 17, 2021). 


Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

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