Tag Archives: MCC

In Palestine: It is good to be a child caring for children

Image result for uncle bobbie's

Donovan and I shared a pleasant hour at Uncle Bobbie’s in Germantown last week. As we were winding down, he brought up how Marc Lamont Hill, the founder of the restaurant, had been fired from his commentator role at CNN for using an “anti-Semitic” phrase in a speech he gave to the United Nations. He called for equal rights for Palestinians “from the river to the Sea.”

When we were in Palestine, I met so many West Bank residents and Israelis who think such rights are crucial for the future health of both Jews and Palestinians, I thought it was a settled part of the ongoing argument about what is next. But in the polarized atmosphere of the United States, Hill’s remarks were immediately characterized as a call for the eradication of Israel! As you can hear in the Al Jazeera report on the incident, most people thought he was just talking about all Palestinians — those who live in Israel or the West Bank, achieving rights equal to Israelis. Others saw the phrase as a line straight from the Hamas playbook.

Donovan and I had wandered into the minefield of Israeli fragility and aggression in our own country, where 27 states have already enacted legislation that targets anti-Israeli boycotts designed to pressure Israel for justice, and where federal legislation against the boycotts is pending. What’s more, the Christians seem to have chosen the side of the Jews (who they identify with the state of Israel) for once. Pat Robertson summed up the radical Evangelical theology that produces super-supporters of Israel who think their support is a matter of Bible-following holiness. That’s as far as I will wander into that.

I just want to pay attention to Palestinian children

I bring up Marc Lamont Hill stepping on one of the landmines spread around the perimeter of public opinion to protect Israel because we were discussing the explosion he experienced right after I had outlined the following exhortation. I would like us to pay attention to Palestinian children and the ongoing injustice Israel perpetrates as they  protect their nation’s right to exist, violate international law, illegally settle the West Bank, operate a police state and divide up the territory they occupy with an apartheid-like system. I would be speaking hysterically if I had not briefly experienced everything on that list in person — a giant wall always in the background snaking along various borders.

I don’t think Jesus followers need to gain the world’s power in order to effect perfect justice. Jesus will bring everything to right in the end. Besides, striving to be on the top so we can help people at the bottom seems to be the exact opposite of the Lord’s strategy. Like Jesus, i think we should accompany those at the bottom, identify with them and see the world through their eyes. We work for peace and justice from that vantage point.

So that brings me to the children of Palestine. MCC distributed an infographic about their situation. Here is part of it.

They have trauma stories

Jarrah, an 18-year-old Palestinian man, was 15 when he was arrested by Israeli soldiers. He says, “I used to go out with my friends to parties, but now when I reach the end of the street I remember what happened. And I come back. There is no feeling of safety.” The children are traumatized by the occupation and the constant threat of random Israeli arrest. Many of the Palestinians live in territory under military control, which does not have the same civil law structure as other places.

Each year Israel detains and prosecutes 500-700 Palestinian youth in the West Bank. Human rights organizations have documented the systematic mistreatment and abuse of these children, including torture, blindfolding and lack of access to legal counsel. These practices run counter to basic norms and protections within juvenile justice systems. (Like the U.S. government emulates Israel’s wall, it also mistreats detained children).

Obaida Akram Jawabra was detained and is afraid he will end up in prison again. One reason he is afraid is because to get to school he needs to cross Route 60. That highway is controlled by the Israeli military. Here is his story.

Here is another story from Al Jazeera about a sixteen-year-old who’s arrest was caught on video and went viral.

It is good to be a child caring for children

On April 30, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced a bill, H.R. 2407, to prohibit U.S. taxpayer funds from supporting the military detention of children in any country, including Israel. This important bill builds on similar legislation that was introduced in the last session of Congress. Do you know how to encourage your representative to sign on as a co-sponsor?

Jesus welcomed and blessed children, saying “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). We are called to care for the most vulnerable among us, including children. I would add that we are to BE the most vulnerable, just like Jesus emptied himself to become one with us in our sin and brokenness. That may always seem like a counterintuitive strategy to us. But the road to transformation is always a step toward the “least of these” as one of the poor, in fact or in spirit.

