Tag: peace

Prayers4Peace: “God has heard my voice; God will accept my prayer”

“God has heard my voice; God will accept my prayer”
by Patriarch Emeritus, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah
First shared at the inaugural Fr. Drew Christiansen Holy Land Lecture Series in Washington, D.C. on November 16th, 2022

I know that truth is very difficult to see in our land. Though here, in our land, Jesus said: “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6). Here also, he said to Pilate: I came “to bear witness to the truth” (Jn 18: 37). Yet, much of the powerful of the world today, concerning justice and peace in the Holy Land, are still repeating the same ironic answer of Pilate: what is the truth? (Jn 18:38). As Pilate of the past, the Pilates of today, make the truth as they want, according to their own interests. And so doing, those who are oppressed remain oppressed. 

Fr Drew spoke for the truth. Many followed his guidance. Others kept going in their indifference, in the way of Pilate, sure that there is no truth in wars, especially when war is in the Holy Land.

The conflict in the Holy Land today, and its solution, is simple and clear for those who want to see the truth: the two peoples of the Land, Palestinians, and Israelis, are equal in rights and duties and must have the same freedom and same political status.

In the Holy Land, Israel today is strong and the decision-maker for peace or war. For that, it needs real friends who have the courage to tell Israel the truth and say when it is wrong and right. Resolutions are already taken by the United Nations to put an end to the conflict. What is needed is a Church or a world power that tells the truth to the friend Israel, who says to Israel and USA: put in execution the UN resolutions already taken, have the courage to make justice, peace, and equality, in the land made holy by God.

Can the Church of the United States be this real and courageous friend who helps both Israelis and Palestinians for reconciliation?

I wish this memory of Fr Drew will move the waters and bring true action for reconciliation in the Holy Land so that the Land made holy by God will be brought back to its holiness and be the land of life and Redemption for its peoples.


Jerusalem is the city of reconciliation, but it is itself still in search of reconciliation. Jerusalem needs your action, you and many others, to help find truth and reconciliation, where Jesus said: I am the way, the truth, and the life. Pray and act.


H.B. Msgr. Michel Sabbah is Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem. He was the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1987 to 2008, the first non-Italian to hold this position in more than five centuries. He was born in Nazareth, studied at the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala, and was ordained in Nazareth in 1955. He received his doctorate in Arab philology from the Sorbonne. During his priesthood, he served in parishes in the diocese, as the diocesan youth director and the director of education, and as the President of Bethlehem University. Among his many publications is Faithful Witness: On Reconciliation and Peace in the Holy Land (Hyde Park, NY, 2009), edited by Drew Christiansen, S. J. and Saliba Sarsar.


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: Baptists Heed the Call for Justice, Freedom, and Equality

by CMEP Board Member communion, the Alliance of Baptists

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).

The Alliance of Baptists has a proud history of pursuing justice, affirming God’s inclusive kin-dom, and equipping the church to follow in the way of Jesus. In response to our Palestinian Christian siblings, both within our communities and in the Holy Land, we have spent the past decade learning how we can live out these commitments. We choose solidarity with those longing for justice and beseeching us to work with God for their liberation. 

In 2013, in response to Kairos Palestine and internal organizing, the Alliance made this public commitment: “The Board of the Alliance recognizes the critical need to work for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel. The Board blesses and endorses the work of the Justice in Palestine and Israel Community.” Our Justice in Palestine and Israel Community (JPI) has led the Alliance in living out this commitment: 

  • We host regular educational events highlighting both the daily and multi-generational injustices Palestinians endure, such as an upcoming film discussion night covering the Netflix-hosted films The Present and Salt of This Sea.
  • We equip our membership to advocate for just U.S. policies and international accountability for Israel’s war crimes, for example, through advocacy with Members of Congress.
  • We engage with Palestinian mission partners in the work of solidarity and healing. Because we believe deeply in the importance of following the leadership of those directly impacted by injustice, we have focused our work on responding to the pleas of Palestinian Christians voiced in Kairos Palestine, their epistle to international churches, and follow-up letters such as Cry of Hope and a Call for Decisive Action
  • We participate in Global Kairos for Justice, a network of international organizations responding to the Palestinian calls listed above. 

