Critical Presence: Right Here and Now

Global Relations Minister Peter Makari and I joined Global Ministries mission co-workers Rev. Nishan and Maria Bakalian for a lovely dinner and conversation.

Beirut….I’ve arrived!

I emerged from customs to the heavy heat and humidity of midday in Lebanon. Peter Makari, Global Relations Minister for the Middle East and Europe of Global Ministries, welcomed me at the airport, and we were on our way. As our driver navigated through the (barely) organized chaos of Beirut traffic, Peter shared bits of Lebanese history and current events with me. We talked about the wars that have decimated parts of Beirut, the scars still etched into the city’s landscape. The economy: the current exchange rate is 89,500 Lebanese Lira to one U.S. dollar (and that’s considered stable). And then there’s this interesting tidbit: Lebanon has not had a President for two years. A deeply divided Parliament here has been unable to elect one.

Peter turned to me at one point as we careened through the narrow streets, surrounded by people going about their normal daily tasks, and asked: does this look to you like a country that feels under threat of another war? No, it doesn’t. But bitter tensions, especially with Israel, its neighbor to the south, are depressingly routine here.

Indeed, the Middle East region is riddled with war and threats of war at the moment. In Gaza, over 38,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s bombs (paid for largely by the United States), and most of the 253 hostages taken last October 7 are still being held by Hamas or have now died. Conflict between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel is simmering, with attacks being volleyed across their shared border on an increasing basis and nearly 100,000 Lebanese displaced in the south as a result.

So why come to the Middle East now, of all times? Many friends, family members, and colleagues have asked me that question, with a mix of fear, exasperation, and honest curiosity. Here’s my answer and my conviction: because this is exactly when we are called to stand in solidarity with our partners in the region, when times are especially difficult and suffering is immense.

Presence is one of the core values of our Global Ministries. We talk specifically about “critical presence at the point of deepest need”. That means we show up when our presence will mean the most to our partners, precisely when it will offer a powerful expression of our commitment to authentic relationship in a way nothing else can. Our Middle East partners are in just that kind of moment now. Our faith, our core values, and our dedication to authentic partnership call us to be present with them, to listen to their stories, witness their experience, grieve with them, and allow our advocacy to be shaped by all we learn from them.

Over the next two weeks, Peter and I will meet with nearly two dozen of our Global Ministries partners across Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.  Those partners are schools, peace organizations, refugee service programs, churches and councils of churches, advocacy groups, and other agencies striving to cultivate hope and possibility amid circumstances that make doing that a daily exercise in persevering faith and outright stubbornness.

It seems a little enough thing to just show up and be present. Right now in this moment.

Grace and peace,

Shari

The Reverend Shari Prestemon began her service with the national ministries of the United Church of Christ in January 2024. As the Acting Associate General Minister & Co-Executive for Global Ministries she has the privilege of supporting several teams: Global MinistriesGlobal H.O.P.E.Public Policy & Advocacy Team (Washington, D.C.), our staff liaison at the United Nations, and our Gender & Sexuality Justice Team. She previously served as a local church pastor in Illinois and Wisconsin, the Executive Director at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi, and the Minnesota Conference Minister. Her call to ministry grew, in part, from early Global Ministries experiences, especially service as a Peace & Justice Intern in Dumaguete City, the Philippines.

Categories: Voices of the Journey

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