First thoughts from Zimbabwe

I am hesitant to think that everyone cares about my travels, much less about Zimbabwe. But we are here with the BICC church members who make up our MCC workforce in the country, so it seems like there OUGHT to be some innate interest among my friends connected to the Brethren in Christ.  Now that I have my first taste, I REALLY think we should stay interested. So I have some questions:

1) Why are U.S. BIC churches so generally disengaged with MCC? Might be because we don’t know what is going on. We own an amazing relief, development and advocacy agency. I also know that some leaders  feel concerned it has “Mennonite” in the title (they could call it “mutual Christian compassion” and get over it), but in Zimbabwe it is all BIC people running things in the Matabele homeland.

2) Can we somehow get out some more info about what Circle of Hope gave $500K towards in the last five years? Just today I learned we built new schools and teachers quarters last year so kids would have a school closer than 20 miles away. We supported a transformation project that is not public knowledge that is totally inspiring. We taught people how to do conservation farming among the neediest people in one of the poorest nations on earth.  That’s just part of the first day.

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.

ZIMBABWE

April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers

ZAMBIA

April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

April 30
Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?

We have to keep helping the Syrians

syrian familiesGwen and I did not have to pay as much tax as we expected! (Happy dance occurs). We decided to pour some of what we had saved for the taxes into South Broad’s sharing gap. And we poured another portion into the cups of our poor Syrian loved ones via MCC.

Thank God for the fragile cease fire that is allowing some more aid to get deeper into Syria itself. We have been trying to help since the crisis began in 2011. Remember the dress sale?

Since then, our sharing with MCC through our thrift stores and Common Fund has also helped alleviate suffering.

This conflict brought on “compassion fatigue” rather quickly for most people, I think. It appears the 1% would rather spend its money on buying the government than helping refugees. The rest of the 99% feel squeezed so much that they have a tough time sharing even when they actually have a lot to share. In case you are interested (and I am seriously NOT trying to guilt you into being interested — giving is about gladness, not guilt), here are some facts from World Vision:

Syria crisis: Fast facts

Why are Syrians fleeing their homes?

  • Violence: Since the Syrian civil war began, 320,000 people have been killed, including nearly 12,000 children. About 1.5 million people have been wounded or permanently disabled, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.4 The war has become more deadly since foreign powers joined the conflict.
  • Collapsed infrastructure: Within Syria, healthcare, education systems, and other infrastructure have been destroyed; the economy is shattered.
  • Children’s safety: Syrian children — the nation’s hope for a better future — have lost loved ones, suffered injuries, missed years of schooling, and witnessed unspeakable violence and brutality. Warring parties forcibly recruit children to serve as fighters, human shields, and in support roles, according to the U.S. State Department. Read a story on our blog about how 3 refugee sisters are coping.

What are the refugees’ greatest needs?

  • Syrians fleeing conflict need all the basics to sustain their lives: food, clothing, health assistance, shelter, and household and hygiene items.
  • They need reliable supplies of clean water, as well as sanitation facilities.
  • Children need a safe environment and a chance to play and go to school.
  • Adults need employment options in case of long-term displacement.
  • Prayer: Learn how you can pray for Syrian refugees. Join with others as we #PrayForRefugees.
  • Compassion: Read this article in Christianity Today by World Vision President, Rich Stearns about treating refugees with the compassion of Christ.

syrian childrenHow does the war in Syria affect children?

Read about how the war is affecting Syria’s children in a special report from the World Vision magazine, “Syria Crisis and the Scars of War.”

  • Children are susceptible to malnutrition and diseases brought on by poor sanitation, including diarrheal diseases like cholera. Cold weather increases the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
  • Many refugee children have to work to support their families. Often they labor in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay.
  • Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents — especially single mothers — may opt to arrange marriage for girls, some as young as 13.
  • Between 2 million and 3 million Syrian children are not attending school. The U.N. children’s agency says the war reversed 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children.