We center our work on the call of Kairos Palestine and continue to educate ourselves about the increasingly dire conditions Palestinians endure. We grieve that U.S. tax dollars contribute to these conditions. In response, we have made three major commitments to using our economic and cultural power to disrupt that injustice and challenge systems of oppression:

  • We committed in 2016 to boycott and divest from companies that profit from human rights violations of Palestinians.
  • In 2018, the Alliance joined with individuals, congregations, and denominations throughout the United States in boycotting Hewlett Packard (HP) for its contributions to institutionalized apartheid in the Occupied Territories. In addition to economic boycott and divestment, we acknowledged the political and cultural power of Christian Zionism in intensifying the oppression of Palestinians. In following Jesus’ example, we want to be clear that we believe in a God of justice, freedom, and inclusion. We must decry ways in which the church seeks to coopt religion for purposes of power and greed. 
  • In 2021, the Alliance officially committed to confronting Christian Zionism in our congregations and in the halls of Congress. We are grateful for our Jewish friends who have led the way in confronting the misuse of their faith in ways that oppress others. They and we insist that true religion demands we disrupt all manifestations of evil, both within and beyond our religious networks.
  • During the Annual Gathering from April 21–23, we will put forward a resolution that names the Israeli occupation as an apartheid system that must be dismantled. In preparation for that, we will offer a three-part education and discussion series beginning January 19 entitled “Apartheid? An Epistle from Palestinian Christians”. For information on how to join, please email allison@labcoakland.org.

Our partnership with Churches for Middle East Peace, and through it the Faith Forum, has been helpful in engaging in advocacy in the halls of Congress and education in the churches. As we continue to partner together, we humbly request your prayers for the work we are doing. We ask prayers for clarity in understanding the calls of our Palestinian siblings, courage to act according to our deepest commitments, and confidence to face down attempts to silence the liberative work of God. Below is a prayer that we’ve been praying for the past two years – we invite you to pray with us:

God of Life and Love and Liberation,

We pray for all who are living with death and
devastation and destruction.
We pray for Gaza and all the lives lost, communities destroyed,
and families living in fear.    
We pray for East Jerusalem, for those who endure settler attacks,
home evictions, and constant humiliation.
We pray for Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel, refugee camps,
and the diaspora, all of whom are longing for freedom,
justice, and equality.
We pray for Israelis who are outraged by what their government
is doing and for Israelis who are not yet conscious of this
and yet are suffering from being a part of a violent, racist system.
We pray for all who are working for a just peace in the land we call holy.

May your life-giving spirit blow through war-torn lands and
places of death to birth new life.

Amen.


About the Alliance of Baptists: These three core values guide the Alliance of Baptists. The Alliance of Baptists began in 1987 as a prophetic voice in Baptist life. Today, we have grown to be a justice movement and community of faith. We are male and female laity and clergy, people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, theological beliefs, and ministry practices. We are about 4,500 individual members and roughly 140 congregations knit together by love for one another and God, combining progressive inquiry, contemplative prayer and prophetic action to bring about justice and healing in a changing world. Find out more at: https://allianceofbaptists.org/


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).

Advent 2022: Christmas Day

Relinquishing the Status Quo
Kelley Nikondeha

We meet Joseph, a pious man, in the grip of a dilemma. According to Matthew, he discovered that the young woman he was betrothed to was already pregnant. Soon enough others would learn about his bride’s condition and it would reflect poorly on him one way or another. Likely, the situation kept him up for nights as he weighed his options. What is a righteous man to do in such a precarious situation?

There was a protocol in place for such a situation, a tradition to tell a good man like Joseph exactly what to do should he learn his betrothed was pregnant by another man before the final wedding ceremony. The man must go to the community elders in the public square and make known the situation. This would allow him to protect his reputation and keep his standing in the community. The man would then involve the woman’s family and compel them to return the bride price or impound the dowry. It was standard for the man to receive economic compensation under such circumstances. But this expected practice apparently did not sit well with Joseph.

He decided to handle his dilemma differently. He would divorce her quietly. He would do the necessary things privately. But he would not haul her or her family into the public spotlight and add to her humiliation. Joseph centered her in his personal deliberations – and those calculations challenged conventional expectations. He would not defend his reputation at the further expense of hers. He would forgo the financial recompense he was owed. Before an angel even spoke, we see Joseph as a deeply pious man in ways that would confound the expectations of his own community.

But his dilemma and decision were interrupted by a dream. An angel appeared amid his nocturnal tossing and turning to offer divine instruction. “Go ahead with the marriage, because it is God’s child she carries,” the messenger said. So when Joseph woke up, he took Mary home as his wife and entered into her shame, socially speaking. And when the child was born, he named him, functionally adopting him as his own son. Such an unexpected turn of events.

