Many people in the world are in need of food, shelter, clothing, and comfort. When you attend this year’s Festival and Sale for World Relief you will have the opportunity to make a difference for others. How?
The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) works around the world to relieve homelessness, poverty, hunger, disease. Mennonite volunteers are working to improve living conditions of those in need both here in the United States and around the world. Seventy countries received financial support in 2007. Currently, fifty-six countries have MCC personnel at work. The MCC sends workers, food, and material goods to communities recovering from war and natural disasters. Materials are purchased locally whenever possible. The MCC collaborates with local churches, community groups, and other international organizations in this work. Areas of special focus include agriculture, AIDS, education, food, health care, housing, employment, peace and justice ministry, and clean water resources. More information on can be found at www.mcc.org.
Mennonite Central Committee News
First Person: Canon Naim Ateek
From the Winter 2009 issue of “A Common Place.”
For almost 30 years, I served in a number of churches in Galilee and Jerusalem, doing pastoral ministry.
The last 10 years I have been the director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Christian organization that strives to build peace through nonviolence. Sabeel is an Arabic word that means the way or a spring of water.
We teach, train and educate our people how to live the Christian life under occupation. From the very beginning, Palestinian people, both Christians and Muslims, spoke against occupation. It is unjust, and it has to end. As a Christian pastor — and it is part of Sabeel’s work — building peace for us means resisting the occupation through nonviolence. How do you follow the way of Jesus Christ? The way of Jesus is the way of nonviolence. All the clergy who relate to Sabeel would be very much in line with this.
Part of the clergy’s responsibility is to help people interpret the Bible and to see that God is just, God is love. We believe God is concerned about all people equally and does not favor one people over another.
Palestinian Christians question, “Why is God doing this to the Palestinians — does God love the Jews more than the Palestinians?” I still remember one Sunday during the first Intifada [uprising], I preached a message on loving your enemies. One woman said, “I can’t love the Jews who are killing us. Where is God? How can you talk about loving one’s enemies when Palestinians are killed every day?”
At the end of this message, after communion, people stayed an extra hour to reflect on the message. They shared stories of people going to jail and being killed. The Intifada revolutionized my own ministry. I had to deal with issues that were relevant to people. I still remember that people from my own congregation had to go to jail for months. That forces pastors to deal with these issues — this is life.
Almost every aspect of life is abnormal when you live under occupation. Israel controls all the borders and does not allow freedom of movement. Some family members live outside the country; others live here. People can’t travel from one place to another without permits.
You have to add all these problems to the life of a normal community. Family problems here are the same problems that other families face — paying for education of children, keeping or getting employment, trying to meet the needs of everyday life and dealing with relationships between husbands and wives.
It is all mixed together. It affects people greatly.
Sabeel works with clergy, with women and with young people. In our situation, every pastor is involved in peace-building to some extent. For us, that means working for justice and resisting the occupation nonviolently. You cannot build peace on the presence of injustice. Working for justice is the first step in peace-building.
What is most important in a crisis situation is to be part of a community of faith. Many Palestinian Christians have emigrated to Canada and the U.S. Today, there are more Palestinian Christians living abroad than living here. This affects the Christian church.
Young people leave and never come back. It is important to strengthen the Christian community so that we can keep people here. People don’t want to emigrate if they can have a good life here. Our families need support. Our small businesses, our hospitals, schools and Christian institutions need support.
The greatest hope is our faith in God, who gives us hope. We are people of hope. We are workers, laborers with God in this. God is a God of justice and truth. There is hope for change, hope to end occupation and hope for reconciliation among all the people who live in this land. What we ask for the Palestinians in terms of living in their own state in peace and reconciliation is what we ask for the Israelis. We believe in a God who loves all people equally.
We don’t see peace at the level of the country but peace starts in the hearts and minds of people. We try to build peace in people. When change takes place in hearts and minds, you build peace. It is not easy but we have seen people’s lives change when they begin to internalize peace in their hearts. This is not visible, but this is where peace begins.
There are all kinds of challenges but one of the most important challenges is not to despair, not to give up hope. The most important thing is to get up in the morning and say, “This is a new day with God to speak the truth and stand up for justice.” ■
Canon Naim Ateek is an Anglican priest and director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Palestinian Christian organization. An MCC worker is serving with Sabeel, and MCC provides funding for a Sabeel initiative to bring together Christian, Jewish and Muslim young adults through volunteer work projects.