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September 17th, 2014

Prayers for Peacemakers, September 17, 2014

Prayers for Peacemakers, September 17, 2014

Pray for the people of Iraq as the U.S. and its allies enlist the same military solutions for the violence currently afflicting the people of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan that gave rise to the violence in the first place. 

Epixel* for Sunday, September 21, 2014
                                    Refugees at the Erbil/Hawler Checkpoint, Iraqi Kurdistan
And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a 
hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and 
also many animals?" Jonah 4:11
*epixel: a snapshot-epistle to the churches related to and appearing with a text from the upcoming Sunday's Revised Common 
Lectionary readings.

September 15th

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Life goes on under a shadow

 

 
 Neighbors line up at bakery to buy bread

In the hot afternoon sun, two children dart into the small grocery store near our house and come out smiling with popsicles.  A woman responds to my greeting of “choni bashi?” as she fills up a bag of plums.  As the sun starts to drop closer to the horizon, clusters of boys are out on our street playing football (soccer).  Even though Kurdish and international forces are fighting the Islamic State (IS) two and a half hours away, life, in Iraqi Kurdistan, goes on.

A shadow, however, looms over the people in the Kurdish region of Iraq.  They feel it when they hear that the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have taken back towns on the edge of Mosul from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS, also called ISIS and DAASH) fighters.  But they also remember early August, when the Peshmerga had been protecting the city of Shangal (Sinjar) and the surrounding areas, but then withdrew from the area—claiming they had run out of ammunition.  The withdrawal allowed IS soldiers to come in and terrorize the Yazidi people.

Even though IS had been collaborating over the past years with some Sunni populations in Iraq, in their opposition to the oppressive actions of the al-Maliki government, it was the IS takeover of Mosul in June that made the world take notice.  Yet, it seemed that IS was moving toward Baghdad afterwards and not the northern Kurdish region, so the Kurds drew a deep breath.  Then, on 3 August, the front got a little closer when IS captured the Mosul Dam and the city of Sinjar.  Peshmerga forces responded with attempts to retake some captured towns on the edge of the Kurdish region.  But it came as a surprise, when, on 6 August, IS seized four strategic towns on a key highway and advanced to positions just minutes from Erbil, the capitol of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

September 12th

GREECE: Refugees' lives should not depend on miracles

in:

On 29 August 2014, I was sitting in the office  and busy with some daily task like email.  Usually in the early afternoon there is not too much to dooutside.  Nevertheless, incidents can happen at any time and part of the reason we are here on Lesvos is to be prepared to respond whenever we receive a call.  I got a phone call that a migrants’ boat had been turned over the night before, and one of the migrants was missing.

Migrants’ boats leave from the Turkish side of the Aegean Sea to the Greek islands almost every night after midnight.  The smugglers use small flimsy plastic boats for this kind of trip.  If there is a lot of wind and the weather is not friendly, incidents are more likely to happen and migrants drown or float on the water for hours until they get rescued.

“It was around 1:00 a.m. that we got on board and left the Turkish side; I do not remember exactly when the boat went upside-down but it was not a long time after we left, maybe half an hour,” one of the survivors, an Afghan man, told me as tears rolled down his face.  Sometimes migrants relive the tragic scenes that happen during their journey to Europe for many years.

September 11th

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: 9/11 in Arbat refugee camp


This morning, outside a playground full of brightly colored swings and slides in a camp for internally-displaced people in Arbat, Iraqi Kurdistan, I saw a tree.  Actually, four trees.  Four tiny trees, not much taller than me, planted by local NGO workers who were concerned about the children not having any shade in the summer heat, which can top 44C.  I don’t know much about plants in Kurdistan, but I can guess that trees growing in rocky, parched clay in a high semi-desert do no grow very fast—it will be years before the trees can provide good shade. 

These children—Yazidi and Arab Muslim—have only been playing here for a month.  Their families live in different parts of the camp, sectioned off by ethnicity and religion.  The camp itself used to house Syrian refugees until a new camp was built for them.  Iraq is near the top of the list for most IDPs and refugees, with over a million people fleeing violence in Syria, Iran, Turkey, Palestine and over two million more fleeing ISIS or remaining displaced after the U.S. occupation—all fruits of the tree planted by the U.S. War on Terror. 

Today is September 11, a fact I did not remember until my teammate mentioned it this morning.  I doubt any of these children know the significance of this day to people (like myself) from the U.S.  But they know the terror of September 11, 2001, a terror re-enacted by a traumatized United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Yemen, in Pakistan, 

September 10th

Prayers for Peacemakers, September 10, 2014

Prayers for Peacemakers, September 10, 2014

Pray for Colombian Conscientious Objector Jhonatan Vargas, a member of the Foursquare Church of Barrancabermeja.  This week he was transferred into military custody and will stand trial for going AWOL.  The Christian Peacemaker Team in Barrancabermeja has visited him in prison and reports he is scared but fine.  The Colombian peace and human rights organization Justapaz writes, “As details become clearer we will develop a judicial and advocacy strategy on behalf of Jhonatan and will ask you join us in taking action.  For now, we ask you to pray for Jhonatan.  May God grant him grace, and may the judges he will face grant him his freedom and release him from military service.”

Epixel* for September 14, 2014
Jhonatan Vargas
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us
 who are being saved it is the power of God. I Corinthians 1:18 

*epixel: a snapshot-epistle to the churches related to and appearing with a text from the upcoming Sunday's Revised Common Lectionary readings.