The first advent narrative reminds us that sometimes piety defies the expectations of our religious community, like it did for Joseph. Sometimes there is a deeper holiness – like centering the vulnerable ones, sacrificing financial gain, even accepting social stigma. When we remember that alongside the Jewish community in the Holy Land exist the Palestinian people – we often are at odds with our community. Too many of our religious and even political affiliations do not recognize the Palestinian people, their legitimate connection to the land, or their decades of loss. To consider them as anything other than terrorists can sometimes put us in line to be called antisemitic. But when we see both the Jewish and Palestinian communities and their deep heritage in the land, we are invited to enter into a solidarity that might cost us our reputation or more. And yet standing for God’s justice for all families in the land, be they Jewish or Palestinian, aligns with God’s invitation to a wider, more generous, and nonpartisan peace.

This Advent season is a good time to again
commit ourselves to God’s justice in the world,
even if it is unpopular and pushes us to
the margins of our social groups.
It is a good time to recommit to God’s jubilee,
which centers the vulnerable people
even if it costs us our reputation or some income.
It is a good time to remember that God’s peace comes
in unexpected ways, often reversing the status quo,
as Joseph embodied.

____

Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.


CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase


CMEP is very thankful for those 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.

Advent 2022: Christmas Eve

Theological Reflection
Kelley Nikondeha

Two divinely announced sons, two unexpected pregnancies, and two mothers-to-be. Needless to say, Elizabeth and Mary had much to talk about during their three months together. Cloistered in the terraced town of Ein Kerem, the women shared daily chores and conversations about what was happening to them – and in them. Their bodies changed day by day, swelling to accommodate God’s work in them with literal force. The new trajectory of their stories took shape even before each began to show.

When Mary first arrived at her elder relative’s doorstep, her own pregnancy likely was not common knowledge. But Elizabeth’s child jumped in her belly, testifying to a holy presence among them. She sang out, “Blessed are you among women – and the fruit of your womb!” Not a random greeting, but a chorus heavy with history from Israel’s mighty women. Elizabeth echoed the words of warrior-judge Deborah, who sang the verse over Jael when she was victorious in war. And there are hints of the history that also connect with Judith from the Apocrypha, another woman who proved herself in battle on behalf of her people. The elder relative put Mary in esteemed company, recognizing that God was at work among them both.

The women had plenty of time to talk about the new turn in their lives. Walking to get water Elizabeth sang an old song by Hannah, another woman whose barrenness was broken by God’s goodness. She taught Mary about her story. They likely mused together over how God worked then, and continued to manifest similar mercies toward them both now. Maybe they sang together Miriam’s song of deliverance as they cut cucumbers and tore fresh herbs into a salad to bring to the dinner table. And maybe over dinner the conversation continued about possible connections between Miriam singing in the shadow of Pharaoh and how they now sang under Roman occupation.

Imagine Zechariah, silently listening as he ate. Was he surprised at their hunger for liberation, their insights on transformation? Or was he more stunned by their theological explorations – informed by knowledge of their ancestors and woven with their own real-time experience? Maybe his muting by the Spirit was not a punishment, but an opportunity for revelation. He witnessed the emergence of incarnation theology inaugurated by women. The quieted priest learned from the mothers of advent.

This Advent season we might all do well to watch the women in Israel-Palestine and see the ways they are forging peace. The Palestinian and Israeli mothers of the Parent’s Circle, where those bereft of children due to the conflict come together in shared grief, tell their stories together. Often times their hands are clasped together as they remember their children and speak hard and tender truths about the cost of violence in the land. They point a way forward for those willing to listen. Women activists are coming together from both sides of the Separation Wall to march for peace, reminding us that Elizabeth and Mary sang of a non-violent peace that broke with the warrior-mothers of old. These women, too, cry out for an end to violence and a new kind of peace across the region they share.

As we embody God’s peace campaign this advent,
we can learn from the first advent and listen to the wisdom
and experience of the women among us. The words of women
are integral to a full theology of incarnation
and understanding of what it means when we say
Immanuel, God is with us. Maybe we are those women –
and we must find the courage to say out loud what
the Spirit of God is doing in us. Maybe we have freedom songs
to sing for our communities, more verses to add
to Mother Mary’s Magnificat.

____

Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.


CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase


CMEP is very thankful for those 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.

Advent 2022: Fourth Sunday

Collective Prayer
Kelley Nikondeha

Herod loomed large as the visible representative of Roman authority in Judea. Known for his cruelty to citizens and family alike, for his massive building campaigns to bring honor to Caesar and attention to himself, and for the creation of a surveillance state – he also threw the priesthood into precarity to serve his political agenda.

Zechariah lived in this fray. He was an ordinary priest, living outside of Jerusalem in a small village. Priests like him received small stipends, but surviving the uneven economy required them to supplement their income. When Zechariah was not instructing people in the ways of the Torah he worked alongside them harvesting olives, or at the wine press, or tending the groves of fruit trees in the terraced hills. A son would have been such a help at times like this, he must have mused more than once. But Elizabeth’s barrenness meant the struggle of provision fell on his aging shoulders alone.

