Global Ministries partners express thanks for solidarity from delegation
During a two-week trip throughout the Middle East, 13 representatives of Global Ministries, the shared international work of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), visited with 20 partner organizations. Their physical presence proved to be the one thing those partners value above all else at this critical time in region—an expression of solidarity of the two denominations that says “we stand with you as Christians”—a visible commitment to peace and justice.
The leadership delegation visited Jordan, Israel-Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon, witnessing the effects of the spread of radical ideologies and violence in Iraq and Syria, the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and learning how partners are sheltering refugees and committing to interfaith dialogue so that people of all faiths understand one another better.
“We want to thank you for your support for being here, and for seeing what is happening on the ground,” said the Rev. Fadi Dagher of the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Synod of Syria and Lebanon. “We ask for your prayers, and we ask you to raise your voice in the church so they can ask and tell those decision-makers in your country what is going on.”
“Our interest is in keeping churches in this area,” he added.
The delegation shared information about the upcoming Global Ministries’ Middle East Initiative with each of its partners on the trip. The Middle East Initiative, which will launch formally during the UCC’s General Synod (June) and the Disciples General Assembly (July), will offer congregations and members from both churches an opportunity to learn, advocate and witness with partners the issues the region faces. UCC and Disciples members can also gain a greater understanding and familiarity of the Middle East, and the legacy of Christian presence there. After the June launch, the initiative focuses on different countries throughout the Middle East for 18 months before concluding in December 2016.
“I was touched by the Middle East Initiative and I think you are doing it in a timely manner. It’s important to know what’s going on in this part of the world,” said Atef Gandy, president of Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. “The presence of Christians in the Middle East has been affected dramatically since the Arab Spring [in 2011].”
The Arab Spring marked the beginning of a revolution in both Syria and Egypt with the public crying for more freedoms. Meanwhile, ISIS was able to assert control of large portions of land in Syria and Iraq, threatening Christians, as well as those who don’t agree with their radical ideologies. The Christian presence in Iraq has decreased from about 15 percent to 2-3 percent, and in Syria it has shrunk from 12 percent to 3 percent. In Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza) it is down to 1 to 2 percent; Lebanon went from about a 60-percent Christian presence before its civil war (1975-1990) to 30 percent.
“I think we will have a lot to do together in the coming 18 months,” said Fr. Michael Jalakh, acting general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, during a meeting in Beirut. “We need you, because you transmit our presence here and what we are doing.”
Jalakh expressed a commitment by the MECC to being a bridge among Christians in the Middle East, a bridge among Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, and among people of faith throughout the world.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of UCC Local Church Ministries, said being part of the delegation “cemented in me a first-hand experience, right here in the Middle East, of an Islamic society and people who are eager to talk with one another and with those of other religions, especially with us as Christians, about what they really believe as Muslims and how their dreams and hopes as people of faith really do not differ from us, nor the rest of humanity.”
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