D.C.-area couple delivers olive oil, which supports Palestinian fair trade farmers, to Cleveland

A silver Prius pulled up in front of the United Church of Christ Church House on Monday, June 14, carrying precious cargo. Thirteen liters of Palestinian olive oil was hand delivered to a small contingent of the national staff for use during the upcoming General Synod.

Peter Makari, Leon Goodson, John Dorhauer, Karen Georgia Thompson and Maryn Goodson outside the UCC Church House

General Minister and President John Dorhauer, Associate General Minister Karen Georgia Thompson and Peter Makari, executive for the Middle East and Europe, welcomed Maryn and Leon Goodson, from Westmoreland Congregational UCC, to Cleveland.  

The Goodsons are involved in Westmoreland’s Middle East Committee and passionate about its Olive Oil Ministry, which they help lead. So passionate, they drove 6-1/2 hours from Bethesda, Md., to drop off hundreds of dollars in oil.

Leon said the couple likes to travel. Maryn said they drive a lot.

“We were happy to drive to Cleveland to make the delivery,” Leon said. “It was easier than figuring out the best way to ship it.”

Active for decades

The Goodsons have long been instrumental to the work of the Middle East Committee. It got its start in the 1970s.

Leon and Maryn Goodson arrive from Maryland.

“Several church members had ties to the Middle East as USAID and State Department personnel and through connections to the American University Beirut and to the historical Congregational mission work with Armenians, in Turkey, and elsewhere in the region,” said Westmoreland Senior Minister Tim Tutt. “They were inspired by the Camp David accords to see how their faith could play a role in bringing peace and justice to that region of the world.”

One way they try to do that is through importing and selling olive oil. Twelve years ago, OOM began selling fair trade Palestinian olive oil as a way to raise funds. The profits go back to the region to support hospitals, schools and other vital services.  

The Goodsons hand-delivered the first support check during a trip to the Middle East in 2009. Maryn said they also hand-picked olives on the West Bank during that trip.

“People in Westmoreland are proud of the Olive Oil Ministry,” she said. The volunteer ecumenical project counts 28 churches from seven denominations in the D.C. area as participants.

Why olives

OOM works to bring about a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, raise awareness about realities on the ground in the Holy Land, and support Palestinians in their struggle for justice, human rights and economic viability.

“The olive sector in Palestine is critical,” Maryn said. “The ministry does a number of things at once. Olive oil is a healthy food item. It’s a positive investment instead of disinvestment. The sales support several sectors of the Palestinian economy.”

It supports farmers affiliated with the Palestinian Fair Trade Association, creates a market for their products and generates income for Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza.

The ministry’s net proceeds primarily benefit Tent of Nations, an organic farm near Bethlehem. The Nassar family, Palestinian Christians, has owned the land since 1916. They use the donations to replant trees and care for their olive groves. They also support a women’s education center and summer youth camps. As the OOM brochure states, “They seek to build bridges between people, including neighboring Jewish and Muslim communities, between the people and the land.”

Greenhouse, gardens, hospital

OOM broadened its support to Gaza in 2020, funding a greenhouse and hydroponics rooftop garden through Anera’s (American Near East Refugee Aid) food security program. It also sends donations to the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, a Global Ministries partner run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

In 2020 the Olive Oil Ministry sent $18,500 to Palestine. The Tent of Nations received $9,500; Anera Hydroponics Gardens $5,000 ($2,500 to each garden); and $4,000 went to the Al Ahli Hospital. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital donations were used to purchase protective gear, masks, medicines and medical supplies.

In 2021, $5,000 has already been sent to Anera for shipping medical supplies.

Middle East work popular

“The Middle East Committee may be one of the best evangelism arms of our congregation,” Tutt said. “Guests regularly come to Middle East Committee forums who don’t come to any other church events. The committee has good relationships with Jews, Muslims, ‘nones’ and others who get a window into progressive, engaged UCC life through the committee.”

“If someone asks, ‘why don’t we…?,’ we try to do it in a year,” Maryn said, noting that the sale of olive oil, support of refugee and asylum seekers and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic were just a few of the initiatives that resulted.

The Goodsons are also deeply involved in the leadership of the UCC Palestine Israel Network, which is bringing the resolution “Declaration for a Just Peace Between Palestine and Israel” to General Synod in July. The resolution calls on Synod delegates to reject oppression of Palestinians as a matter of faith.  

Leon and Maryn Goodson, Peter Makari, John Dorhauer and Karen Georgia Thompson outside the Church House

“Israel and Palestine are ‘thin places,’ as the Irish say — places where the holy and the mystical happen,” Tutt said. “As Christians, our founding narratives are rooted in the soil there. So it’s important for us to pay attention to the land and to the people who live on the land. As global citizens and neighbors we must pay attention and work for justice. Our Middle East Committee helps our church community do that.” 

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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