And Herod made things more tenuous for Zechariah and his fellow priests amid that first advent. He moved around elite priests at his whim to serve his own purposes, which meant movement down the line for ordinary clerics like him. He never knew when he would be demoted or his stipend delayed or decreased. The instability of his priestly position meant he shared the economic duress of his neighbors.

He lived at the hinge between the elite priesthood in Jerusalem and the everyday Jew. He saw the excess of one and the need of the other. He knew intimately the stories of his neighbors, shared under the generous canopy of the fig trees as they sipped tea between their hours of labor in the fields and on the threshing floors. A bad harvest, sons migrating north looking for work, and the forfeiture of family land – he heard it all and took it to heart, as a community elder and good priest.

There is little doubt that the daily concerns carried by Zechariah’s neighbors shaped his prayers. When he prayed at home or in the Temple, he saw their faces. High priests might have had the luxury of disconnection from the anxieties of the people, but not an ordinary priest. So Zechariah did not have only or primarily a personal piety, but a faithful practice that embraced his neighbors.

Imagine if we prayed like Zechariah, allowing the injustices that impinge on our neighbors to be central as we pray for their relief.  We could pray for the end to systemic oppression — the dynamics that keep people without potable water, without access to ample food, or safe streets for their children. We might pray about economics structures that create a permanent poverty class, contra the jubilee aspirations of the prophets. We certainly could pray for occupations to end and for refugees to return home and know repatriation and reunion. We could pray for all threats so all could live in God’s peace.

The invitation to embody God’s peace campaign, in the Middle East or middle America, ought to reorient our advent prayers. Our petitions could be less about our individualistic concerns and center on the needs of our neighbors. This Advent we could pray with our neighbors, near and far, in mind. We can listen to the hardship our neighbors labor under and allow those very things to inform our prayers for the season.

The angel came to the Temple, but not to a high priest.
God’s messenger spoke to an ordinary priest who was
intimately acquainted with the pain of the region.
The seeds for God’s peace are in lowly places,
among those who struggle and pray for tangible relief.
May this shape our prayers this Advent.

____

Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.


CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase


CMEP is very thankful for those 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.

Advent 2022: Third Sunday

Lament
Kelley Nikondeha

The days before the first advent were dark and loud with suffering. Empires pounded the land of Israel and Judea incessantly with militaristic campaigns and exploitive economics — so violent. No man, woman, or child was spared the trauma of successive invasions and mounting losses. Still, families tried to survive the punishing oppression with faith in God, despite the divine silence in the face of their pain. Loss and lament blanketed the landscape. For those who know Israel-Palestine today, it sounds all too familiar.

When the Seleucids terrorized the region and defiled the Temple, the books of I and II Maccabees tell us one priest and his sons stood up to the empire. But first came lament. Mattathias echoed the sentiment of Lamentations, the tour de force of grief in the aftermath of another empire, another season of terror, another time the Temple suffered sacrilege at the hands of foreigners. He joined the lament of his ancestors, mourning more loss and making his discontent known to God.

But when he could bear it no longer, he took matters into his own hands and lunged at a soldier. It triggered an armed revolt. And then the Maccabees experienced a victory characteristic of David’s defeat of Goliath. They rededicated the Temple – lighting the Eternal Flame and celebrating God’s presence among them once again. Hanukkah commemorates this season of liberation and light. But it was short-lived, because another empire was on the horizon.

There would be more Jewish suffering to come, at home and abroad, more reasons to lament. And as we consider the landscape of the first advent, and all those since, a tenor of lament still seems appropriate for lands riddled with injustice. And we know that Palestinian suffering would be added to the heaviness of the Holy Land, another catastrophe visited upon another people longing to live at peace in their ancestral land. So we can bring our grief over check-points, home demolitions, land disputes and water disparities to God. We can cry aloud about military campaigns targeting Gaza, suicide bombers in Israeli cities, conflicts around the Temple Mount and brutality in Hebron. Our lament is a holy response to the on-going pain and injustice of Israel-Palestine today.

When our Jewish friends light their Hanukkah candles remembering liberation from an imperial force, they also remind us of ancient atrocities that were the predicate to the first advent. Maybe the soft glow of their festival of light can allow us to enter advent with a deeper awareness of the pain of injustice and the desire for tangible freedom from all oppression. Perhaps as we light the candles of our advent wreaths, we can whisper our own lament in solidarity with so many trying to survive troubled times in the Holy Land and our own neighborhoods.

