Loren McGrail, Mission Co-worker

How would you describe the mission of our partner in Jerusalem which also serves the West Bank? 

The YWCA is a national membership-based women’s organization which is affiliated with the World YWCA movement and has special consultative status with the United Nations. It was established in 1893. The mission of the YWCA of Palestine is to support women’s leadership, especially young girls and women so they can realize their full rights and capabilities and to promote their full participation in decision making with men and to contribute to building a democratic and free civil society. There are four main program areas: women’s economic development; promoting women’s rights; youth leadership training and civic engagement; and children’s education and cognitive learning.  The YWCA’s advocacy is based on peace with justice with respect to human rights and international law.

How do you fit into their mission? 

 I serve as the Communications/Advocacy and Church Relations officer. I provide support for reports and materials written in English including updates on our website. I also provide outreach to church and faith based groups who are interested in supporting the work of the YWCA which includes going with delegations on site visits or taking them around Jerusalem.  As part of my advocacy work, I also provide support to the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) for the advocacy work they do on behalf of the YMCA and YWCA which includes their newsletter “Eye on Palestine.”

 I am also the Coordinator for our new advocacy project called The Fabric of Our Lives. This project  supports women’s livelihoods in the refugee camps and also the Right of Return as guaranteed under UN Resolution 194 and the right of all women for dignity, security, and peace under SCR 1325.

My work at the YWCA is also supported by the Church of Scotland.  

What led you to engage in this calling?

There are many things that have led to this calling. I have been actively engaged in peace and justice most of my adult life and have contributed resources for worship on many justice issues including immigrant rights. In 2011 I was sent as a short term volunteer to work for the World Council of Churches as an ecumenical accompanier. I served for three months on the Bethlehem team. When I returned I knew I needed to return to Palestine as a minister to continue this important work. I have faithfully kept a blog since 2010. Many of my sermons and liturgical writings can be found here.

I was also very attracted to the idea of working with women and for women’s empowerment.  I saw this as a golden opportunity to use my many skills in service of an organization doing important work to improve women’s lives and work for peace.

Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?

There are many scriptures that provide meaning and support for my work here in the Holy Land. At different times of the year different scripture passages take on more weight while sometimes the difficult situation itself brings forward certain passages.

When I returned to the United States last summer to preach and speak I chose Isaiah 61 and Luke 19:37-44 as they both provided a theological framework and challenge for what it means to live and work under a military occupation.  I believe like Isaiah we are called to be “oaks of righteousness” and to build up the ancient ruins and repair the ruined cities and to bring good news to the oppressed.  I also believe we are called to listen to those voices and to hear how they are suffering. When I was listening to the stories of the women from 1948 I felt that I was indeed listening to the stones crying out.

What are some of the challenges facing the people of Palestine, our partner, or yourself?

Living under a military occupation is a daily challenge. For my fellow Jerusalemites this takes the form of residency issues, home demolitions, restricted movement, and lack of freedom of worship for both Muslims and Christians.  The YWCA and its associations face other issues related to living and working in the refugee camps where there are incidents of violence. For our women, they face daily two kinds of oppression---the oppression from patriarch and the oppression from the military occupation itself.  All of us, including me, are challenged to keep hope alive in such a place. I have come to appreciate more and more what it means to offer accompaniment in such a place and feel sometimes this is my greatest offering.

What is a lesson you have learned from our partner that you feel should be shared with churches in the U.S.?

I think the greatest lesson I am learning from our partner is how to celebrate each day. Inshallah, God willing, has become not just an Arabic phrase but a statement of faith and trust. Celebrating life despite of all the hardships is indeed a blessing and the Palestinians do this very well. Their faith has inspired mine.

Which books have influenced your understanding of your country, work, or theology:

Which films that have influenced your understanding of your country, work, or theology:

There are a number of films that have influenced my understanding of my work here in Palestine. Here is a short list:

  • "My Neighborhood" (about the neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah where the YWCA is located)
  • "Five Broken Cameras" (about the nonviolent resistance movement in Bilin)
  • "The Gatekeepers"
  • "Budrus" (about nonviolent resistance movement in the village of Budrus)
  • "Little Town of Bethlehem"
  • "Omar"
  • "The Stones Cry Out" (about Palestinian Christians ).

Loren McGrail