Sharon Watkins: Reflection on a Middle East pilgrimage, Part 4

Sharon Watkins: Reflection on a Middle East pilgrimage, Part 4

In March 2016, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ led a delegation of church leaders to the Middle East to meet ministry partners there. Disciples Mission Fund and Week of Compassion support these partners and many others in the land where Jesus and the apostles first walked and where their descendants still live today. The following is the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins’ fourth reflection on the trip.  The previous reflections, and other delegation members’ reflections, are available here.

And how are the children?

“How are the children… all of the children?” This refrain from a sermon preached at the Near East School of Theology’s chapel service in Beirut, Lebanon, by the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the United Church of Christ’s acting executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries  echoed throughout a recent Global Ministries visit to the Middle East. It reverberates still.

How are the homeless boys working in the glass factory in Cairo; the Palestinian refugee children born into families rendered stateless by the 1948 creation of Israel and stateless still in Lebanon; Syrian children taught under a tent in the desert across the border in Jordan; traumatized children in Bethlehem suffering PTSD.

Our Christian mission partners in the Middle East work with children and adults every day to reduce suffering and provide a voice of moderation against extremism, evidence of hope for a future. They offer a witness disproportionately larger than their population would suggest. Indeed Christian numbers dwindle due to war and violence to the point that the very presence of Christianity is at risk in the land where this faith community was born 2000 years ago – and has lived strong ever since.

Youngsters at Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps have a bright, inviting school thanks to our partners.

Our global mission partners there are among the most talented, creative, and passionate advocates for justice and social change as you will find anywhere in the world.

  • Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour leads a small staff who create programs to keep Syrians in Syria – including Christian Syrians. They teach peace-making skills, building bridges of peace among neighbors. Even now they prepare for the day when peace reigns in that war-torn land, even though that day is nowhere on the human horizon. A faithful witness.
  • The YWCA, led by Dr. Mira Rizeq, in Palestine works to help empower women in their homes and in their communities, building capacity for now and for when a two-state solution is realized.
  • In Beirut and Ramallah schools for refugee children offer bright colors amidst gray buildings, and hope even when optimism fades.

Our partners living in the region belie the United States media which presents relations between Christians and Muslims to be polarized. We were welcomed by hospitable and warm Muslim leaders – colleagues and partners of our partners – who showed clear respect for the religious traditions of others, who engaged us in meaningful conversation about peace, justice, love of one God.

At the end of 10 days, four countries, and many meetings with partners, we could see that Disciples and UCC have a responsibility to educate our congregations about the contexts in which our partners live and witness. (For more stories and information see our Global Ministries website.) We have a role to play in advocating with our government for policies based on active peacemaking and justice for all. It matters for the children.

In the desert of Jordan, just across the border from Syria, a young woman in her early 20’s teaches a room full of children – the school room is a tent. Her name is Jawaher, meaning “fine jewelry: like diamonds”. Three years ago she was a university student in Damascus, studying law. Her goal was to be a judge. Now her future is unclear. But she teaches the children. “Is it hard?” we ask. “No, they are bright children,” she says. “Maybe one of them will one day be a judge.”

Our contributions to Disciples Mission Fund and Week of Compassion make a difference. Our gifts affect the lives of people suffering under unimaginable hardship, including occupation, displacement, and poverty. Our contributions in the name of Christ offer hope for this generation and the next.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matthew 19:14