The Romans were a punishing presence in the region, ending Jewish self-rule and consigning Jerusalem to be a subject of the empire. But with Caesar came world peace, as he brought an end to all wars during his time and was hailed as the savior of the world. It is curious that God inaugurated a peace campaign at such a time in history, when peace had been achieved. Unless God’s peace campaign functioned as a critique of Caesar’s peace – revealing the world’s idea of peace as phony. Maybe violence to secure resources for the privileged few at the expense of the many was not what true peace looks like. Maybe economic exploitation, daily humiliation, and land forfeiture did not look like God’s kind of peace, either. And so the advent narratives in the gospels of Luke and Matthew would show us the seeds of God’s peace in Palestine and beyond.

We are invited to embody God’s peace campaign —
and lamenting the suffering caused by injustice is a good place to begin.
We join our Jewish brothers and sisters, who know too deeply the pain of generational trauma
and the incessant fear of annihilation.
We lock arms with our Palestinian siblings, so many living under active

occupation or living as refugees in the diaspora.
We add our lament to theirs and cry out for justice to come,
for suffering to cease, and for God’s peace to visit us all in lasting ways.

____

Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.


CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase


CMEP is very thankful for those 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.

Advent 2022: Second Sunday of Advent

Following Stars Toward Hope
Kelley Nikondeha

Persia was one of the world’s first superpowers. But after 200 years Alexander the Great defeated them, ending their empire. Some Persians accepted their fate under Greek rule with all its accompanying Hellenistic influence, but others longed for independence from foreign domination. Among them – the magi. They were not just men of good counsel. They had knowledge of that natural world, were well-versed in the intricacies of society and people, which made them keen political operatives in the East. And they kept hope alive in Persia for a return to freedom.

They lived long under occupation, witnesses to the continued disintegration of Persian culture around them. They likely discerned that all the signs pointed in the direction of continued subjugation. Deep knowledge made the magi deeply aware that there was no end in sight. Hopelessness almost seemed like the wisest option. Until a star rose in the night sky – and so did their hopes.

These political pilgrims followed the star into enemy territory looking for hope that something new was underway, they were looking for a reason to keep hope alive. The star led them to Jerusalem, another city under occupation. As men esteemed beyond their borders, they entered the city and found Herod, the local ruler. But they were wise enough to know he was not the one they journeyed to find.

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” they asked. “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Herod, despite his extensive surveillance apparatus, did not see the star. And he, along with his functionaries, were troubled by talk of a newborn usurper. It was not lost on him that these politically astute men came into his palace not to honor him, but to find and worship another. They knew things that could upend his rule.

The star returned, guiding the magi to a small home in Bethlehem. And the magi worshipped the newborn king. But if it is not already clear – this was not a purely religious act. The word used for worship in Matthew’s gospel has more political freight to it, so the magi offered homage to a political superior. They found the true king of the Jews, and acted accordingly. They gave gifts. They gave honor. They dared to worship a rival ruler. Their brave journey west coupled with their discernment allowed them to witness the beginning of a new world order in Judea. In a sense, their resistance was rewarded. And if an indigenous leader could be restored in Judea, then it could happen anywhere – even in their Persian homeland. The magi returned home with visions of liberation for their land, too.

In occupied spaces, often our imagination is shut down. Hope is hard to hold on to when all you see is your world crumbling. But often it is the artists among us that stoke hope when our reserves are nearly empty. And Sliman Mansour, Palestinian artist of resistance, does this for the people of Palestine. His work keeps the story of his people alive, and points toward the hope that still exists in the soil of the land and the soil of their hearts. He paints resilient women, terraced olive tree groves, Palestinian families clad in kufiyahs. His work shows what is hard, but also where hope still resides. Like the magi of old, he is not shy naming occupation and pushing against it through his artwork. He is a star leading toward hope amid a hard landscape.

Joining the invitation to participate in God’s peace campaign includes following stars into unexpected, even hostile, territory to hunt for hope. It means embracing the truth that hope is not only on offer for our community, but for the wider world that God so loves. The first advent shows us that Judeans, Galileans, even Persians were beneficiaries of God’s peace invitation.

The star leads to hope for all occupied lands and all occupied peoples.


Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.


CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase


CMEP is very thankful for those 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.