Parades at the MWC

As I acclimated to the sprawling Pennsylvania Farm Show complex in Harrisburg I ran into a parade of good memories of worldwide travel with the Mennonite Central Committee. I met Ron and Judy Zook with whom we traveled to Palestine. I saw Bonnie Klassen from Colombia who has impressed anyone who has met her since I did. A new Beachy Amish friend talked about visiting San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, like I had on my first learning tour with Ron Byler (and later I saw Steve Penner!). MCC has a big presence at the MWC /Mennonite World Conference, with which the Brethren in Christ are affiliated. I have been all over the world with our relief and advocacy mission, now I am experiencing the whole world coming to Harrisburg.

The first meeting started off with a dramatic parade. Native Americans representing those displaced by Mennonite immigrants in the 1700s came in to drums, singing and flutes. They reminded us of a recent ceremony of mutual understanding and forgiveness that took place. The ground was made clean for the meeting.

native

Then there “a parade of nations” reminiscent of the Olympics to begin the week. Brethren in Christ churches from Zambia and Zimbabwe were represented, banners and all.

Continue reading Parades at the MWC

Selling Dresses for Syrians Bought Comfort

The Syrian uprising was reportedly ignited by bored teenagers who spray-painted some graffiti on the wall of a school in Dara’a challenging President Assad, who is a trained ophthalmologist. Their message simply said, “It’s your turn doctor” (check out the NY Times). When the reaction of the authorities was harsh, neighbors came to the defense of their kids and protests soon spread around the country. Before long, defecting soldiers created militias, which have now formed a coalition, one that does not include radical Islamists who have flooded into the conflict from around the Middle East.

Walid snuggles under an MCC comforter in Zarqa, Jordan.
Walid snuggles under an MCC comforter in Zarqa, Jordan.

By the start of 2013, more than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, had died and tens of thousands of others had been arrested. More than 400,000 Syrian refugees had registered in neighboring countries, with tens of thousands not registered. In addition, about 2.5 million Syrians needed aid inside the country, with more than 1.2 million displaced domestically, according to the United Nations.

In December the Mennonite Central committee beefed up their aid to $1.3million dollars as the refugee crisis deepened (check out the MCC website). Thank God that we are part of MCC! We are supporters of MCC in a number of ways. A good portion of our common fund goes directly to the mission all over the world. Our thrift stores exist as part of the MCC network of stores. Last year, $87,000 of our profits went to many good works.

Sara and the dresses
Sara and the dresses

On top of those regular contributions was the special portion derived from selling wedding dresses. Remember those dresses? The story goes like this. The landlord was trying to rent one of his unrentable spaces so, of course, he contacted us. He is familiar with our mission to redeem unrentable spaces – or so it would seem. As part of the deal, he wanted us to buy the who-knows-how-many wedding dresses and formals he had in the space. We bit the hook, assuming that we could sell almost anything – but not completely sure.

Howard and Katie getting the word out.
Howard and Katie getting the word out.

We wanted to highlight our new store and the plight of Syrian refugees, so we had an October-long dress sale: Be a hero, Buy a dress! Some of us even got out on the street to advertise (thanks Howard and Katie). Some of us even dressed up in the dresses and went to the Halloween Gala for Syria (Zombie Optional). We started selling dresses and some people even bought them because Syrians needed help. We have paid back the purchase price and have given over $2500 directly to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Plus, we continue to sell dresses in both stores, and the money will continue to go to Syrians as long as we have dresses!

Apart from the joy of doing our part to help people in need, we have learned and gained a lot from this experience.

1)  We succeeded in making people aware of the trouble in Syria and making them aware that we care about it. We are world Christians. Jesus cares and so do we.

2) We forced ourselves out of our comfort zone and on to Broad St. and, as a result, met a lot of new people. We learned that we are actually quite capable of mixing it up on the street. Come to find out, we have a lot to offer people who need us. Jesus has gone before us and we are following.

3) The new, unrentable store space actually worked well! Circle Thrift profits (and contributions to our causes) have gone way up! Jesus has a lot of ways to get things done and we are trying to be creative, too.

It is a big world and it is such a mess! It is always tempting to hunker down and ignore as much as possible (FB, Twitter and this blog, notwithstanding!). It is hard to make choices about who to serve and how to give. But another thing I think we learned (again) from our four-month attention to Syrian refugees is that we get bigger when we try to do bigger things. Our hearts get bigger when we love beyond their normal confines. Our faith gets bigger when we exercise it, especially on behalf of those even poorer than ourselves.

