Coloring the Desert

by Susan Dewey, Pacific Southwest Co-Regional Minister, Week of Compassion Committee Member

For the first two weeks of March, I was in the Middle East with a Leadership Delegation made up of the General Minister and Presidents of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, Regional Ministers, Conference Ministers, as well as representatives of the United Church of Canada and the Congregational Church of Southern Africa.

Ten days in the Middle East: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel/Palestine were too much, and yet not enough...and this article is definitely not enough to communicate the depth and breadth of the Middle East experience today.

What I saw are people just trying to live their lives and raise their children, but they have so little and have lost so much.

Refugees live in these desert lands with little water and few resources, or in overcrowded camps--many without rights because they have no country.

We, as the church, are making a difference, but can do so much more.

When you first see the square, concrete play yard in the refugee schoolat the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian Refugee Camps, it looks pretty grim, but, Mrs. Sylvia Haddad, the director of the school, says it is so precious. We didn't understand until we went through the crowded dark pathways of the camp, where there is no open space...NO open space. The church made this school possible through your Week of Compassion funds.

We, as the Christian Church (DOC), are responding to the needs of our partners. Middle Eastern Christian partners are concerned with refugees, and even though Christians are under stress and are moving, they are committed to ministry. I heard church leaders in all of these countries say, "We don't say we are a small church and can't do anything. We are not a rich church but have a strong witness."

Tragically, in today's Middle East, there are many people with great need.

  • Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees from 1948 still crammed into refugee "camps" in Beirut and Ramallah--generational refugees left by the stalled peace process in a stateless no-man's-land;
  • Millions of Syrians, both internally displaced and refugees, now eking out a bare living in a strange place;
  • People all across the region fearing for their lives from extremist threats or from being caught at the nexus of powerful international forces beyond their control.

The tempter whispers: it's hopeless.

And yet, our partners have not given up, so how can we? Riad Jarjour of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue in Beirut has assembled trainers who teach Syrians peacebuilding and decision making across religious lines, for a post-war Syria they know will come one day. Mitri Raheb has created a cultural oasis in the midst of the occupation where art, joy and life blossom barely out of sight of military checkpoints. Wafa Goussouss "colors the desert" with toys for children, dignity packets for women, and other supplies for a community of refugees living in tents on the Jordanian side of the Syrian border. The YMCA in Bethlehem treats children with PTSD and restores them to the child their mother once knew. The Jerusalem YWCA oversees a kindergarten in a refugee camp where five-year-olds sing, learn the alphabet and laugh the sweet laugh of children.

When we went to the Jordan River, to the place where it is thought John was baptizing, we heard that this place, the Jordan as it comes into the Dead Sea, is the lowest place on the planet. God chose the lowest place on earth, the center of humanity, still waters at the lowest place on earth to open the heavens. This is where God was revealed, and Jesus began his ministry.

What is the story we will tell? What is the ministry we will support? How will we make Jesus manifest in the lives of the people around us?

How do we get support to vulnerable people? Through the church mechanisms like Week of Compassion!

I can tell you today: because we are the church, people have support. Through your Week of Compassion dollars we have staff in some of the most vulnerable places on earth, and we support partners who are doing amazing work that makes a difference for so many with so little. Thank you!


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