Prayers4Peace: Living in the Shadow of the Wall

Living in the Shadow of the Wall
by Angleena Keizer, Mission Partner to the Holy Land, Methodist Liaison Office, Jerusalem

I have lived in the holy land for the last five years. While my office is in east Jerusalem my home is in Beit Jala a suburb of Bethlehem. Along with my colleague Samar, we are involved in various projects in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

During my time here I have witnessed so many human rights denied to Palestinians. The taking of land for illegal Israeli settlements to be built upon, house demolitions, olive trees uprooted, arrests, and ultimately deaths. I have personally nearly been run over by an Israeli settler in a 4 x 4 while olive picking in the north of the West Bank, alongside Rabbis For Human Rights. Within five minutes the Israeli military army had arrived and the young owner of the land was informed by the army that his land was now declared Area C, under both Israeli military and civil control. He couldn’t harvest his olives due to the settlers declaring they “didn’t like internationals helping him.” We were escorted off the land by the army, the young farmer due to be married the following week was panicking and fearful that the army would arrest him for no reason.

I have witnessed a system that perpetrates fear, oppression, lack of freedom of religious worship and movement, lack of basic human rights, and total disregard for the rights of every human being, committed against both Muslims and Christians alike. Whole communities live in the shadow of an Israeli illegal separation wall, that not only separates movement in Israel but also separates Palestinian communities from one another. The only way a person is able to escape the wall is to be granted a permit from the Government of Israel (GOI), whether it’s from the world’s largest open-air prison, Gaza or the West Bank. I have lived among a people who are so welcoming with open hearts and open arms, offering hospitality, friendship, and help whenever is needed. Never once have I feared living amongst Palestinians, contrary to the large red signs erected by the GOI at every entry point into the West Bank that states for Israelis to enter is a danger to their life and forbidden. I have had the opportunity and honour to walk alongside and hear their stories and be inspired by those who seek a just peace in nonviolent ways. Whose very lives and existence in the shadow of the wall is a resistance in itself. Like anyone of us, Palestinians want peace, to live in harmony with others, have the same human rights and opportunities for themselves and their children. Tourists visit the wall leaving their artwork as a form of solidarity. When all is said and done, they return home leaving a people still living in the shadow of the wall.

Among the many projects we recently visited was the WI’AM Conflict Restoration Centre, which is based literally in the shadow of the wall. We attended the youth summer holiday camp, where the children enjoyed the activities provided. Their bright yellow cheerful T-shirts and smiles were a stark contrast to the Israeli dark grey stone wall and military watchtower hovering over them.

I sat and enjoyed their enthusiasm and joy wondering,
Lord will this wall be dismantled in their lifetime?
How many more generations will continue to face occupation and enforce restrictions upon their lives? The words of one little girl’s T-shirt ‘you are the reason’ is why so many travel and visit Bethlehem, not only to bow down at the star of Bethlehem where the Saviour of the world, the Prince of Peace was born and is a reminder, ‘Emmanuel God with us’. 

But to come and see and go and tell the reality that Palestinians face daily, living in the shadow of the wall. They come standing in solidarity speaking out against such violations and continue to pray for an end to occupation. It is both a heavy burden and a joy to live amongst Palestinians in a place of ‘occupation’, to witness their resilience, steadfastness, and desire for peace, seeking to do so in nonviolent ways, and being challenged to do likewise.


Deacon Angleena Keizer is serving at the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem. Prior to this appointment, she served in Sri Lanka (2015 – July 2017) where she worked alongside the English-speaking congregation at the Kollupitiya Methodist Church. However, due to contracting Dengue Fever for the second time in a year and on medical advice, her placement finished a little early. 

The Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem is a partnership of the World Methodist Council, the Methodist Church of Britain, and The United Methodist Church. Its purpose is to increase international awareness and involvement of the Methodist community in the issues of Israel/Palestine. To find out more, visit their website at https://worldmethodistcouncil.org/methodist-liaison-office-in-jerusalem/.


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: From Naïve Christian Zionism to Just Peace in the Holy Land

From Naïve Christian Zionism to Just Peace in the Holy Land
by Andrew Bolton, Community of Christ

Community of Christ began on the US frontier in the late 1820s with a heart for both Jews and Native Americans, two despised groups by many American Christians of European descent at that time. An early church missionary, Orson Hyde, was influenced by early ideals for the return of the Jews to Palestine swirling in both the USA and in the British Isles. In October 1841 he arrived in Jerusalem and wrote a prayer from his heart on the Mount of Olives. It includes these words:

Let [kings and the powers of the earth] know that it is
Thy good pleasure to restore the kingdom unto Israel,
raise up Jerusalem as its capital,
and constitute her people a distinct nation and government…

Historically, many members were on the path toward Christian Zionism long before Theodore Herzl and the establishment of Jewish political zionism. A friend of Orson Hyde, G. J. Adams, later led a group from Maine to Palestine in 1866 to found a colony near Jaffa to help Jews return to Palestine. The venture was a tragic failure, but the attempt reinforced our belief that Jews had to be restored to their historic homeland.  