September 9th

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: Playing football with Yazidi kids


[Note: The following has been adapted for CPTnet.  The original, with additional photos, is available on Bergen’s blog.] 

 
 Bergen and friends he met at the Arbat school.

Since I’ve been in Suleimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, working with Christian Peacemaker Teams, we have accompanied workers delivering aid to some of the nearly a million internally-displaced people fleeing the violence of ISIS (or the Islamic State, or Daash, whatever the largest and most highly-funded jihadist organization in the world wants to call itself).

Last week, we visited the small town of Arbat, where the Unite Nations has built two refugee camps, one for Syrian refugees and one for internally-displaced people, mostly Yazidis. However, when we visited, most of the Yazidis and other minorities fleeing ISIS’s ethnic cleansing were living in a crowded school while the camp was cleaned.

When we entered the school, dozens of people crowded around us. They needed medical care, they needed help finding relatives kidnapped by ISIS, they needed new IDs (some had torn up their IDs in the fear that if ISIS soldiers caught them and found out they were Yazidi, they would kill them). Long-time CPTer Peggy Gish and our translator talked with many people, trying not to promise to do things we couldn’t do.

I didn’t feel very useful listening, but I didn’t get much of a chance because several younger guys took me by the arm and asked me, in their limited English, to take their picture.We chatted, and additional young people lined up to have their picture taken. One asked for my email so he could ask for pictures to be sent.  As older people continued to crowd around the others, I played football  (the universal language) with a bunch of the younger guys.

September 5th

AL-KHALIL (HEBRON) REFLECTION: Peacemaking--a journey taken step by step

 Corey in Old CIty
  CPTer aspiring to be peacemaker while monitoring
 soldiers in Hebron's Old City.

I am an aspiring peacemaker.

I use the word “aspiring” because I have not yet fully embraced in thought and action the ideals of peacemaking that I find so compelling. Practicing it is a constant daily effort, a series of taking steps (sometimes forward, sometimes backward), falling, getting up, and trying again. Overall, I think I’ve taken more steps forward than backward, but my peacemaking journey is far from complete. It is a lifelong quest. 

Stepping into Conflict

I have been in many places where oppression is evident. It is in Palestine, however, where I have seen most clearly the systematic dehumanization of people by other people, in both subtle and obvious ways, every day, day after day.Watching interactions between Palestinians and Israelis has challenged me and my peacemaking ideals to the core. How do I express my anger in a way that doesn’t dehumanize those I accuse of dehumanizing others? How do I acknowledge the destructive forces of a system while acknowledging that the people who by choice or by birth are part of that system are children of God? How do I live in community with others during difficult circumstances?  

September 4th

MEDITERRANEAN REFLECTION: Treating migrants like dogs

in:

 

Pipka self-organised reception camp

On a sunny afternoon while tourists were enjoying a swim in the sea, the migrants—most from Afghanistan—were sitting in groups waiting for the police car. Women were sitting together and men chatting with each other.  Almost all of the conversations came back to the registration and asylum procedure, the other European countries who might take them in, and similar issues. Some of the kids were running around and some had no energy because they got sick either on the way to Greece or after their arrival. 

Usually the police car comes in the late afternoon to Pikpa—the open camp organized by local volunteers for migrants in Mytilene, Lesbos—to transfer some migrants to Moria First Reception Center. Most of the time, people are waiting in Pikpa for several days to be transferred. 

September 3rd

Prayers for Peacemakers, September 3, 2014

Prayers for Peacemakers, September 3, 2014

Pray for the people of Gaza, tens of thousands of whom remain homeless.  Aid organizations estimate that if Israel and Egypt continue to restrict the importation of construction materials into Gaza, the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure destroyed in the war this summer could take twenty years.

photo: Maan News

September 2nd

COLOMBIA: El Guayabo calls for justice and transparency in Puerto Wilches

In his 1984 address at Mennonite World Conference that served as the catalyst for the formation of Christian Peacemaker Teams, Ron Sider described shalom as “being in right relationship with God, neighbor and the earth.”  Shalom, he says, “means not only the absence of war, but also…the fair division of land so that all families can earn their own way.  It…means the Jubilee and sabbatical release of debts so that great extremes of wealth and poverty do not develop among God’s people.”

 When I walk through the community of El Guayabo on a peaceful day, shalom is what I see.  People live together, worship together, farm together, and welcome strangers into their homes.  There is food for everyone, even a surplus to feed the neighboring towns.  The recent illegal eviction attempt that violently disrupted peace in this community was not only unethical, but also tainted a lifestyle that is holy, a lifestyle that I believe is pleasing to God.

 On 11 August 2014, the communities of El Guayabo and Bella Union gathered to pray publicly and call for political transparency in the town of Puerto Wilches.  They used songs, Bible verses, speeches, and a dramatic action to bring attention to the recent illegal eviction attempt made by riot police.  During the planning stage, El Guayabo leader Eric told the Christian Peacemaker Team delegation that the goal of the action was to spread awareness about the eviction attempt (the origins of which developed under suspicious circumstances) in Puerto Wilches, the largest town in their municipality. 

 

Edinson Garcia speaks during the laying down of the recent harvest

 

When they arrived at the Mayor’s office, the farmers knelt, each placing a different crop from the most recent harvest on the pavement outside the entrance.  CPTers moved forward with palm branches and symbolically covered the crops, as a delegate listed aloud the harmful consequences that a lack of transparency about the eviction process would have for the community.  The delegation then publicly stated their support for the community as the Mayor looked on.  At the conclusion of the action, a delegation leader gave a petition to the Mayor signed by 180 international partners.