With the Middle East seemingly in a state of constant conflict, a delegation from the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will make it's way through the region over the next two weeks carrying a banner of peace. The Rev. Shari Prestemon believes that the trip represents an important opportunity to stand alongside partners in Israel-Palestine, and other parts of the Middle East, as they face violence that makes the reality of peace seem distant.
"It seems to me so important to stand alongside our partners in Palestine and Israel at this particular moment, when there has been so much loss and when an authentic peace is still so distant," said Prestemon, conference minister of the UCC Minnesota Conference. "My prayer is that our physical presence with them might be a witness to our shared hopes for peace and a positive expression of how God calls each of us to participate in building that peace."
The nine-person delegation includes UCC and Global Ministries executives, national staff and former board members. Among those making the trip with Prestemon are Peter Makari (area executive of the Middle East and Europe for Global Ministries), the Rev. Linda Jaramillo (executive minister of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries) and the Rev. Julia Brown Karimu (co-executive of Global Ministries).
Between Sept. 21 and Oct. 4, the group will visit Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel-Palestine while meeting partners with whom they collaborate on humanitarian efforts.
"The initial idea was exposure with our partners there, and with all that’s happened in the Middle East, we saw this as an opportunity to express solidarity with the Christian community that is under great stress," Makari said.
During the final week of the trip, from Sept. 29 to 31, the group will travel to the West Bank for a YWCA of Palestine conference, "Women’s Freedom, Peace and Dignity in Palestine," that will explore the role of empowering women in that region.
"The most meaningful opportunity [of the time in Israel-Palestine] is to come together as women and talk about the issues women face around the world," said Jaramillo, who will be part of a three-person panel discussion during the YWCA Conference.
During their time in Cairo, the group will meet with Presbyterian and Orthodox partners in Egypt. For two days in Lebanon, the delegation will focus on refugee relief and how the country has been affected by and influx of Syrians feeling the crisis in their country during the last three years, as well as visiting Palestinian refugee camps.
In Jordan, the group will visit the Za’atri refugee camps and possibly another village. The Za’atri refugee camps are also home to tens of thousands of Syrians who fled for safety after the outbreak of war in their homeland.
Makari and another delegation will return to the Middle East in late April-early May 2015, in preparation for launching a focused advocacy effort during the UCC’s biennial General Synod 30 in June 2015.
"[Our role] is for justice, and to think about what we could offer to support this moment and to participate in peacebuilding, protection and prevention of violence," Makari said. "This [visit] is a positive witness in the midst of Christ."
Follow along by read the daily blog on the Global Ministries website.