My father-in-law, Reed M Holmes, also represented this Christian Zionism movement within Community of Christ. A gentle, loving minister, he first heard stories about G. J. Adams while working as a young missionary in Maine in the 1940s, including meeting a woman who was a child in the ill-fated Maine colony near Jaffa. He later wrote a biography about G. J. Adams, did his Ph.D. at Haifa University, and promoted these stories of helping Jews to return to the Holy Land with tours and writings. His daughter Jewell and I were engaged on one of his Holy Land tours in 1977. At that time I became thoroughly Christian Zionist, but naively, so like my loving father-in-law. 

Gradually, I became aware of the Palestinian story. To begin with, I resisted but as my awareness of their story reluctantly grew I began to alter my position. From about 2010, I began attending the annual conferences of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) in Washington DC, which were very helpful. In 2014, Jewell and I, and a French church member – Chrystal Vanel – participated in a dual narrative study tour of Palestine/Israel organized by Churches for Middle East Peace. Those eight superbly planned days enabled us to meet both Israelis and Palestinians working for a just peace. This study tour was really helpful. 

Chrystal Vanel was able to get a resolution to the 2016 World Conference for Community of Christ that evenly denounced anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and supported a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis, with support for a two-state solution. The resolution generated the longest debate of the week-long conference but in the end, comfortably passed. 

Since 2016, I have chaired the Palestine/Israel sub-team of a larger Peace and Justice team for the Community of Christ denomination. We talked with eight different people working on Israel/Palestine issues in our meetings between 2016 and 2019. We concluded that our first priority was to educate our church members and friends about the realities of the occupation, its crushing burden on Palestinians, and finding out what would make for a just peace in the Holy Land. So, we ran two sessions at the 2019 World Conference. Now in 2022, we are doing a series of three ‘Grounds for Peace’ podcasts, one released on Holocaust Remembrance Day 27 April, another on Nakba Day 15 May, and a third UN International Day of Peace released in September 2022.  

In 2022 Community of Christ also became a member of Churches for Middle East Peace – a very encouraging and helpful step forward. Our next World Conference will be in April 2023. We will be considering a resolution opposing Christian Zionism and are planning a further podcast specifically on Christian Zionism to help that conference debate.

So, in outline, I describe our struggling journey towards a more informed understanding of Palestine/Israel. The good news is that a denomination naively caught up by Christian Zionism may be on the road to repentance. My journey means that I now see Christian Zionists, particularly in the USA, as part of the problem, part of why the unjust occupation of Palestinians continues. Christian Zionists unhelpfully and unjustly skew USA Middle East policy, whether the administration is Republican or Democrat. I see Christian Zionism as a sinful, violent theology that leads to the oppression of Palestinians, endangers Israeli security in the long term, and greatly hinders a just peace for all.

My loving father-in-law introduced me to these words:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    ‘May they prosper who love you.
(Psalm 122:6 NRSV Anglicised)

Join us in prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, that it may be a city where every Jew, Christian, and Muslim can enjoy full human dignity and experience peace, shalom, and salaam. Jewell and I live in Leicester, England a city of 350,000+ people with 70+ languages, 14+ world religions, and a non-white majority. There are of course tensions at times, but the city peacefully flourishes and continues to welcome refugees and immigrants. May the peace of Jerusalem also flourish and become a beacon for human dignity for all throughout the Middle East.  


Andrew Bolton is a former British teacher of multi-faith Religious Education in Leicester, UK, a teacher trainer at Westminster College, Oxford, and a school inspector. For 18 years he worked for Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri, coordinating Peace and Justice Ministries internationally, and then was the pastoral and mission coordinator for 220 congregations in 10 countries in Asia. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily Churches for Middle East Peace or Community of Christ. 


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: Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel

Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel 
by Colin Chapman 

Colin Chapman writes about his engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over many years and the background to his latest book Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel how should we interpret the scriptures? (Wipf & Stock, 2021) and his recent mini-series of webinars on the biblical basis of Christian Zionism.

“Aren’t you ever tempted to give up? Isn’t it pointless to engage in advocacy over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Aren’t you fighting a losing battle?” This was a question put to me on a visit to the US some years ago by an Egyptian-American friend.

Answering that same question today, I would say several things keep me going: my engagement with these issues for over sixty years, my experience of living in different countries in the Middle East for eighteen years, my determination to read history and biblical interpretation side by side, and my interaction with Christian Zionists of many kinds. 