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Why I Love the Dress Sale

So on a scale of one to ten, there are some things about the dress sale that Jesus and I rate VERY high.

What dress sale, you ask? It is the buy-a-dress-for-displaced-Syrians dress sale that culminates in the Hallowe’en “gala.” That dress sale.

Sara doing her first sorting of the goods.

OK, here is more. The landlord buys and sells things. When we procured the street-level space for Circle Thrift on Broad St., he had it filled with wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses and what I call party dresses – probably because I am never invited to dress-up parties. He wanted us to buy the dresses as part of the deal. We made the deal and stand to make about $10,000 if we can sell all the dresses (even at our super-low prices). We decided to have a special sale and use all the profits to aid displaced Syrians, with whom MCC is already working and raising money to help.

After one week, we have only made about $500. But then, we just started and almost no one has heard about the sale or figured out what we are doing.

I think Jesus can get excited about this sale and rates certain aspects of it very high, as I do.

1. Weirdness. I think I give it a ten. Eventually we will get a bride from the bride of Christ out on Broad St. to advertise the sale. Thank God there are still people in our church who would do such a thing. They remind me of God getting into a human “dress.“  Plus, we’re doing it for displaced Syrians, which is rather weird. Mitt Romney wants to give heavy arms to the rebels. There are likely to be more refugees, soon. Most people don’t have a clue about Syria, in general. We do; that’s weird. The Syrians are being slaughtered by their government. We are weird enough to care about that.

2. Opportunity for mission. I think I can give it at least a 9. I am not sure we will take the opportunity, but we certainly have a good excuse to get out on the street and tell people about Circle Thrift and its commitment to MCC’s work of advocacy, relief and development all over the world. Plus we can raise people’s consciousness about Jesus and demonstrate that there are many Christians who are interested in more than “jobs” this election. Plus we can let people know about Circle of Hope, which is often one of the best-kept secrets in Philadelphia. Broad and Washington, in particular, needs to get out on the street and meet a few thousand of the new people in Center City, in South Philly and on campus.

3. Charity. I think I am at least at 8 in this category. The other day in Circle of Hope Daily Prayer, the “voice” led us to think about how giving makes us free. In the comments, Toni said: “By Christ I am freed to receive, in addition to giving. Giving helps me be connected to those around me, and to practice living in abundance. But receiving makes me feel less in control, and I have to trust those to whom I reach. It is scary, but good practice. What a privilege to receive the limitless love of Jesus, oftentimes by the hand of the generosity of His people.” The dress sale has so many levels of goodness to it! I think everyone in the church, at least, should buy a dress to support the new store and displaced Syrians, whether they need a dress or not! You could be donate it to Congreso’s prom cupboard. Or you could buy it for one-time fun when you wear it to the “gala.” That brings me to the last category.

inspiration from down south

4. Fun.For me it is a ten. But you’ll have to decide for yourself. I don’t like to do much of anything that is not good fun. Serving Jesus is a joy and I try not to let anyone or anything steal that joy. Selling the dresses, giving away money, advertising in new ways – all fun. Being at the “gala” where people wear the dresses, probably as zombies some of them, is even more fun. A couple of people have thought that associating zombies with distressed Syrians is insensitive – well, that’s probably true. Hallowe’en, in general, has real problems. We are redeeming it all, however. Or at least I hope we have fun trying. I love it when Circle of Hope dances together. Dancing in a dress bought to help displaced Syrians — even better. Making something nice out of Hallowe’en — even better. Praying in All Saints Day together at the end — even more fun.

Weirdness. Opportunity for mission. Charity. Fun. Some people might think that is my life in a nutshell. The dress sale might have been meant for me. But I think it is meant for Jesus, too. I’m not joking when I say he rates it highly. I suppose we could think of a few other things Jesus might do with hundreds of dresses. But don’t you think he is into this idea?

Jesus is the main reason I love the dress sale. Got any more reasons of your own? Stories to tell?

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