On my first visit to the region as a tourist in 1960, I spent a month in Jordan (when it still included the West Bank) and a month in Israel. At that time I had no prejudices in favour of the Jews or the Palestinian Arabs and was blissfully unaware of the theological controversies about the fulfillment of prophecy relating to the Jewish people and the land.

When I was working in Egypt, it was through my wife Anne, a mission-partner nurse who, before our marriage in Jordan, had lived through Black September (the civil war between the Jordanian government and the Palestinians) in September 1970, that I began to understand what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was all about. We arrived in Beirut with two young children in September 1975, just six months after the civil war started. And it wasn’t long before we realised that it was the presence of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the country that upset the balance between the Muslim and Christian communities and sparked the conflict which went on for fifteen years. 

During that time I read everything I could find about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and discovered W.D Davies’ magisterial volume, The Gospel and the Land. As a result, it was in the context of the civil war in Lebanon that I wrote the book Whose Promised Land? (first published in 1983), in which I brought together a study of the history of the conflict and questions about biblical interpretation. I was trying to challenge the belief that Zionism and the creation of Israel should be seen by Christians as a fulfillment of biblical promises and prophecies and to offer a convincing alternative. 

During occasional visits to Israel during this period, I came into contact with Messianic Jews who were convinced that Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones had been fulfilled in the creation of Israel. So after the latest revised edition of Whose Promised Land? (published in 2015), I turned to a detailed study in the second half of Ezekiel, exploring the question of whether Ezekiel was predicting events in the twentieth century or primarily looking forward to the return from exile and the incarnation. This led to a similar study of Zechariah – an even more difficult book – asking whether or not his picture of a great battle around Jerusalem was a prediction of an actual battle that would be fought there in the end times. 

So to cut a long story short, my Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel: how should we interpret the scriptures? puts together chapters dealing with all the biblical texts that are important for Christian Zionists (Part 1), and detailed studies of Ezekiel (Part 2), and Zechariah (Part 3). 

Having engaged in dialogue with Christian Zionists over the years, I still find the biblical basis for their beliefs very weak. I’ve met dozens of Christians Zionists who have changed their minds and no longer believe that the state of Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy. What has changed their minds is either (a) studying the history of the conflict or (b) seeing for themselves what has been happening on the ground in Israeli-Palestine or (c) finding a more convincing way of interpreting the biblical story – or a combination of all three. 

I’m encouraged by the fact that more and more young people in the West are passionate about justice issues and see the conflict primarily through this lens. I’m encouraged by the number of organisations, both Christian and secular – like Sabeel-Kairos, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Embrace the Middle East, the Balfour Project, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), and One Democratic State (ODS) – which are informing people about what is actually happening on the ground and lobbying in the corridors of power. 

I’m encouraged by organisations like Musalaha in Israel-Palestine that have been bringing Jews and Arabs together to meet face to face and hear each other’s stories and thus demonstrating what real reconciliation might look like. I’m encouraged that an Israeli Jewish historian based in Oxford, Avi Shlaim, can write in this way about the way history works: “I draw comfort from the historical knowledge that nations, like individuals, can act rationally – after they have exhausted all the other alternatives.”

But my biggest reason for not giving up hope is that if there is a holy and loving God who is the lord of history, we can be confident that he is at work in Israel-Palestine – both in judgment and redemption.

So this is how I turn items on my wish list into prayer:

Lord, please open the eyes of politicians in the West and enable them to see what’s happening on the ground in Israel-Palestine and to understand the dangerous direction in which things are moving. 

Lord, strengthen the hands of Jews and Palestinian Arabs who really believe in the possibility of working towards a peaceful and just kind of co-existence.

Lord, please bless the work of the UN and all the NGOs working to relieve acute human need in Israel-Palestine and the Middle East.

Lord, at a time when there are so many other big issues facing us in the world – climate change, the war in Ukraine, refugees, racism, rise in the cost of living – please may Christians remember the continuing conflict in Israel-Palestine and engage in serious and respectful dialogue with each other about these issues.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done, in Israel-Palestine as in heaven …


Colin Chapman has worked for 18 years in the Middle East where he taught in seminaries in Cairo, Beirut, and Bethlehem. He is ordained in the Anglican church, and in the UK has taught in Bristol and Birmingham. His book Whose Promised Land? was written in Beirut during the civil war and was first published in 1983, with the latest revision in 2015. Whose Holy City? Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict was published in 2004. He recently led a 4-week mini-course with CMEP and Embrace the Middle East on “How Strong is the Biblical Basis for Christian Zionism?” in June and July 2022. Colin presented material from his book Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel: how should we interpret the scriptures? You can watch the full series here.


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).

1 2 3 7